Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Friday January 7th – Dinner for One.

My stoic Tree was left standing alone in the dribbling rain today. That blobby little orb on the right of the picture is not a spectacle of the paranormal, but a fat rain drop on the camera lens. 
Both the camera and I got wet this morning, as I am not a big supporter of the umbrella. No, as far as I am concerned, a brolly is a big no no. I like cheese to be cut a certain way and I don’t like umbrellas. It’s not a phobia or a result of a traumatic incident. I just think that wandering around with a spiky kite on a short pole is a bit daft. I’d rather get wet than work out how to dry out a hulking great nylon bat-wing. In fact, I am very surprised that the umbrella did not end up confined to the same cupboard as grape-scissors and the penny-farthing.
Dear oh dear! Rant over.
This evening I am all alone.  Hoobiz is out with his work Peeps, enjoying a belated Christmas do.  I’m home alone (well, The Little Perfect One is asleep) and loving it. It’s so nice just to potter about and not feel the need to give any commentary. OK, obviously I’m doing that now in a way. Still I’m not announcing anything first, I’m just doing it. Sharing is for the most part wonderful and Hoobiz is the best company, but sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that I’m pretty good at entertaining myself.
There is something delicious about having a glass of wine on your own. It makes me laugh, as for years I was too frightened to even take a solitary sip. I seem to remember reading as a teenager that ‘Drinking alone’ was one of the definitive signs of alcoholism. I understand the principle, but taken to an extreme it would seem that you couldn’t be an alcoholic if you were always pissed in public.
I think that perhaps logic gets a bit tipsy on occasions.
Certainly, it seemed that way this morning. The nice and competent Big Ugly engineer was back. This was the chap who said he could fix the problem temporarily but that until The Big Ugly agreed to do something permanent we’d continue to go through this cycle of nonsense. The issue was being caused by the fact that there are too many of us travelling down the same ‘pipe’.
Refreshingly, he sticks to his story. I ask him if he can please call and confirm the issue with Big Ugly HQ. He’s happy to oblige. I do this, as last time the voice of The Big Ugly had no record of this fault. They also claimed the engineer’s notes must been lost. Rather unlikely, I mean it’s not as if he sends them in on a postcard...
I really like this guy. He’s not slagging anyone off he’s just honest. He says that our best approach now is to contact Ofcom, as sometimes getting a complaints number can help to chivvy The Big Ugly into taking some sort of action.

Depressingly, about half an hour after he left the throughput departed as well. I am less angry about it than I thought I would be, simply because I knew it was going to happen again and I hadn’t been promised that it wouldn’t.
Anyway it’s Friday night and I’ve made through another week – cheers!

Thursday January 6th 2011 – The Magic Dish.

It’s all a bit grim out there. Poor Tree, the thing is that it might get a bit worse, but very soon it’s going to get a whole lot better.
Who is this strange being with her overflowing glass?
Well yes, believe it or not...it’s me.
Spurred on by Juniper’s generosity of spirit, I’m fighting just that bit harder today to put on a happy face. I’m going to make an extra effort to smile at everyone who crosses my path.
Simona popped in today. That was an easy one, it’s scientifically proven that you can’t be glum around Simona. It’s like trying to whistle when you’re laughing.
She arrived with The Magic Dish, a large, oval, Pyrex bowl that possesses fabulous powers. The Magical Dish first appeared about this time last year and became a familiar part of our world for at least 5 months. Simona frequently turned up with a fricassée, a casserole, a curry or any other number of deliciously comforting one-pot wonders. Every day, this beautiful dish appeared, replenished. It’s possible that there might be more than one actual dish,  but I’m too caught up in the Magic of it to accept that it’s a certainty.
It was brilliant. Hoobiz and I might have been sustained by pizza and toast if it hadn’t have been for the great Simona and her conjuring cookware.
It didn’t just stop either, it slowly went to four days a week, 3, 2, 1 and then would still put in a guest appearance here and there.
It’s funny that the Magic Dish should make an entrance today, as yesterday I didn’t believe in magic nearly as much as I do now. Smile and the world smiles back? Maybe it doesn’t always work, but it’s nice to think that sometimes you do get back what you put in. Or even if you don’t, it’s worthwhile knowing you’ve put in your best.
Think happy, be happy.
After all, fairy dust aside, even Peter Pan needed to think happy thoughts before he could fly.

Wednesday January 5th 2011 – The Kindness of Strangers.

Dear Tree, you look sensational out there, I should be inspired and uplifted. I’m so sorry, I’m just not feeling it. Today was the brick wall and I’m just no match for anything solid right now.
I am so tired and low that...well... I feel utterly defeated.
There is absolutely no chance of me being able to write anything today, but I’m so far behind that I decide I need to at least log on and have a go. To be honest, it’s partly a question of torturing myself. ‘Llook at all the things you haven’t done!’ I’m not sure why that happens when you are feeling particularly rubbish, it’s like a switch that must be pressed: ‘How  low can you actually go?’
But there’s also the optimistic part of me that reasons... a quick read of some of my favourite sites may help a bit...
Hang on a minute? What’s this?
An Introduction, to me and my Tree, by Juniper from the fantastic Dreams and Reality
I am really touched by this. It’s such a thoroughly lovely and generous thing to do. Yes, today was pants and I’m painfully exhausted, but the kindness of someone I have never met has left me feeling a whole lot brighter.
Thank you Juniper!

Tuesday January 4th 2011 – Big Day.

I can’t believe how huge today was. It felt like the sort of day that would have taken months to prepare for. The sort of day that can only be happen if you take complete bed rest for 2 weeks, both before and after those manic 24 hours.
The sad thing is that it was just another day. This is it now. This sort of day is the new norm. It’s already the norm for millions of people and it’s probably a lot less frantic than 99.99% them.
For the last couple of weeks Simona has been looking after The Little Perfect One when I’ve been at work, but today he went to the Childminder from 8:30am until 5:30pm.
I know that I haven’t really got the right to whinge. The childminder is lovely. I work from home, which is only 5 minutes from her house in the car or 20 minutes on foot.
Still, I feel wretched, shattered and blobby. Leaving a screaming Little Perfect One with a relative stranger feels horrendously wrong.
How am I going to do it all again tomorrow?
Tomorrow also comes with that rare delight – a trip to the Dentist.
Mission for tomorrow is to get through it all without getting sectioned. Right now, I’m really not feeling that optimistic.

Monday January 3rd 2011 – Back to This Year – The Announcement.

Happy New Year! We awoke this morning to a startling phenomenon, which I believe is referred to by these sophisticated urban types as ‘internet connection’.
Yesterday, January 2nd 2011, was all rather warm and deliciously lazy. This was fine, as today was set to be the festival of ‘getting all things done.’  I must admit that it hasn’t got the same appeal as Glastonbury, but you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.
All was going well, the house was semi-tidy, TLPO’s meals were cooked, bags were packed for tomorrow and I was left with 2 clear hours for a blog catch-up.
Hoobiz and The Little Perfect One had set off for a heavily-wrapped trip to the park and I had plonked my bottom down in front of the screen. I had just enough time to take a few sips of coffee, fiddle with my stapler and have a fight with the Sellotape before Hoobiz rang me on his mobile.
‘My parents are coming over in about 45 minutes. Apparently it’s nothing scary but they want to tell us face to face. I’ll give you three guesses...assuming you’ll want to squander two of them...’
I did.
1 - Helmut and Bridget had become vegans after seeing a TV documentary which confirmed that it really wasn’t a scam after all.
2 – Following an alien abduction, they had been re-programmed. Hallelujah! They now contained an acceptable measure of humanity.
Why now? Why do they need to invade us now? The day before 2011 starts in earnest. The day before TLPO’s first session with the childminder.
The problem with the festival of ‘getting all things done’ is that in order to actually achieve the most pressing things, you have to sacrifice some of the more basic. I don’t know, like use a hair brush, have a shower or put on ‘fit to be seen by other people clothes’. Maybe it has got more in common with Glastonbury after all.
Even those 45 minutes of my precious writing time were now to be replaced with unscheduled personal grooming. Yes, I do realise how vile that sounds, but interrupting a blissful afternoon, especially one before the big drudge moves in, is certainly much more disgusting on every possible level.
Odd that I should be considering my appearance unsuitable for a visit from my nudist in-laws, but whilst they are frequently naked they are not usually grubby.
They arrived and after about 5 minutes Helmut made the announcement.
‘Ja, the thing is that we’ve decided to move back to Australia.’
‘Well, that is shocking,’ said Hoobiz sarcastically, but not aggressively so. ‘I think we’ve known that for some time.’
‘Oh no, how could you know?’ says an astounded Bridget, ‘We only decided ourselves yesterday and we haven’t told anyone yet.’
‘Ja, it makes sense boy,’ booms Helmut, ‘all are family are back there now after all.’
I look at Hoobiz, but say nothing. It’s so long ago that this pair elevated clumsy and tactless into Neptune’s stratosphere, that it would be totally futile to comment on it now.  In fact, reminding them that Hoobiz is their son would only cause confusion at this point.
‘When are you going?’, asks Hoobiz.
‘It might be the end of May or, if not, then it might be November.’ Helmut replies.
I’m quietly seething, trying to keep my face neutral and not let it show the voice inside me, whic was screaming, ‘Then why did you have to rush over here today? Rotten, time-bunglers! That’s what you are!’
The conversation continues for about 20 minutes and Hoobiz tries to gently understand how well the move has been thought through. It’s complicated, mostly because the full story is never available and the one that you can piece together from the little snippets isn’t ever consistent. It will mean that Helmut and Bridget leave life of independence  in the UK for a life dependant on the kindness of their other son, Axle, in Australia.
All that Helmut will explain is that, ‘the big story is the future.’
Well, that’s all tidy then.
As they are leaving Bridget asks if we knew of anyone who would take their cat. This is a tricky one, as it’s a cat that can’t be with others, children or dogs. Also, this is a cat that has absolutely no time for humans. Of course, there are lots of organisations that might be able to help and I mention a few of these.
Bridget says, ’Oh, that’s good. We can always try them. We don’t need to worry about Tweety, we already found him a new home. Yes, that was sorted a few weeks ago. Shame, he’s going tomorrow.’
Strange, I thought, that you already managed to find a home for your budgie when you ‘haven’t told anyone
After they’ve gone I ask Hoobiz how he feels about the announcement.
‘Well, I suppose it’s for the best,’ he says quietly.
‘For us, or for them?’, I continue.
‘For us,’ he says, ’For them it’s the worst idea imaginable.’

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sunday January 2nd 2011 – Dreadful Nipples and Kate Winslet’s Feet.

It’s a beautiful day out there, Tree. It’s as if for a moment the sharp brightness has caused you to stir as your branches stretch upwards. I can almost see you yawning.
Maybe it’s me. Hoobiz says I am good at seeing things that aren’t there. Yet sometimes a sensation is so strong that even cold, hard facts can’t change your perception of what’s actually happening.
 After The Little Perfect One was born, it was as if I could feel every movement he made. Perhaps it’s a sort of echo reflex. Even during the tiny patches of sleep, we mirrored each other so intensely during the first 48 hours. It was as if we were still physically connected, tied by a phantom cord that gently relaxed over the first few days.
We left the delivery room at about 9:00pm and Hoobiz, The Brand New Little Perfect One and I were taken up to a room on the seventh floor. With its big wooden doors, 30 degree temperature and general pokiness it was all rather sauna-like. In fact, when Hoobiz went home and left me alone with The Little Perfect One, I thought I might have melted, mostly from sheer terror, but partly from the exhausting heat.
It was a rushing, tongue-swallowing sort of a panic that gripped every fibre of my being. It began with, ‘Help! Help! They’ve left me here all alone with a baby. My baby, he’s my baby, but I don’t know anything about babies. Help! Help!’ Then I sat for a moment, perched on the side of the bed, leaning over his cot and watching his Little Perfect breathing. ‘Good,’ I thought, trying to reassure myself before a plague of ‘what if’s’ swarmed over me.  
‘What if I don’t hold him properly...what if I fall over when I’m holding him...there aren’t any locks on the kitchen cupboards... what if he drinks bleach....we haven’t got any stair gates... what if... we’re on the seventh floor...what if he doesn’t look when he’s crossing the road...what if he hates me when he’s a teenager...what if he drives too fast...what if I can’t always be there to keep him safe...
It was so hot and my tears were actually a blessing, a release, a cool reminder that I didn’t need to map out every detail of the next 40 years in that first night. That’s when I decided just to focus on the next 20 minutes. I’m not sure why it was 20 and not 5, but it worked.  Actually, the 20 minute rule has became a fantastic shield against an army of invading ‘what ifs’, biting doubts and stinging panics.
It’s ironic, but I think that one of the worst pieces of advice you can give to an expectant woman is also one of the most well-meaning. Saying, ’don’t worry, it’s all just instinctive’, to someone who’s pregnant can only cause alarm. How can you prepare for instinct? Maybe they’re right, but as just doing it is only going to make you better how would you ever know if it was instinctive or not? More to the point, what does it matter? Still, we are all different. I have wondered what would happen to a new Mum who had taken comfort in these words whilst patting her bump. What happens when she suddenly discovers that ‘instinctive’ doesn’t mean that you’ll always know exactly what to do?
I suppose that when you are not sure, you can always ask another’s advice, but often  too much advice can be just like digging up a nest of angry ‘what ifs’. Very quickly after The Little Perfect One arrived, I learnt that being pig-headed and swatting away all the advice buzzing around you can sometimes be the very best way to stay sane.
There was a steady patrol of mid-wives on that sweltering seventh floor. Their rank was colour-coded, although I am still not actually sure which ones were nurses, students or any other denomination of support staff. I’d like to think that they were all kind-hearted, but they certainly weren’t consistent in their approach. Some were calm and reassuring, whilst others were flustered and blunt.
That first night I was mainly policed by Margaret. She was quite small, severely upright, in gold rimmed half-glasses and a dark blue uniform. She was probably about 50, although I suspect she had looked exactly the same for a good many years and would remain unchanged for a good few more. For a moment I thought that she had just run up to the seventh floor to check that there was no one loitering in the corridor. I was suspicious that if I peeked out of the door, I would see her abandoned hockey stick and whistle.
The Little Perfect One woke up and I rang the bell for help in trying to latch him.
‘Right, I can give you two minutes, but no more,’ boomed Margaret, as she charged through the door.
‘No, you can’t do it like that,’ she continued whilst manoeuvring TLPO under my arm.
‘No, with great big heavy breasts like these, your best bet is to rugby-ball him.’
I was horrified. I mean boob bashing aside, what was next? Cricket-bat him to make sure he was properly winded?
Anyway, it didn’t work and TLPO became increasingly distressed. Margaret tutted, checked her watch and handed me one of those hideously evil purple syringes.
‘There, see how you get on with that and I’ll be back to check on you in 5 minutes,’ she said, before thundering off.
I hadn’t imagined that I would be viciously squeezing my insulted boobs all night, whilst trying to catch little beads of colostrums in a demonic purple syringe. Not to mention trying to stay focused and sooth a crying newborn. Instinct? Well, I really wasn’t any good at it. I could get the stuff out with one hand, but trying to trap it with the other was impossible. It was so disheartening to see every hard earned drop blasted away by that nasty purple bubble blower.
Fortunately, Margaret came back and managed to stress-ball my boobs into producing 0.7ml of the precious goo. Being aggressively milked by a wandering games mistress was particularly painful, but I was just so grateful that TLPO was at least going to get something. Also, she was far more brutal with that syringe and it was some consolation that the demonic purple one was getting more of a battering than me.
About 3 hours later, the cycle was repeated: trying to latch, failing to latch, boobs being squashed until either mine or Margaret’s face had turned  plum from exertion. The only difference this time, was that Margaret was in less of a hurry. At first I thought she was trying to stifle a cough, but then it got louder and more prolonged. In my sleep deprived state it took me about 15 seconds to realise that this noise, part bark, part bray, was actually laughter.
‘They...are..massive’, Margaret blurted out, as if she were trying to fight back against the scary Lassie-Eeyore hybrid that had possessed her. She didn’t win.
Here we go, I thought. It’s well known that people can say anything to you when you’re pregnant, but I thought it stopped when you had the baby.
‘Don’t you think? They are colossal,’ Margaret rattled, ‘She’s only little and she’s got size 9 feet. It’s absurd.’
Please tell me she’s not talking about a baby?
It’s strange how missing a bit of sleep can turn you into Alice from the Vicar of Dibley.
‘Poor Kate Winslet, she should have been a swimmer!’ announced Margaret, before giving in completely to the dog-donkey monster within.
Poor Kate Winslet indeed, I bet she’s kicking herself that she didn’t come to you for careers advice!
TLPO and I spent 5 days in that hot, little room and every night we watched Margaret wrestle with the uncontrollable hilarity of  Kate Winslet’s ‘wasted flippers’. I’m sure that right now she’s still doubled up with delight at the very thought of ‘Titanic Toes.’
Perhaps it’s just a consequence of working nights. The morning shift arrived with a fresh touch of sanity. Dark blue Jo and light blue Penny helped me to achieve the impossible by getting The Little Perfect One to latch on. It lasted less than 2 minutes, but it was a huge breakthrough. This triumph was accomplished by getting me to lie down beside TLPO.
A couple of hours later I tried again, but resorted to ringing the bell, as TLPO and I were just not getting the hang of it. The longer we struggled the more we both shook and cried. Hoobiz tried to help, but initially I pushed him aside, in favour of the professionals.
The bell was answered by beige Susan.
‘Why are you lying down? Are you tired?’, Susan demanded.
‘Well, it’s the only way I’ve had success and...’
‘Why have you got that pillow underneath you?’, Susan continued, apparently without any expectation of a response.
‘I don’t use pillows... come along... that’s it,’ said Susan, grabbing me and latching TLPO in one swift movement.
Her bedside manner might have needed a bit of tweaking, but Susan was certainly efficient. Right then, she was my hero. TLPO kept feeding for 6 whole minutes.
Unfortunately, the next 48 brought mixed success and the 6 minute record remained unbroken.  However, I only went one more round with the purple brute, as by now my milk had started to come in.
Light blue Penny, smiled and said she was off to get her ‘little friend’. She returned wheeling a trolley loaded with a steel machine, encased in a glass cover. It looked like something from a Victorian catalogue, probably delivered with free rhubarb pills and guaranteed to cure the Vapors. However, a big white name tag on the side made her seem altogether more agricultural.
‘This is the lovely Clover,’ announced Penny.
It was true, for despite her dubious appearance, she was exceptionally lovely. I’ll never forget Clover and her deep mechanical lowing. She mooed and the milk flowed. It was brilliant. When TLPO couldn’t latch, he could still be fed. As it happened, he had to spend about a day and a half under a UVB light and it was all thanks to Clover that I was able to feed him at all.
It’s funny, but Margaret was really sweet to me when TLPO lay under that 60’s style orange lamp. She put her arm around me and told me it was all going to be alright. She also told me I was doing really well and should be proud of myself. Of course I cried, but I also cried when the blanket moved.
Of course it wasn’t all tears and most of the tears were the good ones. Hoobiz, TLPO and I spent so many blissful hours in that lofty, hot-box. The window was open an inch and the curtains were drawn, but with a gap that let in the winter sun. Feeling the warmth of the heaters mixed with the breeze from outside it seemed like a perfect summer afternoon. With ‘Baby needs lullaby’ playing on the iPod and looking at my boys, it felt like a summer afternoon in heaven.  
After the lamp, TLPO had to spend another day attached to a Biliblanket. I’m not sure ‘blanket’ gives the right image, as to me this was a green florescent paddle that sat inside the sleep-suit and underneath a glowing TLPO. It was attached to a machine by an articulated plastic-pipe, like that on most vacuum cleaners. We have a picture of Hoobiz holding an illuminated TLPO and with the tube hanging down from his back, he looks like The Little Perfect Space Baby.
It was during the Biliblanket phase that I was reminded by Penny, ‘You can’t express forever, Mum’. Actual breastfeeding was to be attempted again every couple of hours. There were parts of it that were so agonisingly awful, that I felt almost destroyed. Yet they were also so fleeting and drowned out by the hours of pure elation. However, when you are following the twenty-minute rule, at the time every single second resonates.
Why wasn’t it straight forward? It a natural thing after all... surely if you do it the right way, it will work. Right, so who knows the right way then?
Penny had been one of the people to show me how to feed lying down, but she was also the one to laugh and say, ’let’s hope Mum, that you don’t have to feed him on a bus. Come on, let’s get you sitting up like a pro.’
Susan was a firm believer in a firm hand, ‘hold tightly just above the areola, and he’ll latch with his eyes closed.’
Jo was obsessed with pillows, ‘If you get the right angle, you’ll be able to feed him swinging on a trapeze.’
Honestly! On a bus, in the dark, with a trapeze, it sounds like a kinky version of Cluedo! I wasn’t looking to bust out into extreme breastfeeding. Whatever next? On an ironing board, down a ski-slope, whilst juggling blazing rugby balls?
Still, I know that they were only trying to help. Perhaps, even Margaret was being supportive when she sighed and tutted at me.
‘Thank God you had a big baby. We would never have got a 6lb little one on those nipples.’
I was completely silent, churning inside with guilt that in the end it was all my fault. It was one of those moments you look back on and wish you had been able to say something clever. Or at the very least ask her what exactly she meant by it.
Probably best that I didn’t say anything, as she did manage to latch TLPO that time and the 6 minute record was trounced by a 23 minute marathon.
Anyway, I fed TLPO tonight before I put him to bed. I’ve managed it for a whole year. Yes, it was traumatic for the first few weeks and it was over a month before I could feed him sitting up. Yet with the constant patience of Hoobiz, 2010’s lactation consultant of the year, I did it. I know millions of women have breastfed their babies for millions of years, but for all of her quirks Margaret was right about one thing.
To be fair I haven’t ever been able to ‘rugby ball’ TLPO, but I really am quite proud of myself.
Now, I suppose I’d best get my size 9s off to bed...