Thursday, 21 October 2010

Don’t Forget to Breathe Out

I’m increasingly conscious that my back and neck muscles are constantly tense.  In an ideal (or childless) world, I’d scamper off for an occasional massage.  Back in the real world I’m making an effort to forcibly relax them as often as I think of it.  With this in mind, I told myself this morning that I wasn’t going to allow the petty nuisances of the day bother me, and I would remain calm, unruffled and, as a result, untense. 
It is now 2pm, and that resolve has gone to hell in a hand-basket, and a pneumatic drill would struggle with my muscles.
I managed to deep-breathe through the morning’s temper tantrums, to stoically accept the millions of placticy bits and pieces thrown all over the kitchen, to tip-toe over the carefully-quartered toast trampled into the floor; I barely swore (just a little bit) when I knee-capped myself on the edge of the table (how?);  I calmly changed 6 nappies in all (I think the Boy has been drinking bath water again), struggled to toddler group, cooked dinners for the Boy for the next week (I may even remember to freeze them this time) and stuck a load of laundry on – all the while de-tensing, de-tensing, de-tensing.
And then the girl woke up from her midday nap, after less than an hour.  And wailed and wailed and wailed.  After 20 mins, I gave in, and dragged self and gammy leg up the four flights of stairs to her, bottle in hand.  As I was leaving her room, I heard a rattling sound from the Boy’s room, which I decided to investigate. 
I should at this point mention my complete and utter stupidity in letting him take his nap in the Big Bed.   There’s a double bed in his room, which he napped the other day without any catastrophe.  In fact it went perfectly, and I got a bit nostalgic thinking about how quickly he’s growing up.  So  today when he said “big bed?” at nap-time, and v sweetly crawled under the covers, saying “tuck tuck”, I did what any calm and unruffled mama would do.  I tucked tucked, and took all the usual Big Bed precautions:  pillow between the bed and the chest of drawers beside it;  duvet tucked tightly in around the bed; everything taken off the bed, monitor on, lights off. 
Alas I ignored the beeping coming from the other end of the monitor – the beeping which indicates that the main part isn’t plugged in properly...  – and I neglected - stupid stupid – to remove a BUMPER JAR OF VASELINE from the top of the chest of drawers...
Yes, there’s only one way this is going.  Thinly-smeared Vaseline, when seen in the gloom of a semi-dark afternoon has the appearance of ectoplasm.  Think Alien meets Home Alone.  Everywhere.  On his clothes, the bed, the carpet - and mainly on the top of the chest of drawers, which means that he must have been sitting up there while he was getting creative.  Wonderful.
I admit that I became somewhat ruffled.  But, I breathed deeply, tackled a revolting nappy (he must have ingested some of his art medium),  and gently placed him (ok, maybe not quite so gently) into his cot.  Back to the Girl – who was roaring again – calmed her (ah – so that’s where all my daily calm goes) – then tip-toed out.  Whereupon  I heard yet more strange sounds coming from the other room.  The unmistakable sound of ripping paper...  Boy had taken against  his wall stickers and was ripping them, one by one, off the wall around his bed. 
So the calm has now completely gone, neck has tied itself up in knots , shoulders are touching the tips of my ears, and Boy has a smacked hand and is wailing so much that it transpires I don’t actually need a monitor.
 Suspect it might just be easier to book a massage.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Same Shit, Different View

We got back from our “holidays” – 4 (short) days a deux, 4 very very long ones) with the kids – last week, and I can honestly barely remember having been away.  Thinking about it, instead of forking out for a sea-side rental house, we should have spent the money on a maternity nurse and earplugs. Note to self if I ever again think that going away with babies is going to be fun.  A change is definitely not as good as a rest.
The sources of our non-rest continue to exhaust, and amuse.  The Girl is sweet, but not exactly exhilarating company.  She’s started to coo, which I spose is something.  I feel bad for her tho – when the Boy was at this stage, we were ooing and ahhing over his every breath.  Today at lunch, he continued to hold court at the table while she sat in her chair, staring at the lights, completely ignored.  Poor child.  Boy’s vocabulary and skills are on a steep curve.  He mastered the scooter during the week and now flies along, one foot in the air (like a small fat ballet-dancer – you don’t see many of them), one on the “cootie”, hands gripped to the sides of the handlebar.  We were dragged conker hunting,  then across the park for “appuljooz” and then he had a melt-down and was carried home. 
In true chav form, he was given fish fingers for his dinner.  I don’t have the energy to cook anything for anyone.  Or even type any more.  The laundry is calling, and I plan on ignoring it by necking a G&T.  I’ve sent the Man out to buy the T, limes and crisps – the latter because I want to at least pretend that we’re sitting in a posh bar somewhere.  Guess I should really turn the oven off  in that case.  And maybe brush my hair. 
(24 hours later... )
The Man was gone on his errand for over an hour last night.  Which is quite an achievement as Sainsbury’s is more or less at the end of our street. To begin with I was a bit annoyed, then as the minutes clicked by I started to get worried, and then it dawned on me – he’s gone!  He’s nipped out for the proverbial pint of milk, and I’ll never see him again. And with that thought, I wasn’t really pissed off any more.  Sure, I wanted my drink, but really – given what he has to put up with, who could blame him? There are times when I’d leave – if I thought I could handle the guilt (and the worry – who’d climb into the Boy’s cot [yes, I know, I know – rod, back, beat...] to read Goodnight Moon to him?)  Then I got pissed off again because we have a deal, the Man and I, where it’s agreed that if one of us leaves, we have to take the kids with us.  We reckon that that way, our marriage will last – if not forever, at least until they’re all 18. 
Turns out of course that he hadn’t nipped on the no 35 bus and fecked off to the rest of his life;  our local Sainsbury’s didn’t have limes.  Or crisps.  Or tonic water. (Clearly every house-bound mother in the 'hood was gagging for a large drink last night).  So he schlepped all the way up to the big huge one hours away.  Aw bless. 
It didn’t stop me nagging him when he got home tho.   Bet he wished he’d taken his passport after all.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Mac 'n' Tears

I didn't so much hit a wall last week, as run at it naked, blindfolded, and at full speed. 

Wednesday in particular was just hideous.  People - mothers, mainly - use a whole range of words and phrases to describe dealing with two young children:  "very hard", "challenging", "exhausting" etc.  There's no doubt it's all of those things (although "challenging" makes it sound like there's some virtue or silver lining attached, which I dispute), but noone has ever told me that sometimes - often - it's just horrible. Horrible and awful and soul-destroying. 

The Boy was a beast from the minute he woke up until well after he was put to bed (eventually I turned off the monitor because I just couldn't put up with having his whinging and moaning reverberate around the house).  He fought with and bullied his friend who came over in the morning, lashing out every time she so much as looked at one of his toys.  Then he screamed all the way to toddler group, seemed to settle, then just as I was feeding the Girl - right in the middle of nice quiet story-time -  he started to push and bite and scream.  There was nothing for it but to gather both of them up - no mean feat when I was still mid-feed with her, and in the back of a room of 30 toddlers and their carers - and leave, whereupon he screamed all the way home.  Once home he flung his lunch around and wailed when I wouldn't let him put his trucks in his food.  The Girl meanwhile had her routine off-kelter because she'd been up wailing since 445am, and any hope I had of getting some down-time over lunch was scuppered by her, and the joy she obviously gets from hearing me pound up and down the stairs all bloody day long.

Typically, it started to piss down just after lunch, and after half an hour of sitting indoors, Boy started to behave like a (vicious) caged animal.  I decided - stupidly - to take them both to the library, where at least my wildcat could destroy someone else's surroundings (and afternoon).  Imagine my delight when, as soon as we got there and had shed all our wet coats and pram covers, the screaming and flaying started again and I had to bundle them up and leave more or less immediately;  natch the Girl, who had just fallen asleep, woke up and added to the chaos with her own lovely piercing shrieks.  And so home we went, in the rain, me racing after the Boy, who had escaped from the pram and was careering off down the street.   Once home, informed that he wasn't watching a dvd before dinner, he lay down in the hall and screamed for THIRTY-FIVE minutes.  I sat in the kitchen, trying to ignore him - quite an acomplishment when you have no kitchen door, and your baby is crying on your lap because the noise coming from the hall is so shocking.  It sounded like he was having his head cut off.    With no let-up was in sight, and after several tentative "Are you ready to come in yet?" overtures (each of which was met with a snuffly "Gruffalo?", a stern no, and recommencement of the wailing) I made a peace-offering - pasta for dinner? - which calmed him immediately. 

God bless pasta.  In fact so indebted did I feel to it (notwithstanding that the calm period lasted only as long as the pasta did and continued until he got his blasted Gruffalo DVD - bad, useless, weak mother that I am) that I then made a vat of Mac, Cauliflower and cheese for my own dinner, which helped somewhat to soothe my bruised and battered soul. 
   
Here it is.  Best drunk with a pint of wine, which you can toast to (a) having survived another day and (b) no more children.  Ever.  Or, much more fittingly, to my parents who arrived the day after the Day of Hell, to relieve us of our ghastly parental responsiblities for FOUR DAYS.  Thank you parents for helping to dismantle that wall.  This mac'n'cheese is for you.

Mac, Cauli & Cheese.
You need:
  • Half a cauliflower (or a whole one, if you’re partial to it, or none at all if you hate the stuff – in which case use about half as much pasta again)
  • A large handful of pasta-tubes (macaroni is best, but any will do).
  • About a half litre of milk per person (I use skimmed, in the hope that it’ll offset the ridiculous amounts of cheese I use).  If you have a microwave, heat the milk before using.
  • Butter
  • Flour (regular or self-raising, it doesn’t matter)
  • Lots and lots of any cheese.  Cheddar works best, but equally fine are those half corners of unidentifiable stuff which have been sitting in your fridge door for, ahem, “a while”.
You don’t need to bake this recipe – it’s fine eaten straight from the pan;  but if you have the time and inclination, it’s delish if it’s stuck in the oven for 15 mins or so before eating.  It also enables you to get fancy with the presentation – if for instance you’re trying to butter up your beloved for a favour (a Saturday morning to yourself, or similar), in which case preheat the oven to 160, light those candles and drink the wine out of proper wine glasses, not straight from the bottle.
First, steam or boil the cauliflower until it’s edible, but still has a bit of crunch.  At the same time, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, but for 2 mins less than instructed.
Drain both cauliflower and pasta in a colander, and leave there while you make the cheesey bit.
For each person you’re cooking for, add a tablespoon of butter to a saucepan, and melt. 
As it starts to bubble, add equal tablespoons of flour to the butter, and stir well with a wooden spoon.  It should be a dry clumpy mixture which has soaked up all the butter (otherwise add a bit more flour until this happens).  Stir it about for a bit, until it goes light brown.
Now add the milk, a bit at a time (I find that heating it in the microwave beforehand reduces lumps) and stir stir stir. The first few dollops of milk will sizzle and evaporate, but gradually the flour mixture will get smoother and smoother.  Keep stirring as you add more milk.  Don’t put in the milk too quickly or all at once or you’ll be stirring to get rid of the lumps till your arm falls off.  Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat.  You’re aiming for a consistency of about double-cream.
As it simmers, get busy with the cheese and a grater.  Grate as much cheese as you have / want straight into the bubbling sauce, stirring occasionally, tasting alot.  When it tastes the way you like it, turn off the heat, tip in the pasta and cauliflower, and mix well,  Season with salt n peppa if you want.  Add more cheese, just cos.
Then either tip into serving bowls, or put into an oven-proof dish, add more cheese to the top, and stick in the oven for about 15/20 mins – until the top is browned and the edges are bubbling.  (Or else you can make it ahead to this point, then warm it up in the oven – which will take about 25 mins).
Empty your mind of your children, and eat while reminding yourself that there’s nothing pasta – and cheese – can’t mend.