Wednesday, 10 April 2013

First Birthdays

Two weeks ago, Flo and Archie were one.  They’re Leap Year babies which makes the birthday thing a bit weird.  Only celebrating their birthdays once every four years seemed a bit harsh plus I’d be having to buy teeny tiny school uniforms for September so we plumped for 1st March instead on non Leap Years.  This was partly in honour of St David who plays a fairly hefty part in Justin’s life but also to reduce the February offspring birthday party quotient in future years.  Being the Brigadoon of birthdays, it felt decidedly odd to be celebrating such a landmark occasion on the wrong day.

The day Flo and Archie were born, the local paper called the hospital and asked if we’d be in a ‘Leap Year twins birth shocker’ photo story.   I considered their kind offer for about oooh 10 nano seconds and declined, what with my partial paralysis, pallour and post natal poundage.  Oh and because I worried that Flo and Archie would never forgive me for cashing in on their first precious hours.

We had a little family birthday tea party to celebrate this most special of birthdays.  Flo and Archie played with balloons, ripped open presents and sucked wrapping paper, and ate their first chocolate cake.  They ate it just like you should eat your first chocolate cake – wide-eyed, by the handful, smearing it all over their lovely little faces, spilling an awful lot on the floor, and gagging ever-so-slightly afterwards.  I was proud and got misty-eyed and we drank champagne.

Four years ago, at Evie’s first birthday party, Justin made a lovely speech and we shed a happy and triumphant tear.  This time it felt a bit different.  No less happy or memorable a celebration, I fancy we had a look of the battle-weary war veteran about us - a bit jaded, line-y eyed and frazzled around the edges even in our party clothes.  No speeches this time but in a quiet moment, we touched hands and had a silent conversation which I think we both knew acknowledged that we’d made it through what has been an incredibly tough year.

There are things about having two babies at the same time that I’ve really struggled with this first year.   You know the stuff from my previous warblings: the freak effect in the supermarket, the ‘double trouble, you’ve got your hands full‘ quoters, our colossus of a buggy that kills spontaneous outings and requires Geoff Capes to travel with us on all occasions so we can get it out of the car.  The pitiful lack of hands to cuddle, feed and carry everyone at the same time.  The relentless logistics and bone-aching exhaustion.  And let’s be honest, the sheer cold realisation that I’m far too old to be doing all this at my age.   

A friend once asked me: “So would you recommend the whole twin experience then?” and before missing a beat I said “God no, why would anyone want to have two babies at the same time, it’s madness.”  I felt guilty for answering quite so vociferously but on paper, you have to admit it’s a crazy concept.  

But there’s no denying it - there are plentiful magical moments too.  Hearing them chat with each other or watching them chase around the house like mad puppies.  Or pinching each other’s snacks or laughing at each other.  Seeing them splashing in the bath alongside each other or climbing on my lap for a cuddle or pointing and waving at Evie.  Taking tins of baked beans out of the cupboard and rolling them around the kitchen floor.  Doing a crawl-y runner down the garden every time the front door opens.  I could go on.  I will go on – but in the privacy of my own head just to remind myself that these little chaps are a precious gift and we’re so very lucky to have them in our lives.

... Even when they try and chew the loo brush.        

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Must think less

In six-ish weeks, Flo and Archie will be a year old.  These children are a mystery to me.  One minute they’re tiny nose-tubed scraps, wearing dolly-sized clothes, doing spoons in the same moses basket – the next, they’re chasing each other around the house in crawling races, dragging bottles off the wine rack and climbing the entire staircase the minute the baby gate’s left open an inch.  It’s beyond belief how quickly the last twelve months have gone and I really struggle to remember much about the early weeks and months at all.  I tell you it’s a good job I started this blog or I’d not even remember who I was.

In five weeks, Evie will be five.  FIVE.  Unbelievable.  I ask her if she sees herself as a big girl or a little girl – “I’m both Mummy.”  I like that.  She’s a thinker, my Evie.  I like that too.  She likes to have a good old think about stuff and then ask me about it when we drive somewhere.  “Mummy, where is God and why can’t we see him?”.  “Mummy, why isn’t a snack the same thing as a treat?”.  “Mummy, why do you call people who drive badly ‘idiots’?”  ”Mummy, why do you still have a big tummy even though Flo and Archie aren’t in there anymore?”  The existential stuff I can handle but the tummy one gets me every time.  I fear I must prepare a set of ‘defensive lines to take’ in true PR consultant style, in readiness for such conversational onslaughts so as to avoid tears (mine) on the school run.    
I like to do a bit of thinking myself.  Last weekend, when I was feeling a bit flu-ey, I had a little lay in bed in the daytime and did some thinking while I watched the snow coming down.  I think I might have stared at the snow a bit too long because I got a bit delirious, thinking about whether this ought to be the year I find religion, whether surgery might be an option to get my stomach flat again, whether it will be OK for Flo to have the same haircut as Evie when she’s older or whether that will just look weird, and whether I’d rather our children be employed shelf-stackers or unemployed graduates.   
My husband tells me I think too much and that that’s why I don’t know how to relax and that I should try to be a simpler soul and not worry myself with so many of life’s dilemmas.  I find that a difficult concept to get my head around.  How does one even go about thinking less?  Before I had children, I used to do a lot of yoga as I thought it might help me think less.  But lovely though all that stretching and deep breathing was, I found all the resulting inner peace a bit empty and quiet.  Now I’ve got three kids and run my own business (nope, still  haven’t got over the novelty of saying that),  I’m stiff as a board and take only very shallow breaths but I find the inner clanging of random and often anxious thought upon the next soothes me to sleep a treat.      

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

All change

Flo and Archie are nearly nine months old.  It’s an age since I last wrote my blog and in the few months since I last posted, my whole world has changed.  Archie is crawling, standing up, knocking things over, eating paper, climbing out of his moses basket when he’s meant to be sleeping, smearing cauliflower cheese in his eye, choking on rice cakes and generally making mischief.  He has also developed a tickly spot and has a Terry Thomas-esque gap between his two front teeth.  I gather this (the tooth gap not the tickly spot) is a marker of good luck so I shall be rubbing his lovely teeth on my Euromillions ticket every Friday.  Flo is determinedly sitting still, not crawling and not being a pudding kind of girl (which must be some kind of rogue gene).

Evie is settled and happy at school although it appears she was forced to sign the Official Secrets Act on her first day as she seems pathologically unable to share with us a single detail of what she does there all day every day.  While I rack myself with guilt about sending her to after school club at four years old so I can selfishly earn a living, she berates me for coming to pick her up too early.  And so I relax - guilt assuaged.  Homework has entered our world – homework, for four year olds, who knew?  I begin with intentions of gentle, liberal encouragement , only to morph accidentally just days in into an Amy Chua-style Tiger Mother, yelling that her  ‘H’ isn’t straight enough and that the only way to get good at something is to practice it over and over as she writes Jones for the 100th time - so motivating and inspiring for the young mind.  Captain Von Trapp would be so proud, I really must polish my whistle and shine those jackboots.

So just a month or so ago, my fledgling wee solo PR outfit stumbled and blinked into the daylight, coughing and spluttering with fear and trepidation.  I invented a name, wrote a business plan, built a little website, printed some jazzy business cards, got an accountant, and sent out a flurry of emails to people who knew me before my brain fell out or who met me since and were still prepared to talk to me.  Then in a very quiet voice, I practised saying:  “I’ve got three children and I run my own business”, just to see how it felt.    

Next I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and hoped that a little bit of business might trickle my way, easing me gently back into the world of work.  But the trickle didn’t happen - because I won the first few things I pitched for and KA-BOOM, suddenly I feel like I might just have a one woman empire-in-the-making, with clients, campaigns and work coming out of my ears.  It’s all happened so quickly that I’m still catching my breath but it feels good to be chasing deadlines and talking to journalists again.  Of course the biggest shock to the system working for and by myself rather than in the comforting bosom of a big London PR agency is that I no longer have lots of lovely people to do what I ask.  As I build my own media lists for the first time in about a hundred years, I hear the distant strains of account execs past saying: “I told you it took two hours, not ten minutes, now stop bloody nagging”.

Mornings and evenings are frantic getting everyone up, dressed, changed, fed, watered and transported to their various destinations but when I’m back sitting at my desk, planning my working day, and the house is quiet, I take a minute to sit back and think: “Well here I am - mother of three and running my own business”.  I think it in a loud voice this time.  And it does feel good, and quite grown up and RIDICULOUSLY exciting. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

An alien in our midst

Flo and Archie were six months old this week.  I don’t know how that happened but happen it did.  Only about ten minutes ago they were tiny new-born dots with nose tubes, squished up together and looking up at our anxious faces looking down into their little shared cot.  As I stand at the hob, Annabel Karmel puree cookbook in one hand, blender in the other, two thoughts come to mind – firstly, how can my tiny bubs be eating already and second, surely I am far too old to be pureeing veg and won’t I be about 65 by the time I do their school run.  As far as weaning goes, so far so messily good.  With me as dextrous octopus armed with flailing spoons, bibs, sippy cups and wipes, they do all the things you want babies to do when they eat real food for the first time – wince, taste a tiny bit, spit it out, hold then drop the spoon a hundred times, chuck food around, suck their bibs, rock perilously in their bumbo seats etc.  One day, Evie helps feed them carrot puree made from the fruits of our own veg patch and I feel a delicious sense of earthy continuity.  All is comfortingly chaotic yet familiar. 

Less familiar is the interloper that has entered our lives, seemingly without us knowing.  Flo is a girl, Evie is a girl, I’m a girl, Just has a sister, I have a sister – we know girls.  Evie’s a gentle soul, loves dancing, dressing up, pink and all the usual ‘girl’ stuff.  But Just has always played plenty of rough and tumble with her, hanging her upside down, chucking her around and chasing her around the garden.  She loves that stuff.  And I’ve been sure to tell her that women can do any job a man can do.  She thought about that one long and hard and I got a bit twitchy about any come back – she then asked me if men can be mermaids which was a surprisingly challenging one to answer. 

When we found out that one of our babies was a boy, I just presumed he’d sort of be like a girl, only in male form.  I imagined we’d just treat him the same way we’d treat our girls.  As I righteously declared that I believe in the power of nurture over nature and would be raising Flo and Archie just the same, friends with sons stifled laughter.  When I said I didn’t think it was a given that boys need to sit in mud, hit other children with sticks, eat like animals and pull the legs off bugs, they scoffed politely.  Then I saw that the shelves of most bookshops carry Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different – How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men”.  Well, you can imagine my thoughts on THAT illustrious tome.

But hey, here’s the thing.  For the first five months, the only discernible differences I could see between Flo and Archie were physiological: Flo petite, vocal, smiley, brunette, olive skinned and hazel-eyed; Archie bigger, quieter, serious, pale, blond and blue-eyed.  But in the last few weeks, things have definitely changed.  Archie’s suddenly much more physical - rolling and crashing into toys and furniture without fear, desperate to sit up by himself, often using Flo as purchase to pull himself around, grabbing toys purposefully and hurling them, grunting when he can’t reach something he likes the look of, touching my face during feeds and shoving his bottle away when he’s had enough milk.  And it’s not a character thing – Flo has a strong personality.  She’s forthright, highly vocal (deafening at times when she’s telling us she’s hungry – we call her Flo Foghorn), obvious about what she wants and likes.  She’s just distinctly more dare I say it: “feminine”.  I struggle to find other words or excuses for what’s happening, but god damn it, it looks like when I wasn’t looking, Archie became a boy.   

Monday, 16 July 2012

New beginnings

Flo and Archie are four months and three weeks old and time is just flying past.  This past week, under cover of seemingly innocuous smiling, sleeping and googoo gaagaa-ing, they have been busy hot-housing.  Unbeknownst to me, they have enrolled in a novelty circus act for very small wriggly people, in which they roll incessantly in every conceivable direction – off their play mat, onto the floor, onto toys but mainly onto each other.  Mini completer-finishers they are not so the glee of initial accomplishment is rapidly followed by puce-faced rage as they realize they are stuck, tiny arms simply too puny to bear their weight or turn themselves over.  With faces planted firmly in the floor, they proceed to vent their fury at multiple decibels until rescued by yours truly.  I look them in the eye, advise them soundly with a helpful “now this is just getting silly”, at which point they smile and then repeat the trick ad infinitum.  Meanwhile, we’re having some cracking vowel-sound conversations and Flo’s taught herself bubble-blowing which is nice, if messy.

Evie is having her own adventure as she prepares to leave the happy, loving arms of her nursery and start the transition to our village primary school this September.  A fantastic welcome meeting for parents reassures us of the nurturing environment she’ll be entering and we’re asked to commit our hopes for our children to paper, which we’ll revisit in a year’s time.  In the Q&A session with the class teacher, there’s much questioning about how much sport the children will play and I already fear the parents’ race at sports day next summer.  Must get fit.         

I realise my blog’s been a tad gloomy to date.  Sorry about that – I think I’ve tended to post on tough days when writing has served as therapy.  I wouldn’t want you to think for a minute that I’m not enjoying this new parenting lark.  I know I’ve probably over-focussed on the tougher aspects of raising twins but it’s because there are a fair few of those and they knock me for six at times, plus I need bucketloads of sympathy.  At times when I’m struggling, woeful posts on my beloved facebook trigger a mass of wonderful virtual hugs from friends far and near that lift my spirits no end.  Challenges aside - the fun bits are plentiful and heart-warming but I’ve tried not to bang on about that stuff because everyone hates smug parents with cloying tales of prodigal offspring.  Bearing that in mind, you’ll be pleased to know that these last few weeks I’ve been feeling much more chipper, less knackered and dare I say it, HAPPY. 

The cause of this epiphany is something I vowed not to do til September.  Yep, strike me down but I’ve been doing some WORK.  Now don’t judge me, I know the babies are still very young and I should be devoting each waking moment to their every need BUT in my humble opinion, all play and no work makes mummy a terribly dull and ever-so-slightly resentful old bag.  So, I’ve been researching and prospecting for my fledgling PR outfit and have unashamedly enjoyed every minute of it.  Daddy and Nanny daycare step in to play Mum while I network with some great local businesses.  As initial meetings lead to further meetings, I feel my horizons widen and get a glimpse of what I’ve wanted to do since we moved here two years ago - use everything I’ve learned in my career so far to run my own business promoting the brilliant ‘hidden gem’ companies on my doorstep.  A local glossy mag gets in touch wanting to feature our ‘escape to the country’ story, then out of the blue comes a request to work on a really exciting pitch.  I jump at the opportunity to dust off the grey matter and get the adrenaline pumping.  Despite some late night keyboard-bashing, it’s SO good to feel the pleasant pressure of a looming deadline instead of clock-watching for the next round of feeds.

This unexpected but very welcome spurt of industry makes me feel like a new woman.  I bounce back to my family with new relish, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the realization that in every aspect of my life, it’s a time of new beginnings.    

Sunday, 24 June 2012


Flo and Archie will be four months old this week.  I can’t believe how quickly time is flying past.  They’re much more aware of each other now and are making the most wonderful sounds.  Flo attempts a few roll-overs most days now and Archie did a full flip onto his front today without any warning.  His expression of permanent surprise (a la Father Dougall from TV’s Father Ted) is still highly entertaining as is Flo’s ability to crack a smile at any given moment.  Feeding is increasingly a juggling act as they become more and more wriggly in their bouncy chairs and it doesn’t seem possible that in just a few months, we’ll start weaning. 

I don’t know if it’s post-natal comedown, hormones getting back into synch, overtiredness or just my somewhat gloomy nature (or possibly all of the above?) but I seem to be at the complete mercy of my emotions.  I thought because I’ve had a baby before and being an older mum, I’d be better at all the emotional stuff but it appears not.  It goes without saying that I love these babies with all my heart.  They’re joyful, flourishing little chaps, fun to be with, cute as buttons, and in rude and robust health.  On good days, I feel like Supermum, skillfully juggling the demands of our expanded household and smugly lapping up praise from strangers in supermarkets while rustling up a tasty supper, keeping my body hair in check and even doing a spot of light weeding in the garden.  But on tough days, I feel overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility, stifled by the tedium of domesticity and wrung out by the military-style logistics required just to do the nursery run or to meet a friend for lunch.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nerve-janglingly hyper-sensitive and seem to go through days of being constantly and inexplicably on the brink of tears.  I well up when singing nursery rhymes to an oblivious Flo and Archie at ‘Bounce & Rhyme’, get a full throat lump and lip tremble when those peskily adorable kids and military wives do their Jubilee thing, and can’t even look our local Big Issue seller in the eye for fear of wanting to adopt her.   

A few weeks ago, an(other!) unkind comment from a thoughtless geriatric reduces me to a gibbering wreck while at the supermarket.  I go home, unpack the shopping, and add: ‘Grow thicker skin’ to my to do list.  It sits just below: ‘Don’t be too proud to ask for help’ and ‘Stop denying that having twins is hard work when people say “that must be hard work even when you know bloody well that it is‘. 

Respite comes in the form of my wonderful Mum (and fairy godmother) who comes to stay for a few days while my Dad is overseas.  I meet her off the train and even as I see her crossing the platform, I’m fighting back tears of relief (again, the crying thing) as I know she brings with her unconditional love, fuss-free help with the babies, and endless patience to read every single Meg and Mog story to Evie each night of her stay, not to mention a Marks & Spencer’s store card and a devout love of coffee shops which we indulge fully during her stay.  We talk, talk, talk and she tells me I’m doing a great job of this motherhood thing and that I should be proud of myself.  It’s the very best kind of praise and when we hug our goodbyes at the end of her stay, I cling to her like a child and miraculously manage not to sob – well, at least until I get back into my car anyway.    

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Dusty wedges and rusty edges

Our lovely little chaps were three months old last week.  We’ve watched them grow from tiny mites into robust, smiley babies.  Archie’s taken a three pound lead over Flo and as he gets bigger, she seems even smaller somehow, even though she’s growing well too.   They’re finding their voices - Archie has an owl-like “hoooo” while Flo coos and babbles, smiling constantly.  And then there’s the hands.  We’re loving watching them randomly pointing, staring at their own fingers and brandishing a Superman fist.  A truly delightful sight is watching Archie stroke his own fuzzy peach-skin head.

The last few weeks have been the most exhausting by far.  While the babies are pretty much sleeping through the night, the trade-off is very wakeful daytimes.  Even now we’re using bottles, feeding still takes up a huge part of the day and I’m frustrated at the lack of tangible evidence of anything vaguely productive to show for my day.  I never seem to have a long enough run at anything before the next epic double feed/burp/change round starts.  I leave snatched meals uneaten, the ironing pile half-creased, emails half-written, exercise abandoned.  A diehard completer-finisher, I struggle with what to me seems chaos.  Just asks: “Did you have a good day?” when he gets in from work and I woefully tell him I’ve not achieved a single thing, nothing to report, just the nursery run, baby duties and domestic drudgery.  He hugs me and tells me I’m a great mum and that Evie, Flo and Archie are growing and flourishing under my care – that that is my biggest achievement.  He says all the right things but the fact is that while I’m very good at working, I’m a pretty hopeless housewife.  Sadly I’ll never get the same buzz from baking a sponge as I will from cracking a strategy or pitching a great idea.  I give myself a good talking to about making the most of this special time with Flo and Archie as my return to working life will come round soon enough.  At that, I switch my brain down several gears and slow the well-oiled cogs, stick a muslin on my shoulder and put on my pinny (spotless and for show obviously).

Well-meaning friends and glossy magazines tell me I need ‘me time’ to separate mummy-me from me-me.  But I don’t know how to fit that in.  I used to think of ‘me time’ as being a spa day or shopping splurge, solo cinema night or long soak in the bath with my book.  Now it’s more likely to be going to the loo without a four year old in tow or an evening trip to the supermarket to pick up forgotten groceries.  This weekend though, I finally get me some of that elusive time.  I winch myself into skinny (ish) jeans, dust off my towering wedge sandals and attend a drinks party at my local art gallery.  It’s wonderful.  Chilled white wine soothes my ‘new mum alone and out of the house in going-out clothes’ angst, the company is charming and bohemian, and the art baffles and intrigues me in a most pleasant way.  While I’m there, something happens deep inside my head but I don’t recognize the feeling.  Then today I go to the Hay Festival to listen to my favourite columnist, proud and potty-mouthed feminist and mum Caitlin Moran, discuss her caustic take on the modern woman’s lot.  Her witty rantings are bitter-sweet and entertaining and create much chatter amongst the crowd afterwards.  Then that thing with my head happens again.  I drive home and as I put my keys in the front door and hear the familiar sounds of my family, I realize what’s happened this weekend.  I’ve done something I’ve not done for a good few months.  I’ve done some THINKING.  I’d like to try doing it again, just as soon as I finish this ironing.