Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Girl


We are home! To the house which smells of damp and fox-wee (which I fervently hope are unrelated) and which, to the Boy’s enormous delight, now harbours a – shudder – nest of earwigs in the groove under the back door.  On the inside, natch.  Still, it was good to be back (for all of four minutes, before the Boy discovered both his toy-box and the earwigs – “WOW, my big noisy truck! And, WOWEEEEEEE, CREEE-CHURES...” - and I forgot that the Girl is now quite proficient at moving, and was off in the fireplace in the time it took me to clamber up on a chair to escape the marauding ear-dwelling insects), mainly because the travel to get back here was so hellish.  It was long (12 hours) and arduous (the Girl shouted the whole way), and I’m not quite ready to talk about it just yet.  But watch this space; I’m sure I’ll drag a blog posting out of it somehow, sometime.
While we were away, I acquired a new toddler.  For the next three months I will be telling anyone who listens that I have a two year old and a one year old.  I suspect that this is something which I will feel is deserving of sympathy even when I’m saying they’re eighteen and seventeen (which no doubt it will be) but their being just a year apart is a seasonal occurrence, a rare, flesh-eating bird, spotted only from July to late October – and so complete strangers are just going to have to put up with me. (For the next thirty years.) 
Yes, we remembered the Girl’s birthday.  (Although only just.  For a while I was a day out, which is fairly bad I suppose, but not as bad as my sister who got the day and the month wrong.)  We even had two parties, just to cover all possible bases. This didn’t phase her at all;  true to form she just looked a bit bemused and roared for food, then handed all her new presents (a doll, a phone, another doll, and – to obviate any gender stereo-typing - a big rubber spider) to the Boy, who was busy trying to pick molten candle-wax off his hands.
Anyway.  I’m conscious that the Girl doesn’t get a huge amount of blog coverage (it’s nothing personal little mouse – you just don’t torment me give me as much material to work with as your brother does) and so to right that unintended wrong, I give you:  
The Girl: A Retrospective.
Little Avie.  This is what I love most about you (apart from just general loving, of course) – in no particular order:
  • When you eat you make this fantastic noise of pure food-love – mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmuuuum rhhhrmmmmmm arghhhhmmmmm.  Anyone who is within earshot stops and listens and smiles.  It’s fantastic.  Likewise, you LOVE eating.  Which leads to:
  • Your great big fat roly poly wobbly bits.  Legs, arms, tummy, even underarms.  If it was the 15th century, you would be Botticelli’s muse. There is nothing lovelier than a fat wobbly baby. (Except perhaps a fat wobbly baby whose jowls are covered in mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmummm-rrrrhm-arrrghm chocolate, or who is freshly out of the bath and wrapped in a white towel.)
  • You have a dirty filthy laugh, which starts in the folds of your enormous belly and rolls its way up.  I love it.  It’s calling out for whiskey and fags and late night tubs of Ben and Jerry’s littered with tales of feckless wimps whose hearts you’ve broken. 
  • You are very very certain about what you don’t want, when you don’t want it.   That is a good – albeit sometimes annoying - trait.  Stick with it. 
  • You are already a HUGE flirt.  While I’m not quite sure if in the long run this is a good or a bad thing, as long as it continues to be directed at your daddy, we will encourage it.  (Although do you really need to forcibly push me out of the way when he walks into the room?  Just remember who it is that feeds you.)
And some things that I don’t love quite so much (so if you could tone them down a bit, that would be excellent):
  • You came out SCREECHING BLUE MURDER, and have managed to make my brain shudder and my skin stand up and walk off my body with that screech ever since.  To begin with I assumed that as you were the fairer sex, and thus more delicate physically, you had to make up for it by being able to ROAR in defence.  However you are neither delicate nor fair - in fact you are a total bruiser, and are commonly mistaken for a 2 year old boy.  Why you need to yell so is quite beyond me. 
  • What’s with the refusing to sleep if you’ve done a poo?  Ok, I get that lying in your own excrement probably isn’t terribly comfortable, but it never bothered your brother (quite the contrary in fact).  Man up, girlfriend.  And go the fuck to sleep. 
  • The hair pulling.  And the face scratching.  Please, stop it.  You’ve got all of High School for that behaviour.
  • Nappy-changing wriggling.  It achieves nothing, apart from more laundry for me.  Plus, there’s nothing on the other side of the bed, honestly. 
On balance however, I think we’re on to a winner with you.  You’re just very very good natured.  Someone commented today that you have a lovely gentleness about you – which is fairly remarkable, for a one year old.  Especially considering your occasional bouts of violence (see above).  But she was right – you are a lovely, fat, wise old soul.  We can’t remember life without you.   Happy birthday sweet thing.

Easy Peasy Birthday Pancakes.
Now that I have a one year old AND a two-year-old, I can’t possibly be expected to find the time to bake a birthday cake*. I did, however, throw these together.  (Which, considering it took about four minutes, isn’t exactly my biggest culinary accomplishment).  Still, they were delish, devoured by both my toddlers (have I mentioned that I have TWO toddlers?) and we all know where the proof of the pancake pudding is...
You need (for about 8 cereal-bowl-sized pancakes):
  • Two mugs’ worth of self-raising flour.  (You can use plain flour, but the self-raising gives them a bit of a lift in the pan, and makes them a bit fluffier, I think)
  • An egg
  • A pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar
  • Some milk (no more than two mug-fulls)
  • A banana, mashed (optional, but I never miss an opportunity to slip in some fruit unnoticed)
  • Some butter
For Serving:
  • Whatever you fancy.  Butter, jam, honey, yoghurt, raspberries and strawberries all graced our table (and the Boy’s plate). State-side, you will of course be reaching for the bacon and maple syrup.
(Note – I appreciate these aren’t exactly precise measurements.  Pancakes don’t need to be - it’s all about the texture really.  In my experience two cups of flour is what you need for one egg, and makes enough to feed two adults and two children;  if you go above this, you need another egg.)
Put the flour in a large-ish bowl – no need to sieve – crack the egg in, add the salt and sugar, and start to stir with a fork. 
Slowly pour in the milk.  Use just one mug-full to begin with, and if the mixture is too stodgy and sticky, then add more until you have a thick paste – about the consistency of clotted cream. 
Add the mashed banana and stir through.
Have the serving plates ready by the stove-top.
Melt a tablespoonful of butter in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Swill it around the pan then pour it into the pancake mixture and stir through.  Keep the heat on under the pan.
Add a ladleful of batter to one side of the pan, then another to the other side. (If you want to be dainty, make the paste thicker, by adding less milk, and then dropping several tablespoons of the batter in the pan.  If I did that in my house I’d be roared at). 
When there are lots of bubbles on the top of the batter and the edges have started to sizzle, flip ‘em. (If your pancakes have Siamesed into one great big butterfly-(mis)shaped mess, separate them – with a knife, or a spatula – just before you flip them.)
They’re done about one minute before (one of) your toddler(s) starts shouting “Look Mummy, smoke!”. 
Serve while you cook up another batch.  (Remember to watch the pan, and not the feeding frenzy you’ve created.)
An added benefit of pancakes is that you can make them as big as you want  to hold as many candles as you need, so this is a birthday recipe which you can use time and time again.  At least until your elderly neighbours are mighty sick of hearing how you have a 40 year old and a 39 year old.
*Just to be clear, we bought her a cake.  She isn’t so neglected as to be denied a cake on the day before her first birthday...

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Smack

We took advantage of our baby-sitter hosts (AKA Grandparents) and buggered off to the US for the weekend.  As you do. Actually, that makes it sound alot more spontaneous than it was, whereas in fact it was a finely-tuned piece of logistical craftsmanship, months in the planning, weeks in the anticipation, and days in the execution – 18 hours both there and back, with 30 hours downtime in the interim.  That’s what you get for going to North Carolina for a wedding. 
And while the wedding and the social element were definitely worth it – not to mention being child-free for three days, as well as actually getting to read my first book of the summer – the parental repercussions have been fairly enormous.  Firstly, the combination of jet-lag and exhaustion do not a happy patient mummy make.  (Little, other than wine, sleep, and a morning without children – preferably in that order – can be guaranteed to make this mummy happy or patient.) Added to that, the Boy’s behaviour has gone from manageably mischievous to downright impossible.  By all accounts he was impeccable for the entire weekend, so either he was storing up all the evil for our return (welcome home, Mommy Dearest) or it’s now payback for our having had the gall to actually leave him alone with people who love and cherish him for a few days. Either way, we are now suffering.  Or rather, I am; the Man has gone back to London, leaving me to deal with it solo. 
Anyway, all this is by way of background to my confessional:  he received a smack yesterday morning.  That’s a nice way of putting it, isn’t it?  It’s as if I had nothing to do with it, it just sort of happened of its own accord.  The Boy, however, had a different take on things. 
Boy (Sobbing, and highly indignant):  You HIT me!!!
Me (Rolling my eyes at the histrionics):  I smacked your hand.
Boy (With mounting hysteria):  YOU HIT ME!
Me (Thinking: “You say tomato...”):  Calm down, I just smacked your hand.
Boy (Convulsing slightly):  YOU HIT ME! Naughty naughty Mummy!  Into the naughty corner RIGHT NOW!
Silence.
Boy, through his sobs:  It’s VERY sore.
Me (starting to feel some guilt):  Is it?  Can I see?
Boy (holding aloft one hand, then quickly realising it’s the wrong one, and offers the other):  VERY sore.
Me:  I’m sorry.
Boy:  Why you did HIT me?
Me:  I smacked your hand because I told you three times to sit at the table for breakfast and you ignored me.  Then I told you it was your final warning and you ran away.  Then when I tried to pick you up you kicked me in the leg.  So I got cross and angry.  That’s why I hit smacked you. 
Boy:  I’m CRYING and BAWLING.
Me:  I can see that, and I'm very sorry. But you were very naughty.  And I’m tired, and got cross.
Boy:  Not to get cross.  Use your words, not HIT. 
Me:  You’re right.  I should have used my words. I won’t do it again.  I’m sorry. 
Boy:  No more HITTING me!
Me (possibly jumping the gun slightly):  I promise I won’t smack you ever again. 
Silence.
Me:  Are we friends?
Boy sniffed in what I assumed was a conciliatory fashion.  I sloped off feeling like crap –only 9am and already I’d failed as a parent – I HIT MY CHILD! -  and passed the following half hour watching the kids torment the dog, and listening to tales of the most horrific Church-sanctioned child-abuse on the radio, that I managed to feel simultaneously worse (what sort of monster hurts a child??) and slightly better (it was just a smack...) about myself. 
Despite the not terribly auspicious beginnings, the rest of the day was quite nice. We played football on the street, visited neighbours’ cats (where the children demonstrated that their skills of torment extend across a variety of species), took a nap together, the Boy smearing his grimey hands all over my face while telling me he loved me, had a picnic dinner outside and then gallivanted about (me) in a wheelbarrow (him) for what felt like several days, but was in fact about 40 minutes. 
By the time bedtime rolled around, I had all but forgotten my earlier transgression.  Then the Man telephoned to say his goodnights. I held the phone up to the Boy, and could hear the Man ask him how his day was.  The Boy stared off into space.  “Tell Daddy about your day,” I urged.  “Tell him all the nice things we did.”  He paused, then cleared his throat. 
“Mummy HIT me,” he said, rubbing his hand.  The wrong hand, I should point out. 
“It was a SMACK!” I shouted, thus confirming everyone’s view that I am unstable as well as violent.
A while later, after I’d told the Boy the sad tale of the doggy who was so naughty that he bit his mummy, and his mummy didn’t think (or use her words) and scratched him back, but only because she was really very cross and tired, and in fact she loved him more than anything (his response was “BAD MUMMY DOGGY DOO-NING SCRATCHING”), I made the following.  I had pinched the recipe from the New York Times on Sunday, so at least some good came from our trip away. 
Strawberry-Basil Ice-Pops
Or “Popsicles” to give them their US (branded – and no doubt copyrighted) name.  The NYT gave 12 recipes – three each of fruity (strawberry-basil, cherry-vanilla, peach-ginger), creamy (orange cream, chocolate-chili, banana-peanut), savory (avocado-coriander, tomato-cucumber, coconut curry) and boozy (grapefruit campari, fennel-pernod, mojito).  I’ve only made the first, but plan on getting around to the others if the sun ever shines, or I ever host another dinner party (or both) again. Or if I just need a drink at 9 11am and People Are Watching.  
You Need:
  • 2 cups (about one large punnet) hulled and quartered strawberries
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons basil leaves (leave out if you think the small people won’t love the taste;  I didn’t give mine the choice, and they didn’t seem to mind)
  • Some water
You also need a food processor or blender, and either ice-pop moulds, or paper cups, and wooden sticks (or plastic, but wooden is more authentic)
Bung everything in the food processor / blender, and drizzle in enough water to the whizzing mix until you have a fine, thick slush. 
Fill the moulds / paper cups to your desired amount.  Freeze for an hour, then stick in the wooden sticks and freeze for at least another hour. 
To release the ice-pops dip the moulds in hot water for a few second and twist the stick. 
Perfect as an antidote to a smarting, smacked hand.

Monday, 11 July 2011

My Toddler, My Teacher

This parenting lark is one never-ending series of lessons learnt the hard way - of things that you feel you should already know, but just never crossed your mind.  Such as:  If you give your baby an ice-cream cone to hold while she’s strapped to your back, she will rub the entire thing on your hair then drop the remains down your back where it will sit for the next hour (I spose that one should really have crossed my mind);  a hungry toddler will eat anything, including a bowl of dog-biscuits (ditto); and you should never ever have a newly-communicating 2 year old in a public place without having a lollipop – or other shutting-up device – to hand.
I usually do bring a lolly with me on all outings, but I stupidly thought that bringing him on the under-the-ground train before we went away was going to be a treat enough in itself for the Boy.  Plus I suspect I had an idiotic notion that we would in some way be sitting there like a poster of toddler idyll – me, calm and unruffled, him chattering sweetly and innocently, oblivious to the admiring and appreciative glances from fellow-passengers – and that lollies would somehow upset this perfect picture of parenthood.
Unfortunately, we were in a largely empty carriage for the outward journey, so were unlikely to get too many admiring glances.  And in any event, as soon as the Boy opened his mouth, the whole idyll was instantly – and spectacularly - shattered. 
“What’s that man doo-ning?” he demanded.
I looked around.  There was no man.  There was a tall, er, handsome lady, who was knitting, but she was man-less. “What man?” As soon as I said this I realised my error.   
“THAT man,” he said, pointing.
At the lady.
Who was now looking at us.  I gave my brightest aren’t-you-a-sweet-but-silly-thing smile. 
“The lady is knitting,” I said, confident of his next question.
“Him not a lady, him a man.”
Oh God.  Him the lady was starting to look a bit annoyed.  I decided to dig our way out of this social hole with the tool of inane chatter.
“Knitting is when you make clothes out of wool.”
“Why him making clothes?”
“Maybe for his her baby, or cat, or just for fun!” Please please please let this be the end of it.
A pause.  Thank you God.
“Man?  MAN! Why you making clothes??”
By now the train had pulled into a station, stopped, and the doors were open.  I contemplated bolting. Without him.  Then inspiration hit.
“Oh no!  Where’s Eddie gone?  Did we lose him?” said with slight – and entirely false – hysteria.  (Eddie is the Boy’s Favourite Thing In The Entire World. He’s an elephant blanket thingy which, because of the unimaginable hysteria which would follow his loss , is never allowed to leave his bedroom.  Thus, he wasn’t even with us on the journey, but I needed to catch his attention and create a distraction.  It was the toddler equivalent of spilling a cup of scalding coffee on his lap.)
His eyes widened, he froze, then his face crumpled.  Short of “there’s no more sugar in the world”, it was, possibly, the worst thing I could have said.  Attention distracted from the (wo)man opposite us, I then “remembered” that we hadn’t in fact bought him. He, however, was having none of it.  The seed of devastation had been sown, and no amount of persuasion that Eddie was safe at home in bed would be accepted.  He was still sobbing by the time we alighted, four stops later.  On the plus side, the knitting giantess wasn’t mentioned – or shouted at - again. 
After a harrowing and exhausting day spent largely trying to stop him throwing things off the pedestrian bridge at Embankment, we elbowed our way onto a fairly busy Tube home.  The Boy plunged right in again.
“Him have a very cross face.”  Again pointing, and “cross” said in his evil demonic voice.  In his defence, he had a point.  Him not only had a very cross face, but the cold stare (and large, murderous hands)  of a Balkan general.
“Him cross eye.”
Said cross eye was now glaring at us both.  Time for An Intervention.  Because, you know, the last one had gone so well. 
“He’s not cross, he’s just thinking.” 
“What him thinking about?”
“Oh, probably his work.”  As a sniper.  
A pause.  Then – “Mummy, yesterday...”  In that brief nano-second I allowed myself a congratulatory inward sigh of satisfaction -  the deflection had worked.  “...why you saying For Fuck’s Sake all day long?”
I glanced at the assassin, who glared and raised his eyebrows in a shocked what-sort-of-parent-are-you-anyway sort of way. 
“I was cross.  I’m sorry. “
“Cross like that man cross?”
Oh God.  “Look over there, a puppy!”
There was clearly no puppy.  There was, however, a very very large sweating man, staring straight at us.
“Mummy look!   Him big fat man!” 
We had seven stops to go. There was only one thing for it.
“Oh no!  Where’s Eddie gone?”
It works every time – something I won’t be forgetting in future. (And who needs lollipops anyway, when you can bestow the gift of trauma?)