Chapter Fifteen: I’m Still Tiny

Leila seems to be having a bit of a delayed reaction to the arrival of her baby brother, or maybe it’s a timely reaction to the new, louder, more awake version of her baby brother, who takes up more of my time and attention.

Her discombobulation manifests itself in an added dose of threenager fierceness, and in an uncharacteristic clinginess to me. ‘I need you’ she says, ‘I want to be WITH you, be WITH me mummy’. And, this morning, as she clutched me so tightly, it’s like she wanted to be inside my skin again: ‘I’m still tiny. I’m still so small’.

It also manifests itself in the classic Leila (the original early bird) stunt of waking up before dawn, and bouncing in and out of her bedroom like a jack-in-the-box. Though she did have the courtesy to knock insistently on our door at 6am this morning, instead of appearing ghost-like by our bed breathing ‘Daddy’ into the darkness in alarming fashion, as she has done before.

So come 1pm today we knew, even if she didn’t agree, that she needed a nap. Leila’s afternoon nap has been undergoing a slow and tortured demise, like a fish on land that keeps flapping into life before giving up completely. Some days she will, many she won’t, some days she actually asks for one. Today she was not asking, and she was not napping. I bundled Asher into his pram in the porch and left him to squawk his way into sleep (poor second child) and went to relieve G who had been trying to get Leila to nap for longer than is good for anyone’s sanity.

Overcome with tiredness myself- before Asher, I had all but forgotten the crushing, bruising fatigue that comes with having a young baby- I did something that Leila and I have never done. I lay down with her for a nap. Unlike her brother, she has never been one for co-sleeping, even when we’ve tried it in desperation during dodgy sleep patches (one memorable night sticks out, near Christmas 2011, of Leila aged nearly two chirrupping ‘ingle bells, ingle bells’ at 1am, sitting bolt upright between us in bed). But today I squashed myself onto her toddler bed, and put my arms around her. I tried to emulate a relaxation session such as you do at the end of a yoga class or similar, as I know G has used this technique to help her nap before.

‘Feel your eyes get heavy…’, I murmured, feeling my eyes get heavy. ‘Let your face relax’, as I dribbled onto her forehead. At first she thrashed about and made irritating kissy sounds with her mouth. Then she turned onto her side facing me and said quietly ‘no talking, while we have our nap’ and within seconds she was asleep, my lips pressed to her head, her breath in warm gusts on my neck.

It was unfamiliar and lovely, to have my little livewire sleeping in my arms. Her face in repose looked just as it did when she was a baby. I started to drift off myself, but toddler beds are a bit cramped for grown-up legs, plus I am a terrible napper- worse than Leila- so after a while I started to extricate myself as silently as possible: unsmooshing my face from her forehead, gently lifting my arm from her body, unfolding myself from around her. It brought to mind those baby days with her, when after shushing her to sleep in her cot, I’d curse the pop of a kneecap as I stood up, or the deafening swish of denim as I crept from the room.

As I tried to lift my head from the pillow, something kept me there. As well as the sweet, grassy Leila-smell of her head, it was something more physical: her fingers curled into my hair, grasping. Just like her brother does. Just as she did as a baby. I couldn’t bear to uncurl her fingers just yet, so I watched her sleeping a little longer.

She’s still tiny. She’s still so small.

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She loves him really

Chapter Three: Big Sister

The moment they met
The moment they met

One of the main things parents worry about before the birth of a second child is how their precious first born will react to sharing the stage with an imposter. As I like to adopt any and all neuroses available to me as a parent, I threw myself into this one with vigour.

Shortly before Asher was born, Leila (2 years 9 months at the time) was acting up terribly, waking in the night, tantrumming like a world class diva, and seemed generally miserable. I was torn apart with guilt at her obvious distress at the impending new arrival.

Turns out she had worms.

With the parasites banished just days before Asher’s birth, she cheered up completely. And since then her transition to big sister has been largely smooth sailing. With some moments of angst, like the time when she sharply knocked his head backwards when he was feeding, barking ‘I want him OFF your nipple’ (nipples AND worms in the space of two paragraphs? I am really spoiling you!).

In fact, our only issue is that she is so entranced and intrigued by her little brother, that her affection borders on aggressive. She will advance towards him with her jaw clenched, making a strange little primitive kissy sound and saying through her gritted teeth ‘ohhhh my little Budge! My little budgie budgie budgie’ (Leila’s nickname for Asher, which she coined herself, is Budge *mama faints from the cuteness*), and some nonsense words she seems to have come up with as her ‘I’m about to terrorise my brother with love’ language. ‘Oh shimmy shoomy’, she will chirp, ‘sheemy sheemy, Budgie’. And then she will grip his cheeks so hard that he yells, or poke her finger into his eye sockets, or, her favourite manoevre, simply place her entire body weight on top of him and press her face into his.

Once I thought it would be fine to run- literally run- upstairs to get a nappy, leaving Budge on the floor. When I hurried downstairs, madame was sitting on her brother, singing merrily ‘this is the way I sit on my brother, sit on my brother, sit on my brother’ and bouncing lightly up and down.

We seem to spend half our lives saying ‘gentle, gentle Leila… LEILA, GENTLE!’ or physically holding her back from throwing herself on him (though her recent response to this has been to fall dramatically on the floor and bellow ‘you HURT me!’, which is patently not true and yet might not stop someone calling the social). It seems rough on her, when everyone else gets to hold and squish and (pretend to) eat him. So now I work on the basis that, if he’s not crying, it’s fine.

He’s just started to watch her and smile at her antics, which is lovely. Though I’m not sure he appreciates it when, just as he’s waking up in the morning and feeling rather grumpy about it (takes after his Mum), Leila- who has already been up for a good hour- careers into the side of his moses basket shouting ‘don’t worry I’m here I’m here I’m here! Your big sister is here to look after you!’ and perhaps eases him into the morning by pressing her fingers into his forehead or playing her xylophone very loudly next to his head.

I have also heard her reprimand someone who made a jokey comment about him crying (‘oh, naughty baby’ or something inane like that)- ‘he is NOT BAD. He is just cries because he doesn’t know how to talk yet’.

I suppose having someone to defend and adore you, even if that adoration is a little fierce, is worth a few pokes in the eye and some full-body squashing.

Chapter Two: Chapter Two*

When out and about with the children, the odd old lady/shopkeeper/drunk will chuckle ‘you’ve got your hands full’. Admittedly,  with Leila in the buggy and Asher in the sling, I do look a bit child-laden.

Depending on the day I have two (internal; outwardly I just mumble agreement awkwardly) responses.

The first is to scoff, hey it’s no big deal actually, having two children. Almost everyone who has one, has  another. Some birth two AT THE SAME TIME. Some have three, four children- more! THEY have their hands full, not I. I have two hands. I have two eyes with which to shoot dagger-like glares of wrath at errant toddlers. Two is a breeze. Two schmoo.

Alternatively it makes me want to cry, to blurt a shoutily sarcastic ‘you don’t say!’ because, yes, I do have my hands full actually, thanks for pointing it out!’  and run to the loo, slightly encumbered by baby in sling, to weep. On these days, two is hard.

There is no middle ground, it seems. I am either bossing it, loving it, drinking in every blissful moment. Or, all three of us are crying, and I’m listening keenly for G’s key in the lock like some valium-sodden 50s housewife. So if I tell you it’s hard one day, and you hear me saying it’s a doddle the next, I’m not lying on either day. It is both of these things. It’s s the Good, the Bad and the Crazy round here.

The Good is when me and Leila are sitting on the sofa feeding our babies (well, she is ‘feeding’ her ‘baby’) and she turns to me and says ‘oh, Other-Woman, this big baby is giving me grief! Shall we have a cup of tea?’ and then busies around with her tiny teaset while Asher grins up at me; the Good is when, both of them pink from a shared bath, she kisses a fat cheek and says spontaneously  ‘night night, Asher, I love you’. And, actually, dozens of moments each day.

The Bad is any time we try to leave the house, basically. It’s a mess. A mess of scarves and hats and a baby who is ROARING and a toddler who is alternately stiff as a plank and floppy as jelly in her efforts to prevent me putting her coat on. Or when we all need feeding, and two of us are shouting about it, and I know that the third one of us probably isn’t going to eat. Guess which one.

The Crazy is the rear passenger door of the car freezing shut so I have to virtually fling Asher’s car seat from the front seat into the back, while Leila sheds her mittens and chirps ‘ooh, ice’,’ as she runs her fingers over a dirty frozen puddle. The Crazy is Leila marching up and down the living room unravelling a roll of kitchen roll as she goes, knowing full well that I am pinned to the sofa by Mr. Greedy Guzzleton and only have the questionable power of the dagger-like glares of wrath at my disposal.

Thankfully, the Good dominates, the Bad is fleeting, and the Crazy makes for some good stories. And the Good, oh, it is so very very good, that I want to urge everyone who has a toddler to go ahead and have a newborn too. At least, I do today. Ask me again tomorrow and who knows what my response will be.

 

*See what I did there?

Chapter One: Mumboots

[Disclaimer: I am going to write about my kids a lot on this blog. Like, alotalot.]

There was this moment, when my eldest, Leila, was younger. I’d just been to the chemist for some calpol, and was heading back to the car when I caught sight of myself in a window: slightly frazzled expression; North Face-style bulky anorak; skinny jeans tucked into brown, riding-esque knee high boots; calpol in one hand, carseat in the other; about to get into my VW estate.

Let us deconstruct some elements of this ‘look’. The jacket I had bought for work (filming) only but had ended up wearing all the time, what with it being waterproof (good for the daily nap walks, and if you’ve ever had a baby you know what I’m talking about). The car: not sexy. But reliable and spacious! The calpol: well, as delicious as it is, it wasn’t for me and spoke of sleepless nights and squalling. Hence the frazzled expression.

I was, I realised, a Mum. I still felt like a girl who had thus far managed to trick the world into entrusting her with the care of a real human child; but I looked like (and perhaps… actually was?) a capital-letter Mum. A full-blown, grown-up, ordered-in-from-Central-Casting, Mum. I was the woman politicians try to woo with their talk of ‘hard working families’ (blech), the one who some pity, some envy, and some just find intensely boring. The one who talks about sleep (oh, endlessly) and sick. Closer inspection would probably have revealed some actual sick somewhere on my clothes; and a toy sheep and a few smashed breadsticks in my handbag.

Shit. When did THAT happen? Not the breadsticks. The Mum thing.

Crucial to this picture were the boots. They were, they are- it cannot be denied- Mum Boots. Heeled enough to avoid clompiness, not so heeled that I will tumble into the road whilst carrying a squirming toddler. Classic rather than high-fashion, because what with childcare costs and working part-time and having to buy things for the kid (now kids), I’ll only cough up for boots I can wear for many winters to come- and something tells me the snakeskin-bondage style I saw in Grazia won’t endure the fickle tides of fashion. From Clarks (nuff said).

Yes, cast your eyes downward at the playgroup or school gates and you’ll see a swarm, a veritable stampede, of similar boots.

And this is, so I gather, A Bad Thing.

Whilst checking if this blog name was already in use, I unearthed several threads on-yes- Mumsnet, posted by women concerned that their new boots were Mum Boots. Woe betide the woman who wears Mum Boots. And, worse, apparently the tucking in of the jeans into the boots is intensely Mum-ish (me, I labour under the idea that it makes my legs look thinner ; maybe that’s why it’s Mum-ish).

Because another defining feature of the ‘Mum’ of today is a cringing self-consciousness, a horror of being put into a pigeon hole- which inevitably she will be (just read the Daily Mail: old mums, teen mums, working mums, breastfeeding mums, mums who drink…  In they go, into their boxes, come along dears), a desire to not be defined as that which, probably/hopefully she once longed to be and which brings her immense joy.

But why this aversion to defining ourselves as mothers? Yes, I do want to be seen as myself, as well as a mother. But to me,  the two aren’t separate. I don’t get the widely held viewpoint that when you have kids, you lose your identity. I no more buy into that than I buy into the idea of your job, or your hair, or your hobbies, or your cat, defining who you are. Having Leila and (since two months ago) my boy Asher, has enriched who I am. And I’d rather define that myself, than keep quiet and let the Daily Mail do it.

So, maybe my boots are not the coolest. But I love my mum boots. I am reclaiming the Mumboots. They are fine boots and I enjoy wearing them, and actually if you look at them without the calpol and the cagoul and the carseat, they are just boots. I’ve worn them to make TV programmes, meet friends, even- on occasion- to go to a bar (kapow!). They are not just Mumboots.

And that, now that I have squeezed every last drop from the metaphor, is why  this blog is called Mumboots. Because this blog is largely (but not totally) about the ‘Mum’ part of me, which is, in fact, just me.

Here is where I click the heels of my Mumboots with abandon, where I write about being a parent and parenting and my toddler and my baby and goodbye 50% of potential readers who have now just clicked away.

I’ll write about this quirky little creature, Leila:

Leila swing

And this chunky little beast, Asher:

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And a life that veers from ear-splitting shrieky chaos (in which I’m often the one shrieking), to happiness that explodes my heart daily, but is never-to me- boring.

[insert carefully chosen photo of my Mumboots, cleverly taken to make my legs look thinner than they really are].