The Arrival

I am walking Milk to school a few days before the arrival of our third baby.

‘How does the baby come out?’ he asks staring at my bump with wide eyes.

I have explained this to him a few times but he looks at me as if I am telling him a highly improbable story.

‘Well you have two choices. You can either get the baby out between your legs or the doctors cut open your tummy and take out the baby.’

‘I don’t want you to be cut open,’ he says.

‘Neither do I really,’ I reply taking his hand. ‘But the baby has to come out somehow.’

‘Can’t you do it the other way?’ he asks.

It is such an innocent question. And such a simple one. A question which has kept me awake at night for most of my pregnancy.

The answer is yes, I could do it the other way. I have done it the other way.

I look at Milk walking beside me. He is unaware that when I pushed him out ‘the other way’ I was nearly made incontinent at the age of 35.

Mayhem was a C-section because of that experience, but somehow in the foggy five-and-a-half-years since Milk was born, I have wondered if I should try the ‘natural’ way again.

I’m not sure why they call pushing a baby out of a tiny hole natural. Maybe it’s because in reality that is the only hole babies can really aim for in their endeavour to join the world. Birth would be even more of a sci-fi show if the baby decided to escape via a different orifice.

My husband says I talk too much, but I don’t think my mouth is as stretchy as a birth canal. And it would be dangerous, and a little unnerving, if you burped your baby out while having a chat – think how far it would fall.

The other hole makes a lot more sense. Better to feel like you need to do a massive poo and are then rewarded with a child.

Knowing there was a real possibility I could give birth ‘naturally’ and then have to be within 10 meters of a toilet for the rest of my life, I opted for the other ‘choice’.

I decided to be cut open on an operating table and sent home the next day in my anti-DVT stockings, and the advice to continue managing my pain with paracetamol and ibuprofen. As if I might have a little headache, or a sore toe.

Maybe they think the euphoria you feel when you meet your baby will be enough to take the pain away. And to some extent this is true – there is nothing like the moment you hold your baby for the first time, and I did ride on that wave for a while. But there is also nothing like the shock of being sliced open and then having to look after a new life immediately, even as you are being stitched back up.

There is a scene at the end of Jaws where the tough fisherman Quint is being eaten by the shark as he slides down the deck of his sinking boat. He is desperately trying to get his feet out of the shark’s mouth. He is spitting blood.

I look like that man every time I try and sit up in bed to feed the baby.

Since the arrival of our third son, I could win the SAS Survival programme where normal people are tortured with sleep deprivation, screamed at, and made to complete repetitive and pointless tasks.

One week in and we are the parents who walk in the sunshine and the shadows of the new born regime. We love the warm cuddles. We fear the waking nights. I dread the cracked nipples.

We argue about who is more tired than who.

I say the words ‘Major Abdominal Surgery’ so much I don’t think it has any meaning anymore, until I turn too quickly and there is an instant burning pain, like a hot poker being rammed into my core.

And yet we are all in awe of this new person experiencing everything for the first time.

‘Can I be alone with the baby?’ Asks Mayhem stroking his brother’s head with a strange look in his eye.

‘No. The baby always has to be with me or daddy.’ I say.

‘But can I eat him?’ Asks Mayhem.

‘Err, No.’ I say and wonder how I will ever go to the toilet again.

Milk is less interested in eating the baby but he enjoys watching my husband making the little creature dance across the living room floor, and he squeals with laughter when a golden arch of wee projects itself into my husband’s face as he changes another nappy.

We have been in new born land twice before but it doesn’t get any easier. We have to learn a new language and make sure the whole family understands it.

We are no longer explaining the world to just Milk and Mayhem. We have another little person to guide, and soon it won’t matter how he arrived. Just that he is here.

Just Sayin’

We are sitting opposite each other in our pants. The boys are asleep, knocked out by the heat.

“I’m writing to Denby.”

“Who?” asks my husband, looking up from his computer.

“You know, the pottery people.”

I hold up a mug we got as a gift for our wedding. It’s blue, dappled with flecks of green.

“It’s got a crack in it,” I explain.

There is a thin black line on the inside of the mug.

“Did you put it in the dishwasher?”

I wonder if this is a trick.  “Err yes.”

“Maybe the dishwasher was too hot for it.”

I shake my head. “But it’s Denby. Denby is renowned for its strength. That’s how they made their name.”

My husband has lost interest and holds a beer against his forehead to cool down. I am not finished.

“Look. Look at the Denby on the dresser. That’s my Nan’s Denby, from her wedding. Denby lasts forever!”

The dresser is laden with pottery stacked in piles around ornaments from holidays we have forgotten.

My husband half looks. “I’m just sayin’.”

“Just sayin’? Just sayin’ what? What does that even mean?”

“I’m just saying maybe the dishwasher was too hot.”

“You’re just saying it’s my fault.” I feel a flush of anger.

“No. I’m just saying perhaps the mug couldn’t withstand the heat of the dishwasher.”

“Denby doesn’t break! You are supposed to have it for the entirety of your marriage.” Something flicks in my mind. “Oh. I know. You’re just saying our marriage isn’t going to last because the cracks are already showing. Is that what you are ‘just sayin’?’”

I put the mug down a little harder than I mean to on the coffee table.

My husband laughs. “I’m not sure this pregnancy thing suits you.”

I wonder briefly how we can be having a third child together.

“This has got nothing to do with me being pregnant. Can’t a pregnant woman complain without it being because she is pregnant?”

He holds his hands up. “Of course, yes, pregnant women can most definitely complain.”

He leaves the room quickly, before I can say anything else, and returns with a bucket of cold water. He lifts my feet into it.

The next day it starts to rain, and we don’t need to sit in our pants anymore, and I don’t need to argue with every object, animal or human that crosses my path.

I had forgotten how much I like the sound of rain.

Back to Nature

My husband and I have something to talk about, other than who has not done the washing up.

We are going camping.

“It’ll be great,” I say, “we can really get back to nature.”

“You pack and I’ll book the campsite,” says my husband, excitedly opening his computer.

I feel as if I have been tricked.

“Can I help you pack mummy?” asks Milk.

I nod, shooting a sharp look at my husband, who seems immediately absorbed in his search.

“Of course you can darling.”

“Can I help you pack mummy?” asks Mayhem.

He is repeating everything at the moment. It’s like having two TVs on in different rooms, with a slight delay.

“Of course you can sweetie,” I say.

Mayhem stamps his feet. “I am not sweetie. I am Mayhem.”

I wink at Milk.

We are going camping for one night but it takes me two days to pack.

We leave the house.

“Did you just put our entire house into the car?” my husband says punching a pillow out of the way.

“Camping is all about being prepared.” I say trying to bend my leg around two crates of beer.

We drive for two hours and arrive at a field remarkably similar to the one opposite our house.

The boys run around screaming and throwing cow pats at each other, as we put up the tent. My husband crawls around on the grass grunting as he erects the ‘bedrooms’ under the flysheet, while I swear at him for tying the guy ropes into knots the last time we packed up.

I look around at other campers having fun, poking at barbecues, while their barefoot children ride bikes in the afternoon haze.

When we are finished we sit silently on our camp chairs sipping beers, while the boys play hide-and-seek. This involves Mayhem running frantically in a circle, with his hands over his eyes, shouting, “you can’t see me, you can’t see me,” while Milk counts to ten. The game is short.

Milk suddenly drops his trousers and does a wee next to a family eating sausages.

“I’ve done a wee mummy!” he shouts.

“Milk’s done a wee mummy!” squeals Mayhem.

I call them over and explain other people don’t want to look at that while they are eating.

Mayhem frowns: “I’ve got a willy, and Milk has got a willy, and daddy has got a willy, but you don’t have a willy mummy. You have a bum.”

I do have a bum, but I didn’t want the family behind the windbreak on the next pitch to think about it.

When the kids are asleep, we sit by the fire drinking and looking at the night sky, thinking (I assume) our own deep thoughts. My husband leans over to me. I think he is about to whisper something romantic in my ear, and I turn towards his moonlit face.

“The toilets are long drops,” he says quietly.

I stop star gazing. “So we have to crouch over a pit of other people’s poo?”

“Well you wanted to get back to nature,” says my husband passing me another beer.

It seems our children are the only ones in the world who do not get knocked out by fresh air. We are up with the birds, and my mouth feels as if someone has rubbed lemons into open ulcers.

My husband looks at the disposable barbecue and the soggy egg carton on the fold out table. “On the way, just a short drive from here, I saw a… you know…”

“What?”

“You know… the place we never go to, or talk about in front of the kids.”

I do know. He is talking about a fast food place, which is open early for breakfast. I can almost taste the hot coffee, the crisp hash browns and the breakfast muffin, stuffed with bacon and a perfectly round and flattened fried egg.

“That is not getting back to nature!” I say as I throw him the car keys and shove the children into their seats as fast as I can.

 

 

 

 

The Home Maker

My husband calls at lunchtime, which is a treat after spending the morning having increasingly surreal conversations with Mayhem about Darth Vader shooting dinosaurs in their eyes.

“We need to sort out our life insurance.”

“Are you going to bump me off?”

He laughs but he doesn’t deny it. “You’ve got to stop watching Murder She Wrote all day.”

“I do not have the TV on all day.” I shout and Mayhem looks up from Peppa Pig.

“It was a joke darling.”

“Oh. Sorry.” I wonder where my sense of humour has gone. I’m guessing it went out of the window with the eight hours sleep and the time to go to the toilet on my own.

“We’re getting older.” My husband says.

“Everyone is,” I reply, but I know he is thinking about my recent big birthday.

It is rare for him to be sensible. I wonder why he has taken on this role. It might be because I have become less sensible.

“Do you think I could make money from online gambling?” I ask him one night.

“I think you could make money from doing your normal job.” He says.

“But I can’t do that. I’m looking after Mayhem at home. How can I do both?”

“You’ll have to arrange childcare.”

“But I don’t want someone else to look after him.”

My husband sighs. “Then you’ll have to look after Mayhem and not write – or just do it part time.”

I tried doing my job part time for a few months when Milk started nursery and Mayhem was a baby, but when you are interviewing the CEO of an airline or a global hotel company they don’t really think about the repercussions of moving a telephone call at the last moment. My carefully timed work schedule, based purely around when Mayhem slept, or in between nursery pick-ups, didn’t fit well with their schedule of trying to negotiate new routes or the opening of a five-star hotel in a war zone.

“There was this author who said she wrote an entire novel with her baby asleep under the table.” My husband adds.

I hate that author.

“OK I’ll just have to accept I’m not a writer at the moment, I’m looking after my children and that is absolutely fine. That’s what I wanted to do.” I say putting down the phone.

We use a rare child-free moment to see the financial adviser.

“So, what shall I put as your job?” He asks me.

“Writer” I say.

“Is that what you spend most of your time doing?”

“Err no, I guess I look after the kids most of the time.”

“So,” he is choosing his words carefully. “Shall we say you’re a Home Maker?

“A Home Maker?”

“Yes. I have to put something down – it’s all to do with risk assessment really. If you were a pilot, your life insurance might be higher, but if you’re staying at home all day, the risk of something terrible happening is quite low.”

“Mayhem pooed in the bath last night.” I say

He raises an eyebrow.

“I thought that was pretty terrible.”

My husband coughs but I plough on. “And last week Milk hit me on the chin with a Stegosaurus and it broke the skin. And I cried. That was petty terrible too. And… ”

“… Home Maker is fine” My husband says quickly.

On the way back, I am quiet. “What’s wrong?” My husband asks.

“I’m not just one thing you know. I am a whole person. You are a dad and a …” – I can’t remember what his job is – “… boss,” I say tentatively. “But I’m only allowed to be a mum.”

Later Mayhem is building a house out of Lego. I wonder briefly if I could write while he plays like this, but then he sees I am available and calls out.

“Mamma play with me?”

I become a bossy architect for the next twenty minutes and add an extra room and put in a table and chairs. Mayhem is delighted.

I am a home maker after all.

 

 

Dogs and Noodles

“We should all go out for lunch,” my husband says one morning.

He has been watching Milk and Mayhem play harmoniously together for ten minutes and now believes they will behave like humans when we leave the house.

“But going out for lunch is always a disaster,” I sigh, holding a yoghurt pot full of soil, which Milk has just presented to me as a gift.

“Not this time,” he says confidently. “We’ll go somewhere kid-friendly, with quick service, but with food you and I actually like.”

He is talking about a noodle chain where the food is cooked in front of diners, who sit on benches at long communal tables.

“But will Mayhem eat Asian food?” I ask, well aware that Mayhem eats everything put in front of him, including Lego.

“Loads of my friends go with their kids all the time.” My husband says, pulling on his coat.

At the restaurant the waitress tries to seat us next to some people on a long table in the middle of the room.

My husband is horrified. “I’m not sitting here,” he whispers, ignoring the stares from the family who are trying to eat their lunch while we hover over them.

“But that’s what they do here,” I say, bemused, as my husband strides off to the end of the restaurant to an empty table next to a mirror.

“Me, Mummy, Daddy and Milk!” shouts Mayhem with glee. He waves at himself.

The children are given paper and crayons and we are fooled into thinking we can order both a starter and a main course.

“You know the food is cooked fresh to order, so it will all come out at different times?” says the waitress.

We nod dumbly. But when she is gone I say.

“But why? What does she mean? All restaurants cook food fresh to order don’t they? Why can’t they bring the food out at the same time like everyone else?”

“That’s just what they do here…” says my husband winking at me.

“Well I think that’s lazy. They obviously can’t be bothered to get the timing right, and we all know that getting the timing right is the hardest thing about cooking…”

Our waitress has returned to serve us our healthy green smoothies. She seems to place mine rather heavily on my paper place mat.

The starter of duck pancakes follows, and to my surprise Milk and Mayhem love it. I watch in dismay as they eat my share.

By the time the noodles turn up I am starting to relax. We show the boys the chopsticks and they spend the next few minutes fighting each other across the table.

My husband interrupts and guides Mayhem towards his noodles.

“Me not like that!” Mayhem shouts, pushing the bowl away, his face going pink.

“What about the chicken?” says my husband, fishing a piece of meat out of the tangled dish.

“Me not like chicken!” Mayhem starts to cry. “Me want Mamma’s food.”

Mayhem is staring at my noodles, which I have just doused in chilli oil.

He wriggles from the bench and runs over to me, pushing Milk out of the way.

“Me want your food Mamma,” he cries.

I shrug and pick him up and let him have a forkful of my chilli-infused chicken and prawn noodles.

We watch as he turns red and starts spitting and spluttering.

I feel relieved he won’t be eating any more of my lunch, but my husband is glaring at me as he calmly spoons some sticky rice from his bowl onto a plate in the middle of the table.

While the boys try to get the gooey rice off their spoons and into their mouths, we shovel our food down as quickly as we can.

“It’s lovely,” I say, beansprouts hanging from my mouth.

“Mmm,” my husband replies, curry sauce dripping from his beard.

Some music comes on and Mayhem starts bouncing on his knees using Milk and me as support for his enthusiastic moves.

“Let’s dance!” shouts Milk climbing down from the bench.

“No!” I shriek, knowing Mayhem will follow.

My husband is swallowing a lot and has gone very quiet.

“I’m going to be sick,” he says.

He has indigestion. I can feel the same burning ball climbing my throat.

He leaves me with Milk and Mayhem spinning round and wiggling their bums next to another group of diners, who are doing their best to ignore what is happening.

I signal for the bill just as Milk yells, “let’s be dogs!”

Immediately both of them drop to the floor and start panting, while waiters carrying hot broth hop over them.

When my husband returns he finds us all crouched under the table with the sticky rice.

“Everyone enjoy that?” he asks as we drive home.

“Yes! Let’s go again!” shouts Milk.

“Me too! Me like noodles food!” squeals Mayhem, stabbing Milk with a chopstick.

 

 

Banana Drama

“We’ve run out of bananas,” my husband gasps one morning as he makes the porridge.

This is a crisis. It’s like the Ritz running out of tea, or McDonald’s running out of Big Macs.

I suggest we take a family trip to the supermarket. It’s a good way to kill a couple of hours, and we can feed the kids on the way round, throwing bread at them while we argue about whether it is necessary to heat up the oven before putting food in it.

We swing into a Parent and Child space and start unpacking the kids.

I bend over, struggling to get Mayhem out because his jumper has caught on a stick, which Milk has wedged between the car seats.

“That’s my sticky bridge!” Milk yells as I yank at Mayhem. “Don’t break my sticky bridge!”

“It’s fine I won’t break it,” I say, just as the stick snaps, and Mayhem tumbles out of the car.

Milk is inconsolable. “Mummy said my sticky bridge wouldn’t break, but it did break,” he wails as my husband picks him up to go and find a trolley.

While Mayhem and I wait by the car, a black BMW roars into the space next to us, and a man gets out and walks briskly towards the shop.

He doesn’t have any kids.

“Hey that space is for people with kids!” I call after him.

He half turns, shrugs and continues.

I am not having it. I wave my arms frantically at my husband, who is spinning Milk around in the trolley, shouting “Bananas! Bananas!”

I yell across the car park. “He doesn’t have kids!”

My husband is momentarily confused but stops shouting about bananas and spins Milk once more to block the man’s path.

I can see him saying something to the man, and then I can see the man saying something to my husband. Then the man side steps my husband and continues on his way to the shop.

“Dickhead!” My husband shouts after him.

I beckon him over.

“He said he wouldn’t park in a Disabled space, but it’s our choice to have kids and he doesn’t believe in Parent and Child spaces.”

“What does he mean he doesn’t believe in them? They exist.”

“What’s a Dickhead mummy?” says Milk.

I wink at my husband. “It’s that man’s name,” I say.

I rummage around in the nappy bag and after poking my fingers into a few bits of old food and a dirty nappy, I pull out a small pot of cream. It’s the thick white, waterproof, barrier cream we smother over Mayhem’s bum, to stop it getting sore when we forget to change his nappy for an entire day.

My husband’s eyes widen and he nods in understanding.

“Get back in the car boys, we need a quick getaway.”

We stuff the children back into their car seats, and I hurriedly write Dickhead across the BMW windows.

A lady washing cars watches me silently with a smile; her sponge dripping bubbles on her shoes.

“He’s coming!” my husband almost squeals, and I have a second to admire my work before jumping into my seat.

“Go! Go!” I shout.

We try to reverse, but there is an old lady standing behind us having trouble with her trolley wheel.

“He’s coming! He’s coming!” scream Milk and Mayhem, kicking their feet in glee.

I can see the man making his way through the car park. He has a bunch of flowers in his hand.

“He’s probably going to see his mum or a poorly friend. He’s probably quite a nice man.” I say, instantly regretting what I have done.

“He was not a nice man,” my husband says quietly as he looks in the rear-view mirror, and I can see him considering whether to reverse over the old lady.

“What if you left your finger prints on the car?” my husband whispers.

“I used the sticky bridge,” I say proudly.

We start reversing just as the man approaches his car. His face changes from smug BMW driver, to shocked smug BMW driver.

We swing out of our space like a getaway car in a movie, except we are driving a Volvo with two kids in the back, and my husband has to let the old lady with the wonky shopping trolley cross in front of us, before we can move forward.

BMW man looks round furiously for a culprit, but he can’t work out who to blame so he hits his car with the flowers.

We all shout “Bananas! Bananas!” as we speed away.

 

 

 

 

 

The Early Risers

My New Year’s Resolution is to get more sleep. This can only be achieved by going to bed at the same time as my children, which does limit my life. It even limits the time the Amazon Prime delivery drivers can see me in normal clothes.

“Are you ill?” my husband asks when he finds me slumped on the sofa in my pyjamas at 7pm.

“No, I’m not ill. I’m tired.”

“You sound tired.”

“I am tired. I’m tired all the time!”

“Me too,” my husband says. “Anything for dinner?”

“Nope. And it’s not a competition.” I say.

“I’m just saying I’m tired too.”

“But are you tired all the time?” I ask

“Yes. Shall I order a curry?”

I nod but I am thinking: How? How can he be tired all the time when he is asleep, when I am awake? How can he be tired all the time when he can sit on a train, while I am running around after Milk and Mayhem for 12 hours every day without even going to the toilet on my own?

I’m too tired to say all this because I’ve said it all before, and I’ve heard the counter argument, which is equally convincing.

“Actually, scrap the curry I’m going to bed.”

My husband shrugs and orders his Chicken Dhansak.

I need to go to bed early because I have a special alarm clock, which goes off at 4.20am. I can’t turn it off, or turn it down, or throw it across the room. I’ve tried to find the snooze option, but nothing works, because my alarm clock is Mayhem and his incessant shouting every morning.

“Downstairs Mummy! Downstairs! Doooooowwwwn Staaaaaaiiiiiirrrrrrrs Mummmmeeeeeeeeeee!”

I wish we lived in a bungalow.

And so, our day begins.

When people say ‘Margaret Thatcher ran the country on four hours’ sleep a night’, I always expect them to add, ‘and that’s why she messed it up.’

I take Mayhem downstairs before he wakes up the others. We spend our first few moments together wandering round the kitchen searching for slugs. This is their time. They slip out of the skirting boards at night and feed on dried baked beans under the table. They leave their silvery trails along the carpet in the playroom. But they will have to change their routine if they are to survive our early risings.

I find it hard to kill things, so we chuck the slugs into the Mud Kitchen outside.

“Slugs flying,” squeals Mayhem. “Like Batman mummy!”

Not really I think, but nod enthusiastically at his wild imagination.

Because someone who works in TV has decided that all children get up at 6am, there is no children’s TV on at this time. I scramble around for a Peppa Pig DVD, but find Peter Rabbit inside the box. Surely (and this does sound odd) that means Peppa Pig will be inside Peter Rabbit? But no, instead I find Fireman Sam smiling out at me.

“Peppa Pig?” says Mayhem hopefully.

I spend the next ten minutes opening and shutting DVD boxes, while Mayhem asks increasingly loudly for Peppa Pig. Of course, Peppa Pig is still in the DVD player, and we are soon accompanied by loud cheerful music and giggling pigs.

By the time my husband and Milk emerge at 6am, I have made banana cakes, thrown away some Lego which hurt my foot, washed up, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, discovered a plastic box with old porridge and raisins stuffed at the back of the fridge and nearly persuaded Mayhem to try it, done a load of washing, which is now in the drier, and am in the middle of an online grocery shop.

“We’ve been catching slugs too,” I say, not wanting to miss out anything I have achieved.

Milk’s eyes widen.

“I want to do that mummy. I want to catch slugs. Can I catch slugs with you and Mayhem tomorrow?”

“That would make my day,” I say, staring at the back of my husband’s head as he gently stirs his espresso.