Tell me why…

I had coffee with an old school friend, Louise, the other day.  I was meeting her son for the first time (and he was fat and delicious and everything a gorgeous baby should be).  Louise’s first born, Isabel, was safely ensconced in playgroup so we had a brief respite and could focus on the new baby entirely without igniting the wrath of a scorned sibling.

I should say “further igniting” however, as that morning, Louise’s daughter had done something she had never done before:  she had drawn on the floor with a crayon.  It is so hard when a new baby comes to stay…  Isabel is a perfectly normal and very well behaved little angel… most of the time, but that morning it had all been too much and she had done something she knew would get a response… “I was so cross!” said Louise, in an exasperated tone.  Louise did everything right from then on, taking Isabel out of the room to think about what she had done (and perhaps more importantly, to give Louise a chance to clean the offending mark off and calm down).  “She apologised…” Louise said, but Isabel was evidently a little more offhand about the apology than Louise would have liked after such a huge and massively out of character calculated little attention getting stunt.  I did try to explain that frankly any attention is better than nothing and to have mummy go fifteen shades of purple because there is now a large blue stripe across the floorboards, certainly beats being ignored whilst the delicious baby is being fed.

Apart from that minor hiccup, Isabel has adjusted well to her new brother’s arrival.  “She does keep asking “Why?”, though,” said Louise.  “When does that stop?” she asked me looking slightly deranged at the prospect of it going on much longer, like beyond the end of the week perhaps…

I tried to reassure her, but sitting there with her enjoying a coffee, I realised that my girls (9 and 7) still do the “why?” thing, and even better, they frequently ask The Ridiculous Question.  I know that for most small people asking “Why?” is a way of interacting.  Like the blue crayon used against the defenceless beautifully polished floorboard, it is a wonderful way to get attention.  I can remember breast feeding number two whilst trying to explain to number one why the sky was blue.  As I embarked on an illustrated visual guide to light refraction, drawing on the back of an envelope, clutching the baby under my armpit, I understood that she wasn’t actually listening.  Nor did she really want to know the answer to the question.  “Why?” was a way of getting my attention.  I became THAT mother, at this point, and came up with pat answers to most of The Ridiculous Questions. For example, the ever faithful, pernennial favourite question: “Mummy, what’s for supper?” as I stand in the kitchen oven glove clad hands clasping a tray of fish fingers, illicits my favourite pat response: “Rat’s bottoms and chair-legs”  My Northern friend, Sarah, tells her children that for supper they are having “Air pie and a walk around” when they ask, as her mother said to her.  It is universal that mothers get sick of The Ridiculous Question and have to come up with some way of maintaining their sanity.  “Mummy, why is that man fat?” (said loudly enough for the poor chubby chap to hear) “Mummy, why has that lady got a red dress on?” “Mummy, why are those children shouting?”   “I don’t know, darling,” I say, “You’ll have to ask them.”  It tends to stop them in their tracks and make them think for themselves.  I am also probably damaging them irreparably by feigning interest when I am actually fobbing them off.  It keeps me sane…  

IMG_1187.JPGBut fear not, they do get their own back:  “Mummy, are those your pants?” (asked when I am hanging out a double sheet on the washing line to dry in the garden) got a slightly different response.  As did: “Mummy, do you shave the fur off your face?”  “No darling, mummies don’t have fur on their faces,” I said indulgently, “Just daddy’s have beards.”  “No, Mummy,” said my perfect seven year old, “You have a beard too…  I can see it”  and then my all time favourite which involved a pincer movement from both girls (and so must be admired as at least they have the sense to work together): “Mummy, you know how the dog’s ears are all floppy and dangly?”  asked one, “Yes, darling…” I said walking unthinkingly in to their trap.  The other daughter said to the first as quick as a wink:  “They’re just like mummy’s boobies, aren’t they?” They both agreed heartily and laughing left me standing naked in the bathroom.  I trust that both my daughters will grow up with resilient, pneumatic breasts far superior to mine and that their pants are never mistaken for double bed sheets.  In the mean time, I am off to cook them rat’s bottoms and chair legs again.

Posted on Friday, June 22, 2007 at 03:38PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | Comments1 Comment | References7 References

On your bike!

Did you know that from a year old a baby can go on the back of your bike in a safety seat and a helmet?  Did you also know (and perhaps this is more important) that you can lose a lot of weight if you exercise like that regularly?  

I cycle as many places as I can.  This is not because I am some militant greenie, although given a choice I would probably make the green one… I used non-disposable nappies (poverty drove me there – husband was made redundant some years ago and that made us seriously think about our fiscal well-being) and I do own a wormery so I guess maybe I am more green than most.  I cycle because I find it less stressful.  I cannot stand fighting for parking spaces and sitting in traffic makes me consider road rage as a sensible pass-time. I also don’t have time to go the gym (and poverty made that impossible, see above) and so incorporating exercise into my daily regime seemed sensible.  Cycling also sets a good example for my kids, I think, to show there is an alternative to getting in the car.  We now cycle pretty much everywhere.

First of all, I used a standard seat on the back of my bike.  I learnt the hard way that it is very easy to snap the lose flesh under a small fat child’s chin in the clasp of a helmet (you only do it once…) and also that a bike with a child on the back doesn’t balance against a wall, but falls over.  Again, you only do it once and it is amazing how resilient small children are…

As my kids got bigger (between 2 and 6), we resorted to a bike trailer, a sort of two man tent on wheels you can strap them in to.  I did a lot of internet research before making the decision and figured that if I stayed on the quieter back roads, we would be fine.  I did once catch the big one (Madeleine) boosting the little one (Tabitha) out as I was cycling along at speed…  she got caught under the trailer and was dragged for a few feet before I screeched to a halt, her helmet stopping her from going under the back wheels.  I also once brought a friend’s child, Clair, home for tea and when we got home Clair squealed:  “Tabitha has wet my pants!”  Tabitha had weed in the trailer and it had trickled across the seat and soaked in to Clair’s pants.  Nothing a hose couldn’t sort out…  I also flipped the trailer once, taking a corner at speed… with Tabitha aged about 18 months sleeping in it.  I jumped off my bike and peeled back the lid to find her still asleep, suspended from what was now the ceiling, her little arms and legs dangling down and still swinging from the force.  Again, I have only ever done it once.  (I'm not selling this well, am I?)

Lucy%20Toast%20bike.jpgMost importantly, though, I lost the extra two stone I was carrying after having number two.  It just dropped off me once I started cycling, and now I find I can eat what I want (within reason) and drink enough to keep me sane without getting lardy.  (That's got your attention back again, hasn't it?) I also find it incredibly relaxing to ponder the troubles of the world whilst I peddle… it is that repetitive left/right action, I think which helps me process.  I highly recommend it, as long as you have good all weather gear (and you can find fabby-do, even stylish items available for sale at Minx).  I also recommend an odometer if you are slightly sad like me and feel great satisfaction knowing that you have cycled 80 miles every week.

We used the trailer for a few years (a brilliant Cycletote) until Madeleine got so big I had to either rethink or start amputating limbs.  I decided against kitchen table surgery and instead graduated to a tag-along and Madeleine cycles along beside me.  Actually she cycles behind me because I would rather not see her trying to make it to the end of the road with no hands on the handle bars.  This works well, except Tabitha can frequently be found sitting on the back of the tag-along, feet on her handle bars and NOT pedalling as she should be, but rather reading her school book as I do all the work.  We also sometimes have the dog in the basket, so she can come with us.

And all this cycling does some good as well.  I have for the past two years, cycled from London to Brighton and raised money for the brilliant Capital to Coast, and plan to do it again this July.  So if you feel inspired to either get on your own bike go to it!  You don’t need to spend a lot of money and most areas have a freecycle system where you can get a second hand bike, bike seat or tag-along for free.  If you are unlikely to get on your bike yourself, but would like to sponsor me, dash to my just giving webpage where you can pledge some cash to speed me on my way.  To be honest it is just a really crafty way to spend five hours on my own without the kids.  I shall be plugged in to The Archers cycling with a huge, selfish smile on my face…

Posted on Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 03:40PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment | References6 References

But what happened to me?

I had lunch with a friend this week.  She has a delicious little boy who is now about 7 months old and has just started weaning.  She sat at the table trying to post grub in to his little mouth whilst contending with flailing arms and spoon grabbing and raspberry blowing and all the other joys that come with weaning.  “It takes so long…” she said to me.  I think she was expecting me to show her how to make it all go more smoothly – surely this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be?  By the end of a half hour most of the food was either on my friend, the floor, the walls, or the dog had eaten it as it had fallen on the floor and was fair game…  Her son looked pretty pleased with himself until she tried to wipe his face which was the final insult.

Carrots2.jpgIt takes a lot of time feeding babies…  You can trick them in to letting you hold the spoon by giving them a second one, you can use a second person to distract them or to restrain the flailing limbs, but generally speaking it is a messy and time heavy occupation.  It is also very emotional feeding a child who is not as enthusiastic as you are about the carefully crafted courgette puree with poached free-range chicken.  “It does get better…” I found myself saying to my exasperated, vegetable smeared friend.  “It is definitely better than it was..” she said, her voice slightly tired.  She has been doing this three times a day for about a month now and it is improving but she still has a long way to go.

What is really amazing is that you really do forget how long it all takes that by the time number two comes along you are strangely unprepared.  Again.  You have to relearn it all and now have the added distraction of a toddler running around your ankles.  Already thinking about number two, my friend and I had the brief discussion about the perfect gap between babies.  I did advise that she try sooner rather than later given that it is perfectly normal to expect one in three pregnancies to end in a miscarriage and sometimes conceiving for a second time can be strangely elusive.  I do advise everyone who is considering it to seriously think about being pregnant with number two before your first-born turns two.  The terrible twos can really take you by surprise in some children and had I not already been pregnant when it hit my eldest daughter, I possibly would have thought about the benefits of just having an only child, so extraordinary was her behaviour.  As it was I was already pregnant and it was too late to do anything but watch in amazement and wonder what I had created.

Which leads me to my point, after you have had a baby, what happens to you?  Where do you vanish to?  Your whole life is taken up by the wonderful life you have created and consequently the fundamentals of who you are:  your job, your friends who haven’t got kids, your hobbies, your figure and things you used to enjoy (do you remember going to the cinema… oh the luxury – and what about Sunday morning lie-ins reading the Sunday papers with a cup of coffee… what happened to that!?) seem to be fall by the wayside.  Where is the “me” time…

I do think it is important to try to get as much of your own life back as soon as you can, but also acknowledge that for a lot of us, something has to give and that tiny person becomes more important than ourselves – as it should be.  Your family relies on you and you are the lynch pin, about which everything revolves.  Your priorities as a couple shift and it is usually the mother who carries the largest burden.  I am here to tell you, though, that with a little patience and some lateral thought, you will find yourself again at the other end of that dark tunnel.  I remember running after my children in a playground whilst a lady sat reading a magazine, and her smiling and saying “soon…” and she was right.  There comes a time when you can read a whole book, go to the hairdressers, get some regular exercise, sit on the loo without someone sitting on your knee and spend time with your partner, get a babysitter and go to the cinema and with a little training your children can get themselves breakfast and let you lie in on a Sunday sometimes, too.  You may even find a new and different challenging career to focus on which fits in around your children.  But you do have to get through the hard, mucky bit first.
EvaAwake_ CarSeat.JPG
My friend sat there yesterday, showered and dressed, having driven across London to arrive on time for lunch, her son fat and happy, well cared for and healthy - a little miracle!  We chatted about how hard motherhood was but how worth it, too.  “When they are at school,” I said with a smile, “you suddenly find yourself again…”  My friend’s face fell a little bit “But that is so long!” she wailed.  Yes, I know that six years seems a very long time, but it is all relative, and in the life of your baby and you, really it is such a short time, and the sacrifice really is worth it.  I promise.

Posted on Friday, April 27, 2007 at 02:37PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment | References3 References

Mother knows best

I was working for a lovely lady recently.  She has just had number three.  As I am sure you can imagine she had her hands full.  Her mother in law was staying with her when I first started working as a post-natal doula for her.  The mother in law was a lovely lady, and one day, took me to one side and asked what I thought about the way that the baby was being left on her back to sleep.  Scandalised, the mother in law told me that in her day, they had always been advised to sleep the baby on its side, swapping sides every day to ensure that the skull developed evenly.  What was this baby doing sleeping exclusively on its back!  It would grow up to have a deformed head!  I tried to reassure her that it was now common practice and advised that sleeping on the back was the safest thing for a baby, thankful that she was asking me and not her rather sensitive, post-natal daughter in law.  It did remind me though of a lovely private midwife who told me behind her hand that most babies she had met preferred to sleep on their fronts "but don't quote me!".  She said she always advised mothers to follow their instincts and to “risk it” if their babes preferred sleeping that way.  I am no longer surprised if I find a mother sheepishly showing me a happily sleeping baby lying on its tummy.

As a new mother, you are so vulnerable.  Fresh out of sleep and awash with hormones, you have little idea what you are doing for at least the first six weeks and just being able to have a shower before six pm is a true miracle some days.  To be expected to then make executive decisions for a small person is almost more than some women can bear; and it doesn't always get easier with the more you have.  But to whom should you listen?  Your midwife… who may or  may not be the same person day after day; your health visitor… who may only be available occasionally; your mother or mother in law… who did this all a very long time ago… your friend up the street who knits her own yoghurt?   This same lady had been told by midwives and health visitors and doulas that her baby was tongue tied… but I sat listening as a breast feeding counsellor poo-pooed the whole thing and told her there was nothing wrong with her baby at all.  Now who do you believe?

Breast feeding is such a mine field as well.  How do you know how much milk you are producing?  Where is the gauge to show you if your breast is empty after a feed and full again before one?  How do you know if you are providing your baby with enough?  I would always say trust your instincts.  Believe that you will produce what your baby needs at the time they need it.  Trust that your body can do it and watch.  If you see a very unhappy baby who is failing to thrive, then obviously you may need to rethink.  Generally speaking though, most mothers can breast feed successfully… unless they are stressed out.  What could be more stressful than doubting your own ability?  

Motherhood is a fraught business.  But you can navigate your way through if you trust your own instincts and believe deeply that you will make the best decisions for your baby given the information you have at the time.  Read and speak to people if that helps and in the end, listen to your own heart and do what you think is the best thing.  Every now and again that may involve listening to and even doing what your mother in law suggests.  

Posted on Monday, March 26, 2007 at 01:13PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Why not start a Babysitting Circle?

Once you have had your baby and the immediate flush of new parenthood has worn off and you are feeling less tired than you were, your attention may suddenly turn to your partner.  That person you used to focus all your love and adoration on who has been standing quietly in the background since you fell in love with your new baby may come back in to your sights…  perhaps a night out together may be a good idea?  But who do you trust to leave your baby with?  Nubile 16 year olds are all very well, but would they really know what to do if the house caught fire or your baby was unwell?  In addition you need to consider the costs, a trip to the cinema which is already pricey, can be almost doubled if you add in £5 an hour for the babysitter.  Suddenly popping down to the pub can seem like an extravagant option.  But you must.  You must try to spend time with your partner away from your children because your family is only as strong as the weakest link and nurturing your partner and yourself should be as important as nurturing your baby.

In my group of peers, we have found a fabulous (and hardly original) solution to this:  we set up a babysitting circle.  If it sounds like something that would suit you, please learn from our tried and tested method and pinch it for yourselves.  We found a group of likeminded, relatively close (geographically) families who were enthusiastic and began a self-policing community who babysit for each other.  Nothing changes hands, just points which are kept in a book held in turn by each member.

We found that the circle works best with about 15 families, all of whom have kids of various ages and preferably are at different schools (so a parents’ evening or a school function can be attended by members whilst other members can sit for them).  A “book” is set up (we use an old loose leaf file folder) which contains contact details for everyone in the group and information about their children.  It also holds a holds  a record of points (exchanged for babysitting) and forms to help you organise sits.  

The principle behind it goes like this:  Everyone is given 20 points to start with.  A rota is set up where one person holds the book for a month at a time.  This is the person you call if you need a babysitter.  The person holding the book makes a note of your request (dated in case someone else needs a sitter on the same night so it can be a first come first serve basis) and then makes phone calls to the various other members of the circle to find a suitable person who is available to sit for you that night.  They phone in reverse order to the number of points the various members have, so the person who has the fewest points (who has used a babysitter more than they have babysat) is phoned first to see if they can sit.  The next person who is phoned has the next least number of points and so on, until a babysitter is found.  The person with the book then confirms with the requester who is sitting for them and the babysitter and the requester get in touch on the day to double check that everything is still on.  Exact hours sat are reported back to the person who is holding the book as soon as a sit has been completed.  At the end of every month a tally of the points earned and lost is updated and the next month begins with the order of phone calls to find a babysitter adjusted to reflect that new balance.  In this way, anyone who has done a lot of babysitting will not be asked to do any more until their points balance is back down to the same level as everyone else, meaning that the whole system is self-policing.

Over the nine years that ours has been running we have come up with some ground rules which are as follows:


1.    1 hour equals one point, using increments of a quarter of an hour/point.
2.    One extra point for sitting on a Saturday night.
3.    Points double after midnight.
4.    Report the number of hours the sit was as soon as possible to the person holding the book, but at least before the end of the month.
5.    Children should be in bed when sitter arrives unless previously arranged.
6.    Try to leave a glass of wine and perhaps a nibble for your babysitter and explain the workings of the telly/phone etc before leaving.
7.    Daytime sits which involve food/bath can be negotiated between the sitter and requester.
8.    If you have to cancel a babysit you have agreed to do, please arrange for a replacement yourself rather than asking the person holding the book to do it.
9.    Please phone the person holding the book as soon as you need a babysitter.  If you need someone at very short notice, you may phone the group yourself.
10.    If cancelling (either way) with less than 24 hours notice, one point will be given (in recognition of any inconvenience).
11.    If you are holding the book, please phone the person with the lowest number of points first.
12.    Please reply to a request for babysitting as soon as possible, saying yes or no.  If you can sit you should sit.
13.    Please contact the person you are expecting to sit for you before the sit to confirm times.  Try to give a rough ballpark of when you will return.
14.    If you are going on holiday, please notify the person with the book.

This system has worked very well for us and we have also had the benefit of meeting some really lovely families we may not otherwise had contact with, not to mention the bonus of spending time with our lovely partners reminding ourselves why we fell in love with them in the first place.  It is also important to spend some social time together as a group of mothers… OK, that is slightly less important but we try to have a wine and cheese evening every quarter to just keep in touch with each other and also try to do things as a family two or three times a year: meet in a park for a picnic in the summer, have an Easter Egg hunt at Easter, etc.  To download the forms we use, please go to the link here.  But most importantly, go out and enjoy!

Posted on Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 11:45AM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | Comments1 Comment | References10 References