Bye bye baby stage

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My baby girl is about to turn three. Not such a baby anymore. She is my little miracle, my rainbow baby. Conceived after a series of miscarriages, carried when the specialist team had told me there was only a 40% chance of me carrying a healthy baby to term. Birthed via emergency c-section when the epidural failed and left me able to feel everything. Raised as I have battled Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and post-natal anxiety and as we made repeated trips to A&E and assorted tests when she suffered siezures which were absolutely terrifying as they happened, but have thankfully turned out to be harmless.

My eldest daughter transformed my life by making me a mother and teaching me the true meaning of unconditional love; my youngest has taught me about the tenacity of hope, completed our family and filled the hole in my heart. She has made me both infinitely stronger and infinitely more vulnerable than I could have dreamt possible.

Her third birthday is also going to mark the end of our extended breastfeeding journey. I never intended to feed her for this long, but it has been absolutely the right thing for both of us. She is feistily independent, and I love that nursing her is one of the few times she will completely relax into snuggles and into admitting a physical need for me. A couple of weeks ago she had a throat infection and became horribly dehydrated because it hurt her to swallow– breastmilk might just have saved her from hospitalisation. However, the time has come. I have talked to her about how bigger girls have their bedtime milk in a cup (like her sister), and she seems enthusiastic about that. Twice in the last week she has declined her bedtime feed; maybe I have already breastfed for the last time without knowing it. She is ready, and so I must be too. Part of me is. The part which would like some pretty underwear and a bit more freedom. But another part of me is very sad at the ending of such a wonderful phase in my life.

She moved into a bed last month, so I have already tucked a baby of mine up in a cot for the last time. She is well on the way with potty training; soon changing a dirty nappy will be a thing of the past (I might not be quite so nostalgic about this one). Her speech and vocabulary improves daily. I used to be Mee-mee, now I am Mummy, before I have time to blink I will be Mum. She loves going to pre-school three mornings a week so much that, from January, we will be increasing this to 15 hours a week. This will give me more time for myself which I badly need, mainly to get my writing career, which has been somewhat in abeyance for the last three years, back into gear. But it also means she will spend a significant proportion of her week away from me, and I know I will miss her.

That is the problem with her getting bigger. I know that all these last times are last times forever, because I won’t be having any more babies. While on one hand knowing that I am extremely lucky to have two healthy daughters growing up, I never expected parenting to be such a bittersweet series of tiny losses. Tomorrow I will lose my two-year old daughter. I know that the three-year old will be just as loveable, I know that there are many more adventures we can share as she gets older, I know that it is my job as her parent to encourage her development and independence – and I am so proud of every new little achievement.

Tomorrow I will put on my big-girl pants and I will blow up balloons and give presents and bake a birthday cake with a huge smile on my face as I celebrate the wonderful, funny, strong-willed, kind, determined and loving little girl that my baby has become.

But right now I just want to stop the clock and hold my precious baby close while she is still just a baby.

 

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Advent Weekend

After a moaning blog about hideous November, this is a much more cheerful post about our lovely weekend when, even though it’s only just December, we really got our Christmas on!

On Friday afternoon my husband finished work early, and we collected Anna from school and headed straight into Central London. We went  firstly to the Liberty Christmas shop to choose a couple of new Christmas tree decorations. LibertyMany of our tree decorations are now 15 years old, bought by husband and myself in a pound shop in the West Midlands our first Christmas as independent householders. The ‘house’ was a scruffy little rented flat in Birmingham, but we were so excited to have our own place that we went all out with a real Christmas tree, lugged back on the bus from our local Homebase. Cash was tight on our graduate scheme salaries, and all those pesky electric bills and Council Tax demands which were suddenly our responsibility, hence the decorations all coming from Poundland! They’ve done pretty well, and we have added to them over the years, but this year I was inspired by my lovely blogger pal Chiswick Mum’s family tradition of each choosing a new tree decoration each year. And where better to do that than one of the most beautiful and Christmassy shops in London?

We chose a new star for the top of the tree, and two beautiful baubles. Then we went and wondered around and admired the beautiful Christmas lights around Carnaby Street and Regent Street, and the incredible window displays in Hamleys. hamleysWe then refuelled with some delicious pizza, and bought cookies to eat on the tube home. It was the perfect way to start the weekend, and a much needed reminder for me that going into town is enormous fun and totally do-able, despite what time constraints and anxiety sometimes have me believe.

Saturday was Decoration Day. First of all though we had gingerbread muffins for breakfast. These are a Nigella recipe, and a fairly recent Christmas tradition we instigated a couple of years ago, which are now a must for festive breakfasts.

gingerbread muffins

We were very proud of keeping last year’s Christmas tree alive in a pot in our garden all year long. In fact that was part of our justification for splashing out a little on some new decorations – after all, we wouldn’t need a new tree! However, pride always comes before a fall, and it turns out that we hadn’t been nearly as rigorous as we should have been at turning our little Christmas tree regularly, and whereas the side facing out onto the patio was beautifully green and bushy, the other side was brown and rather denuded. So husband set off with Anna to purchase a new Christmas tree after all. I felt rather sorry for last year’s loyal little tree, so that is going to be our outdoor Christmas tree with its own set of lights. Our new tree takes up around 50% of our living room space, but it is truly beautiful, and is the most delicious smelling tree I’ve ever encountered. It is also adorned with a gorgeous Liberty star, and the homemade vanilla and clementine biscuits which Anna and I always make together.

our tree

It all looks beautiful, and on Saturday night we put the children to bed and then snuggled on the sofa, fire on,  eating a takeaway, and admiring the twinkling lights. Perfect hygge.

Yesterday we went off to our local National Trust property, Sutton House, in Hackney so that the children could meet Father Christmas. It was beautifully done, with an incredibly authentic Santa in a really magical setting. Both children were utterly enchanted. This is a particularly special year as, at nearly 3, Sophia has really developed an understanding of what Christmas is all about (trying to explain the Christmas story did, however, lead to me grappling with the weighty theological issue of ‘but who is God, Mummy?” at 6.45am today), but at 8 Anna is still young enough to really believe in all the magic. Watching their little faces as they listened to Father Christmas’ story of his and Rudolph’s adventures one foggy Christmas Eve was so magical for us too.

Santa

All in all a really fabulous weekend to kick off the Christmas celebrations!

Nothing New in Review

I decided to make this a year when I would buy nothing new for me or my children or the house. There were some exceptions to this, but that was the gist of it. We’re nearly there now, so how has it gone?

The first thing to say, is that I am incredibly glad to have done this. It has made me think a lot more about consumerism and waste, and I think I will always shop more thoughtfully because of this year, with my go-to option being pre-loved rather than brand new.

In some ways I don’t think I’ve done too badly, but this final quarter has been the toughest, and I have had a few falls off the wagon which I should publicly fess up to. The first, back in the dog days of summer, was the Trainers of Delight. I’d seen these silver Air and Grace trainers popping up all over the place on my Instagram feed, and lusted after them, and then I got the email saying that they were in the sale. silver trainersI capitulated. Then I felt hugely guilty and immediately put them on our local Sell or Swap group. And then I realised I still did really, really want them, and I kept them. And I am very happy I did! Air and Grace specialise in footwear which looks amazing but also provides proper support to your feet. I suffer with plantar fasciitis, and I walk a lot, so comfortable footwear is massively important to me, but I also like to avoid the orthopaedic shoe look, even though my stiletto days may be behind me. These trainers are soo comfy, and I’ve had loads of compliments about them. They also go with pretty much everything. They were expensive, even in the sale, but worth every penny, and worth my fall from grace!

I did, however, manage to track down some barely worn Air and Grace ankle boots on eBay, so that was a nothing new victory for my feet!

My next fall was the back to school rush in September. It turned out that the 8 year old had had a growth spurt, almost entirely in her legs, and none of her tights or leggings fitted her. It’s obviously really hard to source good-quality secondhand children’s tights and leggings because the little darlings destroy them. And slightly frazzled by the end of the holidays and stressed out by the back to school rush, I didn’t try very hard, I just went to Next and bought what she needed. Again, to be honest, #sorrynotsorry.

She did, however, get a lovely cardi, two gorgeous preloved Mini Boden dresses and a ‘new’ winter coat in almost perfect condition, as well as a little sparkly cardi and some party shoes for the Christmas season, all via eBay, Sell or Swap, or lovely local preloved clothes shop Birch and Star.

The final slip-up is the one for which I don’t have even a spurious excuse to offer. I had been hankering after a red winter coat to cheer up winter mornings, and make me feel a little bit glamorous even when all I’m doing is two school-runs and a Sainsbury’s shop, and I hadn’t found anything in all my charity shop trawling. Then, a month ago, I met up with one of my besties for a child-free day out in Cambridge. We had a lunch which may, or may not, have involved cocktails and wine, and then we went mooching round Primark later. The result was probably a foregone conclusion. I found the  red coat of dreams. red coatUnfortunately for me, it was only in a size 8, or a size 20, neither of which I am. However, something about the make-do and mend spirit of nothing new year led me to try it on anyway. It actually worked really well over-sized, in my opinion anyway. And has the added advantage of lots of room for my layers of chunky winter jumpers underneath. I negotiated a massive discount (it was cheap anyway!) because there was a small hole in a seam, and I have since had that repaired for less than the cost of the discount. And then, when I realised that I was actually still missing a sensible, warm, waterproof coat with hood, I redeemed myself by getting a Gap one on Sell or Swap.

Christmas shopping has been an interesting one too. I can’t say too much here, because recipients of various gifts may be reading my blog (better bloody had be), but I have got a gorgeous Playmobil farm set for my nearly 3 year old on Sell or Swap. And I have tried to think more creatively about presents rather than just dashing to the shops. However, time constraints, and spending most of November stuck at home with poorly children, and the desire to get people what they actually really want, rather than what  my self-imposed constraints enable me to buy them secondhand, means that I have also bought quite a lot of stuff new. I have definitely been more thoughtful about this, though, however, and have tried to shop responsibly and support local businesses where possible.

I have spent a lot less money on clothes than any other year in recent memory, but I have acquired so many lovely things, for me and the children, and I find that I appreciate them much more than I would clothes which I just walked into a shop and bought at will. I have enjoyed the thrill of seeing something perfect pop up on my Facebook feed, and making a connection with someone in my community as I go to collect it. I also like the adrenaline thrill of an eBay auction for the perfect item I’ve set my heart on.

One of the knock-on effects of this year has been that I now throw nothing away. I still declutter, quite frequently, but everything is either sold, given away or donated to charity. This is quite time consuming,  (although sometimes lucrative too!) and there have been moments when I have just longed to chuck something away, but I am now very resistant to throw-away culture, and extremely conscious that one person’s rubbish is another’s treasured find.

I am aware that to dedicated frugallers and committed ethical shoppers, my year of nothing new, especially with these, umm, exceptions, is a fairly pathetic effort. However, shallow or not, I love clothes, and I love shopping, and I love following fashion accounts on Instagram, and frankly, I love the hit of a bit of retail therapy, so I am still quite proud of how well I’ve managed, and pleasurably surprised at how much I have enjoyed it.

I don’t know exactly how I will shop in 2018. I’m thinking along the lines of an ethical shopping policy – so mainly preloved, but with exceptions for treats from ethical brands like People Tree. And perhaps a ‘slip-up’ budget for occasional post-boozy lunch girly shopping trips??

 

 

 

November Blues

ancient house

I have had just about enough of November this year!

Just as Sophia recovered from ten days illness with a throat infection (which in turn came only a few days after another mysterious virus), Anna came down with a 24 hour vomiting bug. I don’t want to upset anyone who may be reading this on their lunch break, but I will just say that high sleeper beds and projectile vomit are a very, very, very bad combination. Now regretting our decision to get Anna a high sleeper more than ever, and mentally trying to rearrange her tiny room to fit everything in with a ‘normal’ bed.

Anna then kindly passed the bug on to me and my husband, and we had a hairy few hours of tag-teaming urgent trips to the bathroom and coping with a lively and demanding toddler! Vomiting bugs are my absolute nemesis anyway, the one common illness which really sends a chill down my spine. And when I am struck down, it’s always just as bad as I remember! I spent a day obsessively bleaching everything in the house, and did an epic 7 loads of laundry to try and purify the house, and am now just feeling a bit exhausted and washed out and shaky.

I have serious cabin fever too. I don’t think I’ve left Walthamstow for a month, and have barely left the house apart from school runs and medical appointments. I’m also hugely unprepared, practically or psychologically, for the challenge of December.

I absolutely love Christmas. Really, really love it. But really enjoying it doesn’t mean that negotiating the whole festive period with two young children isn’t somewhat taxing! There’s all the dates to remember – carol concerts and rehearsals and Christmas shows and parties and get togethers. Just remembering where everyone needs to be at any given moment (usually at least two different and incompatible places) can be tricky. Then there’s cards to make/buy and write and post/hand out, and all the ubiquitous Christmas crafts which are not my natural forte. Menu planning and food shopping. And that’s before we even get onto present buying.

I really enjoy Christmas shopping. When that involves leisurely meandering around a beautiful Christmas market, or even a peaceful early November Monday morning pottering up and down the high street, with plenty of stops for refuelling with hot chocolate. What I have done so far this year is make frenzied searches online, with a feverish child draped over one shoulder and a crick in my neck. The resulting parcels then arrive in the 5 minute period when I leave the house to collect Anna from school and become marooned in Sorting Office Hell, as seemingly irretrievable as if they were on Mars. I now need to be in physical shops for the remainder of my gifts, as they’re in that category of not knowing quite what I want until I see it. I’m not quite sure when I’m going to be able to do that, but i certainly won’t be calm or tranquil by the time I do.

Anyway, I feel better for a good old moan on the blog. I will pull myself together, stop with the self pity, try and have a fairly restful couple of days to get over the post-bug exhaustion and then I will be on it with Christmas! Bring on all the fun and festivity and excitement.

Why I love the NHS

It’s been another one of ‘those’ weeks. Sophia woke up with a temperature on Saturday, and all our plans for the weekend vanished in a puff of smoke. True, those plans hadn’t been wildly exciting ones – focussed mainly on finally taking the sides off Sophia’s cot and transforming it into a Special Grown-Up Girl Bed, and doing a mini-revamp of her room at the same time, and maybe popping into central London for a meander round, a little bit of Christmas shopping, and a pizza. Instead, I watched Peppa Pig DVDs on loop.

poorly S

By Monday I was getting a bit worried as her temperature was still very high, and she wasn’t really eating or drinking. I phoned our GP’s triage number, and they advised me to bring her in, giving me an appointment for an hour later. The GP who we saw was also worried that she was dehydrated, and told me to take her to A&E. Paediatric A&E was almost literally bursting at the seams – the waiting room ended up being standing room only. Half the children were battered, bruised and broken from school playground injuries, and the other half were poorly babies and toddlers nestled forlornly on parents’ laps, in much the way Sophia had been with me for the last three days straight.

Despite their busyness, the lovely nurses took lots of time to coax and encourage Sophia to drink some water – the most she’d had all day. She revived almost instantly. As she happens to be a child who gets more hyper the tireder she is, as the time crept on past her bedtime she became completely manic. We still had to wait to see the doctor, but now I had the child running crazily round the waiting room, looking the very picture of health.

Obviously I was glad that she was feeling better. But in the circumstances I did slightly wish she could look a little sicker. However, I knew that the inevitable consequence of me leaving without seeing the doctor would be an instant and possibly catastrophic relapse in the carpark.

We finally saw the paediatrician on duty. A man who had undergone years and years of education and professional training, punishing shifts and heaven knows what stress in order to be able to tell me that my now perfectly healthy seeming toddler had a viral throat infection. The sore throat presumably being why she didn’t want to drink, and the virus causing the temperature which in turn exacerbated the dehydration. But he shushed my apologies for wasting his time and told me that I hadn’t, dehydration can be serious in small children, and it was important that she was checked. He persuaded Sophia to drink some more, and rewarded her with a teddy.

Unfortunately it seems that my stubborn little girl will only deign to drink when directly instructed to do so by a highly qualified health professional. Mummy just doesn’t cut it. So I’ve spent the last two days using every bribe, threat and stealthy stratagem I could think of to get her to drink. When I haven’t succeeded she has been such a poorly, limp, grey little bundle it is heartbreaking. When I have succeeded it has been with some sugar laden horror which I will no doubt spend the next month trying to wean her off, but, at least, so far, we have avoided another hospital trip.

But there you have it. Yet again, when I needed the NHS they were there in spades, with warm, caring, professional staff bending over backwards to provided the best care possible for my daughter and reassurance for me.

In a completely different storyline, last week I saw my GP because, despite my efforts at self-help, anxiety is a demon which I’m just not succeeding at beating. She referred me to the local mental health service for CBT. 48 hours after the GP appointment I had a phone assessment. Five days after that they phoned to offer me a 16 week course of CBT, starting tomorrow. My biggest fear was being made to feel a nuisance, a hypochondriac, a waste of time, and that just didn’t happen. I was taken just as seriously as I would have been if I’d gone in with a clearly defined physical problem like a sprained ankle, and the treatment is just as prompt and, I am hoping, will be just as effective.

There is no doubt that the NHS is stretched. Years of austerity politics have imposed direct financial challenges, as well as an increase in workload caused by cuts to social services and cuts to benefits leaving people cold and hungry and vulnerable and the NHS having to pick up the pieces. However, don’t believe the insidious propaganda from a right-wing Government and a right-wing press which imply that the NHS is no longer up to the job of providing 21st century healthcare, and that we have no alternative but to adopt some kind of private system or top-up instance, or parachute private healthcare companies in to ‘save’ the NHS (and no doubt make a substantial profit in the process). The NHS is coping because it has brilliant and committed  staff. If the pressures caused by austerity eased then it could be even better. We don’t need anything else.

And as a counter to the ‘private sector good, public sector bad’ school of thought, I will briefly outline my only other consumer experience this week. I attempted to buy a new gas cooker. I ordered it from John Lewis, and arranged to have it fitted and the old one removed one day this week. This would be through Hotpoint, the manufacturers of the cooker. Yesterday at 4pm I got a call from Hotpoint to arrange the fitting. Which would be fine, except that I had already been told it would be fitted yesterday. Instead I was being offered dates next week or the week after. And it would actually be several visits – one for a gas engineer to disconnect the old oven, one for the delivery guys to bring the new one and take the old cooker away, and a third for the gas engineer to return to connect the new cooker. I would have to make myself available at home from 7am – 7pm on the chosen day. There is no way of narrowing down the time slot, and no way of streamlining the process to avoid separate three visits.

I am paying for this ‘service’, I am a customer with free choice, and, in using John Lewis I felt I was exercising this choice for a fairly high end option which should be fairly stress-free. Wrong! At the time of writing I have no new cooker, and no date booked for the cooker already purchased to be delivered, as for one reason or another, I find it rather hard to be continually available at home for 12 hours straight on a day of someone else’s choosing, and with the prospect of no doubt endless stressful phone calls as I am bounced backwards and forwards between John Lewis and Hotpoint, and put on hold to listen to tinny muzak.

Funnily enough, at no point during this process, will I wish that private companies like these could take over our beloved and crucial ‘free at point of need’ NHS.