Thursday, 29 March 2012

And Mother makes five....

Inspired by this interesting post from Nickie at Typecast and the news story on which she based it, I felt compelled to blog a little about our very own Über-nana: my mum, Tricia. Seven years ago, we built an extension on the side of our house and permanently installed the old girl in it - an arrangement we’ve (almost never) regretted. My mother is 77, but she's built like a whippet and strong as an ox. And she's pretty much devoted her life since to helping us with childcare and babysitting, housework, laundry, gardening, dressmaking, DIY (the woman knows her way around a Black & Decker alright), and countless, countless other acts of domestic minutiae.

Her end of the deal is that she's rent and bills-free, and - divorced singleton that she is - has company for life. (And yes, there'll be no going back – there’s nowhere else for her to go now, if she wanted to. It's a done deal.)

Aside from all the practical help we get, there are the delightful and obvious benefits for the Misses P in having an on-site Nana who absolutely adores her grandchildren. (Mum has the option of locking her door and pretending to be out if she's not in the mood for callers, but rarely takes it). And Mr P is okay with it all too because, quite apart from the fact that he gets his shirts ironed, his vegetables grown, his grass cut and his walls painted, he can nip over to the flat and watch important football matches that are not aired on terrestrial telly, since she has Sky Sports, and we don't.

Are there drawbacks? Well, ok, she gets in my face sometimes. (And I in hers, no doubt). We had some teething problems at the start, as Mum and I prowled round each other, trying to mark out our territory - she poked her nose in where it wasn't wanted a few times, and I got seriously uppity about it and wondered what on earth we'd let ourselves in for. Clearly, you have to be very sure that you know what you're entering into if you try something like this. (And, by way of a cautionary tale, I should mention the friends who were inspired by our successful model to give it a whirl. They didn't get planning permission for the annexe, and had no choice but to move granny in under the very same roof. Things thereafter went tits up, to say the least.) But as things stand right now, the five of us equal one very happy unit. I can honestly say that I'm fine with Mum's permanent presence - and in any case, she has pretty well perfected the delicate art of keeping herself to herself. (Recently Mr P, having gone to our shared utility room to collect one of said neatly pressed shirts, came back and reported the sighting of a small, shadowy creature scuttling into a dark corner to hide on seeing him. Yep, we agreed. That would have been Mum.)

Of course, it will more than likely be payback time when age or illness finally means that Mum's last lawn is mown - and it's her that needs help with the laundry. I say, bring it on. Let's face it, as the only daughter among her three children, the responsibility of looking after the old stiff in her dotage will inevitably fall mainly on me, anyway. How much easier that task will be if she's on the doorstep. And besides, I owe her big time. Without her, my daughters would not have known the joy and security of a childminder who cares as only a grandmother can - and I seriously doubt I'd have had the career I do now. Not only that, but our house would be a hovel. The garden wouldn't even exist. Countless shelves and cupboards would never have been built. And my husband would have been forced down the pub for a fair few crucial Spurs matches.

I know that many people are envious of our set-up - especially those with grannies who are infirm, uninterested, or just too busy with lives of their own to give much in the way of practical help. I also know that a lot of people would rather poke their own eyes out than live within spitting distance of their mother (much less their mother-in-law). And, if I'm to confront the one slightly uncomfortable aspect of this living arrangement, I appreciate there are those who would consider it blatant exploitation of a sweet old lady. To them I would say this: it’s what she wants. And hey, the feeling’s mutual.

Monday, 19 March 2012

In defence of parenting manuals....

Interested to read this in the Observer yesterday. Academics at Warwick University asked mothers how they felt about parenting manuals and found that for most, they were the opposite of helpful. According to their research, childcare ‘bibles’ left their readers feeling ‘dispirited’ and ‘inadequate’.

The headline made me feel a little defensive, at first. After all, I’ve spent the last five years of my life writing ten parenting manuals of one sort or another, and there’s no way I’d have had any part in that if the end result caused mums to be more bewildered and unhappy than they were before reading them.

The study honed in on six parenting gurus in particular, representing a spectrum of theories that spanned the last century: Frederic Truby King, whose methods caused an outcry when they featured in a Channel 4 reality show Bringing Up Baby, since his rigid schedules and firm approach make Gina Ford look like a total wuss; John Bowlby, a fella I’d never heard of, but having duly looked him up I can tell you he pioneered the attachment theory, so, pretty much the opposite of Truby King, and - by all accounts - no fan of working mothers; Donald Winnicott, mostly famous for coining the phrases ‘transitional object’, aka comfort blanket, and ‘good enough mother’, ie, what we all want to hear it’s ok to be, thus, seems like a reasonable guy to me; Dr Benjamin Spock, the paediatrician who argued it was better to be nice to your kids and then got the blame for permissive parenting (and, of course, not to be confused with Dr Spock of Starship Enterprise fame); Penelope Leach; the touchy-feely psychologist who says babies come first and that’s that; and last but not least, best-selling purveyor of Contented Babies, Gina Ford. I’ll say no more on the subject of Ms Ford because I posted about her a few weeks ago and because I prefer to remain neutral since a) she’s got a hot legal team and b) she does actually have a great many fans among mums who say her methods saved their sanity, and that is not to be sniffed at.

Well, anyhoo, what this academic was saying was that these so-called experts – regardless of their very different messages – were all a bit bossy, and too prescriptive, and set the bar so high for mums that it made them feel like failures.

Fair enough. I suspect that in the case of all these authors, it’s a reasonable charge. What I’d just like to say here, by way of defence, is that NONE OF MY BOOKS ARE BOSSY! My Netmums books are all written round the theory that 'there's no one way to parent'. And my White Ladder Press titles are, likewise, intended to be entirely without presciption - as I aim to point out in the introduction of my latest, the not-published-til-July First Time Mum:

‘…You might notice that my advice is rarely definitive, or prescriptive. There’s a good reason for that: all babies are different, and so are all mums. And if I’ve learned one thing as a writer, and as a mum myself, it’s this: whilst there are very few absolute rights and wrongs in parenting, there are lots of maybes, sort-ofs, and perhapses….’

Does this get me off the hook on the matter? I sure hope so. I would really like to think my books help parents, not hinder them.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Sex four weeks after birth? Leave it out, Gina

Sorry, but this really is going to have to be said. Gina Ford, what the FECK are you talking about woman, with your four-to-six-weeks-after-birth-is-a-good-time-for-new-parents-to-have sex nonsense?

Lady, you can sue me over this if you like, but let me tell you that MOST WOMEN ARE STILL NOT READY TO HAVE SEX FOUR TO SIX WEEKS AFTER HAVING A BABY. They are not looking for conjugal satisfaction because they are still wandering around their homes gibbering from the physical and mental shock of birth, scar tissue yet to cease throbbing, semi-comatose from lack of sleep. Their knackered, wobbly bodies have more spare tyres than Kwik-Fit, their tits are usually being sucked on by another more demanding consumer right now, and like as not, they have piles playing havoc in their jacksy. In short, most women do not feel very much like having sex four weeks or so after giving birth.

Which, of course, you would know, if you had.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

SURPRISE!!! It's mufti day...

This was us the other day: school playground, 8.50am. The bell rings. As I bend to kiss Miss P the younger farewell, I notice out of the corner of my eye that her friend Miss M’s mum has just handed Miss M a £1 coin. Panic floods through me. ‘What’s that for?’ I demand to know. Miss M’s mum appears pained. She’s looking Miss P the younger up and down and winces as she speaks. ‘It’s non-uniform day,’ she says, apologetically. Bad news indeed for my daughter, who - fully kitted in grey tunic, school cardi, black tights and all – has overheard, and is now looking at me accusingly. ‘It’s non-uniform day,’ she repeats, slowly and unnecessarily. I can sense tears welling.

Feck, feck, feckity, feck. Since when was it non-uniform day? ‘WHY DIDN’T ANYONE MENTION THIS TO ME?’ I shout, in a general way, across the playground. No-one answers. They just shuffle by, avoiding my glare and pushing their casually-clad offspring towards their classrooms. I know, in my heart, that it was on the last school newsletter. Somewhere down the bottom, in the minuscule 8pt font they use to test us. I get to my knees, and clutch at the younger Miss P’s lapels. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know....’ I begin. But her devastated eyes are boring into me. ‘Bring me clothes. Please. Go home and bring me clothes,’ she whispers. Then she's gone.

So I run. I run like the wind. Like the clappers. I haven’t run like this since the 2009 10K that did for my knees, permanently. I cover the 15 minute walk back home in five minutes. I race up the stairs, rummage in drawers, grab the first pair of skinny jeans I can find, and a Hello Kitty jumper. I shove them in a carrier bag and push a pair of trainers in, too. But it’s not enough. I need the mufti money. I need a quid. There’s nothing in my purse, so I run upstairs again and ransack the older Miss P’s money box. It’s mainly full of IOU notes, signed ‘Mummy’, but mercifully there’s some chunky gold coinage in there, too, and I help myself. I’ll write the note later.

I begin the run back to school. My good friend Theresa approaches from the opposite direction, making a more sedate lap home from school. ‘Didn’t….realise….mufti….’ I puff by way of explanation as I jog by. She smiles. Apologises. She didn’t know we didn’t know, or she’d have said something. ‘Not…your…fault…’ I puff back, accelerating past her. But then I’m hit by a horrible thought. I turn, and shout down the road: ‘IS THERE A THEME?’ Theresa stops, nods. ‘YES. IT’S KENYA DAY,’ she shouts back, adding, by way of explanation: ‘GREEN, BLACK AND RED.’

I return home. I find a red top. Black leggings. But there’s nothing green. Not a single green garment in the house, except for a felt elf hat from three Christmases ago, which I consider briefly before returning to the dressing up box with a sigh. Just the black and the red, then. I pelt downstairs, exit the house, pound the pavement back to school. ‘Forgot…Kenya…Can I…?’ I puff at Mrs B the school secretary, shaking my carrier bag weakly at her. She waves me through benignly (I know it's a front: she's already turning to log my name in the Cretinous Parents wallchart behind her), and I knock at Miss P’s classroom door. ‘So… Sorry….Forgot….’ I puff at kindly Mrs P, the teaching assistant. She takes the carrier bag and the pound coin with a smile. ‘That’s alright,’ she says.

Anyhow, people, just so you know….It’s International Book Day tomorrow. Don’t forget your costume. And your quid.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Who loves ya, baby

Phew-ee. So that’s it, latest Netmums book delivered. The Ultimate Baby & Toddler Q&A is finally complete. Well, that’s to say, the first draft is complete. At some point soon the manuscript will be returned to me, scarred with the wrathful comments and myriad queries of the copy editor, and I’ll need to summon the will to look it in the eyes again.

I also have a new book to start, as of right now, which is all about….yep, babies. Meanwhile, looks like I have a ten-minute window to post something on my pathetic excuse for a blog. Last updated four months ago, I note. This is not committed blogging, is it? I’m working on that. Honestly.

It’s been a while since the Misses P were wearing nappies and existing on a diet of milk, and I had to scratch around deep in my memory to recall many of the issues whilst researching and writing the UB&TQ&A (snappy acronym, no?) I suspect that - as with childbirth - nature ensures we cast the difficult moments to the very back of our minds, in order that we are not forever put off making babies, causing humankind to grind to a halt. But certainly, the highs and lows of the baby days came flooding back during the writing process.

And now I think about it, how can any of us ever forget the extraordinary experience that is mothering a baby? That luminous poo, so explosive sometimes it seeps from the top of a sleepsuit; those red raw nipple weals that persist whilst you seek to get the effing latch-on correct; the all-consuming anguish that throbs in the pit of your stomach as you climb into bed at night, because you know you’re going to be getting out of it in an hour and a half to provide the first night feed. And dear God, the interminable, unfathomable, inconsolable ‘colicky’ crying. Both the mini Misses P cried for their country. I still don’t know why and although it doesn’t actually matter anymore, I can’t help but wonder WTF that was all about. Pain brought on by immature digestive system? Perhaps. Cranial stress caused by large head being squeezed out of comparatively small hole? Maybe. Sensory overload induced by shock of life outside womb? It’s possible. Simply picking up on tension vibes from mother? Almost certainly.

Still. Underpinning everything, there’s the wonder of it. The living, breathing, little alien thing that exited your body is yours to keep. And sure, they shit, they cry, they refuse to sleep. But they do have their plus points: highlights for me include the tiny finger nails, the early smiles, the scrumptious smell of the skin, post-bath, and the way they chomp so keenly at invisible feeds whilst sleeping.

Anyhoo, enough nostalgia. Better get on with some work. Proper, like.