5 moments of motherhood to savour

Sensible Son is 11 today. And today he is (literally and metaphorically) boarding a bus and heading off with his mates, for a week-long residential in the ‘big smoke’.

Naturally, he is super-excited about the prospect: ‘We’re going to the Rainforest Café for dinner, having breakfast in the hotel, we’re even allowed to take sweets… and stuff.’ The educational benefits of the Science Museum and the V&A appear to have slipped his tweenager mind. And, of course, I’m excited for him too. Well… kind of.

I’m excited for him to step out into the wonderful world, to board that bus armed with only a spare pair of boxers and a redundant flannel. It’s just that I wonder how on earth his going came round so soon. One minute, it seems to me, I was puffing through contractions watching Harry Potter and the next I’m waving goodbye to my almost-taller-than-me son. If it’s not deemed ‘uncool’ to wave them off that is. Life, it seems to me, is speeding past so fast.

When I was younger I stumbled across William Henry Davies’ poem, ‘Leisure’:

‘What is life, if full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare’

And as I gallop through my life as a mum, I realise – frequently – that I’m not that great at sitting down, let alone standing still in the sun and taking time out ‘to stare’. I find myself – too often – not necessarily savouring that moment, focussing instead on the junk they need to start collecting for next term’s topic, on the next school trip when they all need a packed lunch, looking forward to the next steps, instead of savouring the now.

I remember one afternoon about 8 years ago, standing in my kitchen, making supper. I had one baby on my hip, one boddler on the floor and the toddler wandering about with a needs-changing nappy. ‘Make the most of it,’ said a ‘been-there’ family friend smiling at the chaos, ‘it doesn’t last long!’

Thank goodness for that, I’d thought to myself at the time. But now… Now, I realise, a little sadly, that she was right.

So, at the risk of turning into a ‘been-there’ bore, here is my top 5 list of motherhood moments to savour:

  • Babygros

OK, their legs never bend the way you want them to, and you always get to the bottom popper before realising you’ve popped it wrong… but my goodness, they’re so scrumptious on a newborn baby. And a onesie doesn’t have as much appeal.

  • Breastfeeding

Yes, there’s that excruciating agony of the misaligned mouth and the months of sodden shirts and grey breastfeeding bras… but, ahh, that magic of a tiny finger entwined with mine, and a thin leg kicking gently in replete delight. That bright-white balcony bra can wait.

  • The grabbing of legs

I know it’s always at the most inopportune moment, that they sidle up to your thigh and attach like an octopus… but the 100% trust and need in those chubby arms is astonishingly special. A long limb slung casually round the shoulders isn’t quite the same.

  • ‘Dear Zoo’/Peepo/insert here the current ‘every-night-book’

Granted, it’s difficult to muster enthusiasm for ‘they sent me a…ooh…now what could it be?’ every night… but those chuckles, the appreciation of met toddler expectations and the snuggle-up peace of a bed-time book should not be underestimated. Creating avid readers is the ultimate investment in their education and in your future evening emancipation.

  • Mother & toddler groups

Yes, when you’re looking after little ones it can feel like some days you’ve done nothing but drink coffee and chat… but those hours of maternal bonding over Gina Ford will probably lead to forever friends. And you’ll never have such a great excuse again to eat cake and natter while you ‘work’.

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What do a midwife, an editor and a builder have in common?

So. ‘Bob’ has finally left the building. After just over seven months, ‘da builder’ and his team have moved out and moved on. They’ve bundled their hard hats, drills and man-size packed lunches into their vans and headed off into the sunset… to build something else.

‘Bob’ (mark 3, and mercifully nothing like the original ‘Builder Bob’ in ‘MOB Rule’) has been restoring  my ‘labour of love’: a Grade 2 listed manor house in coastal North Devon. Together with an army of experts, he has restored crumbling cornicing to its former glory, replaced rotten sash windows with conservation double glazing, put parquet flooring back where previously there was none. He has, in short, helped breathe fresh air into an old building, and allowed it to shine. I think even Kevin McCloud might approve.

At times since last September, I have felt like screaming. Come to think about it, I probably did.

Times like when the bridal suite roll top bath which we’d lugged up the spiral stairs, was unwrapped to unveil a large chip in the enamel, had to be lugged back down the stairs and laboriously sent back.

Like when the FOB and I spent the best part of three Saturdays, standing in shops, trying to decide which chandeliers would look best where. Decisions finally made, we’d find the lights were out of stock, and so we’d be back where we first began. And don’t get me started on ordering the bulbs – ‘one size fits all’ isn’t an adage which applies.

And like when I stood helplessly in the storeroom surrounded by tradesmen, all staring blankly at a veritable Everest of sanitary ware, as we realised that that specific high level loo pipe we’d ordered for all 11 loos wouldn’t in fact fit our walls.

Times like those I would have happily seen the back of our Beeny-esque ‘restoration nightmare’.

But even as I write this now in the almost immediate aftermath, I am struggling to remember the really bad moments, the times when I yearned to join my weekly-commuting husband in the safety of a London office, rather than spending my days in the cellar, staring at pipes. I appear to have post-project amnesia.

The last time I ‘suffered’ from this amnesia affliction, was when ‘MOB Rule’ was published. The moment I held that book in my hands, and sniffed its 280 pages, I forgot any of the pain involved in its production. The hours, nay days, I had spent staring at a screen, trying, for the sixth time, to restructure THAT chapter on my editor’s expert advice, disappeared like Hogwarts magic.

And it was exactly the same with the births of our boys. When, only seconds before I’d been swearing at midwife, as I’d gasped for more gas and she said I’d had enough, when she placed my tiny infant into my arms, the searing agony was swept away, leaving in its wake only exhaustion and total euphoria. Postpartum amnesia strikes again.Builder Bob Jr

In the aftermath of each ‘project’ people ask how it went.  And so I think of the house, the book, the babies and I smile sweetly and say ‘It was surprisingly smooth.’

‘Would you do it again?’ they ask, interested.

Another baby – I don’t think so, another book – perhaps, but another building project? Someone hand me the paper and find me a wreck.

What is middle-aged anyway? Lessons learned by a barely middle-aged MOB

On 1st April I turned 41. Yes, I know… April Fool’s Day… very appropriate etc etc. Believe me, I’ve heard them all and no, opening a huge box to find it empty is not (aged 7, or even now) hilarious.

Anyway. In the 12 months since hitting the big 40, I have learned some lessons. So. Here goes: my words of middle-aged MOB wisdom:

  1. No amount body brushing, depilation or fake tan will ever make my legs look smooth and brown. They are forever destined be pale and delightfully dappled.
  2. However ‘with it’ I think I am, I will walk into a room at least 3 times a day and wonder what on earth I came in there to do.
  3. As long as I race around like a demented duck, I can eat as much as I like and not put on weight. Even cake. And Mars Bars.
  4. I will open my mouth to say something really important. And then close it again when I realise I haven’t a Scooby Doo what I was going to say.
  5. When my son thrusts a school note in front of my face and I have to hold it at arm’s length, I have to accept the inevitable and visit the optician.
  6. Thereafter, I will perch said glasses on top of my head, and rampage round the house shouting ‘Who’s moved my glasses again?’
  7. I will never cook a roast as good as my mum’s.
  8. I will never make batch cake as good as the FOB’s gran’s. Childhood memories of great food always abide.
  9. Technically, I can enter the ‘veteran’ category in 10k runs. Technically.
  10. To my son’s friends (however youthful of appearance and spirit I may think I am) I will always be ‘ancient’.
  11. And yet the older I get, the less I view the age I am as old. The ‘middle-aged’ badge, I’ve discovered, is a very flexible friend.

Happy Eggster!

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Red Noses for kids…last minute mania for MOB!!

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The 12 Days of MOB Rule for Mothering Sunday

The 1st gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 2nd gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 2 hours between feeds & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 3rd gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 3 pups a’leaping… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 4th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 4 times of ‘Thomas’… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 5th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 5 gummy grins… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 6th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 6 muddy wellies… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 7th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 7 balls a’ bouncin’… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

 The 8th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 8 plasters sticking… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 9th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 9 sticks a bashin’… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 10th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 10 bottoms burping… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 11th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 11 black socks (mismatched)… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

The 12th gift of motherhood my small sons gave to me: 12 beautiful boy hugs… & an out-of-hours trip to A&E

Happy Mothering Sunday to all MOBs, MOGs and Perfect Pairs! May you be mercilessly spoilt and hugely hugged!

Why I don’t look forward to World Book Day

Why I don’t look forward to World Book Day.

Why I don’t look forward to World Book Day

Every year, round about World Book Day, my heart sinks.

Not, I hasten to add before I am thoroughly lambasted by the book-lover-brigade, because of the focus on all things written. No, I am 100% in favour of a Day dedicated to celebrating the written word, having spent a large chunk of my early adolescence upside down on the back seat of a Ford Cortina devouring Agatha Christie. Probably best to keep that story for another light news day.

No, my heart sinks because I know that, with the unfailing inevitability of a moany Monday following a too-late-to-bed Sunday, the boys will skip home from school brandishing ‘The Letter’. ‘The Letter’ which merrily encourages them to ‘dress up as their favourite character from a book’ in return for one shiny pound. And I have no problem with the pound , indeed I would happily part company with a significant amount more if only there wasn’t the ‘creative’ element involved.

The conversation goes something like this:

‘I don’t know who to go as!’ (boy)

‘You’ve read loads of books… which is your favourite?’ (mum)

‘Oh, I don’t know!’ (boy)

‘Well,’ (mum, helpful), ‘why not someone from Starfighters, Famous Five, Harry Potter?’

‘We don’t have any Starfighters’ costumes, no one would recognise the Famous Five and absolutely EVERYONE does Harry Potter!’

‘Well,’ (mum, slightly less helpful), ‘what about Horrid Henry – that could be fun. You could go as Henry and your brother as Perfect Peter!’

‘Horrid Henry is for KS1 mum, not KS2. And anyway, there’s absolutely no way I’m going with HIM!’

‘Ooooh, for goodness sake!’ (mum, thoroughly exasperated and out of ideas) ‘Look, you think about what you want to be and let me know when you’ve decided and we’ll come up with something.’

‘Maybe I won’t bother this year…’ (boy – muttering). ‘Dunno what to go as anyway…’

***

Morning of World Book Day

‘But I thought you said you weren’t going to dress up this year?’ (mum, one leg in car, one leg out, about to put the key in the ignition to head off for school)

‘I didn’t MEAN it mum… oh, everyone else will be dressing up and I’ll be the only one who isn’t and Miss said there’s a prize for the best costume and I’ll look silly if I don’t….’

(Mum, sounding not unlike Horrid Henry herself): ‘Arggggggghhhhhhh!’

There follows frantic scrabbling in the dressing up box resulting in an odd assortment of tweed caps and recycled Victorian topic garb.

‘Perfect… there you are: Oliver Twist. Now get into the car and LET’S GO!!’

‘Oliver who?’ asks boy, but knows better than to push it. ‘OK…thanks. Er… can I have my pound?’

***

So this year, I awaited World Book Day with the usual trepidation.

‘Bring a book you’ve enjoyed and finished with into school to swap’ read the instruction on the crumpled letter thrust into my hand. Genius! Fantastic! We can do that! Giddy with relief, I nigh on dance for joy.

 But boy proffers another piece of paper.

‘As you may be aware, next Friday is Red Nose Day. The children are invited to… dress up as their favourite character from a book in return for a pound.’

Noooooooooooo.

The MOB goes live on Radio Wales

Last week I had the privilege of being interviewed about MOB Rule on BBC Radio Wales.

Water bottle and sweaty palms at the ready, Rob quickly put me at ease and we had an interesting and lively chat about boys, bodily functions and parenting issues. To listen click here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qzfr7 and, if you don’t have a spare three hours to listen to the whole programme, move the cursor to around 1hour10 in. When you get to Phil Collins you’re almost there!!

It’s only available for another couple of days so if you want to tune in, you’d better be quick!

What happens when the MOB goes away for the night?

I went away on Saturday night. By myself, to a friend’s birthday party. No boys, no FOB, just me on my tod. I had a lovely time, catching up with old friends and having a good natter.

On Sunday I came home. I walked through the door to a pretty clean house and an appropriately rapturous welcome.

‘Did you have fun with dad?’ I ask the boys, at least one of them wrapped around my waist.

‘Yeah… it was great!’ boy 1 enthuses, ‘he made us an awesome supper!’

‘Yeah,’ adds boy 2, ‘we had sausages, eggs, bacon, beans on toast… a proper fry up!’ I sniff the lard-laden air in mild despair: pray tell, where’s the five-a-day goodness in that?

‘And,’ adds boy 3, ‘we stayed up really late. I went to bed after 9pm, and the others went even later than that!’ His brothers shoot him a looks-could-kill stare, but boy 3 blunders happily on, ‘Dad let us do all sorts of things that you SO wouldn’t!’

Oh really? Now this is interesting.

***

In the nearly 11 years I have been a MOB, I have learned that the FOB and I – whilst mostly highly compatible – do differ in some of our approaches to parenting. Differences which merely confirm my long-suspected belief that men are indeed from Mars, whilst women hail from a neighbouring, but oh-so-alien planet. Here is a list of things the FOB will willingly do for his sons, and I will not:

  1. He will drive right through puddles on the road just to see the splash.
  2. At the boys’ request, he will drive even faster through puddles on the road in order to see an even bigger splash.
  3. He will let them experiment with bonfires and burning sticks under the auspices of ‘learning’. The same theory also applies to any remotely dodgy activity which could be deemed even slightly scientific.
  4. He will embark on a boy bonding ‘team hug’ in the full knowledge that it will undoubtedly end in tears.
  5. He will allow, nay encourage, them to jump the waves. In the depths of winter, without spare clothes.
  6. He will suggest a race, regardless of state of exhaustion or frame of mind. And consequently, ‘good loser’ is not the phrase which springs to mind.
  7. He will watch as they re-enact ‘you’ve-been-framed-moments’ on the lawn on their bikes, reminiscing with a smile that he was exactly the same as them at their age.

And therein lies the Mars/Venus moment. Because the FOB is a boy and I am not. Things that come naturally to him, and his sons, fill me with horror and fear. Of course I want the boys to have fun and I am definitely more Tomboy than Barbie myself, but does fun really have to involve so much Savlon, mud and madness? Apparently, according to dad (and them) it does.

A FOB friend told me about his own ‘Dangerous Days’. Days when, in the absence of mum, he and his sons would daringly embark on all sorts of stuff. They’d have fondue for supper, sparring for meat with angry sticks, or make their own candles, dipping wicks, and the odd finger, into molten wax. Once, he told me gleefully, the MOB had returned home to find a climbing wall snaking its way up the entirety of their stairs.

Maybe, I think, eyeing the still-to-scour grill with resignation, maybe I got away lightly with just over-tired boys and a fatty full fry.

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