Tuesday, November 12, 2013


When Elsie is running around like a mad thing and I need her to calm down and get ready for bed, or eat her dinner, or generally behave more like a human being and less like a wild animal I tend to bring her to me, give her a big cuddle and look into those big brown eyes. 'Calm down, my love' I say, 'try and calm down.'

Sometimes she stays for the cuddle, the thumb might sneak over to her mouth and it works. Generally though, she gives me a cheeky smile, pulls away from me and carries on as before.

The other day, I was asking her not to do something. Details escape my poor tired brain, but let's say I was asking her not to kick the back of my seat in the car. It was definitely in the car.

'Why not Mummy?' she asked, all innocent sweetness.

'Well, when you kick my seat, I can feel it in my back and it's not very comfortable.'

'This isn't comfortable?' she asked, giving the seat a good kick to double-check.

'No! Elsie please stop, not only might you hurt me, but the back of my seat will be all muddy from your shoes.'

'Muddy?' she twisted her foot around to check, and scraped it along the back of the seat in the process.

'Elsie!!' I shouted, losing my cool completely. 'Why can't you just take my word for it and do as I ask sometimes? Why do you have to check everything I say is true? It's it true! STOP KICKING MY SEAT!'

'Mummy!' Elsie said, quietly but firmly. 'Caaaaahhhhhlm down.' I turned round in surprise. There she was, hands out in front of her, bringing them down slowly in a perfect copy of my familiar gesture. 'Calm down, Mummy.' she repeated. 'Don't shout.'

Friday, November 8, 2013

no skiver

I check the screen of the thermometer.

'Sorry love' I tell Elsie, her face raised towards mine expectantly. 'You're not better. It's not as high as in the night but you're not well yet.'

'I'll go to school?' she asks, hopefully.

'No, you'll stay home today. If you rest lots and let your body recover, you can go to school tomorrow.'

Her big eyes fill with tears. 'But I really want to go to school Mummy'.

'I know my love. But you're not well and if you go to school, it might make your friends ill too.'

She considers this.

'I'll go to school another day'.

Yes, yes you will. Many other days for the next 15 years...

Monday, October 21, 2013

When something happens by mistake

We are talking to my parents, Elsie sitting on the sofa next to me, the conversation on loudspeaker so she can join in when she feels like it.

'Did you have fun with your friend yesterday Elsie?' my mum asks, 'what did you do?'

'She did a wee wee in her pants!' Elsie says, enjoying being the one to share the thrilling news.

'Oh dear, well accidents happen' my Mum says. 'I saw a photo of you both drawing.'

'Yes. And stickers!' Elsie remembers.

The conversation turns to me and my current low mood, prompted by broken nights and a baby who seems to be having an incredibly hard time teething and not helped by a ridiculous early-morning collision with a parked car.

'It was so stupid!' I moan. 'I was going slowly, there was loads of room but I just wasn't concentrating and it's just another thing I've got to deal with now.'

My parents are kind, tell me their own stories of mindless scrapes and I see that Elsie's tired.

'Enough about my car accident, it's time to get this little one to bed. Say goodnight Elsie'

Elsie turns her big brown eyes on me. 'The car done a wee wee Mummy?'

Friday, October 11, 2013

old father

Everyone says it, in one way or another. Time flies! Where does the time go? Time's passing so fast... but I can't help but feel it flits past us even quicker than for many others.

I was in the pharmacy asking for advice about an infected eye that was bothering Molly recently. The pharmacist was offering different options for washing it - boiled water, camomile... I told her how I was still breastfeeding and asked if the antibacterial qualities of breastmilk that the midwives raved about were still relevant. She looked down at 8-month old Molly in her pram and back at me 'well, yes, they do say that it helps, for babies.' I listened to the rest of her advice and paid a ridiculous amount for individually wrapped, sterile wipes but all the time I was screaming in my head 'she IS a baby!' She may wear clothes aimed at children double (yes double) her age but this is my baby!'

It brought to mind an episode this summer when Marek and I were showing the girls the maritime museum in Greenwich. Molly was on me in the sling and Elsie, still two years old at the time, had decided to sit in the buggy while we walked around. A lady, spotting Elsie being bumped down some steps, adressed us across the room. 'She's getting a bit old for that isn't she?' she said, with a disapproving tut. I was so surprised I did that thing where your mouth smiles, your eyes say 'whaaa?' and you make a kind of 'huh' noise. Only later did I think I should have asked her just how old she thought my little girl was, before suggesting politely that she mind her own business.

Our babies came out as big as most 3-month-olds. They ate and ate and continued to grow and develop at astonishing rates. Elsie is a lively but thoughtful giggly 3 year-old who towers above most of the others in her ecole maternelle class. Molly is a solid smiley crawler who loves nothing better than grabbing toys from her big sister's hands, squealing all the while. They are big but they are tiny. They have so much time ahead of them, I wish it didn't feel like we have somehow been cheated of the time when they were tiny little babies. My babies are still babies finding their place in this world. I wish this world would allow them to grow more slowly. Slow. Down. Time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

My little girl understands three languages but says 'brefkast', 'puputer' and 'cucoomber'.

She wears the clothes of a five year old but can tantrum with the best two year old.

She propels herself along on a balance bike faster than I can walk but asks Daddy to carry her up the stairs to bed.

She is smart and sassy and rebellious and charming and frustrating.

My baby is three.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Today I have
* cleaned banana off the dining room radiator;
* changed a (reuseable) nappy outside the house and had to put the dirty one, human excrement and all, into my favourite handbag;
* sunk into a deep bubble bath and put my head on my bath pillow only to find it covered in baby bitemarks.
I have a charmed life, I think you'll agree.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

role reversal

Elsie runs over, carefully shielding one cupped hand with the other. She reaches me on the blanket and picks out an almost whole raspeberry from her collection.
'For me?" I feign surprise and give her a grin. I open my mouth as wide as I can and she pops it in. 'Mmmm!' I say, and before I can take a breath, she fixes her gaze on me and says 'what you say?'
I stifle a giggle. 'Thank you Elsie.'
'You're welcome Mummy!' and smiling sweetly, she stuffs the remaining raspberries in her mouth.

Friday, May 24, 2013

And then it all made sense

Three nights now we've had a broken baby. I used to beam when people asked if she was sleeping through. 'She's 3 months and goes from about 9pm to about 6am' I'd say, thanking my lucky stars that we were through the newborn trials and established with a flexible but comforting routine. 'How often does she wake to eat?' they'd ask, and I'd look a little shame-faced and say 'she doesn't'.

But then a couple of weeks ago we went through a growth spurt and the constant eating throughout the day ran over into the night. Soon we were having dream feeds at 10.30pm and top up feeds at 4am. That was ok though, the real trouble started three nights ago, when she would. not. sleep.

Instead of putting her in her cot when she was drowsy, watching her suck her thumb and settle herself, we were suddenly rocking, jiggling, feeding her to sleep. We'd put her in her cot asleep and her eyes would snap open, followed by full on crying. Pick up, rock to sleep, put down, scream, pick up, rock to sleep, put down, scream... until we broke and brought her into bed with us. Exhaustion overcame worries about creating bad habits and I fed her to sleep. She slept. For a while...

I read up on it, and (re)discovered the joys of the four month sleep regression. I read stories from people whose experiences mirrored ours, I re-read explanations of the developmental growth that occurs around now and how all the extra brain activity interferes with sleeping, I passed on my newly-gleaned wisdom to anyone who would listen, excitedly chattering about sleep cycles and new, increased phases of light sleep, unlike newborn deep sleep.

I tore my hair out over naps that didn't last longer than 45 minutes, for days. The baby woke tired, rubbing her eyes and yawning, throwing our happy routine out of the window. She would only sleep in her pram or after being fed. She also changed from a happy sociable baby to a clingy misery. If I put her in her bouncy chair she would moan. Leaving the room provoked loud angry cries.

Yesterday, after a night of waking every 90 minutes. 90 MINUTES! she was so tired, she woke at from a nap at 11.30 and by 12.30, she was a wreck. I put her in her pram and walked her to sleep. At 1.45pm she woke and cried, but I pushed the pram back and forth a little and she got herself back to sleep. At 3pm I heard one sole cry, then nothing for another hour.  I was so relieved that she had managed to get herself back to sleep, that all the hope came flooding back.

I fed her, winded her and put her on her play mat on her front. She pushed herself up with her hands, so her head was the furthest off the ground I've ever seen. Then she looked at me, tipped her head to the left and rolled onto her back. I was astounded. 'You clever girl!' I cried, and put her back on her front. She tipped her head to the right this time, and landed on her back again, beaming up at me like she knew she was as clever as they come.

Now I have evidence that what everyone else has been telling me is true, I believe again. The baby is not broken and has not forgotten how to sleep forever, but is working on new skills and has too much going on to be able to switch off. I believe that she will sleep again. I believe she will continue to roll, and stretch and touch her toes and I believe that life will get back into a routine. Until the next time.

Edited three days later to add: her sleep's still a mess, but Molly has now grabbed her feet for the first time too...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

boob baby og-utt

Would you like a yoghurt now Elsie? I ask, scooping up her empty plate. 'Yes!' she confirms, sliding down from her chair. 'Essie get!'

She runs to the fridge. opens it up, grabs a soya yoghurt and returns to her place. I pass her a spoon and take the top off the pot for her. 'Oh lovely' I say, 'a blueberry yoghurt.'

'Boobree og-utt!' she says.

'Yeh-yeh-yeh-yoghurt' I correct.

'yeh-yeh-yeh-og-utt!' she responds.

Leaving the og-utt aside for a moment, I concentrate on the blueberries. 'Blue-berry' I say.


"BLUE berry'

'Berloo berree'


'Boob baby'

'Blueberry yoghurt'

'Boob baby og-utt'

I give up.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

big girl

Elsie has sucked her thumb since she was two months old. This thumb-sucking has generally been accompanied by a cuddly blanket toy, which she twirls between her fingers as she sucks. In French these toys are called doudous, and Elsie has several of them.

A doudou accompanies Elsie to her creche every day and is put to one side until nap time, which Elsie sometimes does and sometimes does not join in with. This morning, after she zipped her boots and popped the poppers on her coat I noticed her empty hands.

'Elsie my love, which doudou are you taking today?'

She looked up at me, with a wide-eyed soulful look. 'No doudou' she said, shaking her head. 'Essie big girl!' and she flashed me a huge grin.

She kissed me goodbye and walked out of the door, hand in hand with her Daddy. I watched her go, my two-and-a-half year old big girl.


I was holding a slumbering baby in my arms, looking out of our bedroom window at the snowy scene, when the car pulled up. I didn't think anything of it at first - we often get people parking outside our house - but when the two men got out, I started to take notice.

There was something odd about the way they were walking; with purpose but slowly. They were both dressed in dark clothes and looked determined, as if they were actors in a film. The first guy looked back at the second and pointed towards our house. The second walked towards me, through the entrance to our front garden and towards our garage door.

I started. What was he doing coming in through our garden? Suddenly I noticed a thumping in my chest and an urge to run. I went through to the bathroom where Marek was showering. 'There's a man trying to get in our garage!' I told him. He turned off the shower and looked at me 'what?' 'There's a man in our front garden' I said. 'It looks like he's trying to get in the house.' It sounded silly as I said it. Something from a film again or news item, although the adrenaline pumping round my body made it seem all too real.

Marek jumped out and grabbed a dressing gown. 'Get the phone' he said, and went downstairs. I went down to the sitting room and looked out. I couldn't see anything, although the car, a blue peugeot, was still there. I heard Marek on the ground floor, opening the shutters to see into the back garden, opening the internal garage door to see if there was anyone there. When he came up to the sitting room he was carrying one of the girls' walkalong toys. 'There's nobody in the house' he said. I looked at the toy. 'What were you going to do with that?' I giggled.

We went back to the window and Molly stirred in my arms. I jiggled her up and down and she settled again. 'There is someone there.' Marek said and took the phone from my hand. 'Is it 100 for police?' he asked and I heard my pounding heart again. It only got worse when we went through to look out over the back garden and saw the flickering light of torchbeams. 'They're trying to get in round the back!' I gasped.

Marek opened the window and looked out as the first man, torch in hand, came round the corner of the house. He made a noise and the man looked up. Just as I thought this is it, the crunch point, where things could all go terribly wrong, the man spoke. 'Police monsieur!' he said. Marek showed him the phone. 'I'm calling the police right now' he said. 'We had reports that there was a suspicious character about' the man continued. (you're telling me! I thought) 'There has been a burglary a couple of doors down and we thought we'd check out neighbouring areas.' How do we know he's telling the truth? I wondered, but he went back round the front and joined his colleague who had been in next door's garden. Suddenly the dark clothes and set expressions were less sinister and clearly an inconspicuous way for police to explore out of uniform. Before getting back in the car, the first officer stood in the street and radioed through the results of their investigation.

We went to bed. It took longer than usual to get to sleep; a long time before my heart slowed to normal speed.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


The thing about number two is not that you don't worry as much, but that the worry is a little more in perspective. Whereas with the first one everything is critical and forever, you know by the time the second one comes along that everything is a phase. If she forgot how to breastfeed one week that doesn't mean that when she's relearned, she won't be so enthusiastic about it that she puts on a kilo in 2 weeks...

This applies to number one too. Just because she has made a fuss about bedtime for the last few nights doesn't mean she won't grudgingly accept the routine tonight and go to sleep without a fuss. And just because we were losing our minds last weekend, feeling like every exchange was a mini battle doesn't mean she can't be a little charmer this weekend.

Every tough time will pass, it will pass, it will pass...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The rebellion starts

I bring Molly up to my shoulder and start patting her back to bring the wind up. I can hear Marek upstairs, beginning to lose his temper, but still managing to keep control. After a few more minutes, with calm suggestions from her daddy and 'no!' coming consistently from our little girl, I hear Marek close the bedroom door and Elsie start wailing.

He comes down the stairs and gives me a weary look. I pass him the baby, give him a kiss on the cheek and take my turn.

'What's all this?' I say quietly as I push open the door. Elsie is on her bed, on top of the covers, tears streaming down her face. She wipes her face as I come near and I sit down, bringing her onto my lap for a cuddle. She snuggles down and sucks harder on her thumb. 'Elsie, love' I start. 'It's bedtime. Daddy read you some books and now it's time to sleep.' She doesn't say anything. 'Would it help if I read you one last book?' I suggest. 'One book, then you go to sleep.' She nods solemnly and scrambles off my lap to fetch a book.

The book is one about a pregnant Mummy. She points at the bump on the sketched figure and says 'Molly' I agree, saying Molly was in my tummy, but now she's out and at home with us. She labels various toys, and we look at the different colours in the clothes the people are wearing. When a Polish word comes out, I agree, repeating the Polish version and adding the English form. Elsie repeats after me. One page is filled with food. 'Eggs!' Elsie picks out, 'Essie no eggs' she says, and I confirm that she is allergic to eggs at the moment but that one day maybe she won't be.

I turn the final page and Elsie says 'more!' as I expected. 'No my love. I said one book and that was the one. No more tonight; it's time for bed.' She moves to the foot end of her bed and stares at me defiantly. 'You want your pillow at that end?' I ask, and move as if to pick up her pillow. 'No!' she says, sensitive to her order being disrupted, and moves towards her pillow. I tuck her in, and her legs kick at the covers. 'Are you too hot?' I ask innocently. 'Would you like to sleep without the covers?' She wordlessly allows me to cover her again. I turn out her light and kiss her head. She sucks her thumb and clutches her pink bunny. My poor little girl, whose life has had to make way for this disruptive new little being. It's hardly surprising she's grabbing extra attention where she can.

I stroke her hair and leave the room. All is quiet. For now it's worked but Molly is barely six weeks old so I expect Elsie to keep pushing the boundaries, and she does. The sleep deprivation makes it harder to deal with patiently, but we'll get there. Parenting is just a case of navigating from one seemingly impossible phase to the next. We see that now.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Baby number two

Bringing Molly into this world and through her first ten days has mainly taught me three things.

1. I specialise in making babies who don't know how to be born.
2. Once born, despite the best of intentions, they're not very competent at figuring out how to keep themselves alive.
3. If I were in another time and/or place I'd be screwed.

Labour started naturally this time, and progressed steadily, helped along admittedly by a drip and waters being broken for me to spare the caesarian scar a lengthy period of contractions. It was only when fully dilated and the urge to push became overwhelming that the midwives brought in the doctor and with worried frowns explained the problem. Again, those words, 'back to back', 'not engaged', 'stuck' were uttered and again, that sinking realisation that my body would need to be cut open to let the baby out.

Once safely extracted, I was whisked off to recovery again while Marek was left holding the baby. Again we were separated for those first couple of precious hours, and the absence of skin to skin contact, the all-important early bonding that they bang on about being so fundamental to breastfeeding hung over us. I was reminded of Elsie's difficult first month. The repeating cycle of try to feed-fail to feed-bottle feed expressed milk-express milk for next time was the hardest test I've ever faced, but one we ultimately passed.

To my surprise though, for those first days Molly was a great feeder. She latched on and despite obvious problems in positioning, which left me with bleeding sore nipples, managed to feed for six days, and grow. Pleased with our progress, a midwife suggested I ask to leave a day early so I could get back to my little family. Having done this, the feeding suddenly stopped. Molly stopped latching on. She sucked but failed to extricate any milk. Frantic calls followed to the midwife, the leche league, friends and family. After a frustrating afternoon trying to get her latched on again came the sad acceptance that we were going to have to get back into the training cycle we perfected for Elsie.

When the midwife visit confirmed weight loss, there was no alternative. We committed to the programme. We try and feed. Molly sometimes latches on but mostly does not. After a session of encouraging, cajoling, re-positioning and ultimately frustration, we give her a bottle of expressed milk which she gulps down with relief. Then I stick myself on the machine and try not to think of cows.

Molly has a head start over her older sister. She has at least known how to feed, which Elsie never did. Whatever happened to disrupt our little munchkin, I'm full of hope that a few days will sort her out and she will uncover the missing piece of this puzzle. Until then, after saying I would never express another ml, I'm resigned to the fact that we do ridiculous things for our children when we think it's important. After a month of hassle, I breastfed Elsie for a year and got a lot out of it. What's a couple of weeks from my life in the grand scheme of things? I couldn't do less for this baby than I did for the first. On we go.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

40 weeks tomorrow

Christmas was wonderful, despite Marek succumbing to a 40 degree fever and spending the festive season in bed. It was a long-held family tradition of mine to watch Christmas unfold from the sofa, lying in my pyjamas, so it's sweet really that he took on this role from me, and allowed me to watch Christmas unfold from the sofa, dressed, but belly heavy and unmoving for much of the time the visitors rushed about preparing, entertaining, enjoying...

New Year was quiet, apart from the neighbours epic firework hour, which Elsie slept right through. We did stay up but apart from a quick new year peck and a glass of alcohol-free fizz for me, didn't celebrate like in days gone by.

Now we've managed to keep the baby in place past these markers though, we're keen to get her out. There is something in people's eyes as they walk past me in the street - partly impressed by the very size of the bump, partly terrified that they might be witness to the experience of bump becoming baby. The check-out girl who said 'courage, Madame,' with a mix of real pity and understanding in her eyes; the lady who took a seat next to me in a cafe and raved about 'the joy ahead'; the constant enquiries from friends and relatives - they are all well-meaning and make me feel we should enjoy this anticipation, but I have had enough of this stage. I want to meet her.

Past days have had their fair share of aches and stretchings, contractions start and stop, and I wake in the night, my hopes raised, only to fall asleep again and wake up as normal with Elsie's 'Mummy?' at 7 on the dot.

Marek has got himself a promotion at work. Elsie has moved to her big girl's bed without a murmur of dissent. Everyone's moving onwards and upwards apart from me and my bump. Out you come girl, time to face the world.