Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Seven Skills I Wish My Baby Would Hurry Up And Learn

Fans of the hit TV series Mad Men may remember that when Don Draper's children were young - only about five or six - he had already trained them to mix cocktails. He and Betty would sit on the sofa looking hungover, yet fabulous, and the kids would whip up an Old Fashioned, like it was some kind of game.

Now I'm not saying the only reason I had a child of my own was to become my personal valet. But it certainly seemed to me like a perfectly harmless way of keeping them occupied, whilst also putting them to good use.

We have been so focused on our daughter reaching such minor milestones as walking, and talking, we have been missing the bigger picture.

Here are the tasks I will really be happy to see her capable of.

::Dressing Herself
It's enough effort to put together a reasonably clean and coordinated outfit for myself every day. Then I have to do it all over again for her as well.
Once she's old enough to choose what she wants to wear and put it on herself, she can legitimately go out dressed in a swimming costume, ballet tutu, pyjama-top-she-has-grown-out-of-with-a-hole-in-it, wellies and a tea cosy on her head, and I can just blame her... Rather than admit everything else was in the wash.

::Using The Roundabout
Why does the roundabout have to be her favourite thing at the park? (Well, after the swings, but there's always a queue, isn't there?) And why does it not seem to make her dizzy in the slightest?
I hate braving the merry-go-round with her on my lap. Going round is not merry, it is nauseating.
So the sooner she learns to hold on to that thing on her own, the better.

I am not artistically gifted. When I try to do homemade, it just looks shabby and halfhearted. But when children do handicrafts; wonky becomes cute and mistakes are just adorable.
All she needs to do is focus on colouring a bit harder, rather than eating crayons, and I can get her to scribble red and green all over a piece of card, shower it with glitter, then cut it up into gift tag sized pieces and my Christmas wrapping is sorted.

::Making Her Own Breakfast
Oh for the day that I can just leave out a Weetabix in a bowl and some long life milk on the kitchen table before I go to bed. Then come the morning just roll over and enjoy the lie in...

::Being A Public Voice Of Conscience
'Kids say the funniest things', as the saying goes. Not so funny when they're shouting, "Mummy, why are you wearing your pyjamas under your coat?", at the top of their voice in the supermarket. Or, "Mummy, look! That woman is REALLY old!"
But wouldn't it be brilliant if you could train them to publicly shame people who are doing you a disservice?
"Mummy, why doesn't that woman move her buggy so we can fit in the bus? We've been waiting for hours in the rain and there is clearly room for us too?"
"Mummy, look! That man has pushed in front of us in the queue!"
"Mummy, do you think the Pret people will choose you to get a free coffee today?"

::Basic Household Chores
As I stood hunched over in my front garden at the weekend, scraping up rotting dead leaves, suddenly aware that my builder's bum was on full view to the entire street, I couldn't help wondering... At just what age is it appropriate to start offering your offspring the chance to earn pocket money in exchange for doing odd jobs?
Just a bit of light housework - dusting, sweeping, sponging avacado stains out of the carpet.
Is 13 months a bit too young?

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Baby Top Trumps

All parents are competitive when it comes to their children. Even those that would like to think of themselves as laid back - deep down they know their child is best and they're just smiling smugly about it on the inside.

Hanging out with other parents, talk naturally tends to revolve around your children. As much as this is about bonding and making relatable conversation, there is often a friendly undertone of one-upmanship. From how early your child learned to sit up/crawl/walk/recite Shakespeare, to their incredibly varied diet and excellent nap regime.

Even bad behaviour gets competitive.

Have a moan about how your child just won't stop trying to climb the furniture, and it is inevitable that you friend's offspring recently scaled a bookcase all the way to the ceiling. If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase, "Oh, she/he does that too", I would be able to afford to dress my daughter in Bon Point.

So why don't we stop suppressing our inner competitive parent and make things interesting?

Everyone remembers Top Trumps - the data rating card game that is so simple and so versatile.

I'm proposing we play Top Trumps with our children in order to find some fun amongst all the hard work and effort that goes into parenting. And, at the same time, take back the name that has now become synonymous with the brink of disaster, and remember trump can also mean something good. (Or flatulence).

So here is my Baby Top Trump card. What's your winning category?

How much of a hard time did the little critter give you on their grand entrance to the world?
I won't go into gory details but I'm scoring a high average for this one, I reckon.

::Sleep Deprivation
We all know parenting street cred is about how little sleep you have, not how much.
My daughter lets me down on this front, although she is terrible at napping, allowing me almost no time to myself, so I scraped back some points.

Here comes the science bit. The average age a child walks is between nine and 12 months. Start at 60 and add 10 for every month before nine months that your child learned to walk, or minus 10 for every month after 12. (For crawlers the average is seven to 10 months and sitters it's four to seven months.)

::Eating Habits
Does your baby just love to eat everything you do, or are you having to prepare separate plates of mush for every meal only to scrape it all off the walls afterwards?
Touch wood, I have a human dustbin on my hands right now, so I'm scoring big for this one.

Because you need some good, "Such A Little Terror" anecdotes for your repertoire and perfectly behaved children are just boring.
Mine can be pretty naughty, throws terrible tantrums and just loves defying the word no.

The only people who are going to score 100 in this category are those with a child whose nappy has never leaked, who has never covered themselves in food stains and dirt and never had a runny nose in public.
If you have this child - can we do swapsies?

Now I'm obviously not suggesting we directly compare our children's looks or loveability. We'd all have a Top Trump on our hands then, wouldn't we?
This category is for rating how good your child is in public, how well they perform their latest tricks in front of an audience and how nicely they play with other children.

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Warning - Feeling Purple

I feel officially old.

This week I turned 35.

If I were to have another baby now I would be deemed a "geriatric pregnancy".

In market research terms I have left the 25-34 category and am now grouped with the 35-54s.

The newly elected President of the United States of America, Donald J Trump, has advised the world's male population that I have reached the age when they should, "check out" of a woman.

I am no longer one of the footloose and fancy-free, bright young things, who can do what they want, when they want. I am one of the sober, stressed-out, squeezed middle, who has responsibilities to consider and duties to carry out.

The other day in the supermarket I found myself standing behind a woman wearing striped knee-high socks, a bright patterned cardigan layered over a clashing patterned dress and a decorative hat. I could tell from behind that she was not a youngster, but when she turned her head I could see she was at least 60.

I was reminded of Jenny Joseph's poem Warning. "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. With a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

I have always loved that poem. But I found myself thinking it won't be long before my daughter will reach an age at which she would be mortified if I took her to school wearing striped knee-high socks.

So I am old. But not old enough to wear purple and spend all my pension on brandy.

I can't have a midlife crisis and buy a motorbike.

I have to eat healthy cereal for breakfast, sitting up straight at the table, so as to set a good example to my daughter.

When I was a child I always wondered why my mother asked for such boring things for her birthday. A dishwasher, a sit-down iron, a Magimix. Why did she always ask for household gadgets and not treats for herself?

But now I realise these presents made her life easier and so they probably did bring her some small joy in that way.

And this year I asked for a Magimix for my birthday, to help me cook better and quicker meals.

Is this growing up? Is this what I have been waiting for all these years?

I spent my teens racing into adulthood and now I wish I had slowed down.

I want to watch breakfast telly in my pyjamas and eat chocolate biscuits in milk for breakfast and paint my toe nails and spend hours on the phone to my friends.

But I have to get up and get my daughter dressed and fed and try and remember to label the toys we play with so that she learns some words other than, "This."

I am one of the Grown Ups now, and I have to put in my years of being the sensible one before I can become a bright old thing.

Then, once I've paid my dues, I can go back to eating toast with butter three inches thick, going to the cinema in the middle of the day and spending all my money on eccentric outfits from charity shops.

But perhaps I ought to practice a little now. So that my daughter isn't too shocked, when I become old and start to wear purple.

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Friday, 4 November 2016

Someone Like Me - Thank You

This week global singing sensation Adele confessed she gives herself one afternoon a week away from her child, just to put herself first.

She said she found it helped her combat her postnatal depression and that it makes her feel better than if she gave up all her time to parenting.

I'd like to say thank you to Adele. She doesn't speak much about her private life and it feels to good to hear someone as famous as her admit that being a parent is not all cuddles and cuteness.

I met an old school friend, who doesn't have children of her own, at a party recently and she asked me how I was finding, "Motherhood".

"I am enjoying it," I replied, "but it can be a bit more lonely than I expected."

"Lonely?!", she exclaimed. And immediately turned to another friend of ours, who also has children, and asked, "Do you find it lonely?", as though I had just said something quite unfathomable which she was unable to comprehend.

Not many people say it out loud when you ask them about parenthood. I suppose it makes sense that they would focus on the positives, but among the tiredness and the mess and the chaos, it can be one of those things that sneaks up on you and hits you hard.

At home all day with a person who demands everything from you, but can offer very little conversation in return... every now and then I have a day where I feel like the princess trapped in the tower and my daughter is the wicked witch.

So this week I am also saying thank you to my family. When Him Indoors had to go on a business trip to Bristol and said I could stay in the hotel too, they babysat.

When the waitress at the restaurant brought our bottle of fizz to the table she asked if it was a special occasion. "It's the first night we have left our daughter overnight," I told her. "She's one."

We didn't stay out that late but we did go on to a bar and posed for silly photos and ate cheesy chips.

I wasn't glad to be free of my daughter, but, because I knew she was safe and we would see her soon, I found I didn't really miss her that much.

For the first time I forgot the duty of being a parent. I thought of my daughter not as a dependent, but as a person who, actually, I quite enjoy spending time with.

And I realised that becoming a mother has not changed me. I am still myself, just with a parental responsibility.

In the morning He went off to his meeting and I had a lie in and a long shower.

I went for a walk around the harbour in the morning mist and just enjoyed being able to walk at my own pace and take notice of my surroundings.

I went to a cafe and drank hot coffee and ate breakfast slowly and read a whole chapter-and-a-half of the book I began when I was still pregnant.

When I passed people pushing buggies I smiled at them. I felt like I had a secret. I was a parent and nobody knew, because I am still a person too.

And when I saw my daughter later that morning and gave her a kiss I definitely appreciated her even more.

I may not have the luxury of being able to leave my daughter once a week. But every week I make time to write down my own thoughts, just to remind myself that I still have them.

My child means everything to me. But she is not everything in my life. And it doesn't make me any less of a parent to say that.

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback