It never rains…

It’s fair to say that I’m not a big fan of the winter months. I can just about tolerate the dark evenings, the ritual drenchings on the school run and having permanently numb fingers and toes, but what I really dislike is the way that, as soon as the calendar flips on to September, cough-and-cold season arrives, here to stay until, ooh, about May time.

The Boy is generally a fairly robust type, and not one to feign illness – although, of course, like all males of the species, he’s prone to exaggerating the common cold to life-threatening proportions. So when he slunk into our bedroom yesterday morning complaining of an earache, I had a fairly good idea of where this was going. Sure enough, despite a prophylactic dose of Calpol, by lunchtime – just as, with impeccable timing, my Tesco shopping was being delivered – I had The Phone Call from school, summoning me to collect The Boy. ‘He’s been in tears of pain,’ the secretary told me disapprovingly. ‘I think you should book him a doctor’s appointment.’

So, as Mr Tesco was slinging my shopping bags across the threshold, I put in a hurried call to the surgery and booked an urgent appointment before dashing to the school to collect The Boy.

Back home, he obediently downed a dose of Nurofen, and spent all of 10 minutes flopped forlornly in the armchair. And then the drugs kicked in. Within the space of an hour, he’d demolished a toasted muffin and three biscuits, built a Brio track across the landing, put all the upstairs shopping away for me and spent a good 20 minutes scraping worm casts off the back lawn. Sick child? Hmmm.

I was fully expecting the doctor to roll his eyes and mark me down as a timewaster, especially as The Boy ran all the way to the surgery and back, but no. The other half took him for his appointment, and afterwards, he burst in through the front door, panting and clutching his prescription, proudly telling me that he had an ear infection.

Needless to say, I haven’t filled the prescription. He’s been back at school today and is the picture of health. The first bug of the season has, thankfully, treated us kindly.

But having made a miraculous recovery, The Boy has generously handed the baton to his sister. The Baby has been grizzly and off her food for the past couple of days, and I’d put it down to sore gums, especially as her first little tooth is just poking through. But today she’s had a temperature of 38.2C and has been uncharacteristically lethargic. Anyone who knows The Baby knows she doesn’t sleep, but today she’s nodded off in the pram, in the car and on my lap while watching TV – a sure sign that something is up. It’s looking very much like I’ll be making another doctor’s appointment in the morning.

I guess this is going to be what life is like with two children. It would appear that they’re going to spend the entire winter ping-ponging germs backwards and forwards between themselves, and that days when both are healthy and well will be few and far between. The bathroom windowsill looks like a veritable apothecary with its ranks of Calpol, Nurofen and Bonjela, and I’m already contemplating drawing up a spreadsheet so I can keep track of who had what medicine and when.

I was going to say that at least The Boy is better (for now), but as I type, I can hear the sound of him coughing emanating from his bedroom. From past experience, I’d stake my mortgage on that cough not disappearing until well into 2012. I’ve already been up to resettle The Baby once, too. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long, long winter.

Now, does anyone know where I can buy Calpol in bulk?

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An ethical dilemma

I would like it to be known that I hate weaning. I know some mums can’t wait to introduce their babies to solids, but me? Well, I’d quite happily keep The Baby on milk alone for a year if I could. Admittedly, my perception of weaning has been tainted by my experiences with The Boy, who was an utter nightmare where solids were concerned. He wouldn’t be fed, wouldn’t feed himself, threw every item of finger food on the floor – ugh.

Happily, The Baby has – so far – been more amenable to the idea of solids than her brother was. It helps that I’m rather more laidback this time round, too. With The Boy, I spent hours trying to coax him to eat, getting more and more frustrated and irate. If The Baby doesn’t eat, she doesn’t eat. As a second-timer with a five-year-old to get to school/swimming/play date, I simply haven’t got time to spend an hour persuading my beloved weanee to finish her teaspoonful of porridge, so if she’s not playing ball, it goes in the bin. It helps, of course, that unlike The Boy, who was always in danger of dropping off the bottom of the weight charts, she could live off her fat stores for a month. But that’s another story.

Anyway. Up until today, weaning hasn’t been quite as painful as I remembered. But as The Baby has now hit seven months, I have to step up a gear. And that means introducing meat. This is no easy process for me, as I’ve been vegetarian since the age of 13.

I could, of course, raise The Baby as a vegetarian, but if truth be told, I don’t eat that healthy a veggie diet. I subsist on pasta, stir fry, jacket spuds and oven chips – none of which can be easily adapted for a weaning baby. In any case, the hubby and The Boy are both meat-eaters, so I’m the minority group around here.

So, today, I whacked half a pack of diced chicken breast in the slow cooker, along with some sweet potato. By dinner time, it was all beautifully cooked and ready for blending. And at that point, I remembered yet another reason to hate weaning. Or rather, several reasons.

Reason #1. Chicken does not puree. Not without pebble-dashing the kitchen. I ended up wrapping a tea towel around the top of the slow cooker bowl to avoid being splattered with dead poultry. Even so, I later discovered a bit of chicken flesh stuck to my sock.

Reason #2. There is something fundamentally wrong about giving your child something that you wouldn’t eat yourself. Of course, there are exceptions; The Boy is orally fixated and regularly eats carpet fluff, stones and dried glue. But, you know what I mean.

Reason #3. When you’re trying to persuade your baby to eat, what do you do? You raise the loaded spoon to your mouth and make a great show of eating the delicious morsels it contains. I can do that with mashed sweet potato, pureed cauliflower and blended butternut squash – but not with meat.

Reason #4. This is the worst one of all. After her meal, The Baby was veritably plastered with pureed chook. We cleaned her up as best we could with a wet wipe, but when she subsequently launched herself at my face for a big slobbery kiss, I instinctively held back for fear of being chicken-slobbered.

As I sat there, offering the loaded spoon to The Baby, part of me was hoping that she’d reject that nasty dead stuff and wait for me to heat a bowl of her favourite lentils and sweet potato instead. But no. Her little mouth opened like a bird’s and she devoured the whole lot.

Tomorrow, then, I guess I’ll have to steel myself to pick up that other half-pack of chicken, lever it into the slow cooker at arm’s length, and chuck in some more baby-friendly veggies for my little carnivore. I’m glad, I really am, that she’s eating well and enjoying her food. But it’ll be a long while before I stop feeling weird about feeding my pretty little squidge on something that I’d never eat myself.

The Great Toy Clear-out

Once upon a time, back when The Boy was just a bump, I had a lovely, tidy house. Once upon a time, I vowed that all of his toys would be tasteful, sustainable wooden efforts; no plastic tat with flashing lights and tinny electronic sound effects would darken our doorstep. Needless to say, soon after The Boy was born, I was forced to abandon my principles and lay my inner domestic goddess to rest as the house gradually filled up with an eye-popping array of primary coloured, American voice-overed rubbish.

Over the past few years, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that while I have small children, I’m going to have to put up with my house looking like an explosion in a toy shop. But nevertheless, every now and then – usually when some big new toy enters the house and finds itself residing on the living room floor for want of a permanent home – I enforce a clear-out.

Today was one of those days. This week, we’ve acquired both a borrowed Fisher Price Jumperoo (huge, seriously lounge-filling huge, but hey, The Baby loves it) and another new Playmobil aeroplane, approximately a foot long. And while the Jumperoo is destined to furnish our front room for the foreseeable, the plane is not, and I repeat NOT, going to hang around downstairs forever more. Which meant clearing out some space in The Boy’s room.

Before The Baby was born, we offered The Boy the option to move from our smallest room (roughly 9x12ft, but with the stair bulkhead taking up a good chunk) to the middle-sized one. He declined, on the grounds that he wouldn’t be able to look out of the front window, and so he remains in the little room while The Baby has the bigger one. We redecorated his bedroom to free up the nursery furniture for The Baby, and in doing so, were mindful of providing as much storage as was possible. But less than 12 months on, every single drawer, cupboard and storage box has been filled.

So, today we embarked on the task of clearing out some of The Boy’s outgrown toys to make way for the new. It was an unavoidable task, not just because of the new aeroplane, but also because he’ll soon have his birthday, swiftly followed by Christmas. But while decluttering his room is usually a painful process, today was a very different experience.

In the past, any attempts to get rid of old toys have been met with complaints and tearful resistance: ‘I still play with that, Mummy!’ Today, though, every time I suggested boxing something up, The Boy concurred quite happily. And so, out on the landing, we have three full boxes ready to go into the loft, one containing role play toys (tea set, microwave, kettle), one containing Fireman Sam vehicles, and one Bob the Builder and co.

This is a Good Thing. It frees up bedroom space, for a start. It also banishes some of The Boy’s most annoying toys to the loft, specifically Venus the rescue car, which spontaneously starts shouting, ‘Fire-fighting is very DANGEROUS!’ in a broad Welsh accent if you so much as walk past it.

But while I’m partly glad to lay three boxes of plastic junk to rest, I also feel quite sad. Twelve months ago, I’d never have imagined a time when we could retire Bob and his gang. I certainly never could have foreseen a time when my self-professed Thomas expert had to ask me what the pink train was called, because he had forgotten. The cynic in me realises that The Boy has only agreed to get rid of so many toys to make room for new ones, but I know that while he has requested that we keep them in the loft ‘just in case’ rather than passing them on to someone else, he’ll never play with them again.

All is not lost. Soon enough, The Baby will be developing her own toy preferences, and I’ll admit to being much more excited about dolls’ houses and Sylvanian Families than I ever was about Fireman Sam and Brio. But I now have inexorable proof that The Boy isn’t a little boy any more. I have a feeling that if I blink, the next five years will have disappeared and even the Lego and Playmobil will have been cleared out to be replaced by computer games, body spray and muddy football boots. The transformation from toddler to teen may not be complete yet, but we’re well on the way – and it feels like The Boy was only just born.

Goodbye, Bob and Sam. We’ll miss you.

In the dark

And so, after a summer that went by in a flash, we’re back into our term-time routine – and I’m back to not having the faintest idea about what my son gets up to all day. Because whatever I ask The Boy about his day at school, the answer is always the same: ‘I can’t remember.’ This was kind of excusable when he was in Nursery, and even in Reception, to some extent. But now he’s in Year One, surely he should, come 3.15pm, have some vague idea about how he has spent the past six hours?

Getting information about school out of The Boy is like extracting blood from a stone, only more difficult. It’s especially frustrating given that in general, he’s an insufferable chatterbox and loves nothing more than the sound of his own voice. He’ll spout off for hours about his Lego collection, his new shoes or his invisible friend Bob, and yet when I ask him about his day, I draw a complete blank. And it doesn’t matter how much I prompt him.

‘Who’s in your group?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Did you read to anyone today?’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘Who did you play with at lunchtime?’

‘I can’t remember.’

In fact, so far, all that the The Boy can remember about his first days in Year One are the names of his teacher’s kittens – and when they were born. Seriously. He can remember the birthdays of Miss J’s cats, and the fact that Max is fatter than Mia because he eats all the food, but he can’t remember whether he changed his reading books or not.

Sometime I worry about The Boy and his lack of short-term memory. He can drag up the most insignificant details from events long since past (songs he heard on holiday two years ago; the presents he was given for his third birthday) and yet he can’t remember what he had for lunch. It’s almost as if he has (very) early onset Alzheimer’s. But then I know that in reality, when he says he can’t remember what he’s been doing at school, it’s more a case of, ‘I can remember – but I’m not going to tell you.’

Ever since The Boy started pre-school at two and a half, I’ve found it hard to get used to the idea that there are whole big chunks of his life that I know nothing about. It wasn’t so bad when he was in Nursery and Reception; then, we got to collect our children from the classroom each day, which provided the opportunity to ask the teacher whether he’d got on okay, and to have a quick look at the work stapled to the walls. But now we drop them off and collect them from outside the door. And without those hasty few words with the teacher, and those sneaky peeks at the wall displays, I feel completely in the dark about what The Boy is doing. I’m already relying on piecing together information about what goes on in the classroom based on the few details The Boy does give away, combined with what the other children in the class have told their mums.

I know that this is all part and parcel of The Boy growing up. I know that it’s only natural that the bigger he gets, the more separate his life will become from mine. But, well, it just all seems a bit early. He’s not even six yet, and already I feel shut out from what he’s doing. I’ve tried open questions, leading questions, guessing games, but ultimately, if The Boy doesn’t want to tell me what he’s been up to, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can already foresee him becoming the sort of teenager who only phones home if he wants something.

For now, though, I suppose I’ll just have to wait until parents’ evening to find out what happens inside that Year One classroom. Oh, and if any of The Boy’s classmates’ mums read this and have anything to divulge about what our little angels have been doing so far, please do let me know; perhaps between us, we can actually uncover the truth!

Sibling squabbles

It’s started already. Not the countdown to Christmas (although The Boy is counting the sleeps until his November birthday, now that it’s officially autumn); not even the new school term (three more days of freedom…). No, I’m talking about the inter-sibling clashes which are, as I’m about to find out, an inevitable element of life with more than one child.

I thought I had at least another six months to go before we got to this point. The Baby is only six months old, after all, and given that the big fat pudding has yet to even roll over, it’ll be a while before she’s crawling into her brother’s personal space, hell bent on eating his Lego. I even thought that, with a big age gap, we might avoid the whole bickering thing altogether. I know, I know; I’m a bit naive. But over the past few days, The Baby has begun her metamorphosis from sweet little chubby-cheeked angel to Annoying Little Sister.

It started subtly with a bit of hair-pulling. The Boy, somewhat stupidly, doesn’t try to avoid this, but actively encourages it. Then, of course, The Baby makes a swipe at his glasses or lunges open-mouthed at his nose, and suddenly it’s not funny any more. ‘Help, Mummy, Baby Attack!’ has become an oft-heard cry in this house.

Then there’s the noise. Oh yes, The Baby has found her lungs. While I like the high-frequency babbling and shrieking, The Boy is less than impressed when she’s shouting over the top of his TV programmes. And much as I love to hear her chatter, even I find it a little irritating when her pre-7am crooning wakes The Boy, resulting in a very uncomfortable four-in-a-bed squash punctuated by five-year-old knees and elbows.

But what’s really getting The Boy’s goat is that The Baby has learnt to grab, and naturally, the most grab-worthy objects are whatever her big brother is engrossed in. This morning, he was reading his comic in bed, and not even a scrunchy packet of baby wipes would tempt The Baby away from it. Admittedly, The Boy invites trouble by refusing to move away (how many times am I destined to hear the words ‘I was here first’ over the next 18 years?), but I did feel for him as The Baby launched herself towards his magazine, crumpling its pages in her chubby fists, prompting him to wail, ‘Stop it, Baby, I’m trying  to concentrate!’

I can see now that having a larger-than-average age gap isn’t going to grant me immunity from sibling squabbles. They may not grow up fighting over each other’s toys, but I’ve taken off my rose-tinted glasses and am already foreseeing arguments over broken Airfix models and who watches what on TV. Having five years between The Boy and The Baby won’t mean they don’t fall out; they’ll just fall out over different things than close-in-age siblings would.

But while this week’s minor flashpoints may just be the tip of the iceberg, I know that they’re part and parcel of growing up with a sibling. And even though The Boy may be beginning to realise that his baby sister isn’t going to be sweet and tiny forever, there’s already an unshakeable bond between them. No one makes her laugh like he does, and to his credit, he actually seems to like being on the receiving end of her slobbery kisses – even if he does make a typically five-year-old-boyish show of wiping his face clean afterwards.

Most endearing of all is the way that he looks out for her. Yesterday, The Boy, The Baby and I managed to get stuck in a lift at the Natural History Museum. In an attempt to calm a panicky Boy down, I tried to reassure him that we were only a couple of feet off the ground, and that if the engineers got the door open, we’d be able to jump down. ‘But what about The Baby?’ he asked, genuinely distressed by the thought that we’d just walk off and leave her there.

No doubt I will soon be an expert in counting to 10, taking deep breaths and dispatching warring children to separate bedrooms to simmer down. But although we’re already getting a taste of things to come, I have a feeling that rather than The Boy and The Baby ganging up against each other, they’re more likely to join forces and gang up on me – just like at dinnertime today, when, despite my imploring them both to please eat nicely, he had her in hysterics and spraying sweet potato mush across the table.

Messy? Oh yes. But if that’s the price I have to pay for having two children who – despite their ups and downs – are the best of friends, then so be it. My dining table may never be the same, but I am, without a doubt, a very lucky mummy – and they are lucky children to have each other.