Is that a smile I see before me?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bad mum strikes again

Yet more bad news about being pregnant. New research reveals that 90% of mums-to-be are so whacked out by stress that it could be having an adverse effect on the little one.

The thing is, show me one woman who doesn’t worry during pregnancy and I’ll show you a woman who’s not up the duff. The second you manage to wrestle fears of miscarriage, nasty midwives and bad scans into submission, Panorama broadcasts a shock-horror-special on the crisis on our maternity wards. It's no bloody wonder we’re stressed.

For the record, honey, I’m scared witless. So far, my list of fears includes: childbirth; being a bad mother; becoming a fat mama; you not liking/loving me; being sidelined at work; never getting back the energy you seem to have sapped; backache; post-natal depression; pre-natal depression; oh-god-just-all-the-time depression; short-term memory loss; being skint; eating the wrong things; you being poorly, ill or even dying; and the fact that, once your Dad sees you emerging from the ‘business end’, things between us will never be the same again.

Watching the very realistic childbirth scene in Knocked Up last night didn’t help. I also noted that a) there was a higher than usual proportion of preggaz ladies at the cinema and b) most of us left the auditorium ashen-faced. Mind you, you seemed to like it, if the rigorous wriggling and belly kicking was anything to go by. I suspect this might have something to do with the cinema’s booming surround-sound system than a love of US romcoms, but who knows…

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dog behaving badly

This weekend I wandered lonely as a cloud through the Lake District. Actually, that’s not strictly true: you, me, Simon and friends holed up in a cottage for the weekend and spent a few days yomping companionably through Wordsworthian countryside, eating communal curries and generally enjoying a bit of fresh-air fun.

Not that you can remember anything about it. You were unusually quiet, rocked to sleep by the swish-swish-swish of amniotic fluid as I stomped-stomped-stomped over hill and dale. Highlights of the weekend included playing with the kids (Louis and Finn, aged two and three) and wondering if you’d be as lovely as them; looking at the looming Langdale hills, which encircled us as we tried (in vain) to find a pub that served food after 2pm; your Dad finding a ‘frog’ in the outside toilet, rushing in to get the camera and then realising that said frog was one of Finn’s toys (to be fair, it gave me a bit of a fright as I sat on the bog at 2am); green custard with a carved broccoli frog bobbing on top (made in honour of Simon’s froggy faux pas); singing the Rocky theme tune to Pete as we celebrated his success in last week’s Iron Man; and finding a series of pools and waterfalls about an hour’s walk from the cottage, perfect for swimming.

I didn’t go in. Claire reckoned the cold might bring on labour. I lounged, whale-like, on the shoreline, eating egg sandwiches and taking pictures of the boys as they launched themselves into the icy depths.

The dog, too, was quite keen on the pools. He ran around in frenetic circles, leaping in and out of the water, wiping his muddy paws all over the towels, shaking on the sandwiches and barking at dogs, rocks, sticks, people, children, sheep, rubbish, Iron Men, the camera, you, me, your Dad… and when he wasn’t barking he was whining, quivering or getting under people’s feet. He went deaf, too, seemingly unable to hear the pleas of ‘sit DOWN’ from me and ‘calm DOWN’ from Simon.

In the end we had to take him off, out of sight of water, to calm down. I wouldn’t mind but he’s thirteen – this is not behaviour that befits a geriatric canine.

And then I started to worry. That dog has always had a mind of his own. I’ve tried everything: obedience classes, denial, praise, special leads, special toys, pockets full of doggy treats, cheese, pieces of chopped liver, water pistols, whistles, a sly kick to the backside… nothing has ever worked. But at least, I thought, the bugger had mellowed with age.

He’s currently lying in his basket, dribbling. Don’t be fooled by this cute demeanour. He is a Devil Dog.

So my fear is this: if my (beloved) mutt runs rings around me after thirteen years of ‘training’, what hope do I have as a mum? Am I doomed to be a bad mother? Will you be a vile child? Ah, sweetheart, how are we going to work out this crazy thing called parenthood? Clearly, I haven’t a clue.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Famous for 15 minutes

Hello, son. How’s it going? You’ve been drumming on my belly all morning so I’m assuming all is well in the womb department.

It’s been an exciting week for us. First was our monthly check-up with the midwife. She had a squeeze and a measure of my belly (all good), checked my wee (all good, too) and took my (normal) blood pressure. And then she got out a strange grey stick-with-wires-and-speaker thing, rubbed it across my tummy and listened to your heartbeat. Which was VERY LOUD. The midwife looked vaguely worried, I was terribly alarmed and the trainee midwife got the giggles. Luckily, you stopped using your umbilical cord as a skipping rope, your heartbeat returned to a less ear-splitting volume and we all breathed a sigh of relief. You and I were given a clean bill of health and told to come back in three weeks.

So that was that. The second development of the week was your name. As in, because we can’t decide on what to call you, your Dad took matters into his own hands. I know that by the time you read this you’ll be in possession of a fully-working ‘I’ve had it all my life’ moniker but I can’t tell you how difficult it is to come up with something suitable. I mean, it has to work at both ends of the spectrum: rock star or scientist. We can’t call you Moonboots if you turn out to be an accountant, can we?

Your Dad’s genius idea was to open it out to a public vote via Facebook, getting his virtual friends to send in their suggestions and then choosing something from that pile. (Look, so far your Dad is stuck on Isambard Kingdom Brunel and we currently refer to you as ‘Bagel’ thanks to the incredible amounts of bread products I’ve been scoffing while pregnant. Enlisting the aid of a social networking site can only be a good thing.)

I admit, I do quite like the idea. It’s very twenty-first century (though by the time you hit your teens we’ll have chips implanted in our heads, enabling us to surf the net by the power of thought alone and you’ll mock Facebook as terribly old-fashioned). And it’s kind of like getting your 15 minutes of fame before you’ve left the womb. Warhol would be impressed.

Talking of Warhol, I found a quote from the King of Pop (Art) himself, which I thought you’d enjoy:

“Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.”

Now, run down to the shops and fetch the shopping for Mummy. There’s a good chap.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bad mummy

The world is conspiring to make me feel like a bad mother – three months before I actually become one. Earlier this year, the government helpfully revised its guidelines as to how much booze a pregnant women should drink during what can, at times, feel like a very long nine months. Nothing. Not a drop. Was this advice based on any new scientific evidence? Nope – it was based on the assumption that pregnant women are so air-headed that they couldn’t possibly remember the recommended weekly limit.

So that’s one thing. Then there’s the never-ending list of Things Mummy Can’t Do. Don’t eat pate, mayonnaise, ice cream or cheese, and don’t think about petting that cute cat rubbing itself against your ankles. Don’t go anywhere near peanuts, and while you’re at it don’t lie on your back for too long. Don’t go gardening unless trussed up in a full head-to-toe body condom in case there’s something nasty lurking in the soil. Watch those vegetables – they might, rather shockingly, have come into contact with Evil Soil at some point too. But don’t blame us if you get constipated – you do need to eat enough roughage, dear, and you’ll give yourself piles if you don’t look after yourself. You know, I even had one midwife tell me off for a spot of gentle jogging – it might ‘jiggle the baby about’ too much, she reckoned.

This week pregnancy hysteria reached ridiculous heights with the news of a new stick to beat mummy with - research that argues that if mum-to-be indulges in the odd plate of chips while pregnant she’s automatically dooming her child to a lifetime of obesity. ‘Eating for two puts unborn child at risk of junk addiction,’ screamed the Guardian.

I confess. The odd chip has passed my lips. As have several packets of salt-and-vinegar crisps and - whisper it - some chocolate. I even went out to a pudding club at the Market Restaurant and guzzled my way through five puddings in one sitting (though I did feel a bit nauseous afterwards and spent the night with a sick bucket on hand, just in case). Does this mean you’ll be a little on the chubby side? Does it heck.

Anyway, I read down to the end of the report and discovered that the research had been commissioned by The Royal Veterinary College. That’s right, a group of people who are very good with cats, dogs, rats and the odd bird. But probably not quite as experienced when it comes to up-the-duff mums of the human variety.

So, sweetness, if you do turn out to be rather on the large side, you should know two things. First, I’ll still love you. And second, it’s not my fault. Now, where did I put that glass of Pinot Grigot…?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Dot dot dash dot

My god you’re a fast learner: last week I felt you kick for the first time; this week it’s developed into morse code. The succession of little kicks, flutters and the strange feeling of bubbles bursting inside my stomach is your first communication with the outside world – and with me.

The first time it happened, I spent the entire day thinking I’d eaten something bad. I was on the verge of phoning the hysterical-first-time-pregnant-woman hotline (helpfully run by Trafford General, whose midwives are a lesson in non-patronising pre-natal care) when it dawned on me that it wasn’t last night’s tea. It was you. Having a bit of a boot about; an amniotic post-lunch somersault.

And only a few days later you did such an almighty and well-timed kick that your dad got a slice of the action too. I think you’re going to be a generous little soul, parcelling up all those ‘firsts’ fairly and squarely between me and your pa, making sure neither of us feels left out.

Good boy. You carry on kicking.

Friday, August 3, 2007

House on bricks

I must confess: the minute I posted my last entry, the sun came out. The park formerly known as ‘mud pit’ has dried out and walking the dog is less a lesson in trying not to fall arse-over-tit and more a gentle perambulation.

I shouldn’t write ‘arse’ or ‘tit’, should I? Close your ears against such naughty words and remember: it is every parent’s right to be a hypocrite. While I may swear with navvy-like abandon, any foul-mouthed emissions from my son will be met by a quick clip round the ear.

But I will have carried you for nine months, given myself over to stretch marks and saggy tits (there I go again), a gravity-loving arse (really, I can’t help myself) and don’t get me started on childbirth. Third. Degree. Tearing. So I reckon that after all that trauma I am allowed to be a hypocritical mama.

Do as I say, child, not as I do.


Anyway, the sun has finally come out and I’m sat sweltering in the attic, a gentle breeze blowing over the roof-tiles and in through the window. The dog’s in the garden, belly-up in the sunshine, and I imagine your dad is downstairs with both kitchen door and beer bottle resolutely open.

I’m in the attic as I write because there’s nowhere else to sit. The attic, usually my office, is now sanctuary from the hellish building works going on downstairs. In honour of your impending arrival, we thought we should sort out the damp, get a new toilet (not that you’ll be using it for a good few years yet), stick in new windows, lift the floorboards to stuff in acres of insulation, re-plaster, make your room bigger and better, oh, and the list goes on.

It feels like the house is jacked up on bricks, waiting for some kindly mechanic to take pity and restore it to full working order. And, loath though I am to shift the burden onto such tiny shoulders, it’s all your fault. If it weren’t for you I would have been quite happy to ignore the mouldering damp, the shelves falling in, the skirting boards flaking off. I would have made do with our leaky WC, our draughty front room with its hideous textured wallpaper ceiling, our strangely-shaped spare room. Honestly, I would.

But with you on the way we’ve been galvanised into action, and so on top of the physical joys of pregnancy I’ve got to put up with a house on bricks. I guess this is my first lesson in motherhood: it’s all about give and take. I give, you take.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The rainy city?

Ah, baby, it’s raining. Again. Every year we’re told it’s the wettest, hottest, coldest, windiest, sunniest since records began (usually in the same month) and every year we roll our eyes and privately think, ‘well, it’s just English weather, what do they expect?’ But this year it really is the wettest summer England has ever known, and we’ve got raging flood waters to prove it.

First Hull and Sheffield found themselves under water, and then a few weeks later Tewkesbury, Gloucester, Bath, Worcester, Abingdon and Reading found themselves (literally) in the same boat. Though the media like to crank up the hysteria, there was no denying the catastrophic effects: all those families, both north and south, having to watch their lives float away on the fetid brown waters.

So this is your first lesson in climate change (although some – including George Bush, a war-loving US president you’ll one day read about in your history books – still swear blind that climate change is a figment of the scientific community’s collective imagination). The irony of it is that by the time you’re old enough to register the waxing and waning of the seasons, damp, dank summers like these will be long past.

What summer will mean to you will be hosepipe bans, sweat collecting in the small of your back, front pages that scream of water shortages and sucked-dry reservoirs. You’ll moan at me to buy you ice cream and a paddling pool, and when I say no you’ll try your luck with your dad. You won’t see Glastonbury-goers sliding down muddy hills and struggling with tents in the rain, and I won’t buy you welly boots to take to your first ever festival ‘just in case’ your trainers get sucked deep down into a puddle of mud.

And the strangest thing about this long, wet summer is that, up here in the rainy city (Manchester), we’ve so far got off lightly. No floods, no gardens washed away, no rivers bursting their banks. Just sodden, squelching grass underfoot when your dad walks the dog and your mum shaking her fist at the slugs, who take advantage of all this water to rampage about, eating her flowers and leaving gleeful slime trails in their wake.