The Great Escape

We are going away for a night without the kids. This has not happened for more than two years and I am not sure if I can behave normally. We’re off to a wedding and I am torn between partying with my husband and lots of people I don’t know, or drinking three pints of water and sleeping for 14 hours in a large clean bed, without anyone kicking or peeing on me.

I’m not worried about leaving the children, but I do feel a bit sorry for the grandparents. We sneak out of the door as they are being persuaded to crawl on the floor pretending to be horses, while Milk and Mayhem play knights. I shut the door to Milk screaming and waving a wooden sword, and Mayhem shouting “charge!” and running into the wall.

I have packed a 35 litre bag for one night. My husband walks out of the house with his suit over his shoulder and his wash bag under one arm. When we reach the hotel we buy a drink in the bar and stare at other people, trying to guess if they are going to the same wedding.

“Do you think I can get away with wearing my gold trainers instead of heels?” I ask.

My husband looks at me. “I don’t think you should be wearing your gold trainers outside your imagination.”

“I just think I’ll be so much more comfortable, that’s all.”

“Well I’m pretty comfortable sitting in my underpants, but I’m not doing that at a wedding.”

The wedding involves lots of waiting for people to do things. Waiting for the bride to float down the aisle, waiting for the readings about love, friendship and hope to be over, waiting for the rings and the kisses and the cake to be cut. Waiting for the photographer to organise 100 drunk people to all look the same way and smile with their eyes open at exactly the same time. It occurs to me as I wait in a line to shake hands with lots of people I don’t know, that I have waited two years to have fun with my husband, and here we are, still waiting.

“I think we should get this party started,” I say grabbing his arm and steering him through the maze of tables and chairs to our place. Our table is behind a large pillar but if we shuffle our chairs to the side we can see the top table through an extravagant floral display. We must have been the people who said yes, when they thought we would say no. It’s a lot of fun being on the odds and sods table, and I am not drinking water. I’m enjoying eating without someone regurgitating food into my hand or throwing cutlery at me.

I miss the speeches because I’m queuing for the loo, and talking to a girl who uses a plastic funnel so she can stand up and wee outside, instead of crouching in a bush with nettles tickling her bum. She offers me the funnel, hidden in her bag, like a drug dealer showing her wares. I’m not sure what to do, so I tell her I’m going to be sick and run away.

My husband is waiting for me on a haystack with a jug of Pimms and a bottle of Champagne. We do not drink responsibly. We do not drink water. We sleep for three hours on top of the clean white bed.

In the morning we stare at our cooked breakfast. I use the napkin to dab my forehead.

We decide we won’t go away ever again. It would surely be better for everyone if we just pretended to be horses for a bit and then sat in our underpants on the sofa.

Little helpers

“No one can know about this,” my husband whispers one day as he finds a pair of Milk’s pooey pants stuck to the landing radiator.

“We need a cleaner,” I say retrieving what looks like porridge, but frankly could be anything, from between the sofa cushions.

My husband shakes his head. “No, we don’t, we just need a rota.”

The rota is drawn up and stuck on the fridge. It is extremely detailed and is soon lost under pieces of paper covered in strange elongated sausages with big mouths, which Milk insists is a true representation of our family.

We end up living in a perpetual state of shame and embarrassment and panic cleaning. This involves running around with a pack of baby wipes, while tipping bleach down the toilet just before people arrive. Panic cleaning is directly linked to which rooms guests are going to step into. I need more people to stay the night so that upstairs gets a look in.

We have three hours until our friends arrive, but with Milk and Mayhem on the loose, that equates to about three minutes. Should I have done some cleaning before my children got up, perhaps at 4.30am? Creeping through the dark house with Marigolds and a damp cloth? Or, when the kids were asleep last night, stumbling around after a glass of wine, thinking “Ooh there’s a piece of thread from Milk’s school trousers on the floor”, but discovering it’s a giant house spider folded up for a surprise attack.

I suggest the only way to clean with little kids is to let them help.

“I’ll do upstairs with Milk, and you do downstairs with Mayhem,” my husband says quickly.

I suspect they will soon be lying on Milk’s bed watching Lego Ninjago.

I start with the kitchen floor. Mayhem finds a raisin. “Food” he says popping it in his mouth with a grin. He becomes obsessed with the mop. He watches as I twist out the bubbles, then screams and hides under the table, while I slop the water on the floor. After a bit he creeps out and grabs at the handle.

“My little helper,” I grimace as the mop is flicked about like an octopus having a fit. I try to extract the handle from his super human toddler grip. He is screaming and I am slipping around panting. I am also, ridiculously, trying to clean a little bit too. I do like to live up to the multi-tasking cliche, even if it involves some sort of mild child abuse.

I end up sitting in a pool of floor cleaner while Mayhem sobs into my hair. I’m wondering what will happen when the Hoover comes out, when he stops crying and starts pointing at the floor. I lean forwards, hoping it is a bit of dried banana, but it’s a spider’s leg, bent in half. The knee joint is there (do spiders have knees?) and there are hairs. I am certain the spider is somewhere nearby, watching us, kneeling on its seven knees, waiting until nightfall, when it can creep out and pretend to be a piece of thread.

I point at the leg. “Not food” I say as I get up to fetch the dustpan and brush.

“Food,” Mayhem repeats and when I return the spider leg is gone and Mayhem is playing trains on the sofa. My lovely little helper.

The Golden Thread

“Did it hurt?” I ask because it looks like no one else will.

“Nah,” Juliet says, “not really. I mean nothing you can’t deal with.”

In her late twenties, Juliet has the plumpness and energy of youth. Her squishy pale limbs are cradling her new baby, Baby One. The first of the NCT babies. The rest of us are marooned at the end of our pregnancies, swelling like balloons about to take off the wrong way.

I touch my bump and breathe in, thinking of the Golden Thread the yoga teacher talked about. I’m not sure how long the Golden Thread is, or how it got to be in my throat, but apparently you breathe in a special way and the Golden Thread spins out in front of you, and then your baby floats out with no pain, and starts breastfeeding immediately while you have a snooze.

“We like to call them waves of love rather than contractions,” says the yoga teacher. She has green eyes and a tattoo of a Griffin in the small of her back. The lion’s head is roaring. She also says she can hear her kids breathing two floors up because she has such a strong connection with them. I wondered if she had heard of baby monitors.

I find myself worrying about the Golden Thread. What if I breathe it out and it doesn’t come back? How far is it supposed to go? Sometimes when I concentrate really hard it goes out and gets caught on people and corners and shopping trolleys, and even strangles one man on a particularly low day. It’s the same with counting sheep – it’s never worked for me because they all rush out at once and go off in different directions.

Someone is saying my name so I leave the Golden Thread dangling over a sheep and focus on the scene in front of me. We all look at Baby One. He is asleep. He looks – well he looks like a baby.

Minnie helps me with the tea. We are both one week over due and desperate for some movement. She leans into me conspiratorially.

“Juliet hasn’t sat down since she got here. Have you noticed?”

“Euugh” I say sympathetically. “I must offer her a cushion.”

“It must hurt if you can’t sit down right?” Minnie passes me the milk.

“Yeah it must hurt. Surely… a little bit. But not too much otherwise women wouldn’t do it, and there wouldn’t be any second and third kids would there?”

I wonder again what labour is like. Will it be waves of love or a tsunami of  pain? I’ve been told the last bit is like doing a really big painful poo after a vindaloo, but it was a bloke who said that. No one who has actually given birth has told me anything.

My husband said being kicked in the balls is supposed to be more painful than childbirth and I am in awe of the confidence he has that I will not do a comparison after I have the baby. I guess he knows he is safe because my yoga teacher said if I don’t squeeze my vagina every time I stop at traffic lights I will wee everywhere, all the time after giving birth. So instead of giving him a good old hoof to the balls, I’m more likely to lift my leg and pee on him like a mangy dog.

Minnie nudges me. “Zara has almond milk in her tea. She brought it along especially.”

I glug some of it in. It’s a bit yellow.

“So who will be next?” I say as I hand out the tea.

Everyone says “Ooh.”

Barry White sees the vet

I am worried about the rabbits. One of them has a wart; I felt it when I picked him up. It’s my husband’s rabbit, Barry White.

I break the news. “Ugh yuk. Don’t show me, show the vet,” he says shrinking away.

“Why are you so squeamish? You were OK at the boys’ births.”

“Children aren’t the same as warts, darling.”

The rabbits need their vaccinations anyway, so I don’t mind going to the vet, and, although I would prefer to go with just Barry White, I see the trip as an activity. An expensive and condensed version of a petting zoo. Milk and Mayhem will find the diseased animals in the waiting room interesting, and the owners of the sick pets get to watch my children drink water out of the communal dog bowl.

There are leaflets about fleas everywhere. It makes me itchy. Mayhem spots the fish tank immediately and runs over, pressing his open mouth against the glass. The fish dart. Milk asks me if we can have a puppet.

“You mean a puppy.”

“No, I mean a puppet. Please can we have a puppet, like that one?”

He is pointing at a Beagle puppy, for sale.

“Please mamma?”

I wonder what would happen if I bought him a puppet.

The vet does an examination and gives Barry White an injection to stop him getting myxomatosis – that awful disease wild rabbits spew all over the countryside. I saw a wild one chatting to our rabbits the other day, so am suspicious this is linked to the wart.

She is a stern vet. She wants me to hold Barry White on the table as if he is my baby. But I have Milk and Mayhem trying to climb my legs to see what is happening, so she gets a nurse to clip his claws.

“Anything else I can help with?”

“Yes.” I shift my hips so the boys slip down my legs to the floor with squeals and soft thuds.

I lean in. “I think I found a wart on him. I felt it when I picked him up the other day. It was dry and lumpy.”

The vet raises her eyebrows as if this is interesting. She feels around Barry White’s fur, which smooths out beneath her gentle touch. After a while she stops.

“Is this what you felt?” she says and parts the hair to show me a wart.

“Yes! Yes! That’s it!” I feel immense relief that I have saved Barry White’s life. “I knew there was something there.” I say smiling.

The vet nods. “It’s his nipple.”

 

Doctor No

I’m at the doctors again. I am always in this waiting room with the leaflets about Alzheimers and posters about caring for the elderly. I see one for Meningitis. It lists all of the warning signs but a lot of the symptoms are the same as a cold or flu, except for the rash – although you don’t have to display a rash to be in the clutches of Meningitus, so altogether it’s very alarming.

I came here at least once a week when Mayhem was little. Milk thought it was the library because we read so many books. But this time I am here for myself and I am alone. Milk and Mayhem are with the grandparents, and I am using my precious child-free time to sit in a room full of sick people. When my name is called I hardly recognise it; no one really says my name anymore.

I’m not seeing my usual doctor. I couldn’t get an appointment with him, because everyone wants to see him. I’m looking at a new doctor. This one has wild grey hair, is tall and slim and has piercing blue eyes and a wonky nose.

I explain to her I had a mole removed and I’m worried it is infected. I peel off my top and she takes a quick look.

“Nope that’s fine. A little bit sore perhaps but that’s normal. Have you taken pain killers?”

“You mean paracetamol? I take them just to get through each day,” I smile.

“You really shouldn’t.”

“No, I was joking.”

She stares at me. “Anything else?”

“Yes. I have swollen fingers.”

“It is hot.”

“No. No, this happened before it got hot, when everyone was moaning about it being cold.”

She looks at my hands, and then her eyes run over my body.

“Right. It could be lack of movement, it could be diet, or it could be both of those.”

She is saying I am a lazy fat cow.

“Do you have a good diet?” She prompts, seemingly unaware that my silence is hostile.

I am honest. “Not really. It’s not terrible but I certainly don’t have my five a day.”

“What I find is that if you don’t buy bad things, or have bad things in the house, then you don’t tend to eat them.” She smiles.

Maybe she got that crook in her nose from someone hitting her in the face.

I shake my head. “I don’t sit at home and eat biscuits if that’s what you mean.”

She nodds. “If you do want to eat biscuits then making your own is a good idea as then you know what goes into them.”

“I don’t sit at home eating biscuits.” I repeat and my voice catches in my throat.

“What you needs is the Mediterranean diet. That’s great I’ll print some notes off.”

She hands me the list of things I should eat to deflate myself.

“If the swelling continues, once this hot weather has passed, I suggest you come back and see me.”

I get up.

“How old is your little one?”

“I have two.”

“Oh so you haven’t got much time for baking then?”

I shrug. The damage is done. She can’t crawl back to humanity now.

“Anything else?”

I want to say lots more, like how I feel sick and dizzy from being so tired, that I cry most nights about what would happen if I lost my family, and that I want to go vegetarian but I can’t stop eating meat. But I am laden down with notes on oily fish and moderate red wine consumption, so I leave and go and sit in the car and cry there instead.

When I next have some free time, I think I’ll go to the dentist.

Teeth, breasts and guns

The World Health Organisation recommends women breast feed for two years as a minimum. I am sure this is because they are talking to the whole world, and the UK is only a small part of the whole world. In fact, according to just over half of the people who voted, the UK wants to be on its own entirely and not even part of Europe, even though that is geographically impossible.

Anyway my theory is that the two years must be aimed at developing countries who can’t feed their kids proper nutritious solids. I mean if you start weaning at six months and all you can give them is rice or potatoes then breast milk is probably better, right? I could be wrong and I could look into it more, but I don’t have time because I have a baby to look after. I convince myself I am right about this but I then read the UK is not great at breastfeeding their kids. I don’t mean we are bad at it like we spray people in the face, but we do it for the shortest time in the ‘developed’ world, or not at all.

I breast fed mine for a year but around seven months it got really tricky.  I remember  when Milk got a couple of teeth. As much as I rejoiced in those tiny little white bumps, I was soon cursing the day teething was successful. He started to test out his teeth on my nipple. Some people might enjoy being bitten on the nipple, but when a baby decides to bite your nipple as you are gently feeding him, it is a monumental shock – and it hurts a lot. It’s a pain which grows as the seconds pass. It’s like when you stub your toe on the corner of a chest of drawers and you yell out, but then the pain swells and you wonder if you have actually lost your foot.

Anyway, Milk was testing out his teeth, giving the odd nip here and there and I am wondering if I should take this as a sign to stop breast feeding. I live in fear of feeding him and every time I get my boob out his eyes gleam with recognition. It’s a little stressful, like if you gave your older kid cereal, and every day you wondered if they were going to head butt you as you passed them the bowl.

Gradually though I realise that maybe Milk just likes eating more than drinking.
“I think Milk is stopping breastfeeding I tell a Health Visitor at a children’s play group. “He’s been doing it for seven months and I think he has finished.”
“Well that’s up to you” she says and turns to face me, her eyes penetrating mine.
“Er, no I am saying I think he is stopping.” I speak clearly but my eyes are filling with tears.
The HV sees she has a bit of a wobbler on her hands. “Well it can happen naturally but have you changed your diet, or are you stressed? Sometimes these things can affect the milk supply.”
How would I know about my milk supply? It’s not like I can see a milkman delivering four pints and only two being drunk.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I mean maybe I’m a bit stressed.”
“With your husband?”
I think about my husband and how at the moment he is the only person I want to be around. It’s a strange assumption the HV is making, but maybe other blokes are arseholes to their tired, cranky emotional wives.
“No, with my baby”

As soon as the words leave my mouth I realise I shouldn’t have said them. I didn’t even really mean it, I just meant I was stressed with my baby biting my nipples. But the HV is onto me. She is looking at me more closely. She looks at Milk who is chewing a wooden brick on the floor.
She takes me by the elbow and turns me away from the rest of the bustle of the group.
“Do you feel close to tears or think harmful thoughts towards your baby at all?”
“No I don’t, I’m just trying to tell you he is biting me during breastfeeding and I think it may be because he wants to eat rather than drink.”
The HV looks almost disappointed and steps back. “Perfectly normal I’m afraid.”
“But painful none the less…” I add, hoping there may be some kind words coming.
“Yes but normal. Push on through I would, you’ve done well so far and the WHO…”
“…Yes I know all about that and the UK is very bad at breastfeeding, while the USA has a great record, but they also have a higher rate of toddlers shooting their mums dead.”
This completely stumps her. It takes her a while to compose herself. She manages a tight smile. “That’s because they have guns in America, and if you have guns you will use them.”
“Exactly,” I say “And if you have teeth…?”

The NCT myth and magic

It’s nearly Milk’s birthday and I spend a quiet moment on the loo thinking about the exciting and ignorant weeks before he arrived.

When people say pregnancy lasts for nine months it’s just one of the very big fat lies they tell you about becoming a mum. Most of the health professionals want you to have your baby at around 40 weeks, which is four weeks longer than nine months. And four weeks, when you are carrying around an extra human being, feels quite a long time.

Another pointless exercise is having a due date. Apparently only five per cent of babies arrive “on time”. Except in Louisiana USA, where I once saw a weird woman on TV saying that her doctor correctly predicted the arrival of all five of her children. She said this while patting the rolls of skin on her tummy as if her doctor was magical. Surely if there was someone who knew how this clock ticked no one would be telling us to order Vindaloos or have hot baths or try and hump each other with a massive bump in the way.

In the weeks before Milk’s arrival we meet up with an NCT group. The only way to survive parenthood, according to those gurus who are already parents, is to buy friends in the local area who had sex and got pregnant at the same time as you.

“Can’t we just go to the pub and talk to people?” I say before my husband sends the payment.

“Not many pregnant people hang out in pubs. Or do you?” he raises an eyebrow.

“I wish I could drink,” I say stroking my belly. I have abstained from alcohol from the moment I found out I was pregnant. It’s a choice every pregnant woman has to make and I chose to be a martyr.

“For that money I hope the teacher explains what the bloke has to do during labour.”

“I’m gonna be watching the Apprentice Final,” he says and clicks send.

We are the last to arrive and I survey the group, milling around sorting out hot drinks and laughing nervously about taking a second biscuit. There is a circle of hard plastic chairs and the facilitator holds her hands together and welcomes us, asking us to introduce ourselves and say three words which best describe us. I stare at everyone and push my leg against my husband when people speak, as if I can transmit my thoughts through his kneecap. He pushes back, but I never hear his thoughts so I just have to hope they aren’t going somewhere else.

The teacher is intense and obsessed with “natural births” as opposed to drugs or C-sections. She explains how her daughter had a home birth and breathed slowly until the child was born. “Any particular concerns?” she asks.

“How do you change a nappy?”

She seems disappointed at the group’s lack of interest in hanging from a tree in the fairy woods while breathing out a baby onto a lotus leaf.

“We’ll show you all that,” she says with a tight smile. “Soon you will be doing it in your sleep.”

As we drive home we are both buzzing.

“So what do you think? Did you like everyone?” I look at my husband’s profile in the yellow light of the car.

“Yeah everyone seems OK.”

Typical husband answer.

“Who was the prettiest do you think?”

“You.”

“Ha. I’m not stupid I know you were looking at Sara.”

“Zara.”

“See, you even know her name.”

“Well everyone does – they introduced themselves.” He turns the wheel as we pull into our road.

“Mmm. She is pretty though, isn’t she?”

“Shut up. Did you like any of the blokes?”

I don’t answer. Not because I liked any of the blokes but because I did not notice the men at all. I was too busy staring at all the girls and their solid bumps and fabulous boobs and pretty shoes and shiny hair. I am trying to ascertain where I am on the friendship scale and whether I will get on with these people. I don’t care if they have big boobs, but if they have big boobs and wear loafers – well, we are not going to be mates. I haven’t told my husband about the way I make friends, I’m not sure he would approve and also I don’t want him to think about the big boobs – except mine, which are incredible at the moment. First time I have ever had a cleavage, and I like it.

I am jerked out of my toilet reverie by the sound of Milk and Mayhem screaming “stuck stuck” and I race down the stairs with my knickers twisted up my bum, to find them locked in a panicked embrace under every possible soft furnishing they could find in the time it took me to have a pee.