On Mini-breaks, Mini-bars and no Mini-me in sight.

I just got back from a truly lovely night away with C for our 4 year anniversary. We left after putting R down to sleep, had dinner in a fancy restaurant, stayed at a nearby hotel, and came home mid morning. It was as decadent and thrilling a treat as 2 weeks in a 5* resort ever sounded pre-baby. (not that I ever stayed in a 5* resort pre baby. Roll on retirement.)

A fancy meal and a quiet hotel are special luxuries for most, even if there are no kids in the picture. And I’m sure I used to enjoy hotels for more than just the absence of babies. But the best parts of our 15 hour nano-break can all be linked back to the lack of tiny feet pattering on the lush carpet which I could eat complimentary biscuits over with no worry about the needless hoovering.

  • The packing.
    We took one small bag. With one change of clothes. Not 3 vests, 3 t-shirts, a jacket in case its cold, a spare pair of trousers, 2 pairs of socks in case he jumps in a muddy puddle because he thinks he is peppa pig, a hat and sunscreen as well as a coat and the raincover (thanks UK August) and the buggy and assorted toys and games and books and music CDs and playdoh, and snacks and back-up snacks.
    About 3 minutes before we left the house, I said to C, Oh-I haven’t packed. Hold on. I reached into my closet, made my choice, placed it on top of his spare shirt, and we left the house.
  • The thinking ahead.
    Travelling with a baby is no small feat, and it probably leaves most people more tired than if they had just stayed at home. You basically have to go through the entire holiday in advance hour by hour and think of any event which might occur so you can have a plan in place for it. Even then you find you haven’t thought of everything. Silly me, I haven’t brought plug cover protectors and for some unknown reason the plug sockets have inviting flashing lights on them. Thanks to whoever added that extra bonus feature, sincerely, parents everywhere.
  • The sheer grown-up-ness of it all.
    A true treat to walk into a hotel room and scan the room for the mini-bar thinking Ooo, I wonder what deliciousness lies within, as opposed to I hope there’s room for R’s milk in that tiny fridge… How lovely to ask for a deluxe room so that you can enjoy the space rather than squeeze in a travel cot. And how enjoyable it is to listen to music without headphones, or watch a movie outside of the bathroom because the lights and noise aren’t going to wake anyone up, even at the advanced hour of 8.45pm.
  • The morning.
    Once upon a time, I used to sleep. I slept recreationally as well as for health purposes. I slept sometimes three times a day, I could have slept for England if someone had the genius to make it a sporting event. It is a true testament to how much motherhood has changed me that I am about to brag about this. Today I woke up at 8.45am. And lay in bed until about 9.15. And then got up to the sound of… nothing. I got dressed at my leisure ( and all my clothes matched), had a slow and peaceful meal where no one threw Cheerios at my head, read a few chapters of my book, had a languid conversation with my husband that made total sense and was all in one sitting. I then looked at my watch to find that it was still Monday. Not only that, but it was about 10.30. Just to be clear, that amount of productivity and relaxation normally would take 3 days.
  • The simple not-being-at-home of it all. 
    Walking across a room without cursing at a piece of Lego crippling your feet, or stepping in an unexplained pool of suspiciously sticky liquid. Having time to yourself where you can move from one spot without fear of waking a child, or go to the bathroom without the grinning face of a toddler thinking it’s some kind of game for his own amusement. Eating a piece of chocolate without needing to share, making a cup of tea without checking where the kid is so you don’t spill boiling water on them (frowned upon apparently). Conversation!
    The list of delicious examples of things to escape is probably endless.

Which brought us to wonder (condescendingly) over our breakfast this morning…. Although it is clearly obvious why we opted to leave him at home for our nanobreak, why did we ever bother going to hotels before we had him? Aren’t all homes practically hotels pre-children? 😉

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Can I please get dressed without you staring?

My son appears to the outside world like a pretty secure baby. He no longer cries when we leave him at the childminder, preferring now to wave goodbye and blow us kisses, a sure sign that he is confident we will be back for him at the end of the day. He sleeps through the night happily and tends to go down for bedtime and naptime happily enough, which shows me that he’s trusting us that we know whats best for him.

But if this is correct, and he’s lost his babyhood fears of being alone, and he knows that we are always around for him if he needs, and that we certainly wouldnt abandon him… WHY wont he leave me alone for 30 seconds?!

I’ve officially forgotten what its like to leave a room in my house without hearing little feet following me. I cant try to close a door without a tiny person laughing at the sure prospect of peekaboo to follow, I cant move to the other side of the couch without my skirt being pulled in the direction I came from.

I’ve often seen non-parents discussing what we ‘stay at home mums’ actually DO when we’re at home. Surely a baby cant be that much work. Presumably a lot of the day is spent with our feet up on the sofa, eating chocolate and watching daytime TV. Well let me set the record straight, as someone who both works and stays at home. The days I’m in the office are stressful sometimes, taxing often, busy always. But it is an absolute treat to have an official lunch break (at the point where I’m hungry rather than whenever possible) where I know I will be able to eat my salad without a baby taking all the sweet potato from it and then knocking the rest out of my hands because he doesnt like the look of it.
It is a wonder to be able to walk to and from work for an hour a day and just be alone with my own thoughts without having Thats not my Plane thrown at my skull because I didnt start reading it fast enough.
Above all, it is amazing to be able to concentrate on actual adult tasks and feel like you’re working on something that has an effect outside of your own four walls. (Not that making the tallest tower ever and then blowing it down seven times in a row isnt fulfilling in its own way of course.)

At home, with the exception of R’s nap, (which is amazing the 50% of the time it doesnt get disturbed by illness/unexpected phone calls/loud noises from the pesky gardener/me falling over my own feet into his door-[true story]) I do not have 5 seconds which he is not included in. He eats what I eat, which puts paid to the chocolate I’m supposedly stuffing in my face. He expects constant attention at the same level as him, which means most of my time is spent crouching on the floor, rather than splayed out on the couch, and regardless of how delicious the food I leave for him or engrossing the toys, the very second I head towards the computer to try and watch or check anything at all, he has a tiny version of a hissy fit until his Baby Einstein is playing directly on top of my Grey’s Anatomy and Twitter feed.

R stands outisde or inside the bathroom waiting for me, using the time to play with my makeup or tampons, he climbs into the shower with me and laughs, he pokes his little head up over the bed until I lift him onto it. He just doesnt understand the meaning or value of ‘Alone time.’

As wonderful as it is to have such a constant blessing in our lives, it can be relentless at times. C and I spend our weekends in a fun back and forth which basically calls into question our right to enjoy our civil liberties. What was once taken for granted, is now bartered like a precious treat. Do you mind if I take a shower..? I’ll be 6 minutes, I won’t even wash my hair… Can you just keep his hands and face out of my yoghurt for 90 seconds while I eat it too fast to enjoy it…? Honey? Can you move him away from the bathroom door, he wont stop pounding on it with those tiny fists…

And yet, somehow, when his door is closed on bed time, and we finally have the evening ahead of us to be human beings, our mood changes. Should I just go give him one more quick cuddle? … Was that him? I’ll go get his water… Oh he’s so gorgeous, let’s go look at him…

One thing is for sure, when I leave my office on a work day, I never turn back for one more quick look at my photocopier.

On Divorce, and All the Trimmings

I am what is known as the product of divorce. As melodramatic as that sounds, it just means I grew up with my parents in two separate homes. I wasn’t the victim of endless screaming matches and custody battles, although I believe there were both. I’m not scarred from being caught in the middle or being unduly spoiled or missing out on quality time, although I believe all those things have been true at one time or another. The truth is that the divorce and its trappings were over before I was old enough to remember that any of it was happening at all.

As a kid in primary school, we had a bit of a club. The divorced parents club. And it wasnt sparsely attended, lets put it that way. It never occured to me that it was something to be sad about, to lament in any way. Just as some people had rich parents, or some people had strict ones, some people had divorced ones. When I got to high school, and started visiting other friends houses, I suddenly realised for the first time that having a family structure was something worth having, something to be proud of,  and yet something I didn’t and couldn’t have.

Compared to others, I was lucky. My folks could bear to be in the same room together, could have a decent conversation which didn’t only include the times I was being dropped off or picked up, and much to the surprise of my fellow club members in primary school, could take me out for the day together, and we’d all have a really nice time. I nearly got my membership card revoked. In fact, while I never remember actively wishing they were together, it took me until age 14 to work out why they were even apart.

At that age, I started wondering for the first time why certain things were different for me, and tracing them back to the relationship between my parents, a thought I’d never even entertained before. In many ways, I felt like I had two different lives when I was with each of them. They even called me different names, something which I hadn’t and haven’t seen in any other ‘product of divorce’ then or since. My mum had her secrets I wasnt allowed to share with my dad, and although far more serious than the usual “dont tell your father how much these shoes cost” of a regular household, no one ever taught me to feel uncomfortable about hiding the truth, and so I started to keep my own secrets and lies. The arguing and ignoring was by no means constant, [as I said, they usually got on well] but when it came, it was harsh and brutal, putting me in a frightening place I didn’t want to be, perhaps all the harder for the unexpected and sporadic nature of their fighting.

I got on with life in 1 and a half houses, finding my own family and friends to escape to, reminding myself that one day I would have my own home to build the way I wanted to. That I had a choice to treat marriage and family with the sacred language and actions that I saw others doing seemingly effortlessly, everywhere I turned but home. But it took me until my year abroad after high school to accept and open up about these issues which I didn’t even really know were affecting me.

Since then, and after I lost my father in 2006, I no longer ever feel like the product of divorce. It got devastatingly overtaken by my new title, That girl who lost her dad at 19. Not coincidentally, the timing also fits with when I started dating my husband, and began building that home I always dreamed of.

Nowadays, I try and take whatever bad feeling is left about my parental situation and channel it into being a better wife and mother at home. And I just hope that R is as surprised as I wasn’t, the first time he comes across a friend who doesn’t have both loving parents at home with them, as they deserve.

A Perfect Afternoon

There were noises all around them, but they were only noticed with the briefest moments of attention. A child running and laughing, an old couple deep in conversation, a dog or two barking and jumping in the distance.

The couple walked together. Sometimes hand in hand, sometimes a few inches apart, helping each other push the stroller when the road got bumpy or steep to climb. They talked, constantly, ravenously, sharing the appetizers and main courses of each other’s days since they last had time to simply speak without distraction. Sometimes it’s like that; a moment in time opens up where you can talk on a deeper plane than all the hundreds of conversations preceding it. The sweet desserts and after dinner treats of banter and private jokes made the afternoon glare of the travelling sun seem not too bright to focus and pushed the noise and interference of the busy park to simply fade into the background.

At points, they turned to the little person who was never out of thought, and almost never out of sight. He was watching the world go by with such intent and interest, that you’d be forgiven for thinking he was controlling the elements with his very gaze. Never taking his tiny eyes off the world around him, so as not to miss a second of the changing afternoon, he babbled and motioned and smiled towards his parents, silently thanking them for the security and love for which he didn’t know any different.

They lifted him from his seat, and each took a tiny hand in theirs, letting him lead the way as fast as he could go, and as slowly as they could manage. Watching him navigate the world around him for one of the first times, putting pressure onto the earth and feeling it push back, grinning with sheer joy at what he could achieve, the couple smiled at each other in disbelief, at the miraculous and god-like capacity of simple love.

The afternoon got colder, and the trees on either side of the path changed. They had been shade from the bright rays of the late day sun, and they were now rustling protection from the early evening wind. The boy was tired, and grateful to be carried across the uneven grass, where only time would teach him how to walk steadily. The couple were happy to be silent, people watching, swapping quiet thoughts with looks and touches of hands and shoulders; gratefully aware that they were sharing something both rare and special.

They walked back through the trees, hand in hand, feeling the cool air lighten the very steps they were taking, watching the sun streak across the sky, like a child sponge painting impatiently, filling the page with innacurate colours and swirls of shape, yet somehow creating beauty with his lack of inhibition. They breathed in contentedly. It was a perfect afternoon.