Monday, 28 January 2013

Mama said

Help ransom note

During a brief stint teaching, my shoes were captured and held to ransom by students.

I don’t remember the detail of their demands, just that I was handed menaces, printed across a photo of my missing footwear, by a good-natured 17-year-old called Simon.

The shoes weren’t taken by force, you understand; that wasn’t necessary. I’d removed them to pad around in comfort. (It was that sort of course). My first mistake. Cotton socks do not confer authority. I tell you this not for catharsis but to demonstrate that good discipline is perhaps not my thing.

In general, the same flimsy approach to maintaining authority is applied at home. My daughter has no idea who is The Don, and nor have I. But don’t go thinking this is because I’m some kind of laid-back parent. I’m not. I’m just baffled much of the time.

I can’t be the only one who has decided on a strategy for dealing with a properly dementing aspect of toddler behaviour, before changing tack the moment a mother with a more impressive sense of certainty raises an eyebrow in my approximate direction. This, I believe, is known as being ‘inconsistent’.

And it’s not helped by the unstoppable behemoth that is the parenting-advice industry, which stomps over intuition and rides roughshod across instinct. In fact, the glut of expert voices competing to tell us how to raise our children has created a generation of madly self-conscious and bemused parents.

There’s just so much of it. Instructions, warnings, commandments, congratulations-your-child-is-42. And if you don’t read it yourself, someone who has will start murmuring about sleep training or attachment parenting or some damned study or other anyway. And you will think: “Shit, no wonder I’m knackered – I haven’t been doing sleep training. What is sleep training?”

A need has been created. Next thing, you’re hooked.

But the more we seek this stuff out, the further away we become from what we instinctively know to be right for our own children and ourselves. I don’t mean we have all the answers, just that we’ve reached a point at which there are more answers than questions, and that just makes the whole business feel much too complicated.

For all I know there is some kind of Delphic oracle of parenting out there. Or else there isn’t. Either way, I’m putting my clunky guides to child rearing out of reach. It’s more enjoyable that way.

Right, I’m off to Google the best way to fire a dummy (pacifier) into outer space.


My shoes were eventually returned unharmed. The students continued with their terrifying campaign of fun.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Late so soon

Einstein Relativity Time

The faster one travels, the slower time moves. We know this from Einstein’s theory of relativity. So if something is moving incredibly slowly – a toddler putting on her coat, say – time must surely zoom along apace. 

Finally an answer to the vexing question of why it is that a person in sole charge of a young child cannot leave the house before noon. IT'S PHYSICS.

No, really. I theorized the hell out of it while watching my daughter complete a jigsaw puzzle. She worked carefully. It was a slow process. So slow I was forced to lash myself to the table to keep from diving in, wailing: “Seriously, it only has FOUR pieces.” Time, on the other hand, although seeming to stand still, rushed past so quickly that lunchtime was suddenly upon us. And I had achieved NOTHING. (Apart from further developing Einstein’s seminal work, of course. Oh hello Nobel Prize.)*

It occurs to me at this point that one of the most difficult things about the early years of parenthood is what a desperate dawdle the whole business can be. When I say dawdle, I don’t mean that life is not busy, just that it manages to be busy very, very slowly. Of course, I’m temperamentally completely unsuited to this new pace. I really must adjust.

But there is something about the natural tendency of a toddler to faff that can be maddening when hurrying. Worse still for my poor old baby, though, who must endure a mother who palpably vibrates with restless energy as we go through our daily getting-ready-to-go-out routine.**

I won’t bore you with the detail (perhaps you have a similar routine yourself) but it does involve: last minute changes of footwear, coat refusal, the exuberant upturning of toy baskets, spontaneous games of ‘shopping’, urgent requests for plaaaaaaaaaydooooooh and, as we finally close the front door behind us, a nappy (diaper) that can only be described as a dirty protest. At which point the whole saga starts again ad infinitum.

The truth is a deadline (even a self-imposed one) is no friend of the toddler. Without a deadline life with the very young takes on its own much looser shape. Without a deadline there is MUCH more laughing. Without a deadline you get a non-vibrating woman and a delighted toddler. And this of course is a very good thing.

*Oh yes, and raising my daughter too.

** Yes, a vibrating mother. Is that not a normal thing?

Next time: string theory for infants.


I took the title of this post from a poem by Theodor Geisel, AKA Dr Seuss. Here it is:

How did it get so late so soon?

How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.

December is here before it's June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?

And another thing

A version of this post originally appeared as a guest blog for Netmums

Thursday, 3 January 2013

There's a party in utero

ultrasound party scan

I’ve been reading about ultrasound parties. I wish I could tell you they involve early 90s reggae sound systems, or something, but they don’t. No, they involve inviting a crowd over for drinks, snacks and the scanning of a foetus in utero.

Is that not a weird thing? Isn’t an ultrasound scan something you turn up for with slightly sweaty palms and a stomach knot tied from frayed cords of anxiety, excitement and morning sickness? Or maybe I just felt like that because I wasn’t at a party?

Well anyway, everyone’s doing it, apparently;* hosting events where the special guest is a foetus, and an ultrasonographer is master of ceremonies. It’s great. You lie down in front of your guests and have K-Y Jelly smeared over your belly. A probe glides across your skin, searching for a heartbeat while the ultrasonographer – presumably with a mouthful of pretzels, or something – hunts around for signs of congenital abnormality.

Because isn’t that what ultrasound scans are for? Sorry to be a downer but, isn’t it?

There are so many reasons to be a little freaked out by this ‘trend’. Yes, our increasingly voracious appetite for attention-as-validation and extreme over-sharing is distasteful. (And throwing a party to scrutinise with friends the insides of our own bodies is surely extreme.) But it is the growing commercialisation of childbirth that is really troubling.

I happily paid for a printed image from each of my scans. And I treasure those blurred grey mementos of a special time. If I had been offered other kinds of souvenir I might have bought those too.

Perhaps I would have drawn the line at a nine-centimetre 3D resin model of my dear foetus for £800 (or half price for just her face)**. But I might not have. My brain was addled by baby love and a powerful urge to hold on to every stage of pregnancy. (Apart from the swelling, the nausea, the neurosis, the acid reflux... Oh, who am I kidding?)

You see, that’s what concerns me. If you had packaged up all the good bits of pregnancy, all the exciting, amazing and transient bits, and offered them to me in a tangible form that I could hold on to forever, you really could have cleaned up. I would probably have bought the lot.

The emotions and expectations involved in pregnancy and childbirth mean there is opportunity for easy money to be made. And just because you can make money, doesn’t mean you should. Damn, if I were less reticent and more of a party girl maybe I would have had a bloody ultrasound bash too. (I wouldn’t.)

*By everyone, I mean a few.
** Yes, this is an actual thing.