The Baby is being evicted

The time has come for The Baby to take her first steps into the Big Wide World. Yes, tonight she will be moving into her own bedroom. Notice that I don’t say that she will be sleeping in her own bedroom, because that’s highly unlikely to happen, but she will be spending at least part of the night in her cot. I hope.

I also hope that this will be the start of a new, improved sleep phase for her, because over the past month, her night-time behaviour has gone from bad to worse, to the point that she’s now pretty much nocturnal. On an average night, The Baby will sleep soundly from her 7pm bedtime until 10.30pm or thereabouts, and then wake every 45 minutes for the rest of the night, until I finally cave in and let her invade my bed at around 5am. And I’ve had enough. The thing is, I know that I’ve compounded the situation by grabbing her and feeding her every time she stirs, in the hope that she’ll doze back off quickly and let me get back to sleep too. I have created a monster – a milk monster who is now incapable of self-settling.

The whole ‘moving baby to its own room’ milestone is a new one for me. When The Boy was tiny, we lived in a Victorian terrace where bedroom two was ‘en suite’ to bedroom one. That’s a jumped-up way of saying that he slept in a cupboard adjoining our room. His progression from Moses basket to cot at 12 weeks old involved him moving, ooh, about two feet further away from me, so it never felt like a big deal.

This time round, though, we have a proper house and so we’re faced with moving The Baby into a proper bedroom, with a proper wall between us and everything. The logistics of it are baffling me somewhat. Do I use a baby monitor and accept that I’ll still be woken by every snuffle and grunt, or do I just leave doors open and assume that I’ll hear her if she really needs me? If, as usual, she ends up spending half the night on the boob, do I sit and feed her in her room, cold and wide awake, or do I take her back into my bed to feed, only to have to get back up and return her to her cot afterwards? When she starts chattering at 5am, will I be able to whisk her into bed with me and settle her back to sleep, or will the journey from her room to mine wake her up entirely, to the effect that the day starts before the dawn chorus?

I have a nasty feeling that one way or another, this is going to result in me getting even less sleep than usual. And given that I’m surviving (just) on an average four broken hours a night, that’s going to hurt.

There’s also a big and soppy part of me that, despite the fact that night-times are one long sequence of feeding, shushing and dummy plugging, will really miss having The Baby in my room. Yes, she is a complete and utter pain in the backside at night, but, well, she’s only tiny. I get some strange sense of security from knowing that my little fluffy-headed bundle is within arm’s reach, and although I prefer her not to spend the entire night in bed with me, I’ll admit that I do rather like my early morning snuggles. I’m going to feel lost without her next to my bed, and would stake my mortgage on waking up at some point tonight in an ‘Oh my goodness, where’s The Baby gone?’ panic.

Still, I know it has to be done, and it has to be done tonight, before I sacrifice the very last of my marbles to sleep deprivation. The Baby is six months old now, so we’ve done our time, and the longer she stays in our room, the worse her sleep habits are going to get. Let’s face it, she should be capable of sleeping for more than three hours at this age; she goes longer than that between feeds during the day, for heaven’s sake. Maybe tonight will be the turning point and she’ll finally manage a five- or six-hour stretch.

I might keep her crib in our room just in case, though…

Creases? What creases?

It’s fair to say that I’m not much of a housewife. I blame it on all sorts of things (lack of storage space, two kids, muddy-pawed cat), but the truth of the matter is that while I love a sparkling clean and tidy home, I’m not actually very good at achieving it. Frankly, at any given point, I can think of at least 37 different things that I’d rather be doing than housework.

In an attempt to devote less time to chores and more time to more exciting exploits (in other words, just about anything that doesn’t involve a duster or dishcloth), I’ve become a pro at cutting corners. And one of those corners is ironing. Yes, to my mother-in-law’s horror, I don’t iron. Anything. Ever.

We’ve lived in this house for nearly three years, and in that time, not once have I got the ironing board out. I don’t actually know where it is, come to think of it. Presumably in shed – where it will stay. Memorably, the boy once picked up a toy iron at some toddler group or other, and came to the conclusion that it was a ship. It was a reasonable guess, given that he’d never seen an iron in action before.

I’d like to think that even though I don’t iron, we don’t in general look like a bag of ragamuffins – although I’m prepared to be corrected on that front, if anyone is brave enough to tell me. Okay, so The Boy doesn’t have sharp creases down the front of his school trousers, but really, who cares? I’ve developed a tried and tested technique whereby everything gets a vigorous shake as it comes out of the washing machine, and then gets hung straight away, and it seems to eliminate the need for ironing. Which must save me a good couple of hours a week: time that can instead be spent reading, surfing or drinking wine.

There are a few golden rules that I live by (or shop by). Nothing linen comes into this house, and all work shirts, school trousers and polos must be of the Easycare variety. And on the whole, we seem to get away with a relatively uncrumpled existence.

Recently, though, I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion. It would appear that, now I have a baby girl, my iron-free days are numbered. Contemplating the rows of pretty little cotton dresses and cardis on the washing line, I have to admit that they’d all look a darn sight better for a brief encounter with the ironing board. As the end of summer approaches, it’s going to be even more of an issue: much as I hate to say it, fine needlecord – the stuff of which most baby girls’ winter dresses seem to be made – really can’t be decrumpled with a swift shake.

There is an alternative, of course. I could, as of now, add 100 per cent cotton and corduroy to my household’s list of banned substances, and instead dress the baby entirely in manmade, non-iron fabrics. But that would mean passing on so many beautiful little outfits (including more or less everything in Monsoon and Boden), and I do hate to miss a shopping opportunity. So unless I can find a surefire way to get the creases out of baby clothes without the means of heat and steam, it looks very much like I’m condemned to joining the legion of oppressed housewives, scaling the ironing mountain on a nightly basis.

Now, is there such a thing as an ironing board with an in-built wine glass holder?

Reading and reminiscing

I’ve always been a bookworm. I learnt to read before I started school, and today, words are both my career and my hobby. To me, the greatest thing about reading is that it means I never have to be bored, even if I don’t have a book to hand. I’ll read the ingredients list on the bottle of tomato ketchup if that’s all that’s available. I may only have one bookshelf in my house, but that’s because I’m not, in general, a keeper of books. I prefer to buy (or borrow), read, and then pass on, making room for the next volume. I’d rather discover something new than revisit something I’ve read before.

The exception to this rule is children’s books. Not long after The Boy was born, my mum raided her loft and came up with a pile of books that I read as a child, and The Boy and I have been enjoying them together ever since. As a baby, he loved Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Judith Kerr’s Mog series is a firm favourite for both of us – although I still can’t bring myself to buy Goodbye, Mog – and I love the quaint old-fashioned charm of Dogger (‘Then Bella did something very kind…’), not to mention the Lucy and Tom books (naturally). Then there are the oddities and antiquities, such as a quirky 1970s Japanese book called Our Best Friends, given to me by my grandparents on my first birthday and still going strong.

Now that The Boy is a bit older, we’ve started reading chapter books at bedtime. Yesterday, we finished another childhood favourite of mine: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, by Ursula Moray Williams. It sounds incredibly dated now, and breathtakingly un-PC, but nevertheless, it’s been magical to rediscover it and to see it captivating The Boy just as it once enthralled me. He was almost in tears when he thought that Gobbolino was going to be cooked to death in the witch’s cauldron – we had to read an extra chapter to reassure him – and soppy so-and-so that I am, even I had a lump in my throat as we got to the final chapter and the hero finally got his wish: to become a kitchen cat.

Of course, The Boy’s bookshelves are well populated with modern children’s fiction as well as my tattered old storybooks. Some of these stories, no doubt, are classics in the making – anything by Julia Donaldson, for a start – and once The Boy and The Baby have outgrown them, we’ll pack them safely away in the loft for them to share with their children one day. But for me, nothing beats seeing The Boy’s reaction to the stories that I loved as a child.

Sooner or later, The Boy will no longer be satisfied by my dusty old 70s stories. I can already foresee a future filled with Horrid Henry, Bug Buddies and anything containing multiple references to poo and snot (snigger, snigger). But it doesn’t matter, because not only will Mog, Dogger et al get a second outing with The Baby, but I’ll get to revisit all my favourite girlie stories with her. I seriously cannot wait until she’s old enough for Ballet Shoes, Little Women, Heidi and the St Clare’s series.

There’s only one thing that I regret, and that’s that one of my best-loved books – Phoebe and the Hot Water Bottles by Terry Furchgott – has gone missing. My mum has turned the loft upside down, but there’s no sign of it. It’s out of print these days, and clearly, I’m not the only one who remembers it fondly, as copies sell on Ebay for a staggering £95. Part of me is sorely tempted – despite what hubby would say – to buy it for The Baby as a baptism present, as something we can enjoy together and then keep to pass on to her children, but another part of me is reluctant to shell out in case it’s not quite as good as I remember.

I keep my eyes peeled at every charity shop, fete and car boot sale that I come across, in the hope that one day, a copy of Phoebe will materialise. But for now, even though it’ll be years before The Baby is old enough to appreciate them, I’ll content myself with asking Mum to dig out my old Enid Blytons and Noel Streatfeilds – just so they’re ready, you understand…

Half-birthday musings

This time six months ago, I was stuck in a hospital bed, numb from the waist down, with a squidgy new bundle of baby and absolutely no idea what the year ahead would hold. I was pretty certain, though, that it wasn’t going to be easy. I wasn’t too worried about how The Boy would cope with the new addition, but I had a reasonably good hunch that I was going to find it tough. I figured that the coming months would be an exercise in survival; something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

I had good reason to expect to find new motherhood part II a challenge. The Boy was, to put it politely, a High Needs baby. Needless to say, I didn’t always put it that politely. He didn’t sleep for the first year, didn’t eat, and spent the vast majority of his time screaming. It was a massive shock. At the time, I was working as the features editor on a parenting magazine, and no matter how many articles I on colic, crying and sleep deprivation crossed my desk, I blithely assumed that none of it would apply to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The boy’s first year was one big struggle. Sure, there were happy times, but I also had my fair share of dark moments: moments when I thought I was a complete failure, moments when I was sure my baby hated me, moments when, after hours trudging round the park in the rain, trying to get The Boy to sleep, it took every last inch of willpower not to park the pram under a tree and leave him there.

This time, I was going into motherhood with my eyes open. I didn’t dare hope for a happy, easy-going baby; I just assumed that she would follow in her brother’s footsteps. Experience had taught me that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, but also that it would take me a long time to get to it.

I honestly never, ever expected to enjoy the baby stage as much as I have.

To my immense surprise, The Baby is an entirely different breed from The Boy. Some of it is down to us being older and wiser and a bit less neurotic. Some of it is the result of us spotting the signs of reflux within the first six weeks – a far cry from the seven months that it took to get The Boy diagnosed – and getting The Baby onto medication, pronto. But mainly, it’s just her.

Admittedly, The Baby is a hopeless sleeper; I class it as a good night if I ‘only’ have to feed her three times. But when she’s awake, she’s the archetypal pudding baby, all smiles and coos and rosy cheeks. I remember thinking that The Boy would never smile. In contrast, The Baby gave us her first gummy grins before she was five weeks old, and hasn’t stopped since. She’s the most sociable little thing, chatting away and fluttering her eyelashes at anyone who looks her way, and is the epitome of easiness, happy to go anywhere and do anything.

I was worried, in the manner of all second-time mums-to-be, that I’d never be able to love The Baby like I loved The Boy, but of course, I do. He, too, is smitten with her. After all, she listens to him prattling on about trains, cars and construction vehicles, and shrieks with laughter at his funny faces and silly dances. He’s never happier than when he has an audience, and The Baby is an ever-willing spectator.

So here I am, six months into being a mummy of two, and loving every minute. When The Boy was six months old, I was at my lowest ebb, wishing the days away in the hope that one day, he would finally become easier. With The Baby, however, I find myself savouring every single moment, and wishing I could freeze-frame her just how she is right now.

Tonight I will pour a glass of wine and raise a toast not to myself, for surviving the first six months, but to The Baby, who has made it an absolute pleasure. She has shown me that it is possible to enjoy the baby stage after all, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Happy half-birthday, baby girl. We love you more than you could ever know.

Burning money

I’ve just spent the best part of £150 in a little under two hours. And disappointingly, it didn’t involve a trip to the Cath Kidston shop.

£37 went to Clarks for a new pair of school shoes for The Boy. Thankfully he has slow-growing feet, so they should see out the year. I hope.

£60 was on petrol. Petrol that will last, ooh, about a month. I’m lucky if I get 300 miles out of a tank in my gas-guzzler, which is somewhat galling, given that it’s a Ford Focus, for heaven’s sake, not a Range Rover.

£45 was eaten up by buying disposable plates, glasses, cutlery and napkins for The Baby’s baptism.

So, of the £142 I’ve just spent, £60-worth will go up in smoke, and £45 will go in the bin.

Ouch.

Not so long ago, £150 felt like a lot of money. Pre-kids, hubby and I used to be able to holiday for not much more than that. But – at the risk of sounding prematurely geriatric – everything is so expensive these days. We easily spend £100 a week on groceries, and that’s not including hubby’s lunches at work. It doesn’t seem that long since petrol strikes brought the country to a standstill, as the price of fuel threatened to reach £1 per litre. Now  I’m chuffed if I can find a petrol station selling unleaded for 131.9p per litre.

Hubby and I are fortunate to be above-average earners, but while we don’t worry about money, we never feel well-off. We have a very modest three-bed terraced house (ex-council), drive very boring cars (the aforementioned Ford and a company Skoda), and take very ordinary holidays (the Isle of Wight beckons this summer, and even that is thanks to a gift from my parents). We’d struggle to afford a foreign holiday, especially now term-time trips are out of the question, and unless we move out of the South East, we can only dream of a house with a spare room or no attached neighbours.

Now we have two children, life is going to be even more expensive. A lot more expensive, unless I manage to curb my addiction to Monsoon baby clothes. The best things in life may be free, but school shoes and extracurricular clubs certainly aren’t. I’m already having to think twice about signing The Baby up for activities like swimming lessons and music classes. The Boy used to do them, but our incomes haven’t gone up as fast as the cost of living.

In general, we have a very comfortable lifestyle, but every now and then, the green-eyed monster rears its ugly head. In the past week, I’ve seen pictures from Turkey, Greece, the States and the Maldives on my friends’ Facebook profiles. How do they do it? Does everyone else earn way more than me, or have they given their credit cards a bashing? I’m no big spender, and feel guilty buying something at full price when there’s a sale rail in the shop, but when filling the car with petrol costs £60+, the cash doesn’t stretch very far.

But then I stop and think, and give myself a virtual shake. Having watched that BBC programme on child poverty a few months ago, I know just how lucky I am. What got me was the little lad who had nothing but two cards and a haircut for his 12th birthday. The Boy was incredulous when I told him that; after all, barely a week goes by without him getting a new book or a coveted Lego model.

So while I reserve the right to moan about the cost of filling up my car, the fact that energy bills are going up (again) and the price of children’s shoes, I’ll also count my blessings. My children are growing up in a warm, safe home in a lovely area. They have clothes that fit them and are kept clean (although not ironed – but that’s another post). They eat healthily, and while The Boy might go on (and on, and on) about how unfair it is that he doesn’t have a DS, he’s had more experiences in his five-and-three-quarter years than some children will in a lifetime. Money can’t buy you happiness, but it definitely makes life easier.

Still, though; £60 for a tank of petrol? I might as well burn money!