How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit – A Sort of Review

HaveABabyMy good friend and excellent blogger over at Eeh Bah Mum has only gone and written a blooming fantastic book. Yes this is not really a review because  a. know the writer and b. I get a mention on page 2 (plus elsewhere but why spoil the plot for you?). Although I am going to review it because today I finished the book on the train whilst simultaneously laughing and crying.

Kirsty has always been one of the mums I’ve held in high esteem for just making it all look so easy, natural and being a normal human being at the same time. When I would return her daughter from a particularly disastrous walk, covered head to toe in mud, she’d be there with a coffee on offer and a funny story from earlier in the week to counter it. I figured she’d just got the whole ‘being a mum thing’ instantly and calmly got on with it. Instead, the book tells a different side, a touching and honest side that every single mum and mum-to-be should read. If only to know that no one just ‘gets it’ however much it looks like they do from the outside.

I first met Kirsty at the wedding of mutual friends around 4 years ago. We found ourselves getting drunk over nice food while our respective children caused some manner of chaos around the room. Being from Yorkshire, it is vital that you announce such a fact when meeting new people at places like weddings and we therefore figured out that not only were we from the same place in Yorkshire, had kids but we also lived on the next street to each other in North London. A friendship was formed.

I don’t particularly need much in a friendship; the ability to see the funny side of things and a willingness to go to the pub will do. As one of the funniest women I know and her London leaving drinks being up there in the top nights out list, Kirsty has made a pretty solid friend over the years. She has given me sterling advice about second kids, relocating and doing the 30 Day Shred with a newborn. Had I listened to her at the time, I could have saved myself a lot of crying about why my 4 month old won’t sleep long enough to let me work out; why for the past year I have felt like I am losing the plot because the first 6 months of a second child is a false sense of security; and I wouldn’t have spent the past year desperately trying to win the lottery so I could return to North London.

But I didn’t. Instead I read the same wonderful, funny outlook on motherhood in her book while kicking myself for being an idiot. I knew she talked sense when she was telling me it, I was just too wrapped up in baby world and sleep deprivation to remember.

How To Have A Baby isn’t just a funny, honest account of parenting though, it is more than that. It lays bare how having kids challenges you and how you view yourself as a person. Kirsty manages to voice the thoughts that went through my head about kids before I had them, about careers once they do arrive and also nails the first post-child hangover with alarming accuracy.

This is not your usual, ‘how to raise your kids’ book. The advice is simple: chill out and make friends. Something you don’t find in the wall of other baby books telling you about routines, naps, development, and all the other stuff that won’t necessarily apply to your baby because someone forgot to tell your baby to read the book. So in the truest sense, this is a book about how to be a parent and not how to look after a baby or raise a child.

I do wish I had read this book when I was pregnant with my first child. It probably wouldn’t have saved me from new mum craziness but it would have helped me realise I wasn’t on my own. Heck, I needed this book a year ago when I was struggling with two kids in a new place and then I wouldn’t have felt the need to drunkenly apologise to half the mums at the playgroup night out for being an emotional wreck when I first met them. But it is here now, in our lives and will be the gift I give to all new mums.

You can buy the book here.

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10 Years On

10 years ago I had my 15 minutes of blogging fame. I was in newspapers and magazines, asked to appear on Japanese TV and do a talk in Amsterdam. This was because I wrote about what happened on the Piccadilly line train on July 7 2005 and what I went through afterwards. I was young and angry and needed the space to work out how I felt about what had happened to me. I didn’t always make the right choices but through the blog and subsequent media I met people who were on my train and at the other sites and some of these people remain my friends today.

Once a month, passengers on my train would meet up in a pub in Islington. We were called Kings Cross United. It was wonderful to talk to people who knew what I was feeling, were going through the same set of emotions and when some well meaning people around me told me that I should ‘just be over it by now’, the others from the train could tell me that I wasn’t being mad or melodramatic.

I have emotional scars from that day which I will probably carry with me for the rest of my life, but that is okay because I have the life. Flying will always be a problem, as will rollercoasters in the dark. Actually, I’m no longer very good with rollercoasters at all, which is slightly annoying as I used to love them. But that is okay, I’ve accepted these things.

It was with these other survivors that I went to the original memorial at St Paul’s and every year I take a moment to think of those who didn’t get off the train that day.

This week I received an invite to a 10th Anniversary service. It was unexpected, as much as the wave of emotion that hit me when I read the email. I knew that 10 years had passed but I hadn’t given much thought to it until that point and I stood in the street as I read the email and cried. I still don’t know why I cried.

I spent the walk home thinking about the intervening years and how my life had changed. Ten years ago, I could truly feel that my life was split between pre- and post attack. How I saw the world around me had changed and so had I. Now it feels like this event happened to someone else. I have told my story so many times that it is as though I am reciting something I had once read rather than something I have experienced. I am so far away from the person I was back then as well. I no longer feel that my life has been split in two but is ever evolving through the big and the little things alike.

On the walk home I decided that it wasn’t right that I attend the service for many reasons. I no longer live in London for a start and the places in the cathedral are limited. I don’t need to be right there to remember and reflect; someone who would like support on the day could have those places. Finally, I want to be with my family on July 7th. I want to be thankful for all the little decisions I made that day 10 years ago which placed me at the opposite end of the train to where I would usually stand and saved my life. I want to be thankful because the two beautiful children asleep right now are able to be in this world and I want to be close to them.

The London Coffee Festival

 

Coffee

Coffee and motherhood go together like wine and Friday night; one could not comfortably exist without the other. So, when coffee is needed to get through the day, without waking from an accidental nap to find every surface of the living room covered in red pen, you quickly come to appreciate good coffee and what makes a great coffee shop.

So, an outing to the London Coffee Festival to celebrate all things coffee-related was a welcomed experience this weekend at the Truman Brewery. The trade show opened on Thursday evening and to the public yesterday. Today was the first full public day and it continues on into the weekend.

It is not just about the coffee, although finding new great coffee products was a clear high light, there was also a lot of tea, chocolate, talks and music with samples to keep you going. The queue stretched half way down Brick Lane before opening time; coffee appreciation is taken very seriously in London with both parents and the care-free alike. It was good to see so many little people in there, expressing their love of the babyccino or ‘hot milk’ for the rest of us.

LCF_PressImage_CoffeeFestival2013_Day4__LowRes-88Some of the highlights were the Volcano Coffee Works, who put a lot of care and thought into every stage of their coffee-making process, which clearly comes through with the taste. The Roasting Party were as good as their name, affable people passionate about their products. An intriguing concept was Grower’s Cup; great tea or coffee in a pouch that you add water to and pour. Pretty smart for being out and about while not wanting to compromise on your beverage quality.

Alpro were offering out vegan coffee and porridge, which was damn tasting and a good respite from the flurry of free espresso shots from the rest of the show. Vegan soft-drinks brand Fritz-Kola were also offering out samples of their drinks. High caffeine content and Mischmasch being pegged as a great hangover cure. Coming from Hamburg, it is probably a trustworthy claim. Mischmasch was damn tasty mix of cola, lemon and orange.

LCF_PressImage_DCS2409Tea was well represented there as well. Tea Pigs are always reliable on flavours but London Tea Company does some wonderful blends. Personally, I am addicted to their Vanilla Chai. Tea discovery of the day goes to Brew Tea Co who really nailed good old builders tea and had these great little Brew Cards to ensure no one gets your tea preference wrong again.

However, the nicest stall of the day and my favourite find was Jaz and Juls Drinking Chocolate. It can be a tricky thing finding great vegan drinking chocolate but this brand doesn’t put powdered milk into the blend and it was superb. It is organic, ethical and run by two lovely women who were really passionate and engaged about what they were doing; a total inspiration and making great hot chocolate too.

It would be amiss to not point out the sofas and chairs dotted by the stage made from reclaimed wood. The pallet sofa was surprisingly comfortable and looked damn good too.

There was plenty of beer, whiskey and coffee-related cocktail tasting going on too but being pregnant, I cannot really comment on these. Downstairs was the coffee-lifestyle room: designers, accessories, pop up cafe and furniture sellers who are synonymous with East London and knowing where to get your good coffee from. It’s not just about the drink anymore. London Coffee Festival was an intriguing day out with wonderful discoveries made. Expect some more to come on the wonderful Jaz and Juls Chocolate.

The London Coffee Festival continues throughout the weekend at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.

How to get your kids to eat their greens.

Is a question that I imagine has some manner of complex equation to figure out what food they will eat at any particular meal time. Something along the lines of:

colour + texture / nutritional value x effort taken to cook to the power of times eaten before = bollocks all chance of them eating it at any given time.

But there is one question at meal times that bugs me the most: “do you think he will eat it?”

“Well, no. Not now you have given him the idea he has some sort of choice in this.”

Personally, I have completely given up my child’s tastes and trying to accommodate them into a meal. Unless it is fish fingers, he changes his mind on a daily, if not hourly basis. What could be the favourite food of one day will get rejected with disdain the next. I am going for the hard-line approach of ‘here is your meal. Eat it, don’t eat it. There is nothing else and I will eat mine.’ His tuna was once fed to the cats because he called my bluff and failed.

At Christmas my parents were amazed that I was even bothering to put brussel sprouts in front of him. ‘He’ll never eat those’ they declared. ‘No idea if he will or will not but let’s not give him the idea they are not for eating, shall we?’ Yep he ate them. For almost a month we had him eating brussel sprouts in various forms but most often in the catch-all risotto. That child would eat anything in a risotto. Although present them to him now and he wouldn’t touch them covered in even the most tasty ketchup or even chocolate.

He went through a phase of only eating frozen peas and raw mushrooms. If they were cooked, he turned his nose up. This may have coincided with a bump to the head and playing doctor before eating said peas was the most fun he had all day with his toys. Whatever, he was getting greens.

Children will merrily eat crap off floors, playdoh, tissues and lick a bus window but when it comes to eating actual, cooked, healthy food it is a battle zone.  How to get your kids to eat greens? I haven’t got a clue but eating together has made for happier meal times even if half is left for tomorrow.

Things You Don’t Expect When You’re Expecting.

I spent my first pregnancy reveling in its blissful magic. I glowed and was amazed by everything that was happening. My husband and I followed the progress with online apps  religiously, setting dates in our diaries for the next progress stage video. Second time around this is definitely not the case. In my mind, pregnancy was a wonderful thing to be treasured and my son would hug and kiss my bump while telling his unborn sibling stories about his day. Here is what I did not expect.

1. To be simultaneously kicked from both the inside and outside.

There is a party in my womb between the hours of midnight and 4 and, like irritating neighbours having a garden rave, I am not going to get any sleep while it is going on. Second pregnancy is making me hyper-aware of the night time movements anyway. What I did not expect was that having a 3 year old in the bed due to a house guest would mean getting kicked from both sides for 8 hours solid, often at the same time. I am not sure which is more preferable, dislodging a heel from my eye socket at 2am or kicked in the bladder for an hour making me feel like I need a wee, when I do not for the whole night.

2. Climbing the Soft Play Mountain.

Six months into my first pregnancy I very proudly climbed a mountain in Spain. Sure it had steps and hand rails but  I did it, rather than get a bus to the top with all the old folks. Woe betide my husband when he tells people it was less of a mountain and more of a ‘rocky outcrop’. What I did not expect to be doing this time around was sliding my bump through a snaking ladder of soft play centre made to fit a 2-6 year old around and not a 30 year old pregnant woman. My son decided to take the steepest slide into the ball pool that even my husband said was a pain in the coccyx and ‘Mummy has to come too’. I could even see from the peak that my coffee was going cold and my magazine unread.

castle of santa barbara clowntown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Using my bump as a lever.

First time, I wished for a cattle prod to keep people at a half-metre radius from my bump. Second time the bump is instead used to lever my son into and onto various places as he is now too heavy to lift. The bath tub and various walls to walk on being most popular. It has a great second use pivoting him up into the air that I was not expecting.

4. To not give a crap about the ‘rules’.

Pregnant women are not allowed to do anything fun in the slightest. Rollercoasters, petting zoos, drinking, and gardening are apparently all risky and should be avoided. Caffeine is also outlawed in normal amounts. At your most tired, when you could do with a coffee drip you are advised to limit your intake. Yeah sod that. The best day of my pregnancy so far has been hopped up on at least 5 cups of tea and coffee plus copious amounts of cake. I managed to get the boy to a toddler party, charge around doing the shopping and still find energy to dance around my living room to some probably inappropriate music while teaching my son the lyrics. This is not a normal day. A normal 3 cup-limit day consists of me passing out on the boy’s bed whilst trying to encourage a nap while he climbs over me and destroys the flat for an hour before getting bored and throwing books at my head to wake me up.

I have also been having pretty much every negative side-effect possible of pregnancy. This all seemed to resolve itself when I resolved to have a glass of wine. The up side is that because I am only having a glass, I had better make it a really good glass.

5. To spend most of pregnancy in a semi-crouched position.

First pregnancy was spent in the sitting on the couch position, second pregnancy in the ‘clearing up toys’ position. I am sure I had 6 months of back problems last time around from sitting at work on a chair older than time itself. This time, in spite of spending most of my day collecting things off the floor from standing, not even a twinge. If you see me walking down the street looking like I am impersonating the missing link, you’ll know I got stuck in that position.

Toddler Sight-Seeing in London: The Rules.

Rule #1: Always check that your destination is actually open.

It was a dark and stormy night. Okay, it wasn’t but it was pissing it down in Covent Garden in the freezing cold and I found myself jammed in the Build-A-Bear workshop with two school trips because the London Transport Museum had closed for training that morning. I didn’t check before we left and so we were subject to the humiliation of the store staff trying to entertain 40-odd children and one toddler insistent on destroying any displays. I learned a tough lesson that day.

 Rule #2: Always have a back-up plan.

In the event that your destination sight to see is closed or more realistically, your toddler has scoured the whole place in under 30 minutes (sure, I am being optimistic here), then you need a plan to follow or risk ignoring rule number 3. Picking a place where there is a cluster of museums and galleries is a good idea so if you have stomped through one and not yet reached a coffee break, you can cover two or three destinations in a day.

Tate Modern on Speed

 Rule #3: Time spent sight-seeing should be greater than time spent traveling to the sights.

London has a wonderful transport network and the lure of all the different types of trains and buses can fill part of the day with total joy for your toddler. You don’t, however, want to spend 3 hours of your day traveling on said transport for less than an hour of wandering around. You will be bored or at best, entertained by some of the more colourful Londoners who grace the transport system outside of rush hour. Another way to avoid breaking Rule number three is-,

 Rule #4: Travel Light.

Nope, lighter than that. Lighter still. What are you doing putting your things in the pram? Never, ever take the pram. That is not traveling light; that is subjecting yourself to a day of the buggy-shuffle on the bus. If your child is old enough to walk, take the tube and wear them out. If your child will not manage this then take a sling. You will be thankful for this. There are many, many young families staying in London now and they are all on the bus network in the day. However ergo dynamic and designed for City living your pram may be, it is not designed to be dragged up and down the steps of London Underground. Or rather London Underground is not designed for your pram. Have you seen how few step-free access stickers there are on the tube map? Unless you want to go to Hammersmith, don’t bother.

Take a backpack, put in minimal nappies and fill the rest of the space with food. Lots and lots of food to entertain your child on the big-ass long journey you are about to undertake. Your phone will have a camera and anything else you might need, you will be able to buy when you are out.

The bus is your friend.

 Rule #5: Embrace the gift-shop.

When I was a child, we were never allowed to step foot into the gift-shop at the end of a museum visit for fear of our eyes lighting up at the plethora of tat. My mother made a grave mistake. The gift shop is often the best part of the visit; that or the place where they keep the headphones. We went on a cultural visit last week, spent 15 minutes charging around making loud echoes and 35 minutes sitting on the floor of the gift shop. The boy read the books, played with the beautifully designed toys and I checked the news on my phone. We were both happy. When he finally got bored, we upped and left in search of a place to eat our picnic.

Rule #6: Avoid the entry-fee unless you really have to.

There are some wonderful child-centred museums such as the London Transport Museum where I am willing to pay for the entry fee. Actually, that is the only one I can think of. There are many, many more museums, galleries, open houses, towers and the like that do not cost any money at all. In fact, these are probably of no interest to your child at all but they will still get something out of running around quiet, open corridors shouting at the tops of their voices. Smaller under-funded museums where you pay a nominal fee (I have a personal cap of £5), are also great because you get to visit something out of the normal tourist range and are usually very quiet. I’ve found staff in these smaller museums to be very welcoming and can go out of their way to make their specialist subject matter more engrossing for the toddler. When you want to go see the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy or other such event that genuinely interests you, go on your own. You will be wasting your money otherwise. I have been to some museums umpteen times and I cannot tell you the first thing about what is on display in there unless it has caught the eye of the boy.

 Rule #7: Never go on a rainy bank holiday or a weekend.

We made the catastrophic mistake one bank holiday to take a family trip to Exhibition Road because some website recommended it for a family-friendly day out. How foolish we were. We have learnt from our mistakes. We even took the pram. We spent 25 minutes waiting by the lift in the Science Museum to be taken to the basement floor where the Children’s Play Area is housed. Wonderful play area, I am sure but I will never step foot in there again unless I win enough lottery money to hire it out. It could be the most educational and child-friendly space in the world but when hundreds of snot-nosed children are charging around and there is a queue to even park the pram you know you have made a big mistake. We lasted 5 minutes on the floor we thought we wanted to be on and then a further half an hour queuing to return to the ground floor and left without even glancing at the gift-shop. Arriving at 10am on a week day is blissfully calm and by the time you have finished, the place is just starting to get busy and you are enjoying a nice cup of coffee elsewhere.

Rain, Rain, Go Away

 Rule #8: Avoid the big museums.

Even on a good day you will need to queue to get into the Natural History Museum and then queue again to see the t-rex. By all means, go have a look if you have not done so before but prepare for this with a lot of food. Have an escape strategy at the ready as well, including the location of the nearest place to sit down. If it is raining, this may be a tube ride away. Elsewhere in London I have seen wonderful views of the skyline from the top of a very quiet Monument, done free crafts with my son in various small museums, spent an hour watching him play with a model underground railway in the Museum of London. All of these experiences have been vastly more enjoyable than going to see the big stuff. That is not to say that we will not do the tourist circuit but just chose our times wisely. Still on my list of upcoming attractions are Westminster Abbey, which I have shamefully not been inside yet and the V&A.

 Rule #9: Chose a place that you will both enjoy or employ bribery.

I make a list of all the places I have yet to see in London and make my way through them once a week. Sometimes we return to a particular museum because the boy loves it so much and there is something new there for me, such as The Museum of Childhood being right next door to a vegan café that I want to try out. Sometimes we go to a museum relentless times because it fills my son with joy like the RAF museum in Colindale. We spend a vast amount of time on the Chinook Helicopter and in return I get to sit and drink a cuppa in peace in the picnic area. But really I try find things that we will both be happy with. I do get asked to not see any more picture museums (art galleries) but if we do, then I cut a deal that we can follow it up with a trip on the Clipper, or more realistically, a trip to visit his Dad at work. If we only went to places that he enjoyed then my patience would soon run out, this is a day out for both of us.

 Rule #10: Do not travel during rush hour.

Obvious, right? The amount of times I have found myself rammed on a bus with the boy at 4.30pm where the school rush crashes straight into rush hour at 5pm because nowhere takes less than an hour to get to, is ridiculous. I should really know better. And still it happens. Making sure you are safely ensconced indoors when rush hour hits is the key to a happy end to a happy day.

River Dance

Kings Cross Shuffle

When planning a day trip in London for the wee people, it’s normally best to check that the destination you’re aiming for is actually open on the day you visit. Unlike me who just assumes that everything across London is open pretty much year round. Not the case when I arrived at the Canal Museum today to find it is closed on all Mondays that are not Bank Holidays. I take it as a sign that I am destined to never visit the place. We used to live nearby and never made it despite numerous attempts that tended to end up in pub crawls as those were pre-child days.

Thankfully, Kings Cross has a hub of places to entertain kids so we pottered down to the nearby VX to grab some food for a picnic. Even if you’re not vegan, this place is worth stopping by for some tasty goods if you’re in the area. It’s a small place, not good for prams but very welcoming. There used to be a short cut through the back of Kings Cross Station to our next destination, Camley Street Nature Park, but the ongoing gentrification of the area meant that was cut off and we had to schlep around St Pancras past all the building sites. This was pretty much the highlight of my son’s morning as he looked on in awe at all the diggers, cranes and dumper trucks in full swing.

ponds We had our scran by the ponds and then went and lay belly-flat looking out for dragon-fly and tadpoles. None were forthcoming so onwards we walked around the park. It’s best to either not take the buggy or leave it by the volunteers hut.

When I first visited Camley Street  many years ago, it was a eden of tranquility. Sadly, all the ongoing works around the park have massive amounts noise pollution seeping through. Not so good for listening to the bird song under the biodome, but not a problem for a toddler who wanted to name each sound.

wild flowersWe did have great fun following the trails and trying to spot beetles, bees, birds and bats. The place is well thought out and sign posted for things to look out for and hints to find them. It would probably have more of an air of tranquility on a weekend but then that would have taken away part of the fun for the boy.

Guess the beastie game

Our plan after this was to head for Corams Fields but the heavens opened and so we headed home to hunker down away from the wet until Summer deigns us with its presence once more.