The Third Space

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

Our evenings now involve trying to eat spaghetti bolognese over the baby’s head without dropping it in his ears.

This is also the only time my husband and I get to talk to each other face-to-face. All our conversations are a competition about who has had the worst day.

My husband tells me about his awful commute and then, and this seems to be the most stressful part of his day, ‘the salad bar ran out of beetroot.’

I tell him there is breast milk squirted all over the car windows because I tried to eat a petrol station sandwich in a car park while feeding the baby.

I also manage to get in a comment about how I haven’t had time to go to the loo.

Once we have finished being passive aggressive my husband pours some wine and says. ‘I worked something out on the commute. I worked out everyone needs a Third Space.’

He says this phrase as if it really does have capital letters.

I re-position the baby so that he screams down my other ear.

‘People live in a house…’ he says.

I watch as he sucks pasta into his mouth, flicking sauce all over the sofa. He seems a little distracted by the screeching baby. ‘Maybe he needs more milk?’

I give him the ‘don’t ever say that again or I will chop off my boobs and sew them on to your chest’ look.

He continues with his observations. ‘People live in a house and go to work and then they come back to the house.’

‘Yes,’ I say, thinking I have better conversations with Milk and Mayhem.

But my husband continues. ‘That’s two spaces. And that’s when the rot sets in, because everyone needs a Third Space.’

‘Do you want to go to the pub or something?’ I shout above the noise.

‘Some people might choose that but I mean like going to the gym, or an allotment, or something away from the house, or even something in the house, but a special place where you can’t be disturbed.’

The idea of not being disturbed gets my interest. ‘And what does one do in this Third Space?’

‘See life differently, see different people, different sounds, different smells. Have space to think!’

I nod rather enthusiastically and the baby is sick down my back.

I put him gently on the floor. ‘Here’s a different person for you to see. And a different smell. Would you mind changing him while I go to the loo?’

I head upstairs as slowly as possible, savouring the feeling of being a single entity.

I close the door of the bathroom and realise with a little sigh that I am probably sitting on Milk’s wee, and my feet are also probably standing in Mayhem’s wee.

My husband is right about the Third Space, but I have a newborn who is rarely more than 10m from me. I look at my thighs. I could have a go at Baby Yoga.

Baby Yoga involves lying on the floor with a baby (preferably your own), lying next to you on a special mat. When the baby makes a position with his arms and legs, all the mums have to copy it.

I know if I try this with our baby he will squirm around on his back, fart or poo and then puke to one side. I’m not sure I’d enjoy copying this, and anyway I did plenty of that at University.

I ponder the other Third Spaces available to me.

The garden. Not during the day when Milk and Mayhem are terrorising the rabbits or kicking balls at my head. I’m talking about the garden in the middle of the night, when the air hangs as still as the stars, and I look out of the window and wish I smoked, because then I would have a reason to go outside and blow smoke rings at the moon.

Another Third Space of mine is when we have all left the house at the weekend, but someone has forgotten something, so I run back and I stand for a moment in the debris of our morning activity breathing in the silence.

That’s a special Third Space: That small but peaceful moment before I unfreeze and grab the hat, or sock or water bottle and race back to the car full of chaos in the drive.

The bathroom door opens and my husband is standing there with the baby.

I look at him. He looks at me a little sheepishly. ‘I think he is.. hungry…’

‘But I’m on the loo.’

My husband nods. ‘You’ve been up here for ages.’

I shrug. ‘I’m not going to apologise for being on the loo.’

He agrees at once. ‘Oh I know, I just feel sorry for you.’

‘Why? I’m not constipated if that’s what you’re thinking.’

He grimaces. ‘No. I mean I feel sorry for you because this is it.’


‘This is your Third Space.’

I look around at the bath toys and toothbrushes, the dripping tap and the floor covered in wee.

‘In that case we need to get a Do Not Disturb sign,’ I say and kick the door shut.



The Arrival

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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’

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Photo by Syed Hasan Mehdi on

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

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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…”


“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.