Monday, 31 December 2012

Dear Santa...

Apologies for the delay in writing.  Time is somewhat fluid at the moment, so I have no idea what date – or indeed, day of the week, or time of day  – it is, but I know it’s not Christmas Eve, because I’ve already endured enjoyed that.

First off, thank you for the gifts for the children.  How did you know that that was exactly what I would have given them too? Mind you, we both got it a bit wrong.  I’m sure the scooters will, one day, be a big hit – when the incessant rain stops for more than 5 minutes, and I can actually get them outside the house and away from the walls we have all been climbing since mid-November.  And yes, I know the Boy banged ON AND ON AND ON about getting a robot, so it’s totally not your fault that he hasn’t played with it since the cursory glance it got on Christmas morning;  even the Girl chucking the controller into the bath this evening didn’t bother him.  Those things generally sell for quite alot of money, so I really hope you and the elves made it and didn’t buy it. Equally non-impressive have been the dinosaur “snap” cards (anyone would think you just bought them willy-nilly off the internet) and the stack of books (which looked like they came from a charity sho...  oh.) The “Drinking Straw Glasses” which no doubt looked so impressive on Amazon were a pile of cack;  you probably thought they’d actually work, given that here in England they cost £6, but no, the apple juice just came squirting out in all directions, giving me more scrubbing to do.  Thanks for that. Those bed-socks were fairly hideous – what were you thinking? –  so of course they have both been wearing them non-stop.  And maybe next year, ixnay on the large bar of Toblerone-ay? Neither kid needs a sugar-spike at 6am.  The Girl’s gimmicky lap-top thing is also generally largely ignored – until the Boy trips over it, gets a bit interested, and opens it up, at which point a fist-fight breaks out.  You really should have seen that coming.

On the plus side, both the kids love the wall-stickers – how clever to get something which I was just going to buy anyway!  Again, you weren’t to know that the Girl now takes several hours to fall asleep at night, what with the night-nights to every single one of the 42 animal stickers on her wall, and the later crazed ripping of said stickers off the wall and onto her head.  The DVDs also went down well – or at least I can only assume they did, as they’ve been watched more or less non-stop since the rains began.  (Perhaps next  year you can avoid any with rappish songs at the end? A 2 year old singing “I like to move it MOVE IT!” at the top of her lungs in Sainsbury’s makes her mummy a bit embarrassed.)

One final word on the gifts – if it makes a noise, it probably needs batteries.  Bear that in mind next time, ok?

Back to ME.  Seeing as you forgot to visit me (AGAIN), I thought I’d try my luck in setting my gift list out in writing to you.

Firstly, asking for something you really need, as opposed to want, is dull, I know, but make an allowance this once.  I – we – need some sleep.  Not the piddly 3 hours here and there we’ve been getting since the start of the month; oh no – a whole SIX hours in one go please.  (If you’re feeling really generous, we’d also quite like to wake up next to each other after that marathon stretch.  But that’s not a deal-breaker.)  I know this is a tricky gift, with many moving parts;  it requires the Grubette to have not done her usual Eat, Cough, Vomit routine just before she gets put to bed, AND have parents diligent in keeping her awake and stimulated during the day;  it demands a Boy free from cough and lurgy, and a Girl who doesn’t wake up ad hoc in the early hours and start singing nursery rhymes.  It also requires the night-time lighting in the hall-way to be just right for the sensibilities of a 4 year old – these change from day to day – and adequate toast and milk to be scoffed just before bed.  These quantities are also highly changeable.  Finally, I’m sure it necessitates tee-total parents who don’t binge-drink in the short hour and a half after bedtime when all the children are asleep at the same  time;  we both know this is the most unlikely part to put into place, and so I’ll understand if this gift is just unfeasible.

Secondly – and finally, this is a short list – we have an au pair arriving next week.  (I know! Staff!  It’s like Downton Abbey, only on an infinitesimally smaller scale).  Please can you make sure she’s:         
  •     Hot and nice (so the Man has an adult female in the house who doesn’t look like she was just found, after several months, down the back of the sofa, and who doesn’t snarl)
  • Lithe and skinny (less likely to eat me out of house and home); and
  • Not just another lazy, sullen, ungrateful child to look after.

Thank you. I appreciate that you’re probably completely wrecked now, what with having spent the past few months sitting on your arse while your wife chose, bought and wrapped sorting all the presents for the world’s children, but just a smidgen of your time would be greatly appreciated.


The Reluctant, Exhausted, Snappy Launderer. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Comfort and Joy

We finally got home from hospital on Wednesday – a week to the day after I’d first brought the Grubette in to A&E.  All things considered, it wasn’t that bad a week really. Once I accepted the fact that I was going to (a) be there for several days, and (b) probably not get a huge amount of sleep, I relaxed and actually began to enjoy it. Mind you, having health insurance and being in a private hospital – with our own room, a laptop, a tv, nurses, doctors and room service on demand – helped.  It was a little cocoon of safety, away from the horrible world, and more importantly, my house.  For seven days – give or take a couple of times when the Man took over and I went home – I didn’t cook, clean, or even think about the washing machine. I avoided all media reporting on the cannot-bring-self-to-even-mention-let-alone-think-about-it horror in Connecticut, and found space to breathe and be grateful for what I have.  Christmas cheer indeed. 

But now we’re home and typically, both the Boy and the Girl are horribly sick, coughing and hacking and whinging non-stop.  High temps, Christ-knows-what coming out of their noses, and germs-germs-germs at every turn.  I’m trying to put up with take care of them, entertain them (nothing worse than house-bound toddler) and keep them away from the Grubette (the first thing the Boy did when he saw her was cough in her face), while possibly getting self slightly organised for Christmas.  It isn’t going terribly well, to be honest.  (Although thankfully, I have successfully maintained an almost total shut-down on the part of my brain which processes tragedies and carnages - because on the couple of occasions when I started to think about the parents of the children killed in CT, and the children – God, the children - themselves, the room started to spin slightly.  Like it's doing right now in fact. Some horrors can’t be adequately verbalised, let alone absorbed.  And so, in my typical head-in-sand manner, I have decided not to even try.)

I had great intentions of starting lovely (or indeed, any) Christmas traditions – so that in years to come the three of them could Skype each other from various corners of the world (where they’d gone to escape their mother) and swap stories about the ridiculous things they were made to endure, all in the name of “enjoying themselves”.  I’m not even sure what I was thinking of – Christmas panto, maybe?  A carol service? (Which – on a complete tangent – reminds me of the Boy’s latest obsession.  God.  “What’s God, Mummy?”  “Um... God is like a ghost.  A good ghost.  Who isn’t a man or a woman.  And no one is even sure if there is even such thing as God.  But some people think their definitely is, and some think there definitely isn’t.”  (Christ, I’m so fucking middle-class-right-on it embarrasses even me).  “Oh MUMMY! God is Baby Jesus’s father, and he loves everyone”.  And there I was thinking we were spending all that money for him to go to a non-denominational nursery.) 

Anyway.  Christmas traditions.  Can I pick your brains?  Can anyone recommend anything which a 4 year old and a 2 year old might possibly enjoy, which isn’t going to be any effort AT ALL too much hassle?  Christmas eve we’re planning on bunking down with a Christmas movie, so likewise, any age-appropriate film recommendations would be much appreciated.

In the meantime, I bring you tidings of comfort and joy – in the form of scrambled eggs.  Yes, I know, old dogs, new tricks etc.  However...

Firstly, it is the perfect comfort food, and seems to be the only thing which  sick children will eat;  secondly, throw in a glass of Champagne, and you have the perfect Christmas breakfast;  thirdly, it’s ridiculously quick and easy;  and finally, I have a secret scrambled-eggs trick up my (snot-encrusted) sleeve to make it a one-pot-stop of delicious loveliness.

Fool-proof scrambled eggs (Just call me Delia...)
You need (per person)
  • 2 eggs (or 1, for the small people)
  • A heaped tablespoon of butter
  • A dash of milk (any type)
  • Salt & Pepper (Pepper is optional, salt really isn’t)
  • Buttered toast
  • Optional goodies:  a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese or some slivers of smoked salon (compulsory for Christmas breakfast I think)

Put the butter and one splash of milk per egg into a saucepan (not a frying pan.  Honestly, it all goes pear-shaped when you use a frying pan to make scrambled eggs.  Frying pans are for FRYING.  They give too much heat over too wide a space, so the eggs cook too quickly, and end up dry and diner-esque) and put the heat on medium-low.

When the butter has melted, and just before the milk starts to bubble, break the eggs directly into the mixture.  (I know!  For years you’ve been unnecessarily dirtying a bowl / jug with your egg-whisking nonsense...) Whisk well with a fork, so that the yolks and whites are completely mixed. 

Turn the heat up a bit, and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon.  (I don’t know why, but the wooden spoon seems to make a difference.)  As soon as it starts to set, turn the heat off and keep stirring. This is crucial. The eggs will continue to cook in their own heat, so if you keep the heat on until the eggs are at a consistency you like, you’ve already over-cooked them.

Add any additional ingredients you want – the cheese, or smoked salmon – and stir again.

Season with S&P and force into your toddler’s mouth eat immediately, while reminding yourself that turkey really is overrated...

And finally... On the off-chance (ahem) that I don't get around to posting again before the 25th, I wish a very very happy Christmas to all of you, my lovely readers.  Thank you for indulging me for yet another year. I hope you have song and cheer with your loved ones, the germ-bunny keeps away, and if you are parents, that you get a solid 8-hours’ stretch of sleep at least once over the holidays.  [To which end, might I suggest asking Santa for wax ear-plugs?  If they can block out the sound of a hospital – I actually slept! - they might just work against the sound of over-excited offspring...]   Happy Everything to you all.

Friday, 14 December 2012

In which I was not AT ALL careful what I wished for...

Interior. A large-ish kitchen, with plastic shit everywhere.  A seating area runs the length of one wall, and on the end of it, by a window, sits a middle-aged woman (MAW).  (Or perhaps it’s a member of the Bay City Rollers, the silly hair-do is confusing).  She is looking at her laptop and talking to someone.

MAW:, you know, it’s fine.  Well sort of fine. I’m managing.  Well, sort of managing. Like I was just saying, I just need to get out of the house soon or I will lose my mind.

(We then see it’s a Skype call, and pan to the person she’s talking to.  A fresh-faced woman (FFW) stares somewhat nervously back from the lap-top.  She has the air about her of someone who wishes that she never accepted the call, and is now wondering how she can disconnect it without appearing rude.  We hear her think: “Will she ever SHUT UP about leaving the house... Surely there’s a button I can press so that ‘We had to disconnect you’ message pops up?”)

FFW:           Um, right.  So how was your birthday?

MAW:          Oh God it was hideous.  Horrendous.  The worst ever.  I had lots of lovely things planned, then she went and got sick, and I haven’t slept, and I swear, if I don’t get out of the house soon I’m going to kill someone...

Suddenly the call ends and we see that the FFW’s Skype status has changed to Offline.

Interior.  A cramped, dusty office.  The same cramped, dusty office we visited back in April. Files are piled even higher on the floor.  The door bearing the plate marked “Death” remains closed.  Two enormous bearded old men are still perched on stools at their desks, muttering and flicking through files, sucking on cigarette butts, and tipping the ash on their respective nameplates:  “Pestilence” and “Famine”.  A third enormous old man is standing near the desk marked “War”, furiously kicking a shockingly large file at his feet. 

Famine:       What’s that?

War:           Fucking Syria.  STILL.  I’ve been working on this file FOREVER and it just NEVER ENDS. Christ, I didn’t leave my job in the law firm for this.  I need some light relief. Anyone got anything?

Pestilence:   This is up for review if you want to play around with it a bit.  I’ve put in some suggestions already.
He throws a fairly thick file at War, who allows it to fall open on his desk.

War:          Ha! I was just thinking about her the other day. How’s she doing with the new arrival?  (Scanning the file)  Holy cow, not so badly.  Whooda thought??

He reads on, then looks back up at Pestilence who is doodling distractedly on a pad.

War:            You can be an evil bastard sometimes.  I thought he’d said (he jerks his head towards the closed door) to lay off toddlers in the run up to Christmas?

Pestilence:   Oh for goodess’ sakes;  it’s just a bit of bronchialitis.  She gets it every year. It’s not like she’ll have to be hospitalised or anything.   A few nights of mild – at this, Famine gives a large snort – discomfort, a refusal to eat for a week, some drugs, and she’ll be back tormenting everyone with her pissy attitude. 

War:            Fair enough.  Although... (he quickly reads another page) ...I think there’s an opportunity here for something more emotionally destructive...

He grabs a red pen and, grinning manically, marks up the most recent memo before tossing the file back to Pestilence.  Pestilence reads it and blanches.  Famine grabs the file off him.

Famine:       Nice!

Pestilence:   What about the Christmas embargo?

War:            It never said anything about babies...  AND she keeps banging on about never leaving the house.  That should do it.

Famine:       (Writing something else on the memo, before throwing it back to War) That’ll teach her to go posting photos online of her looking so fat and healthy and happy...

War:            (Reading what’s just been written) Nice!

Pestilence:   Anything else before I send this off?

War:            Timing?

Famine:       While the Man’s away.  Just in time for the Boy to break up from nursery for the holidays.  Perhaps even encompassing Christmas day?

Pestilence and War  (together):  NICE!
Exterior:  Ariel shot of Central London.  We see the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and then swoop over Hyde Park, down Oxford Street – twinkling under Christmas lights – and up to a non-descript building close to another park.  The camera rests on a window in that building, through which we see the MAW, even more dishevelled than usual, talking to an authoritative-looking man in a suit, with a stethoscope around his neck.  It is obviously a hospital room, and we can assume he’s a doctor.

Doctor: the tests show conclusively that it’s bronchialitis, which is, as you know, a viral infection.  The increased temperature suggests, however,  the possibility of an additional bacterial infection, so as well as the feeding tube and the oxygen, I’d like to insert ain intravenous line to administer anti-biotics.  Just as a precautionary measure.

MAW:          (Flatly, as if the life force has finally been drained out of her)  Fine. Are you able to tell how long we might be in here?

Doctor:        Realistically, you won’t be going anywhere until her oxygen levels go up on their own, and she can feed normally. At least 4 days, probably longer.  The main symptoms – the coughing, sore throat, mild fever – will likely linger for a few weeks.

MAW:          (Sounding like she doesn’t mean it at all) Thank you.

They shake hands and he leaves the room. We then see, for the first time, the tiny bundle in the cot in the middle of the room. There are tubes and wires spreading from it to beeping machines, and as we get closer we see a tiny grey face beneath a sea of tape and gauze, its little button nose stretched with tubes. We can hear the rasping of her breath and the occasional whimper.  MAW kisses her head, then sits down beside her.  Her (prehistoric) phone beeps, and she takes it from the table, opening a message.  We see her grin, and she puts the phone down and goes over to the baby again.  The camera zooms in on the message on the discarded phone.  

“Look on the bright side – at least you’re out of the house...”


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

In Praise of the R-Word

We worship at the altar of Gina Ford in this house.  I LOVE Gina Ford.  Love her.  If it wasn’t for her, my life would really be a whole lot more shit than it already is. (For anyone unaware of the deity that is GF – she’s a Scottish maternity nurse who wrote one of the first get-your-baby-to-sleep books [The Contented Little Baby Book], way back in 1999.) I will extol its virtues to anyone who cares to listen – and many who don’t -  because it flipping works wonders. 

Unfortunately, it’s clearly meant for parents who don’t have anything to do other than dedicate themselves wholly to their baby’s routine.  (Again for anyone not familiar with it:  it sets out a series of daily timetables, depending on your baby’s age, accounting more or less for every moment of your day.  The idea is that you can flick to the relevant section at any time and determine what you / your baby should be doing at that precise moment.)  So it will come as little surprise to learn that this time round, I’ve been a bad, bad disciple.  

Take, for instance, the 7am instruction:
Baby should be awake, nappy changed, and feeding, no later than 7am.

Alternatively... Baby should have woken up at 5am, SCREECHING, had the milk equivalent of a Full English (with extra fried bread), and passed out on top of you at 615.  Mother and baby should both be sound asleep, and only the shouts and roars of irate small people in the house will rouse them, comedy-style, at 735am.  

And the 8am:
Don’t forget to have your own breakfast and a drink by 8am.  Wash and dress baby, remembering to cream all his creases and dry skin.

Put some toast in the toaster for yourself at 8.15, while simultaneously stirring porridge and yelling at the now-insane-with-hunger small people to GET-OFF-HER-HOW-MANY-TIMES-DO-I-HAVE-TO-TELL-YOU.  Leave the toast sitting there for the remainder of the day, while you get weaker and weaker, until your brain starts to melt, to the extent that you actually consider turning it into breadcrumbs before getting a grip and chucking it in the bin at 4.30pm. Leave baby in her pyjamas for the second day running – it’s only a bit of milky-vomit after all.  Check for obvious visual signs of neck-cheese, then feel bad and do a smell-check also.  While you’re gagging, run a wipe around her neck, then behind her ears for good measure.

8.50am, 9am & 945am:  Check his nappy and draw sheet and close the curtains. Settle the drowsy baby, half-swaddled and in the dark with the door shut, no later than 9am. He needs a sleep of no longer than 45 minutes. [At 9.45]...[o]pen the curtains and unswaddle the baby so that he can wake up naturally.

Peg it upstairs with your hysterical, exhausted baby some time after 9am.  Swaddle the bejaysus out of her because she’s bucking like a sick horse, stick her in her cot and bung a soother in her mouth to calm her the fuck down. Wonder, as you do every day, what a draw sheet is.  Peg it back downstairs to where your 2 year old has found the hidden jar of Vicks Vapo-Rub, and has Vapo-Rubbed it all over her collection of cuddly toys, the kitchen floor, and her hair.  Gnash your teeth and mutter like a deranged woman, before setting about cleaning it up. At 10.20am glance up at the clock, give a roar and peg it back upstairs; yank the sleeping baby out of her bed and race backdownstairs.  Weep when you see that your 2 year old has been “helping” with the clean-up.

And so the day unravels... However, notwithstanding these slight variations to the routine, it still works. Seriously.  Despite having a newborn, you can actually plan your day. (My plan generally goes like this:  Stay indoors.  Put on a dvd and throw food at the children at regular intervals).  And, at some point – sooner, rather than later - you get treated to a relatively good night’s sleep. 

But is she contented, I hear you all ask;  does it do like it says on the tin?  Well, judge for yourselves:

Or maybe she’s just happy because she found, and ate, all the pies...