I find that one of the hardest things about being a mother is leaving your child in distress. Â This morning, poor Michael was sick, tired, spotty (chicken pox, of course, have found myself humming all day â€œand another one down, another one down, another one bites the dustâ€) and needy.Â If I put him down, he howled.Â If anyone else held him, he howled. Â Heâ€™s normally such a cheerful little boy but this morning he was miserable and he needed his mama. Â Daniel was neither sick nor spotty but he also wanted some maternal attention. Â Their mother, however, was off to work and they howled in vain, punching the air in indignation with their chubby little fists and crying piteously â€œMama, mamaâ€. Â On the way to work, I dropped the Princess off at her course. Â â€œPlease Mummy, stay just a little while longerâ€ she said plucking my trousers. â€œSweetheart, I have to go to workâ€.Â â€œJust one last hugâ€.Â â€œOK, one last hug, but then Iâ€™ve got to goâ€. Â I placed herself in the arms of one of the course organisers and she fought furiously while wailing â€œI want my Mummyâ€. Â My last sight of her this morning was of her furiously red face contorted in distress with big fat tears rolling down her cheeks. Â I stayed outside the door for a moment listening to see whether she would calm down but she continued to sob â€œje veux ma mamanâ€. Â Alas.
Archives for August 2006
My father might fairly be described as disliking change. He is entertaining, charming, brilliant etc. etc. but he does not like change. He is also prudent; my mother is going to purchase a paddling pool for our forthcoming trip to Cork and lots of salt. Why salt? My father insists that it should be added to the water so that should the children fall they will float like in the Dead Sea. That’s one big paddling pool they’re thinking about purchasing.
It’s not really that my father doesn’t like socialising or even doesn’t like his family but there are many of us and we will bring much change in our wake and much phone ringing and much car borrowing. My father does not like the phone. The Princess doesn’t like it much either, when asked to talk to her doting relatives, she says with a toss of her head “I’m like Cork Grandad, I don’t like the phone”. Further, his role as family genius is being undermined although the Princess likes to prop it up by saying whenever we are at a loss for information “We’ll ask Cork Grandad, he’ll know”. “I really don’t think he will know who gave you the purple trousers, sweetheart, that’s not the kind of everything he knows”. The other night, however, my sister called and asked me something I didn’t know. “Ring Daddy” I said (yeah, I know, he hates the phone but it’s my job to torture him, you’re always a teenager to your parents). “No” she said “ask Mr. Waffle”. “He won’t know”. “Yes, he will” she insisted “I’ve noticed he knows everything”. Changing my tune somewhat I said “What, just now?”. “Well,” she said defensively, “he doesn’t talk much”. I related this to Mr. Waffle and he muttered rebelliously “I’m not let”. Indeed. I digress.
So as we prepare to descend en masse on my poor parents in Cork, I feel a particular twinge of sympathy for my father. This email from my brother makes me feel even more nervous on his behalf. “Will be back in Cork when ye are there……..the house will be packed…..what will Daddy think of a full house with you, me, husband, 2 babies, 1 toddler [all three pox ridden, Daniel having finally succumbed today] and possibly 3 eastern European cleaners* to top it all off……..should be interesting”.
*I should perhaps explain that the result of the Celtic tiger is that my parents can no longer find local cleaners and they have 3 Latvians who come in for an hour together and go through the house like a dose of salts. Though they are forbidden to move any of the seven peaked caps and reading glasses which sit patiently at any spot where my father is likely to alight and want to read.
At the weekend, while Mr. Waffle put in time with the spotty boys at home (honestly, my beautiful babies look like creatures from the crypt, or adolescents, I suppose), the Princess and I sampled the delights of the annual foire du midi.Â We started with a tame ride on the kiddie merry go round.Â She came off electrified.Â She was high as a kite from the adrenalin rush of being carried around in slow circles by a panda while Gloria Gaynorâ€™s I will survive played in the background (oh Gloria, how the mighty are fallen).Â She wasnâ€™t quite ready to go again (just too terrifying) so she suggested that we go on the big wheel.Â It was my turn to be unnerved.Â â€œWeâ€™ll have to ask the lady behind the counter whether youâ€™re big enoughâ€.Â Yes she was.Â There were people with small babies in those circling teacups.Â With low railings and no seat belts.Â For the five rotations of the wheel, I clutched the railing behind me with one hand and the Princess with the other while muttering fervently through my teeth â€œdonâ€™t stand up, donâ€™t stand upâ€.Â There is a picture of her at the high point of the wheelâ€™s rotation which I took with my feet.Â
Nothing was denied her, ice cream, candy floss, chips, a waffle, apple fritters she had them all.Â She went on all the merry go rounds that she was interested in; mostly they were just â€œterrifying!â€Â – said in tones of horror with hands held over her eyes.Â She must be the worldâ€™s most prudent child.Â We found one further merry-go-round which met with her approval.Â True it did go up in the air but only if you pushed a button.Â She sat in and we buckled her belt.Â As she went around the boy sitting in the front untied her buckle and I thought she would lose her life.Â She bawled as she proceeded around in sedate circles.Â When the thing stopped she hurled herself into my arms weeping.Â Nevertheless, she was game to give it another go.Â We searched the apparatus diligently and found one other capsule with a working seat belt.Â Safely strapped into a slightly sinister looking clown, she clutched her steering wheel nervously.Â I really donâ€™t know why she puts herself through this.Â When the ride ended, she propelled herself out of the clown with such speed and vigour that I was caught unawares and slipped from the step at the side of the clown onto the ground in an undignified heap (saving herself from injury, I hasten to add). Â As I sat on the ground assessing my injuries (one swollen but not unwalkable on ankle, one very bruised hand â€“ this information is brought to you by an eight fingered typist) and state of cleanliness (poor), the Princess jumped up and down beside me saying â€œMummy, were you worried that I would fall out of the clown, were you, were you?â€. Â On dragging myself to my feet, madam announced â€œMummy, Iâ€™m too tired to walk, youâ€™ll have to carry meâ€. Â I picked her up with my good arm and limped to the tram stop. Â
When we got on the tram it was full and my prudent three year old was too scared to stand because the tram rocks so I held her in my arms all the way to our stop. Â When we emerged from the tram, sweaty and dishevelled, I insisted that she cover some ground on her own. Â Very shortly thereafter she said â€œI want to do a wee Mummyâ€. Â â€œCan you wait until we get home?â€Â I donâ€™t know why I ask that question because she probably canâ€™t and, in any event, her sense of direction is such that we would probably have to be outside the front door before she could assess how long it would take to get from any given spot to home.Â So, we had an emergency toilet break at the side of the road about five minutes walk from home and, due to her motherâ€™s ineptitude (eight operational fingers, remember), she managed to soak her underpants, her sandals and my sandals.Â Cunningly, I was able to secrete her damp underpants in an empty packet of paper tissues. Â Equally cunningly, I was able to persuade her to keep her skirt down and not show passers-by that she wasnâ€™t wearing any underpants. Â We arrived home exhausted.Â I said to Mr. Waffle â€œwe brought you an apple fritter, watch out for the wet underpants in the bag.â€Â And in the dayâ€™s final indignity he looked at the bag in alarm and said â€œwhose?â€
Early in July, Ayun Halliday wrote to me, yes me, asking would I host her tour for her forthcoming book Mama Lama Ding Dong on this blog for a day in August. I looked her up on the internet (do you think Iâ€™m stupid? Oh please donâ€™t answer that). She was a real author with lots of books that shipped in 24 hours (I understand from the publishing exec that shipping in 2-3 weeks is death by a thousand cuts). I said yes like a shot and not just because I wanted a free book but also because she promised to show me around New York, if Iâ€™m ever there. As the parent of three small children, I am keen to take her up on this and test her tolerance to its limits.
I was optimistic about Mama Lama Ding Dong especially since I got an entertaining sample extract to read. In fact, it inspired some thoughts for this post but I was stymied by my husband who said â€œyou are not to write about the penises of any member of this family on the internetâ€. As the Princess would say, â€œthe big meanieâ€.
Late July and the book arrived along with chicken pox for all three children (Iâ€™d like to be clear here, separate mailings). And with one thing and another, I didnâ€™t have as much time to read the book and put in yellow stickies as I would have liked. I read it at odd times (can you please turn off the light and stop sniggering, itâ€™s three in the morning) and in odd places (I can see you hiding behind the nappy bin, get in here, itâ€™s time to give the children another oatmeal bath and stop sniggering). And instead of writing this entry as I went along, I kept putting it off, I couldnâ€™t do anything until I had finished the book. And no, I wasnâ€™t going to take the opportunity to ask Ayun some questions now, how could I ask her questions when I hadnâ€™t even finished her book?
August 7, I finished the book. What can I say? Itâ€™s great. No really, believe me, if it werenâ€™t I would never have finished it under current circumstances. The author is a New York based actress who believes in natural childbirth. I am a Brussels based office drone who believes that the epidural is a gift from God. Who would have thought that for almost everything she wrote I would find myself nodding in fierce agreement (yes, yes, celery sticks, babiesâ€™ arms are like celery sticks, utterly useless for anything)? I wish that I had thought to put in post it notes so that I could ruin the book for you by quoting all the best bits. The cover of the book says â€œMothers buy this!â€ (it doesnâ€™t actually say that, but it might as well) which is a pity because itâ€™s a great book for the non-parents of this world. I have never read anything that is so spot on about parenting (and I have tried “A life’s work” and Anne Enright’s book). If you want to know what itâ€™s really like, this is it.
Which is not to say that the book is not a good read for parents too. Let me give you an example. Ayun talks a lot about breastfeeding, in fact, she says â€œIf I ever had the misfortune to be flung into the path of an oncoming train, I could instruct the gaping herd to bring me my baby. â€˜I want to feed her one last timeâ€™.â€ Thatâ€™s keen, I think youâ€™ll agree. It also makes me wish Iâ€™d used the opportunity this exercise offered to ask Ayun whether she too had planned her own funeral service and decided who would get to do the readings. I had great difficulties with the breastfeeding thing initially and I think a book like Ayunâ€™s where she is keen, but also non-judgemental would have been comforting around then. As she says â€œOoh, itâ€™s tempting to mouth off when these guys come around seeking breastfeeding advice for their wives and girlfriends. I rarely stick at anything long enough to master it. Thereâ€™s a reason people donâ€™t ask me to play tennis or translate something into French for them. What an easy way to pump up the old ego after a long Sisyphean day of rolling diapers and spilled crayons uphill! I could help some poor remedial breastfeeeder to do it right like me! Who doesnâ€™t love an easy chance at gratification? But thus far I have demurred when an anxious father invites me to hold forth. Such restraint is atypical. I just have a hunch that the biggest insult to women whose babies wonâ€™t latch on properly is that every other idiot leaking milk through her bra gets to think itâ€™s a cinch.â€ I like that.
Iâ€™m also going to quote one of the stories in the book that made me laugh aloud. If you like this, I suggest that this is the book for you.
â€œ..we took the subway to the Cloisters, an hour uptown. I was in denial about her need to hit the biological bottle before we reached our destination. Our closest neighbor was a bald man in his fifties, a working-class JosÃ© who remained where he was despite my fervent wish for him to move. Inkyâ€™s nickering was on the verge of becoming nutting out. With no choice, as discreetly as I could, I unsheathed myself [â€¦] Inky clamped on grunting in relief. I could feel my neighborâ€™s eyes upon me. â€˜Breasfeedingâ€™ he shouted. I [..] offer[ed] only the faintest murmur of assent. â€˜Breastfeeding,â€™ my seatmate thundered again. â€˜Itâ€™s the best thing! My mother, sheâ€™s in heaven now, god rest her soul, she breastfed all of us, and she had eleven kids.â€™
I turned to face him. He was grinning from ear to ear. He pointed at the little gobbling head. His voice resounded like a gong. â€˜Look at her. Itâ€™s a girl, right? Oh god bless her. Que linda. Look at how much she loves it. Iâ€™m telling you, you canâ€™t do better than breastfeeding! Good for you Mami! God bless you!â€™
â€˜Itâ€™s the best thing, breastfeeding!â€™
â€˜Thatâ€™s what they say.â€™
â€˜Yeah, and itâ€™s the best thing for the baby too. She knows it right? [..]Good for you, Mami! God bless you!â€™
[..] â€˜Look at this baby breastfeedingâ€™ my neighbor called to a couple of women seated across the aisle. [..] â€˜Itâ€™s the best thing!â€™ my friend trumpeted, as if any of our fellow riders might harbor doubts. [..]My mami breastfed me. Iâ€™m fifty-seven years old and strong as a bull! Iâ€™m telling you. Breastfeedingâ€™s where itâ€™s at.â€™â€
In conclusion, I am going to hold a little competition based on an idea given to me by Open Brackets. Regular readers will recall that I am a subscriber to the London Review of Books. Every time you renew your subscription, they give you two new subscriptions free. One of these I have pledged to my mother-in-law, the other, dear reader can be yours. The only condition is that you have not previously subscribed, that you are willing to give me a name and address and that you put hereunder the opening paragraph of a review of Ayunâ€™s book as it would have been written by an LRB reviewer. If nobody enters my competition, I will be sad and bitter. Mr. Waffle says that nobody will as a) many of you have not had a chance to read the book because itâ€™s only just been published in the UK and b) it relies on you knowing the style of an LRB review â€“ if this latter is a difficulty may I refer you to my post on Wal-Mart? If at all possible, I would like him to be wrong in this regard.
If you saw a family getting on your plane with two very spotty small boys, would you be pleased? Tomorrow we are flying to Dublin and, to ensure maximum alarm, we are then getting the train to Cork. I have prepared little labels for the boysâ€™ tops saying â€œyes we look hideous, but no, weâ€™re not infectiousâ€.
Meanwhile, the Princess has been wheeling a small trolley round the house for the past week saying “Bun, water, tea, cwips?” Our last trip was with Virgin airlines and they offer muffins and Pringle’s crisps and this has made a lasting impression on our heroine. I do not think that Aer Lingus offers Pringle’s crisps. Yesterday Mr. Waffle arrived home from work with a box of Pringle’s stashed in his coat pocket. This evening I came home to find a wailing Princess “Daddy won’t give me cwips”. Our eagle eyed daughter had seen them nestling in the top shelf of the cupboard. She was given two on the understanding that the rest are to be saved for tomorrow’s plane journey. I really can’t wait.
And, on a separate matter, I see Mr. Waffle was entirely right about yesterday’s post.Â It is hard to be married to a man who is never wrong.
Despite some difficulty in England, we managed to get back to Dublin without any problems.Â It was the Cork leg of the trip that was tiring.Â When we sat into the train for our 3 hour trip to Cork (about the same distance as Brussels Paris which takes a mere hour and forty minutes on the Thalys – no one tell me Cork is less important than Paris) the first words to pass the Princess’s lips were “when will we get to Cork?”Â Did any of our children nap on the journey?Â That would be a no.Â Did the woman from Killarney who chose to sit across from us regret her choice of seat?Â That would be a yes.
We got there though.Â To find that Tesco’s in Wilton is open 24 hours and that Roches Stores is being taken over by Debenhams.Â We might as well have gone to England. Ireland is working hard to replicate the UK effect where every town has exactly the same shops.Â Soon we won’t have “main streets” we’ll have “high streets”.Â I can tell you, romantic Ireland’s dead and gone alright.Â Nevertheless, it is lovely to be home and the Princess is ecstatic to be among adoring relatives.Â For a variety of reasons she sees less of her maternal relations than I would like and I am delighted at how immediately she seemed at home and how quickly she started prowling around the house and treating its inhabitants with the careless affection she reserves for her nearest and dearest.Â We are powerless to stop her roaming the house at will andÂ her extraordinary prudence is our only comfort as, being the house of two adults, it is a death trap for small children.Â This morning I found the electric hedge trimmer sitting patiently underneath the dressing table in her room.Â The boys are poised to crawl and the plethora of dangerous, shiny objects just out of reach may yet give them the incentive they need or they may continue to settle for doing 70s disco dancing (hand movements only, of course) with my father.Â No, really, “it’s fun to stay at the YMCA”.