peas on toast
Things continue to be bleak in the face of life.
The Brit and I had an excruciating snot extraction session at dawn's crack this morning, involving ear buds, a squirming and screaming Sebastian, and me, battling to hold in a vomit because I abhor snot on every conceivable level.
Pooh, vomit, fine; snot, please help me.
At the moment, this phase - for I remind myself that everything, but everything is a phase when it comes to rearing a child - feels like the dark and heavy early days. When he was born. And wouldn't stop crying from between 4pm and 10pm at night. The Colic Phase. The one that haunts my dreams and makes me ask myself whether I would ever be able to handle that again should I impregnate with another child.
Incessant wailing for the first two months of his life, and for no real reason at all. Scrolling through hundreds of websites and mummy forums trying to find anything to stop it, anything to help, getting on the phone to a charity called 'Crysis' to implore what else I can be doing to soothe my boy. All the while crying endless myself, as the shock that I hadn't bought home my baby girl sunk in, as well as new mummy desperation which held me by the throat.
That was grim times.
Now, I feel we are kind of back to that. Work is fine. I am actually enjoying being back at work. The coffee is fresh, the food is exceptional, and I am starting to remember what my actual job used to entail. I'm talking to journalists, banterising with workmates and typing ferociously into a keyboard.
I'm going to gym and for the first time in a year, there's an area in my arm that feels like it might even contain some muscle.
However, the morning and nights pale in comparison to my carefree, diarised, orderly, systematic days.
And we reached a real tipping point this morning when we found both his nostrils clogged with snot; not unlike green tile grouting. Which we had to chip away at, much to Sebastian's disdain.
Despite the weight loss, incessant crying, overtired temper tantrums, separation anxiety, streaming nose and cough, he has now also lost his voice so when he cries it sounds like the terrifying whine of a dog.
We lie awake dreading the middle-of-the-night wake up (thanks to being ill, he now wakes up in the night too. He hasn't done this in months and months), and the terrifying whining crying that inevitably comes.
It doesn't help that it is -1 outside, and when I collect him it is dark and painfully cold outside, and that I have to dress him 8 layers of clothing, which he doesn't fancy either. It's dark pretty much whenever I see him.
My only solace is two things;
1) he will be used to this in a few months. Being constantly sick and being with strangers in a room full of noise and activities will be normal.
2) he will be bigger. Each month he gets stronger, his immunity will get better and he won't be the youngest child in the group anymore.
In fact, in two months time my little baby boy is going to be a one year old.
So. As we trudge along amongst the trenches, my beacon of hope is the same as with everything that's happened in my life. Nothing stays the same.
I also start therapy next week. So this has to be a sliver of silver in a somewhat vacuous lining.
And tomorrow is Friday. Which means I get to have my boy, all to myself, for three days.*
*Oh. The Brit is going to America for work for a week. Er, fuck? I am going to be a single working mum for a while. Apparently this is an incredibly tough gig. If I make it out alive - alongside this settling-in phase and all - consider me a fucking superhero.
Oh, and more shoes. Tweed booties, in fact. For toasty toes in this abhorrent time.
These are the phrases you end up filling your weekends with
Where is the muslin
Where is the dummy
Where is the Calpol
Where is the bottle
Where are the nappies
Where is his hat
Did you bring his lunch
Did he sleep
Did you put vitamins in his food
How much milk has he drunk
Did he eat all of his food
Did he do a pooh
Did you find his socks
We have created a new tradition in our little family. (While saying the above sentences over and over again. I suspect we will be doing this for years to come). But every Sunday, we do brunch. We go out and get our errands done, and then we pick a new spot in which to eat. The spot must be new, it must be fucking great, and they must stock a highchair.
We feed Sebastian, and then we guzzle our brains out. Last week was Honest Burgers, the week before was Bill's. A lot of new and very exciting, well established and popular joints have opened up in our area recently, and we have gone back to embracing the brunch.
After having a baby, you don't brunch like you used to. Now, we plop Sebby in his chair and he dines with us.
Well, that's when he eats. My child is still on hunger strike.
But he left me a little reminder that he still somewhat takes a drink, by spewing milky yack all over me this morning and I have only noticed it on my clothes - at work - now.
I am also sad. For whenever I see him, he starts crying. Sees mummy and bursts into tears and starts having a fit. He is fine with daddy and the nursery insists he is all smiles during the day there, but come the evening when he is buggered and the morning when he is sick and I have to bundle him in five layers of clothing (it's -1 outside), he cries and cries.
So whenever I see my child, he is crying.
How long will this last I wonder? It's heartbreaking.
I wish he would get his appetite back too. I miss his little leg doughnuts so much. Not to mention his smile. Or being able to read him a bedtime story because he hasn't fallen asleep from exhaustion.
I went to a gig.
Actual. There I was. The only 30something mummy, in the heaving throng of Brixton Academy, watching a Die Antwoord concert. Surrounded by a group of Irish folks. It was as surreal as you can get.
My Favourite Irish Gay Friend is a cult follower; I know three songs.
We dressed up, grabbed some tacos from a Mexican hole in the wall, (eating. V. important), and then we headed into the craziness that is their die-hard followers and Die Antwoord.
They are nuts.
The stage setup included a massive blowup baby with a boner. Not even joking.
My mate took the photos, I was kind of gaping at the bass. The bass was oomcing oomcing, and I could hear her weird little voice over it, just about, but if I didn't concentrate, it felt like a lot of noise.
They are also downright creepy. This guy with the mask on the screen will forever haunt my dreams. I might've been the only person to go to a gig without actually being a fan, but it was nice to do something different for a change. Might even go and download some choonage now.
I'm still running
And I feel less insane.
How precious Saturday mornings have become.
The working week is over, and I survived. It's 3:34pm and I'm still in my pyjamas, but I intend to remain that way until I go out tonight.
My little boy has decided to refuse all food. He is either teething really badly (likely - he has every, single symptom and hasn't got any teeth yet), or he is traumatised by the fact his life has been turned upside down and to control the situation, has stopped eating. I was warned this might happen. It's heartbreaking.
His little fat leg doughnuts have shrunk considerably, almost to nothing - he is skinny again. It's crazy how quickly this happens to babies. Why can't this happen to me?
It's been 10 months, and it hurts to look at these pictures sometimes, but I finally got round to putting together a collage of my bump when I was pregnant.
The Brit took one of my bump every week, every Monday night. From 9 weeks until I was induced at 36 weeks.
The big milestones for me were:
9 weeks: I felt so sick, I remember struggling not to projectile vom over my fellow tube commuters in the morning. And the tiredness was ridiculous, I felt like I would pass out on the spot every afternoon, so I'd need to get up from my desk and walk around the building - aimlessly - just to stay upright.
12 weeks: You can tell everyone, as the most 'risky' stage of pregnancy is over (not with twins, it turns out.) But the morning sickness and tiredness start to go away and you feel 8 000 times better.
15 weeks: I was starting to show (That or they must've been like "Wow. She's really packed it on, hasn't she?), so I told work. I had to hide it the week before when I was with my colleagues in San Francisco at a conference. Where we usually all booze. That was hard. Pretending to booze is hard work.
19 weeks: I suddenly started to get big. Beeg. You could now tell I wasn't carrying a singleton, or many would've assumed I was onto my third child.
20 weeks: The best scan. They didn't look like shrimps anymore, they had arms and legs and were moving and waving and doing funny things like kick each other. Everything looked healthy and normal. We asked not to know the sexes, although I just knew it was a boy and a girl.
27 weeks: I was sizeable, so we thought we'd better go on a babymoon before I couldn't walk properly/actually enjoy it. I was sore, being kicked everywhere, and generally life was getting pretty uncomfortable. I was guzzling bottles of Gaviscon. We still drove to France and had a few days there. Mainly eating.
30 weeks: This was the last scan where I saw Molly alive. By now they were large enough that I couldn't see their whole bodies anymore, only pieces of who they were - heads, chests, hands. All was still normal and healthy, even though Molly (Twin 2) was the smaller twin.
31 weeks: Commuting was becoming the ultimate ball ache, walking was hard work, I was huffing and puffing and generally, pretty miserable to be honest. Everyone else who was pregnant and at the same timeline as me, had neat, compact little bumps and they all seemed very spritely. My bump was heavy and weighing me down. It was time to leave work.
32 weeks: I spent most days propped up by a fortress of cushions on my bed, not lying fat or they'd surely suffocate me, but not sitting upright either.
Molly, up until this point, was breech. They'd been lying yin and yang for all this time, and so they booked me in to have a c-section at 37 weeks and 5 days, on 4 April.
However, she suddenly decided to turn, and in the bath one night, I saw and felt it. It was like something out of Alien.
They estimated that this was the week Molly stopped growing. So when she was born, she was the size of a 32 week baby.
34 weeks: It was sometime between now and 35 weeks that she gave up the fight and died. I didn't notice that she wasn't kicking, as she was always a graceful little thing. She didn't kick the hell out of me directly in my ribs like Sebastian did (he was a boy from day 1. No question about it), she kind of fluttered. She would flutter, it felt like butterflies.
35 weeks: I went in for my final scan, and they confirmed that she had no heartbeat.
I stayed in hospital for a week to have Sebastian monitored.
36 weeks: I was induced. I was in labour for 18 hours, right up until the point where Sebastian got stuck and so I had an emergency c-section.
This was my twin journey.
Well. I miss his little smile, his smell, his everything to torturous levels, and I am terrified he is going to forget who I am. Am I now just going to be this random stranger that dresses him, take him to nursery, picks him up, baths him and puts him to bed?
How will he even know I'm his mummy anymore?
These are the thoughts that bombard my mind all day long at my desk, coupled with a few lades of guilt, drizzled with sadness.
The little urchin already has a snotty, streaming nose, and I suspect that will be it until he is at least 3.
All those thoughts and things aside, my first two days have been alright. I have no idea what's going on, and it's difficult not to compare myself with my Former Self almost constantly (she who knew her job seamlessly, inside and out, was slick and efficient, a professional true to form), and she who left work carrying Two Babies.
Some of the folks in other teams still don't know, so there are a bunch of awkward conversations heading my way.
On the plus side, one of the best perks here is that we are fed delicious, beautiful food. Tons of it. It's healthy and abundant, so that definitely softens the blow. I also managed to run almost two miles - two freakin' miles - yesterday on the treadmill, so I feel awfully proud about that.
I raced home using tubes, buses, anything I could last night to get home as quickly as I could to spend as much time as I could with my baby before he went to bed.
The reality is, I will get about an hour.
And this hour will be filled with bath time, stories, bottles and endless hugs and smiles. For even if I have had the worst day on the planet, and my phone is ringing off the hook, that will need to be completely ignored until his little head rests in his cot.
This is the hour where we put our game faces on and shower our little boy with as much love and affection as we possibly can in 60 minutes, short of smothering the child.
The same in the morning. I get up an hour earlier than usual (but never fear! Weekends are for lie-ins! I only have to get up at 7:00am on a weekend, woohoo!)
It's get up, wash and enclothe myself, then pick up my boy, bring him into bed with us as he has his bottle, forget it's morning and be sparkly, spritely and positive.
The harsh reality is that I will spend around 2.5 hours with my son a day. I have to squeeze every second out of it that I can.
Then go to work and try and grab the last fragments of my job that I can. I am covering roughly the same patch as I was before, which helps. But I still have no idea where to really start in terms of getting cracking on my new projects, and getting in touch with people.
I'm hoping and pleading this will all just fall into place as time goes on.
In order to distract myself from The Big Thing That's Happening Tomorrow, and having now chosen my The New Girl But Actually The Old Girl outfit* already, I thought I'd tell you a story.
I really should be writing this as a letter and sending it to the appropriate powers in the hope they'd actually take heed of what I'm about to say, but then I realised that's fruitless because
1) I'll never fly South African Airways again;
2) SAA is owned by the South African government (I actually did not know this, but that means it all suddenly makes a LOT of sense); and
3) The last time I wrote an important letter, nothing happened. Still waiting, the NHS. I will wait forever if I have to; and
4) I'm fairly certain someone else on that flight would've already done the honours. If not at least five people. (Keyword: SA236 to LHR).
So. Imagine this scene for a second.
We arrive, after a lovely month of sun and South Africanness, to OR Tambo airport. We've packed up all our shit, prepared meals for our child, got into the travel zone vibe, and feel as mentally prepared as only parents can be, for the journey home. We know he might not sleep the entire way, as this time he will be lying across our bodies, but we venture forth in the hope that he will sleep at least some (maybe even most?) of the way.
Regardless, it'll be fine. One night of hell, and tomorrow morning we will be home in London.
We sit down for a meal just before boarding, order a final plate of sushi from the Ocean Basket, and an email pops through saying something like "Sorry folks, we've cancelled your flight, we'll depart at 8am tomorrow."
One of two things ran through my head.
1) Someone has obviously made a grammatical error, what they really mean is we will arrive by 8am. Not 7:20am as originally planned.
No one made an error, because after running around the airport, wild-eyed and with murderous intent, we found a check-in desk that confirmed the awful truth. We would be departing at 8am tomorrow. Which meant we would be flying with a baby all day.
We were too late to try and get onto another airline carrier by this time, and the next overnight flight was only scheduled for two days time.
SAA had plucked their spokesperson from a nearby broom cupboard, for this person had definitely never dealt with a crisis situation before. A mob of angry passengers demanding to know what the fuck; spittle a-flying. After some flustered and excruciatingly general corporate fliff flaff about "sorry but we're not sorry," it emerged that the windscreen was cracked and therefore fly, we could not.
Meanwhile, terror seared through our skulls. Eleven hours on a daytime flight with a child, our child, who doesn't know how to stop moving.
Sebastian doesn't crawl yet, but he might as well do. His attention span - at a stretch - spans about all of 3.4 seconds. He gets bored and needs to do something else, while wriggling, or pulling my hair, or eating the remains of his breakfast he finds in the soft folds of his leg. He is all boy. He is physically demanding on all levels.
We, back at seats 63D and E, would need to entertain this kinetic little ball of fun, for eleven hours. Non-stop. We knew he might nap - on us - twice. Maybe if were are lucky, for 40 minutes at a time. We also had to make sure he had enough food and milk, so while the full gravity of the upcoming situation was beginning to take hold, we walked ourselves off to the pharmacy to buy a bunch of bottled food.
We were put up in a hotel in Isando, and awoke at 5am only to stand in a queue to leave the hotel to catch a shuttle back to the airport.
Eventually - as it was going to be the longest day of our lives as it was - we decided to call an Uber to take us across the highway, basically.
We get on the flight. Sebastian and I immediately fall asleep. This wasn't ideal, as when we awoke an hour later, we realised that was Sebastian's morning nap done. And we hadn't even taken off yet.
It's now 9am; we've been sitting on the runway for an hour.
"This is the captain speaking. Sorry for the delay again folks. It's just that we realised we'd left 35 pieces of baggage on the runway."
Fawlty Towers of the skies maybe. All the lolz. Right? Wrong. We were also in the midst of the rudest staff contingent in the world.
Let me explain. Throughout the now 12 hour journey to London, this is the shit that went down:
Every time we tried to ask for something (er, like what time lunch was being served, for example), we got twice "In a minute, I am in the middle of a conversation with my colleague."
I'm not even fucking joking.
The staff clearly got bumped for the daytime flight too, and made sure we all knew about it. (Like we wanted to be on a longhaul daytime flight ourselves?!?!!?)
They had more attitude than Kelis when her milkshake lost appeal and stopped bringing boys to the yard. They were almost crazy rude.
They looked angry and sulky, and as we were sitting quite close the galley, we managed to catch most of their conversations, many of which included sentiments such as, "I hate the day flights, you have to look after everyone the whole time," and "It's so busy on daytime shifts, I much prefer the night time ones where you don't have to do anything for most of it."
Weren't air hostesses meant to actually like people?
One snapped at my husband for leaning on an armrest so that others could get past, and then telling me under no circumstances could I let my baby sit on the floor by my feet as it was "strictly prohibited."
(I let him sit and play on the play by my feet anyway, I had to. I thought I'd just play very, very dumb. "Oh this floor?" Or "Oh, the actual floor?" Or "Non comprehend des Anglais, wot eez a flaw?" Sebastian doesn't give us much choice when he doesn't stop moving. None of the hostesses saw anyway, mainly because they were "too busy.")
This is in vast contrast to the airline's customer service policy. "Warm and welcoming?"
But the cherry on the cake was the absence of a meal for 9 hours.
We ate breakfast at 10am, and dinner was served just before we landed at 8pm. In between Zambia and France, we nibbled on the canapes and finger foods placed about us. The pages of Sawabona magazine were especially tasty, when engulfed by the methanol jus of a refresher towel. Also liked gnawing on the earpiece of the headset, mmmm nom nom nom.
Eventually - because I was starting to snack on my husband's arm like in that movie about the Andean crash victims that eat each other - the Brit got up to enquire about food.
"Oh here it is, help yourself. We're too busy to give it out."
You have one job. That's to give out food. (And occasionally smile and point towards the toilets).
So many people didn't know it was on a help-yourself basis, and never got lunch. Because we grabbed a couple of sandwiches we managed not to eat each other, or the baby. (Who would've been more delicious. I almost nearly eat him everyday anyway.)
Then, just to top it all off, the entertainment systems started to pack in. I just had mine on the Map, staring it down with my crazy eyes, willing the plane to move faster - please Jesus - over the vast expanse of the African continent. But others were watching movies, and were therefore pissed.
It was at this point we genuinely started to consider whether we were, in fact, on a new season of Punk'd. And Ashton Kutcher would run through the aisles screaming "HAHAHAHAHA, I GOT YOU GOOD, DIDN'T I? HAHAHAHAHA YOU LIDDLE FUCKERS."
But no. This is apparently the vibes in which SAA operate now. I haven't flown them in a while, and the downhill slide into (bankruptcy, I believe?) is almost inevitable.
Look, I'm glad they didn't fly us with a broken windscreen. We all would've died. And given that planes crash quite a lot these days, one must always be grateful that they fucking didn't. Although truth be told, I really thought a lot about dying on this flight. I thought it just might happen on this one. (And at times, I just wanted it to.)
And it's unfair to compare this flight to the one out to Johannesburg. We flew overnight. However, apples and oranges, folks. We flew British Airways outbound, and Sebastian got a bassinet to sleep in (SAA doesn't allow children over 6 months to sleep in a bassinet, and don't stock "car seats," a reclined seat for older babies to strap into on the bassinet area. TAKE HEED. DON'T FLY SAA WITH A BABY OVER SIX MONTHS UNLESS YOU'RE PREPARED TO BUY THEM THEIR OWN SEAT/HAVE THEM ON YOUR LAP THE WHOLE JOURNEY.)
BA supply all this stuff, and are fantastic with babies. While Sebastian slept beautifully all the way to Johannesburg, the poor woman's baby next to me, did not. He cried, coughed, vomited, basically lost his shit, all the way to Joburg.
She was on her own, and the hostesses did everything they could to assist her. They rocked him, offered to change him, find antihistamine, bring him extra milk, you name it. She also said, "I only fly BA. They are the best with babies."
It was like night and day. Well, it was night and day.
What about compensation? SAA decided, after much furore and pants wetting, to give everyone on the flight, a free flight. To anywhere. This was one good shout, and finally got it right at the end, after everyone had had a shit fit about the delay. They also got a capable, calm spokesperson in front of the raging crowd.
Can we fly to Hawaii I wonder.
Anyway. Just thought I'd let you all know about our twelve hour marathon. And remind SAA that they really, really really need to up their game. It's embarrassing.
Now. Back to stressing about my first day back at work.
* In case you're interested, a grey Zara dress, faux fur gilet, and black tights and boots. Not jazzy; but not mumsy either. I think.
Thanks to all those who left words of encouragement and advice below, it really helped.
I also met up with a mummy friend of mine going through the same thing, and over oven-baked aubergine parmigiana, we cried and swapped notes.
Sebastian did his third day of settling in today and was much better. Apparently he ate all his food and helped himself to food on another's plate (now that's my boy), and he didn't cry the whole time. He isn't sleeping helluva well, or taking milk, but one baby step at a time.
My son's hook is the one where the mummy doesn't want to let him go, so is therefore in his picture.
I dropped off my dry cleaning in lieu of having a few clean coats for work, and sat reading a tabloid magazine under my duvet, all alone, in a quiet house for the first time in months.
I haven't done that since the final stages of my pregnancy. It's so strange to be in my house without my baby.
Reading about the shape of Jennifer Lawrence's thighs and seeing spreads of Kate Moss enjoying the shallows of St Barts made me think about the one thing that I am excited about next week.
Dropping Sebby off for nursery full-time, going to work, being responsible for my inbox again, diving into an actual PROJECT makes me scared, not excited yet. I feel like the New Girl.
However. One thing that I have sorely missed while being heavily pregnant with twins, and then on maternity for 10 months, is actual real, sweaty exercise.
I took up running a few years ago, mainly because there is an impressive, free gym right on my floor at work, and it was a crime if I didn't actually use it. It is one of my better work perks; not using it is just stupid. I wanted to get into shape, but I also wanted to feel less depressed in winter. The dark, cold, mole-like life one leads in London during the winter months can break even the sunniest of spirits. When I ran, I felt better. I was nicer. I ran and did weights right up until I was 14 weeks pregnant, then stopped because I became a whale shortly thereafter.
And I have missed it like you would not believe.
Looking after Sebastian 24/7 has been so wonderful. The one thing missing was hardcore exercise, which I just didn't have the time (or energy even) to do.
Now, I can schedule a gym session during my working day, and once I have my base level of fitness up, I'm splurging on a personal trainer to:1) Help me get my gap back (if even at all possible)2) Find my missing biceps
There's a good chance that I'll break the company treadmill under the sheer weight of my being and/or massive plodding steps as I learn what it's like to actually run again and/or by the amount of times I use it.
I plan to run a lot.
It'll be my thing. My time. Time to think. Release endorphins. Focus on me. Even if it's just 20 minutes a day to begin with.
I've updated my playlist with some, frankly, shocking 90s hard house, washed my gym gear and am ready.Depending on how labour-intensive Monday is, my intention is to start then.
Even if this never gives me my body back (I have lost hope of it, I really believe that it has irreparably changed shape), it may give me my mind back.
It's finally happened. The full gravity and realisation that in a few days I'm leaving my child in a strange place and going back to work has finally kicked in.
I feel like I'm falling into another black hole of despair.
While I sat tapping away at my holiday blog post in a coffee shop, below, my little boy was attending his first settling in session at nursery.
When I left him he was all smiles - he is happy with anyone, luckily - but when I arrived there two hours later, his little face was puffy and red, and he was crying. When he saw me, he just got even more upset.
They said it's all normal, even though he was crying 'on and off' the whole time. He only has another two sessions in which to settle before I start work on Monday, and I don't think it's going to be enough. I feel like I've made a massive error going on holiday so close to leaving him, where he has had so much attention, and now I am leaving him in a nursery a week later. What have I done? I feel awful and guilty, and I don't know what I'm going to do before Monday.
My mind is whirring around and around, and while the Brit can take on an extra settling-in session on Monday as back-up, the Internet tells me these things:
1) At 9 months the separation anxiety can be so bad, it can take anything up to a month to settle them in;
2) Other mums started settling their child a few weeks before going back to work;
3) He might not 'fit' nursery, and perhaps I should look at some back-up options;
4) I am a bad mother for not realising this sooner
We go to another settling in session tomorrow, where I am going to bring along one of his toys and a scarf of mine for familiarity, but honestly, what if he is desperately unhappy and cries all day?
How will I even be able to focus on work if I know he is not happy?
I'm sure - no, I know - other mums go through this, but I had no idea how excruciating it would be. Am I doing the right thing? Is he going to be OK?
Jesus, I need some heavy tranquilisers.
Help, I don't think I can go through with this.
Look at me, rising from the dead.
I haven't blogged for almost an entire month, which is quite extreme, even for me.
Truth be told, I didn't have the time, or the inclination. I unplugged in South Africa, pretty much right up until now - where I am currently sitting in a Starbucks in cold, grey London, while my son attends his first settling-in session at nursery.
I've left him with a stranger called Hannah (his "key worker"), all smiles, numbing myself to the fact that this is my last week with him full-time.
A month in South Africa; it was full of all sorts of things.
Happiness watching my son thrive in the sunshine and open spaces, being showered with love and affection by his doting grandparents.
Sadness as all my grief, emotions, frustrations, everything came to a head. I had what I believe to be, a full meltdown. Being with family in such a short and intense period of time can do that to the best of us anyway, but mine only manifested.
Now through the clouds, I have come through it extremely focused, if not numb - on the future and going forward.
So this is another reason I haven't bothered to blog. I've been in a bit of a bad way.
Anyway, the good part of all of it is that I feel like I've turned a bit of a corner. I now know where my loyalties and priorities lie, I have realised that I need to deal with my grief properly and actually go and see a professional, and I need to work on myself and try and be more tolerant (losing a child while attending to my survivor 24/7 hasn't made me an especially nice person to be around).
Trying to get my head around going back to work, and hoping that it won't be as difficult as I think it'll be.
I think I am finally ready to go back. I think I will be a better mother for it as Sebastian gets older, as I will have something else to focus on, give me a bit of my identity back, and he will thrive at nursery, and do things there I can't offer him at home.
I've forced myself, perhaps by jamming my head in the sand, to try and be positive that the almost 10 months I've had at home with my baby are over, and it's back to work and reality.
Going back this time was different.
For one, we had almost a month, so when we left to come back to London, I was happy to get back to our home. I thought I'd be an hysterical mess, but as I am so numb to everything right now (self-preservation maybe), I was actually composed on leaving the country.
I had time to see friends and spend time with family, and actually make some observations on both.
The last time I went back was over a year ago and suddenly things have shifted. Many of my friends have moved into big, palatial houses, many of them are onto their second and third child, many are pregnant at the moment, so aren't doing much by way of festive celebrations.
I felt like a lot of Johannesburg is a race that I am no longer familiar with or running in, but everyone else is still going at it hammer and tongs. Who has the biggest house with the biggest garden, it's all very showy.
I know that us South Africans can be very showy (we love driving nice cars, for example, while here in London a clapped out Renault will mostly do), but I suppose I am now on the outside looking in, and I really see it.
Everyone seems to live in a big, expensive house. It's hard not to want a piece of that lifestyle too. We had to constantly remind ourselves that we live in a world class city, where most people live in a small flat, and everything is safe, blah blah blah.
Johannesburg just isn't home for me at all anymore. There's a huge piece of me that wants to go back, even just for endless sunshine and socialising with friends around a fiery braai every weekend while our children play on the lawn under the watchful gazes of African nannies.
But I dunno. I don't know if I can deal with all the big houses, finance salaries, and so forth. I am naturally competitive, so the first thing I would want to do is look at property in Westcliff (as does my husband it seems. "This is a nice area. If we came to live here for a few years, could we look at houses in this area?" Yes darling.)
That said, it was good to see old friends. Their friendly little faces, full of chat, how I miss them. Especially Dove, who as Sebastian's godmother, showered him with love and gifts. She is one friend who has read up and researched the grief of losing a twin. She has tried so hard to understand my loss, and she acknowledges Molly at every turn. I am so grateful for her, she tries so hard, and miss her so much.
Many of my friends acknowledge her in their own way, and I am also grateful for that. E planted a special rose for Molly at her old house, and moved it especially to their new house. Others don't know what to say, so say nothing at all, even when I mention her. This is something I just have to learn to deal with. It's so hard,; they just don't see her as she was: a baby, a person.
On a brighter note, Capetonians really don't know how to drive. Cheeses Chroist. We hired a Chevy 'Spork' for two weeks down there, and saw some pretty interesting things on the roads. I almost forgot.
I also almost forgot how bad a South Easter is. Maybe it's something you get used to over time or if you live there, but there were days when we were staying in Oranjezicht, that I thought the house would blow away and arrive in Kansas the next day. The raging gale howled so much, I am pretty certain it was the thing that set off my meltdown. I'm not even joking.
I hate wind. I am completely wind averse. If the Brit and I made a set of pro's and cons about Johannesburg vs Cape Town in which to live one day, wind would be top of that list against Cape Town.
Of course Cape Town is beautiful, and so well run. Helen Zille has created this whole little bus system throughout the City Bowl area, she is impressive.
We also discovered new things around Cape Town; things I haven't really done before. I pride myself on knowing Cape Town fairly well, given I was a student there.
I consulted my Capetonian mummy friend here in London for some local tips, and so instead of hitting Stellenbosch for some wine time, we went to Steenberg, for example. Which serves incredible food, is low key, friendly, and chilled.
We also went to the Alphen in Constantia for tea and bubbles, and I walked around new spots that have cropped up over the years that I haven't seen, like The Old Biscuit Mill, the new boutiques in Kalk Bay, and Kloof House - this gorgeous little restaurant set in a house and graden on Kloof Street.
Sebastian got to swing on the swings in Oranjezicht City Farm, and we got a breakfast view on the corner of our street.
The Melrose Arch Hotel
We thought we'd splash out and stay a couple of nights here while we see friends in Johannesburg. While it was lavish and the service was brilliant, we experienced something that reminded me that South Africa is a different place from when I left it almost 5 years ago.
Up at the pool deck, we took Sebastian up there for a swim and so we could chill in the heat. The Brit went to the bar and ordered a himself beer and a green tea for me. The bar was set to close at 6pm (it was 5pm), and the staff behind the counter said they couldn't make us a tea.
Looking around, the Brit saw people sipping on coffees and hot drinks, everywhere. He also noticed that we were the only white people on the deck. There were a lot of rich black businessmen and couples with children up there.
Why is this important? Well. Many of these people were being served tea. They suggested to the Brit that he fetch the tea from downstairs. (Er, beg pardon?)
He insisted they bring me a cup of tea, to which they reluctantly agreed.
About twenty minutes later, the waiter bought him his beer and me a teapot full of tea. Hmm. Could I perhaps trouble you for a cup?
The waiter said yes, and then just never bought us one.
So we decided to leave, clearly not welcome up there, and told the guy we would not be paying for tea. As I didn't drink it straight out of the teapot spout, sans cup.
The waiter pretended not to know what we were talking about and still tried to charge us by printing out the slip.
Was this "reverse racism" that everyone speaks of? I think so.
Christmas was fun and dysfunctional
But in the best way possible. I loved Christmas, possibly for the first time in ten years. I haven't spent a Christmas with my mother and father in the same room since I was 17 years old. That's 17 years. ago. Half my life now. Fuck.
My parents are friends now, and in fact socialise quite well. For that I am extremely grateful. So it was myself, my father, my mother, my step-father, his son, me, Brit and Sebastian, and a handful of family friends. All getting palookered in one place, and engorging ourselves on a massive braaied Turkey with all the trimmings.
I think the Brit's first summer Christmas was a successful one. I wish we could do it every year.
We ate so much biltong.
It's actually embarrassing. But, as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound. We went through biltong from my step-father's 'Vleis Paleis' like water.
It was so fucking good.
Apparently my son looks like Prince George.
About 7 people - friends and strangers - think so anyway. The sun, a daily vitamin D injection, plus being surrounded by lots of talking faces, really had an effect on Sebastian's speech. Suddenly his babbling is almost coherent; he calls anyone 'baba,' when he needs them, and he has started saying 'mama and 'dada', even though he isn't meaning it. He is using these sounds to get our attention, and it's amazing to see.
He isn't crawling yet, nor does he have any teeth. Still.
He paddled in his paddling pool, and it was the most delightful entertainment you could ever hope to see.
He also found his willy for the first time. And had a good play every time he swam.
Sebastian happily ate sand like it was an actual meal.
He loves people, and he smiles at everyone. He is not discerning of the company he is in; as long as someone is talking to him or holding him, Sebastian is happy. Regardless.
Leave him alone and he gets most upset. He needs to be in the action.
I am so lucky to have him.
I miss South Africa.
But I also feel London really is home now. I'm a tourist now, true blue.
London. Where, like a minute ago, a 60 year old Jamaican granny walked in, threw her china cup at the barista, and broke everything on the counter, while screaming garbled obscenities at everyone. Just shows that nutters really do come in all shapes and sizes.
And look at that, it's almost time to pick Sebby up from his first few hours at nursery!
2014 was a shitty year
Despite having and rearing a beautiful little survivor, last year was awful. Just look at the highlights reel on the big news channels, and they'd agree. ISIS terrorism, planes going missing/crashing, Nigerian schoolgirls being kidnapped, the ebola epidemic, Bill Cosby et al and other high profile paedophiles, nearly losing Scotland, I mean, the list goes on. Losing my twin girl, it's been an incredibly hard year for lots of people.
So I look forward to 2015 with hope, improved happiness, and betterment in so many things. Plus the joy of seeing my boy turn 1, and all the other milestones to look forward to.
I hope your 2015 is all about that, too.
1) Go for my last Hartbeeps (songs and play group) class (I might cry. I'm naff. I know all the songs off by heart and I sing them everyday.)
2) Write a post about the items I found most valuable during my maternity leave.
I wanted to leave something helpful on the Internet, in the case a pregnant mummy is Googling a list of things she needs to get before her baby is born and happens to come across this.
I got s twins list. The person who gave it to me had twins, so I trusted that everything on there had to be bought. They were 'essentials' not 'nice to haves.' As a result, before they were born, I had 40 muslins, 20 bibs, 8 bath towels. I still have those things, and I obviously haven't used half of them.
If there's one thing I can suggest: literally buy only the essentials. You won't need or use even half the stuff you buy, even if, like me, you thought you were bringing two home. Trust me.
The things I found most valuable, throughout maternity leave, were:
Without a shadow of a doubt, my new highchair.
You get so many types of highchair; some clip onto the side of a table (if space is an issue), some look lovely (beautifully crafted in wood, painted and have a Victorian feel about them), others look cheap and plasticy ugly but work incredibly, while very few look good and actually do the job.
I wish someone had really put emphasis on this for me. If there's one thing you should spend money on; it's a highchair that works. I went for aesthetics - the East Coast white wooden one. A bitch to clean, funny straps that don't work, he would slip through it, wouldn't sit properly, and become distracted so wouldn't eat. Looked nice, but also took up room.
I've eBayed back to where it came from and got myself a Baby Bjorn. It's small, looks better than you think, and the child is locked in. Easy to clean, no mess anywhere, no distractions, he sits like a regal aristocrat, and he can push blueberries around the tray easily to pick them up.
My only regret? I never did it sooner. I should've got this when he was just learning to sit, as it helps them to sit upright too.
Tommee Tippee milk feeding bibs
Except I use them for any feeding. They have this dribble/milk soft thing at the neck. So nothing gets past it and seeps through.
All other bibs have a gap between the neck and the neckline. If you have a baby you'll know that by the end of the day, things start growing under there. You'll find everything under there, from last week's brocolli to hairballs to milk goo to unthinkable things. It's a catchment zone, and most bibs don't stop shit from getting stuck there.
Except these bad boys.
A few small, ceramic bowls
I found using my Granny's old ceramic bowls from her dinner service, the best thing for all of Sebastian's meals. You can safely heat them up in the microwave (heating plastic is bad....), and it seems to serve just the right amount for lunch, breakfast and dinner. I also store all sorts of finger foods in them in the fridge.
They've been the most useful things in the kitchen, ever.
Everyone will tell you to get tons of these. I was told I needed 80 for twins. I bought 40, and as you might imagine, we are overrun with the bastards. This place is one big muslin fortress.
You don't need that many. If you have five big muslin cloths, or ten smallish ones, you'll be just fine.
You'll use wipes and tissues and everything else too.
I bought some cheap cream muslins off eBay.
Different from feeding bibs. (I didn't know these kinds of things when I was pregnant. A bib was a bib was a bib.)
My baby dribbles a lot. He has been teething for, like, eight years. If he doesn't wear a dribble bib/neckerchief, the front of his clothes are wet within minutes.
They're essential. Seriously. I need to change his over a few times a day.
Again, a bit of an investment, but it's wonderful and soft for babies and really helps them sleep in their buggy. It keeps them cool in summer, warm in winter, and you don't need to worry about top sheets and lining blankets.
Buy this app for your phone/a device you're happy to leave near your sleeping baby. Immediately. I have so much to thank this app for. It would help settle my child and help put him back to sleep at all hours of the night, for months on end.
There are a few sounds to choose from, and in the end he liked the sooothing sounds of crashing waves. But the vacuum cleaner, shushing noise and heart beat were favourites for a while. He couldn't get to sleep without it, and honestly, it really helped him realise it was sleepy time.
Car seat to pram brackets/converters
It means you can put your car seat on the pram, for when you travel. It's genius and it makes life so much simpler, especially when you fly.
Just two little plastic thingies that clip onto the frame of the pram.
We could take our car seat away, and simply put it on the pram frame when we needed to push him around. It became known as 'the travel system,' and this is what we are taking to SA too.
Goes without saying...
....the play gym I was given (things hanging off it and music, flashing lights), and the Baby Bjorn bouncer were lifesavers. Before they crawl you can put them in there while you do stuff. My baby screamed for the first two months I put him down, but after that, these two things were brilliant.
Stuff I didn't need:
Muslins wrap them up so much better, tighter and softer. As long as you have a large size muslin, you can swaddle so much better than anything else marketed for 'miracle swaddling.'
Or a top-to-toe bath. I was given a baby bath, but never used it as I already had a bath seat I could lay Seb on in the bath. I preferred this, as it was less fiddly, and the baby bath seat lasted a long time, until he could sit up.
Excessive cot and moses basket sheets
For some reason, before I had children, I was under the impression that babies regularly shat themselves throughout the night. They do pooh a lot, but they don't soil through five layers of sheets. Every single night. Especially when they are just drinking milk.
I had fuckloads of sheets, ready for two cots and two moses baskets. I have reBayed these too. You only need two for each cot and moses basket.
I was also told by a mother whose child scratched the bejeesus out of his face - never seen anything like it since - it was weird - and told that if I don't buy at least ten pairs of scratch mitts, he will damage his face with his nails.
I cut his nails. That's what I did. So buy a baby nail kit instead. The mitts really aren't worth it.
Some babies/mummies love this thing - swear it's the best thing
ever - hmmm....meh. Sebastian didn't love it at all. For one, his legs were a bit fat to fit into it, so it didn't look helluva comfortable. For two, he twisted back, and wouldn't sit upright in it.
Not an essential, I'd say.
Now if only I could take the high chair to South Africa tomorrow....
Amongst a din of other things going on, my maternity leave has suddenly come to an abrupt end.
I am officially 'back at work,' but have taken my accumulated holiday for the rest of the year. After South Africa, I am back.
Sebastian has been to his first settling in session at the nursery (which was fine, although I still feel like I'm fumbling in a sad darkness, not knowing if I'm doing the right thing and just hoping it is...)
I am starting to pack, do multiple loads of washing in preparation for home, wrapping and giving out Christmas prezzies, trying not to stuff my mouth full of mince pies knowing I'll be putting my pasty white thighs on display, and in almost unyielded reaction, packing extra maxi dresses in my suitcase. (Free-flowing, floaty and bums and legs hidey hidey, in veiled disguise, even though everyone knows why you're wearing one.)
Looking back on maternity leave though; it really has been the most epic, challenging adventure of my life. Everything else I have done that has been remotely challenging, comes with some sort of steadfast manual or predictability. Backpacking alone through a third world country on a shoestring? There are books, countless tips and tricks, maps, beer, couchsurfers, other backpackers, and only yourself to fend for. Starting a new challenging job? There's a job description, mentors, managers, manuals and experience to count on.
Running a marathon? You can train, eat the right food, stop for water along the way.
Motherhood is a baptism of fire into the complete unknown and unpredictable, and it is completely different to anything I have ever embarked on before. As every single baby is different, there isn't a surefire way to get your baby to eat/sleep/stop crying/latch on/the list goes on. It's a journey of complete trial and error; and you may be blessed with a textbook child that does everything like it's meant to, or not, like mine, who had colic, lost his twin so needed extra comfort and couldn't be put down for the first 2 months of his life without screaming.
It's been incredible, and the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. Juggling time, routine, and basically living for something else. No time for anything but for baby, you don't do anything for you anymore and you don't mind it one bit. Breastfeeding and pumping my boobs sometimes four times a day sometimes meant I couldn't pluck my eyebrows for weeks, and I'd only get to brush my teeth by the afternoon when he slept.
Watching my little boy grow, his little milestones, his giggles and smiles. And his vomit. Pooh. And like recently with a monstrous cold, snot.
Meeting other mums going through the same thing is solace in the storm, and it's been wonderful to have so many nearby that I could grab a coffee with, both of us grappling with buggies and babies while we try to get a sip in while the cup is still hot.
What an adventure. I cannot believe it's just about over. And I become a working mum.
If I could compare my day job to being a full-time mummy for almost 9 months, this is what it looks like in a corporate strategy type of way:
Mummy: Getting child to start eating finger foods before December.
PR Woman: Getting a promotion before December.
Short term goals.
Mummy: Getting child to finish at least 500ml of milk by the end of the day.
PR Woman: Talk to five journalists, send them details of, plus give them, new product in lieu of launch tomorrow.
Mummy: Remember to add flaxseed omega oil to his cereal so that he grows up to be extremely clever, plays the violin and gets a music scholarship to the Wetherby School.
PR Woman: Take editor out for a boozy steak-laden lunch at the Hawksmoor and sweet talk him through a piece he is writing about something bad, so that by the end of of lunch, his story is at worst, neutral and at best, nice [about the company I work for.]
First thing on my To Do list each day.
Mummy: Arise at 4am (early days) or 7am (from 6 months onwards) in order to offer breast to baby. Later on, this was a bottle; so get up, make up milk and give bottle. Bribe, distract, do anything to get him to take most of it.
PR Woman: Read a copy of the Metro on the tube so that I know the top stories circulating before I get into the office.
Typical outline of a strategy.
Mummy: If he sleeps until 3pm, that means I can give him his milk by 3:30pm, which means by 5pm he will be hungry for dinner and therefore tired, and ready to go to bed. The bath will put him in a nice, relaxed mood before, so that he winds down just enough to go to sleep. If this strategy is largely ignored (it mostly was), abort the above and feed child CoLief so that he when he starts to cry for no reason at 4pm until 9pm, you can anticipate it before it happens, and then get ready to rock, sing to, bounce around, lay on chest, knees, in pram, anything to make it stop.
PR Woman: Meet with Marketing, to ensure we are aiming for the same audience, and prepare a campaign that targets consumer magazines in the 20-30 range, by giving one of them an exclusive on a vital bit of information that we hope will be picked up by another five papers after it has landed. Prepare folder of high resolution pictures and brief spokesperson on the FAQs, briefly retraining them on difficult corporate questions that will be asked by the Daily Mail. Line up a set of radio and television interviews for the spokesperson, while selling in the story elsewhere and briefing those about something that isn't of massive importance, but because you've come up with a killer angle, everyone thinks it's a brilliant story.
Mummy: As about to exit the door, child does a massive poonami, soiling five layers of clothes, my shirt and pram lining. You're already late, and now have to peel these off, soak them (because they're from Petit Bateau and are therefore 1) nice and 2) expensive), and redress.
PR Woman: Your story has been shifted off the page because something more current/exciting/diabolical has happened and even if your story was amazing, this news is much more important.
Mummy: You can't find a changing table/high chair/you left the wipes at home - basically rookie errors - when trying to dine/go out/do something outside of the home with a baby.
PR Woman: A newspaper seems excited about your story, invites you in, only to start talking about the thing you most want them not to write at all, and ends up as a page four in the Sun, which means every builder/plumber/Sun reader in the country will see it because the opposite page always has a scantily dressed woman on it showing off her boobs. The only solace is the Sun is behind a paywall, so the Big Boss in America won't see it, but all the directors who have a copy of the paper in London will.
Mummy: You have a bottle of Vanish Oxy Chrystals on the sink at the ready, as you've discovered it removes every stain known to man, save beetroot. When he does eat beetroot you make sure you only dress him in dark navy blue, so that any seepage and stain, never gets noticed.
PR Woman: You call a competitor newspaper, hoping that they don't know that there's a massive scoop about to explode across the original newspaper you called, and sell them the exclusive.
Mummy: You can't find a changing table, so you find a bench in the middle of a park and change his nappy in full view of ogling strangers, and just repeat to yourself that you are a good mother and you'll probably never see these passersby again.
PR Woman: A story has landed that you never managed to grapple off the journalist/your talking to him has somehow exacerbated it, and you try to find all the positives before you hide every copy of the Sun in the building. It's only on page 4, it's below the fold, the journalist is a known hater, he got the story slightly wrong so we can 'leverage' an apology, no one else picked it up.
Mummy: He ate all of his food, took all of his milk and is sleeping soundly like an angel. Mother of the Year potential, right here.
PR Woman: A six page spread, you have been working on with a magazine, has finally been published, and it has a captive market (it's an airline magazine), and mentions all your products, praises them, and on top of it, he wants to do a follow up in a few months time.
Mummy: He put a piece of broccoli in his mouth! All by himself!
PR Woman: My work nemesis looked visibly jealous when I casually laid the six page spread over the bosses desk with a casual, "I'm really pleased how this turned out; I really had to hold his hand on this one."
Mummy: Vom-splatted boyfriend jeans, a top with buttons/flaps/easy access to boobs, a cardigan (also for easy access to boobs.)
PR Woman: Depending on who you're visiting, today it's Vogue, so everything that is completely stylish, and fashionable, but not too fashionable because you're not a try hard. You need to show that you have effortless style, so you settle for a button up silk shirt, black skinny jeans and a massive necklace.
Mummy: Cold coffee, water out of a Camelbak to keep your milk flow up.
PR Woman: White Americano, mineral water, herbal tea.
Mummy: Not the boss, but feels like the boss because it tells you you're doing it wrong/what to do/gives excessive and conflicting information: The Health Visitor. "He should weigh this," or "Don't feed him Weetabix, it's full of sodium."
PR Woman: Your manager. "You need to lead these two big projects from start to finish, so that you have enough visibility with the director for promotion in the next cycle."
Mummy: Mummy friends. The ones at the same play group, visit the same Rhyme Time at the library, or belong to the local community meet-up. Some you talk to, some you don't, but you're all doing the same thing, and your project is to keep the child alive, happy and flourishing. You talk about bodily fluids, food, milk, sleep tactics, recipes, more sleep, schools, childcare.
PR Woman: Your workmates. Some are brilliant at their jobs, others are not so good, some are in positions of leadership and should be, others shouldn't be at all. You're all going for the same thing: visibility, recognition, Story of the Week, and ultimately, more money. You banter about things - office gossip, hilarious stories (in and out of press), which pub to go to after work, and work itself.
Mummy: Hard work. 24 hour job. No holidays, no lull periods. No pay. No help (unless loaded/live in third world country), satisfaction quotient is extremely high. When your baby is predictable/happy/does something cool, all the sleep deprivation is forgotten.
PR Woman: Competitive, cut throat, 12 hour days. Perks. Holidays are sporadic, but taken in exotic place. Pay is good, but not as good as a job in finance or marketing. Satisfaction quotient oscillates between extreme high and extreme disappointment, depending on what you land and what you don't. You're only as good as your last story.
Mummy: Make bottles, put a load of washing on, make his next meal, get dressed (both of you), go to a class.
PR Woman: Write the press release, call the Telegraph, come up with five interesting campaign ideas, listen to pitches from other agencies to help with said campaign.
And now? I need to do both. With a little less intensity on the Mummy part, as I will only be playing this role in the mornings and nights.
I'm trying not to feel completely overwhelmed....
We're falling like soldiers in this house.
Not only am I excited to go home for Christmas after six years of doing it elsewhere (here mostly, and one stray year when I was backpacking in Argentina), but it's the first Christmas my Brit will be spending down south.
He's never experienced a sunny, warm Christmas; the mere concept of it blows his mind.
"I can't imagine what it's like...do you just hang out on the beach?"
Well, yes, if I lived by the beach.
I explained that we do pretty much everything that people do here, but without the Christmas jumpers and Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps. Brits generally put on a better show though. It has to be said. Because it's so cold and dark, they really go all out on the food, the cosy atmosphere, decorations and things like Black Friday. When the weather is shyte, it's something to really look forward to, so people here really embrace the festive.
They wear lots of sparkly things, drink loads of mulled wine and spiced cider, and warm fruity puddings. Certain streets have big "switching on of the Christmas lights" evenings, where Christmas markets come out, we all bundle up warm and go and watch.
We did it the other night with our other baby-addled friends. We bundled up the babies, went down to Northcote Road, sunk a few glasses of prosecco, and felt all Christmassy.
December in London is wonderful.
It's January when you pack away the sparkles, Christmas jumper and there's nothing to look forward to until the spring (and longer days), that you want to suicide yourself.
Anyway, we are spending Christmas in Cape Town with the extended family for a few days, having rented a house with a swimming pool.
We are making an extra special effort - for the Brit's sake, and as we have a new member of the family to celebrate.
We'll be whacking a turkey on the weber, crisping ourselves in the sun as we do so, eating cold gammon and salads, and drinking chilled wine. Afterwards, we will have meat sweats and will sleep it off for three hours as we fight against the heat and digesting of a massive meal.
I cannot wait.
I also can't help myself.
"I need to tell you about a family tradition we do, but I'm not sure you're going to like it."
Peas: Well, you know how it's about 30 degrees and after you eat Christmas lunch you usually need a sleep and a swim?
Peas: Well. In our family, we all strip down and go skinny dipping. We've done it for years.
Peas: It's nothing hectic, you just jump in the pool and that's that.
Brit: With your mother? And father?
Brit: That's just weird. Not doing it. Can't do that.
Peas: It'll be fine, promise.
Brit: That's so weird. Are you having me on?
Peas: It sounds worse than it is.
Brit: No. You guys crack on. I'll go for a walk.
And never come back.
Peas: It'll be fine.
So he thinks that's what we do. Am I being cruel?
(We don't. Just in case.)
Back to my Lem Sip and 8000 tissues.
'Tis the season, after all.
Seb is too small to know anything right now, and since we will be in South Africa for Christmas (I haven't had Christmas at home for 6 years. I am SO excited), we haven't gone bonkers this year round.
Bonkers being getting a Christmas tree, decorations, all of that stuff. But I have been watching my Twinless forums closely to see what others do as families to remember and include their deceased twin.
Most of the people on the Twinless Twin forum are from the other side of the pond, and are, understandably, very American (read: large) in what they do. Here, in Britland, where remembrance over Christmas time and birthdays is a more low-key, poignant sort of affair, I had a good think about how we can include Molly without it being 1) cheesy, b) over the top and c) sad.
Many families hang a Christmas stocking for their other twin. I liked this idea, but I wasn't sure what we would really do with the other stocking. It's all very well, but what would we stuff it with? Surely anything that goes in there wouldn't be meaningful, and wouldn't it just die away after a few years anyway?
So, after some thought, our Christmas family tradition will be as such:
We will fill Sebastian's stocking with things from Father Christmas; and we will fill Molly's stocking with old toys and things we no longer want for children who are less fortunate than us. That way Sebastian will be comforted knowing his sister is very present with us at Christmas while also learning that it's about giving and thinking about those who aren't as lucky as we are.
I had their stockings lovingly crafted, by a lovely lady called Carol who runs her shop on Etsy, and they arrived yesterday.
I have mixed feelings looking at them, but am also comforted - she is with us at a time where families traditionally bandy together, and she hangs out right next to her twin brother. Just as she was meant to.
The other thing we managed to do, (actually, this was the Brit's project mostly), was create a 3D stamp of Molly's footprints.
When they were born, they took her prints in ink. Her little feet are enclosed in a booklet in her memory box, and we thought having them on a stamp meant we could possibly make something out of them/use them.
I had her feet cast in silver not long ago, but they managed to do that from a piece of paper. For the stamp, the Brit used a 3D printer - to create the right diagram, and mould for the stamp.
Had they been born a generation ago, we never would've been able to do such a thing.
And the results were absolutely astonishing.
Dipped in paint, the detail and texture is quite surreal. Bearing in mind her feet were really tiny - the size of a ~33 week old baby - so we stretched them out to make them a little bigger, roughly the size of a 6 month old baby.
Again, technology can be an incredible thing.
It's almost like she has stood there.
All these things may seem like overkill - jewellery, foot stamps, stockings - but it is absolute therapy for me. Again it falls into the acknowledgement basket, and it's a way to process things and remember her, feel close to her.
Now to think of the most appropriate way to acknowledge her on their birthday. Sebastian is 8 months old today, so his first birthday is on the horizon, it's crazy!
I have such mixed emotions about it - I anticipate the day with extreme excitement and utter dread. It's kind of how I felt about the day they were born.
Like most things, pictorials tell it best, so I'll litter this post with enough photos to slow your internet speeds down considerably, (still loading? Are they?), however please note that there is a recurring theme that pops up within the slew of photos below. And it isn't intentional.**
Going to Finland on a weekend break is an extremely strange thing to do. Most people travel to Helsinki for business (massive telecom centre etc etc), or they go to Lapland up near the Arctic circle to see the northern lights and/or go dog sledding.
Finland is evidently a very flat country, and Helsinki itself was apparently created as a port for a Swedish king back in the viking ages. He had his little post that he could stop off in on the way to Russia, and somehow, it remains very much like as was intended. It's a bit of an outpost, and is Swede-like in nature: clean, somewhat featureless and fucking freezing.
As I've said before, I like visiting places nobody else likes to go to. I also like bleak, 'featureless' places, because therein lies the adventure. When you have to look for the cool stuff, because it isn't blatantly obvious. This is why I had a love affair with Johannesburg when I first moved there. I had to find the pretty. Once I had found it, (and one man's ugly is another man's pretty - I think Ponte City, for example, is a sensational structure), I went down the rabbit warren of love. Cape Town, it's all glaringly aesthetic, you don't need to work to find stuff there; it's all pretty two dimensional.
Some of the most special places entail you having to dig a little deeper.
Anyway. Finland is probably the least well known of Scandinavian countries, and for fairly good reason. It certainly doesn't shine as brightly as Denmark or Sweden, but Helsinki did remind me a lot of Oslo (minus the exorbitant expense. It's expensive, but nothing is as expensive as Norway.)
My baby is a trooper. He is a traveller like his mama. Sebastian caught a cough on the way there, and yet still managed to smile and happily be bundled in five layers of clothing to go out.
This church, carved out of rock, is one of the main tourist attractions.
Luckily, it did get better.
Helsinki Cathedral. See what I mean? It's not especially outstanding, it is kind of vanilla, but honestly it's not just Nokia handsets and blonde people.
We put on all the clothes we owned and walked downtown to the design quarter. This was apparently where is all happens. Someone once told me Helsinki is the New Berlin - they were wrong - don't listen to everything backpackers tell you - but this part of town was where things got interesting.
My little urchin was so dressed up, he couldn't really move.
We went to the Design Museum, as I imagined that if this place is anything like it's other Nordic siblings, it should have some beautiful shit inside.
It did, but it was creepy. (Even better.)
To get into the Design Museum with a baby buggy meant we had to go through the back of some basement porthole, where a lady wearing her granny's curtains (looked much better than it sounds) let us in, through a secret passageway.
When we arose to exhibition level, the first thing we saw was this:
Plaster dolls, wedged in boxes, bound up with tape.
And scissors in plywood. Just standard Finland, I have come to realise.
Turns out it isn't just a nation of horror film design and creepiness. They have designed some almost sunny-looking things too, and some stuff is globally classic. (Including the orange-handled scissors. They made those.)
I love the high chair. Finnish people made the bubble chair. See?
Stopping for a coffee.
The Finnish are into their ceramics too. It happened to be a ceramic exhibition, but all sorts of stuff came out of the woodwork.
Like these creepy little soldier boys.
And awesome retro 70s murals.
And creepy masks, because they love a scary mask, as we've already seen at our hotel.
And anime-type Japanesey viking sculptures.
And viking aliens.
Back in the outside world, the shops in the area were festooned with beautiful Nordic Christmas decorations and design pieces. Nothing beats real Christmas decorations. The festive season is fraught with plastic tat; but here it's all wool and beads and silver and fur.
The building below reminded me of communism and it got me all nostalgic for places like Poland, east Germany, Czech Republic, Estonia.
This place could've been communistic, but it wasn't. Those clever vikings managed to avoid most colossal twentieth century hazards.
Yeah, I don't know what that means either.
There are areas of the city that are fiercely eccentric; you just have to find them.
...And try not to spend your mortgage on cool designery things for the house.
"When I was 8 months old, my parents took me to Finland. What for, I'll never really know."
* Not really. Just Finland.
** See? Completely terrifying.
...the creepiest country I've ever been to so far?
The hotel is a cross between a Stephen King novel about masks that come alive in the dead of night, and The Shining. (Hotels with red carpets.)
On coming into land, you see clusters of little islands that make up the jagged coastline of Helsinki, just stuffed with these talk Nordic fir trees. Between all the buildings are these Twin Peaks trees.
It's creepy and weird. I LOVE it.
On closer inspection, so on ground level, the trees are all tall and packed together, very Blair Witch project.
I have a feeling that we won't have to venture too far to find something INSANE here. Finland might be Scandinavia; clean, expensive, dark and cold in winter. But it's definitely creepy and strange.
God it feels good to be in a ridiculous place again.
So far my son and husband don't seem to mind it either, mostly ignoring the red carpet and masks and living it up in our upgraded room (a suite!)
And, according to my Favourite Irish Gay Friend who is a genius at languages, accents and linguistics in general, all I have to do is add 'leinen' to the end of everything to be understood in Finnish.
'Televisionleinen, Sebastianleinen, sofaleinen....'
The thing is though, it's not that cold. It's 1 degree. That's nippy, but it's not Baltic, which is the seaboard we lie on currently.
I am wondering if we will even see snow on this north pole expedition?
It's gone from being a storage dumping ground, to a muddy hole, to renovated into a functioning abyss. It's now a half laundry room, split into a spare room.
We painted it white, put tons of bright lights down there and added a day bed. To make it look less like a Fritzl Bunker and more like an inviting place for a guest to lay their head. My mother slept in there for 10 weeks without too many issues. I think.
So, because I thought Sebastian would be spending his days at home with a little pal and a nanny, I decided to really deck out the thing. Create a hybrid room.
A spare bedroom for adults, blended with a play room.
So not too much 'playroom', but not too much 'adult guest room' either. A nice blend, so that whoever is in there, feels comfortable and at home.
I love an interiors challenge.
I wanted the room to feel bright and open, given it is a small space. I also wanted to do this for another reason. Sebastian's nursery was created for both my twins. It still has two mobiles hanging on the ceiling, and much of it still reminds me of having two babies, but only filling the nursery with one. It's not the end of the world, and I don't want to completely change this. But I will be tweaking it slightly too.
We went to IKEA. I vowed never to go back there after last time. But we needed new wine glasses and luckily for everyone involved, Seb really loved his first trolley experience.
By accident I found this little circus tent - loved a 'fort' when I was a child so am sure he will too - and the circus theme formed the basis of the decor in this room. (I should add: circus sans clowns. There will be no clowns in the Fritzl chamber.)
He will only really start to use and appreciate this room when he is older, but I wanted to get it done before I went back to work.
So with the tent forming the basis of the room, this is what I did:
Mum made these flag tapestry numbers for us a few years ago, and the little quilt with elephants on was from a friend for Sebastian.
I bought some cushion covers in circussy prints. These Cath Kidston and Kirstie Allsopp ones were the best I could find, after scouring Pintrest and Etsy and Amazon and eBay and every other site on the internet.
Coincidentally, Cath Kidston and Kirstie Allsopp are actually cousins. How's that for a bit of interior design trivia?
The day bed is a wooden bench, that serves as a single and double bed, when pulled out. So when it's not in use it can be piled up with pillows, and be the perfect place to snuggle up, read books or chill out.
I wanted something that was slightly whimsical, gender neutral but fun, and these looked just right.
Then we added these funky hooks to the wall, and also bought these storage thingies from IKEA, to put books, toys or other bits in.
Then I took down the bunting in his bedroom/nursery, and put it downstairs. It works much better down here in the circus room.
We also added the shelf, so he had a place to stack his teddies, or when guests comes, their stuff.
I covered the existing pillows that were white in circus theme pillow cases - and these worked so well with the others I got too. Now anyone can rest easy when they're sitting here - boys, babies or adults.
Then, I saw H&M were selling little boys road rugs, so I got one of these for the floor.
My mum found this little chair at an antique shop for £4 when she was here.
For the side tables, and adult side of the room (which will be climbed on and pulled down no doubt), so let's assume this will be here for all of five and a half seconds - I stacked a collection of our old trunks and suitcases up, with a print and lamp.
Et voila. I'm just pleased he has an extra bit of space to play in. Our flat is rather small!
(Note baby gates that still have to go up - top and bottom of the stairs)
It's small, but it should work. The large drawers under the bed should hold a lot of storage and toys.
Am really happy.
You have three basic choices here: nursery, childminder or a nanny.
A nanny is the most expensive, and the most sought after - your child gets one-on-one attention, they get to stay in a home environment, probably won't catch measles in five seconds, and you can control what they eat.
In London, most nannies, for one child, costs anything from £1 500-£2 500 a month, depending on experience. It's extortionate, and one would see why many wouldn't bother going back to work.
We thought we'd be clever and set up a 'nanny share,' a new thing that has come out of this economy, where families that live near to each other, with similar-aged babies share the cost. The price tag comes down, but the flexibility ratio also goes down, and suddenly you realise you're at the mercy of not only your child's schedule, but three other people's too.
To cut a long story short, it hasn't worked out.
I'm sad and disappointed for Seb, as I think it would've been nice to have him under nanny care at least until he was one (he will be nine months when I return), but on the other hand, I am slightly relieved too.
We registered him at a nursery just in case, which is usually the second best option to a nanny. When I first started this process - looking for nannies, budgeting, looking at childminders and then realising most lived in high-rise council estates so aborting the mission after three separate visits - I was adamant that a nanny was the only thing that we could do for Seb.
I was convinced he wouldn't get the 1:1 care at a nursery, he was too little, many nurseries seemed like a 'dumping ground' for people's children. These are still concerns I have. No doubt.
But I'm trying to see the positive too. He will only go four days a week, (I'll work from home one of the days), and since meeting new mums this year, my feelings towards nursery have started to change.
"Nursery is definitely the right choice for me. It'll give Eleanor all the stimulation I can't give her, and it'll socialise her too."
"They seemed so nice, and he can do things he wouldn't be able to do at home - like messy play with paints."
"Sarah cries whenever another baby looks at her, so nursery will be really good for her to teach her how to be around other babies."
"Nursery is much more flexible in terms of holidays. When we had a nanny, I was always completely stressed out. I was running around trying to please the nanny more than anything, and then paying for her holidays while she wasn't looking after him was heavy going."
That's the other thing. When you employ a nanny, you employ her like a company employs a person. You pay their tax, their holidays, their everything. When you are on holiday, you still pay the nanny. When they are on holiday, you pay them still.
It's fine if you have lots of cash floating around, but I was panicking a bit about that already. Goodbye any 'lavish' holidays to Europe or South Africa; hello holidays in Southend-On-Sea?
Still, I am nervous. I just hope we are doing the right thing. We will go for a few 'settle in' sessions, but then we head off to South Africa for four weeks and Seb won't remember much any of this. I just hope the staff are dedicated and genuinely love children (and aren't just there because it's a 'job'); I hope he is happy and the food is of good standard.
Am I dreaming? I hope not.
We registered him and checked it out over the summer, and it seemed fantastic in terms of all the stuff they have - music room, garden with big jungle gyms and sandpits, lots of toys and facilities, even a messy play room which is white and spray-downable after the babies have wreaked havoc in there. But the thing that gnaws at me, is that he is going to be one of the youngest there.
He will either be in the group of 3-9 month olds (so oldest in the group), or in the 9-16 month old group, and therein the youngest. They'll assess where he fits best. It's three kids to one adult supervisor.
Am I being paranoid? Is there anyone out there who can offer some advice or hopefully, better still, some comfort in that I am doing the right thing by him?
There are a few things - rites of passage - that one must fulfil when becoming a true Londoner.
Most of these things can only be fulfilled over a number of years, and thereafter, as if by coincidence, you usually get a passport at the end of it. (I can apply for mine next April/May. I can hardly believe it.)
My little cousin from New Zealand (New Zaylin) is fresh off the boat; been here for 6 months. She still has much to learn. (Even if she doesn't think so.)
"British people love chain stores. Love a chain store."
No, they don't, actually.
The Brits love an independent, local, very British, small, homegrown, business. In fact. The big chain stores are all closing down and people would rather support the local small guys than the big "money guzzling" guys. At least, the educated middle-class do.
Her: "I love the tube and taking buses across town! It's so easy!"
Me: Um...until you are working. And you have to do that every morning and every night. And when you're on a mission, it's extra fun. Especially if you have to see a friend on the other side of the city. Eventually you won't bother, and you will gradually lose contact with that person."
Some of the things one realises as the years roll by, in no particular order:
1) People here don't actually eat crumpets all day long. Or much. Even at all. Maybe your gran does in deepest, darkest Lincolnshire for her 'tea' (which is supper), but I have yet to see anyone actually eat crumpets since I've been here.
2) The tube is a novelty for people who are fresh off the boat, or tourists. The novelty lasts no more than one week. Ever.
3) You will start eating organic, superfoods into your diet. All the supermarkets have an organic range, and stock gorgeous, beautiful ranges of fruit, vegetables and weird things like goji berry-infused quinoa. You have so much choice here, and if you do it wisely, it won't break the bank.
4) You will eventually buy a sleeping bag coat.
A guy came into work last year, and proudly chortled that he had invested in a Canadian goose down (very trendy and expensive) padded duffle coat. mobile sleeping bag.
Positively balking, "Oh dear, say goodbye to getting laid ever again," I said. "What made you do it?"
He said: I got sick of being cold.
I got sick of being cold.
He was closer to being a Londoner than I was. One year closer, in fact. Because I have also decided that I don't want to be cold anymore.
Not only is it a rite of passage for living here; it's a rite of age. One sounds old when they declare that they're sick of being cold.
One is old when they're sick of being cold; just like one is old when they're sick of seeing the inside of a nightclub. Or that one plays one's music too loud.
It's not that I was freezing in my wool coats, and these I will wear on warmer days.
It's just that, the moment I pulled on my new, duffley, entirely waterproof, windproof, coldproof, mobile sleeping bag, I knew there was no turning back.
Gosh, but this IS nice.
I am now, after all this time, a true Londoner. Where you don't bother fucking around, you instead buy something that forms a warm, soft barrier between you and the biting elements.
I did my research, and I went for this incredible Ted Baker number. (Best £300 quid I've ever spent?) It will last a lifetime, and it's all shiny and brassy and comes with an enormous hood filled with luscious faux fur.
It's quilted and lined with feathers, (not quite Canadian goose, but feels just as brilliantly warm), and it doesn't come with a belt, but rather pull rings to give it some shape.
One of the drawbacks of the mobile sleeping bag is that you look like you're in a tent, and you might as well kiss your shape (and sex life?) goodbye.
Not always so. This parka fits me like a glove baby. My only regret is that I didn't buy one winters ago.
No fuss, no wet wool, no belts hanging in toilets (that's happened so many times, I can't even tell ya. Going for a wee whilst wearing a coat with a belt. After too many mulled wines), no blustery freezing wind going down my neck.
And a zip that goes from top to bottom, no fannying about with buttons. (I'm not even product placing here. For real. I'm just so goddamn chuffed with my winter purchase.)
And like most Ted Baker jackets, it has a beautiful satiny lining. Yum.
It's parka time.
(Just in time for Finland. Also my son is literally being pushed around in a mobile fleece bag, so I'm in good company.)
Can I climb in there with you too please?
Sainsbury's delivers my groceries, and sometimes I get more or less than I bargained for. Last week I got a pumpkin the size of my fist. (The usual size, it seems, was not available.) This week I got bunch of 23 beetroots.
This kid is going to be eating red for a while to come. And staining everything within a five metre radius, myself included.
Sometimes I am completely content. So grateful for my son, for the new friends I've made, for the very simple pleasures that help me truck on through the day: coffee.
Coffee is my best friend, actually.
And so is this book, because Sebastian finds it endlessly entertaining, more so than anything in this world, apparently.
(Giving me time to actually drink my coffee. Hooray!)
Sometimes I am endlessly hungry.
Back on the Cape Town Beach Diet, 2.0. I only have about a month. Which means, a healthy dose of air, leaves and a sprinkling of quinoa are the only things allowed, basically.
Sometimes I am deeply sad. When I take time to think about Molly, I feel close to her, but it also means I go down a dark tunnel, do a left and there I am, in a hole that sucks me in. When I'm inside this hole - and it might only be for half an hour - I feel like the Sadness grips me and never lets me go. I feel so helpless and small in comparison to the Sadness.
Once I am out of the hole, I am alright again. I only visit the hole of Sadness a few times a week these days, but it still pulls me in.
Sometimes I get cataclysmically frustrated. Because I believe people still think, it seems, that I should be 'over' my sadness and focus on my living child. I focus on my living child pretty much 23 out of 24 hours, he is his own person. My dead child was also her own person. Just because I had one left out of two doesn't mean you just forget about the other. It does not work that way. My loss is slightly more complex than those who have simply lost a single child.
So if you think I should be 'over' this, fuck you.
Sometimes I wish more people have lost something human so that they understand. Only people who have lost really get it.
Sometimes I wonder how I will transgress back into my old life. Work, in other words. Well, I went in for half a day last week. Absolute mindfuck, but somehow not. Same same, but different. Watching marketing strategy presentations and wondering how this will fit in with my strategy at being a functioning working mother.
We had cocktails afterwards. And then some good Mexican food out of a hole in the wall somewhere in East London. That was quite nice. And we didn't even get food poisoning. Total bonus.
Sometimes the thing that used to make me stir inside the most, comes back to itch me again. I have parked my favourite hobby, for the most part, this year, because my new favourite hobby - growing and rearing a child - takes priority.
The Brit travels a lot for work, but most of the places he goes to, we have been before or otherwise don't appeal, so I haven't joined him on a trip for a while.
Until he said 12 magical words two night ago.
"Shit, I forgot, I am going to Finland in two weeks time."
Hold the bus, where?
I say, that doesn't sound like Germany (where he is now) or France. That sounds cold, weird and foreign. Possibly even communistic. Probably bleak and brutalist.
Just the kind of places I love.
In fact, Dove and I had made plans to go there on our Baltic trip, but ran out of time.
"Sebastian and I are coming to Helsinki with you."
It'll be dogs balls freezing, and Seb will need to be transported around in a featherdown sleeping bag, but it will be a winter wonderland full of startlingly Scandinavian people who speak in Eskimo Language.
Yeah, I mean, it's practically the North Pole.
But I get to tick another country off the list. And maybe see a real igloo and stuff.
I can't wait.