Tuesday, March 30, 2010


It's 6am and Anna shouts from upstairs 'Daddy, I want a pee'. Daddy replies 'Zzzzzz' from my side. Grrrr. I jump out of bed onto the frozen floor and leg it upstairs. I've still not got round to changing the clock on the boiler - bugger. I take Anna to the loo and she pees for what seems like five minutes solid as I shiver, then begs to get back under her warm duvet.
I go down and fall asleep. Around 7am I move my right leg. Something on Thomas's side is cold and wet. Surely 38 is too old (or too young) to be peeing the bed? The wet is too cold anyway. I lie awake and hear 'drip'. 'Thomas! Something is dripping on the bed!!!!' We turn on the light. Our bedroom is in the bottom corner of the house in the extension. Our heads are beneath the office but our feet are in the bungalow half of the extension. The lintel separating the two halves has two little drips hanging from the edge of it. It is snowing outside. Waking up with slush in your bed on the second day of British Summertime isn't the ideal way to start the new season.
It has to be a hole where the one storey extension meets the two storey one, or something to do with the central heating pipes directly under the office window. Option one is bad, option two is even worse (it would necessitate the removal of all the office furniture and the ripping up of the new hardwood floor on a week when Thomas is up to his eyes in three different projects).
We turn off the heating for an hour to test theory two. It continues dripping. He's relieved. I'm still stressed. He takes up a kettle of water to test theory one. He opens the window and pours the kettle onto the outside window ledge. Niagara comes instantly to the bedroom ceiling. Option one is confirmed. We decamp with our wet duvet into the cold living room and leave a basin on the bed. At least we can now try to reheat the house given we have 10cm of snow outside.
We know if we can just find the hole now we can plug it with concrete or tar first time there's a dry day...
First time there's a dry day? Oh shit it is Scotland! Thomas has plugged it temporarily with playdough! The drip has subsided but I'm still considering a night on the most uncomfortable futon in the world in my living room as a better option than another rude awakening to a foot in the slush in the bedroom :-(

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Driving home from nursery the other day Léon suddenly burst into tears and threw himself into my arms at the traffic lights (he was in the front beside me as both girls' car seats were in the back of the micra that day). What on earth could be so wrong after a nice morning at nursery with his little friends? Inconsolable, he sobbed 'Who'll hug me Mummy once you are dead?' I have no idea where the sudden obsession with death came from but a long discussion ensued in which I more or less had to promise not to die till my hundredth birthday to calm him down. Tonight when I'd read them their story and sung a song or two, it started again. This time there was no crying but he asked me out of the blue 'Who'll give Amaia her doodah (the family word for breast milk since Marcel invented it as a toddler) once you are dead?' Again I stressed I would be old when I died and Amaia herself would be old and therefore no longer in need of milk. After asking when Thomas, Anna and I would die, he started to ask about people who were already dead. 'Are Thomas's mummy and daddy dead?' he asked. 'No Thomas's mummy and daddy are Brita and Peter' I explained. 'Oh, who is dead then?' 'Granny's mummy and daddy are dead' I told him, knowing this would be unlikely to upset him overly given he didn't know them. 'Who were they?' he asked. 'My Granny and Gramps' I told him. Because his French grandfather died many years before he was born, I ventured 'Opa is dead'. 'Opa lives in the forest' he replied. Opa is buried in a little French cemetery on the edge of a forest and Pudge has visited his grave. I tried to explain graveyards 'Cemeteries are where dead bodies are taken. Opa 'lives' in that big stone house you've seen in the forest.' 'So when's he going to get alive again?' 'Once you are dead you don't come alive again' I explained to him. He let out a huge sigh of exasperation 'If he's never going to be alive again, how on earth is he going to go to the dentist?' At that point I gave up - I was just speechless. Why on earth is this four year old concerned with how his long-dead grandfather is going to keep an appointment with the dentist?

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I love to take photos with natural light indoors rather than the harshness of a flash, especially when babies are the subject. Instead of the startled what-was-that-flash? look, you just get a lovely, so-real-you-can-hug-it shot of your very own teeny troll.


For goodness sake! What kind of planet are we living on???? I'd be horrified if I had an 18 month old who couldn't identify fruit and veg. This is unimaginable to me. Mind you, I have tried to teach them from early on about good food and of course Thomas grows it in the garden so they know exactly where it comes from too!
I have to say that one of the major advantages of having a big family is not being able to afford ready meals so the kids get to see how to make food from the bottom up and of course it also forces the big ones into having their own cooking days which further advances this knowledge. Tell them to go cook a meal for ten from raw ingredients, they are completely undaunted.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


When you see two human babies separated in age by just six weeks, you have to conclude that a large part of the first few months' growth is concentrated on the head and brain area! Poor little Lana looks like Amaia might try to swallow her whole! It's funny to think that just nine months down the line they are likely to be more or less the same size!

Monday, March 15, 2010


We were sent a pretty Easter card by Thomas's mum. I have had a vague notion though, since we received it, that something was odd about it.
Suddenly today it struck me. It was the juxtaposition of snowdrops and Easter. To me in Scotland (with the obvious exception of this year) snowdrops are a January, or February at a pinch, flower. Easter is hyacinths, and maybe the tail end of the daffodil season, but definitely nothing to do with snowdrops!
It is funny how our climates are very slightly different despite the geographical proximity. After all the west Scotland is an area where you encounter dozens of palm trees - and I'm yet to bump into one of those in Denmark!


I notice the UK is slowly becoming America. When I was a child there were no drive thru burger places. There was no 24 hour shopping in supermarkets the size of small towns. We went out 'guising' at Halloween, not 'trick-or-treating'. Our lanterns were made of Swede, not pumpkin. Our cars had accelerators, not gas pedals and we parked in car parks, not parking lots. The list is endless.
But as a word of warning before we hang our culture out to dry and accept their way of life, we should occasionally look up at what is different and better here in Europe and the UK. Take holidays, for example - I for one couldn't imagine having any quality family life on a US ration of holidays.
Worse still, today I was appalled to find out about their idea of maternity leave. When I was pregnant, I joined an online web club which mailed me a weekly pregnancy update. As a rough guide I was told the approximate size of the baby, its development, changes to expect in my own body. I didn't realize at the time these updates would continue after birth. It was a US site. Today's update shocked and upset me:
  • Your Baby Week 9

    Now is the time many mothers will go back to work. Leaving your baby will always be hard but there are ways to make the transition smoother.

    If you are breastfeeding your baby should be adjusted to taking the bottle when you are not around by this point. This will help the separation go smoother for both of you. Don't fret about taking a pump to work and pumping during your breaks. This is a good time to store up milk for the next day.

    Take the transition slow, introducing your baby to time away before the big day comes. Drop the baby off for a couple of hours at the day care, or child care provider's home where the baby will be staying. Spend time there with baby, letting the baby know that you are comfortable and trusting of the place, as it will then be less scary for your infant.

    Forgo the bottles on the weekend, and use that time for consistent nursing and to keep your milk supply going strong. This is also a good time to strengthen your bond with your baby after being away at work all week.

What crazy kind of society thinks 9 weeks is the point when many mothers should return to full-time employment? Apart from the physical demand on a woman who has only slept midnight to 3am, 4am-7am, (on a good night) this seems positively barbaric to me. I remember how I felt in 1997 when going back full-time was compulsory at week 29. I cried buckets, I held and hugged Marcel all weekend, I tried not to sleep at night so I could look at my baby, my breasts and heart ached for him. It wasn't until the UK brought in 52 weeks maternity leave in 2005 that I felt prepared to go back to work as a psychologically whole person. So today I have held and hugged Amaia and felt happy to live in a country where returning to full-time employment this morning is not a requirement. I have held her close and made her feel safe and when she's wanted milk I have been there for her to suckle on warmly, as I should be when she is so tiny and helpless.

Friday, March 12, 2010


The little car decided the trip to nursery this morning at 8-45am was the best possible time to blow a tyre... thanks little car.
I considered changing it myself for about 25 seconds and then decided that's what I was paying Tesco breakdown for.
After a 45 minute wait with Léon and Anna dancing round and round on the pavement, a very nice gentleman from Hamilton Motors turned up to rescue me.
He took off the hub cap and jacked it up. The kids were fascinated and wanted to stand in the middle of the road to watch the wheel being removed. Obviously that wouldn't be safe so the man put the hub cap on the pavement and told them their job was to look after it. They took their task very seriously, sitting down instantly and staring at it without blinking. After a few minutes Léon said 'It's a bit like a pizza', and from there a whole pizza game ensued. They put on toppings, cooked it and took turns at pretending to eat slices. The mechanic commented on the wonders of infant imagination...I should have seen it coming when Léon mentioned his had more tomato on it than her slice... Suddenly Anna burst into hysterical sobs. 'What's up?' I asked, assuming she'd jammed a finger somewhere or suchlike. 'Léon finished the whole pizza!' she blurted out heartbroken and indignant. She turned to him in disgust. 'Why did you eat all the pizza?' she cried before pushing him and trying to slap him. I could see the mechanic chuckling behind the wheel as I dragged her off him before she physically injured him for stealing her pizza!
Gimme strength!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


You all know I should be on the NHS ads for breastfeeding having fed the kids on average till the age of two. I have never given a baby a bottle in my life and would need to read the instructions if I had to! So you would have have thought my boobs wouldn't be able to experience anything new on the feeding front. I have had thrush on the breasts from all the kids' mouths in the early days. I've had blocked ducts at least three or four times with each baby so I know all about cabbage and boob-combing. I've had mastitis (the worst illness of my life - like flu with knobs on) once with Charlotte at nine months, and once with Léon so know the first signs of that mean beg for antibiotics instantly before you are shaking so much you can't get them into your mouth. When I had Anna I got cracked nipples for the first time ever and had to resort to those awful nipple protectors at least on four occasions. I cursed the little besom for sucking wrongly but got on with it.
This week, however, has been the worst of my eight or nine years of breastfeeding. Last Tuesday night my left breast felt like I was developing a blocked duct so I had a hot bath and combed. No result... so I went to bed having taken two nurofen and slept a total of 35 minutes in the whole night. My temperature soared, my clothes were soaked through and I was in a great deal of pain. I assumed mastitis and begged for the antibiotics on Wednesday. I managed half a night's sleep but again had to change all my clothes and was still in agony. Friday didn't see it improve and it was starting to nip.
I noticed Amaia's mouth was white again - did I have mastitis with thrush thrown in? I googled.
I seemed to be showing the signs of the thrush being inside the ducts rather than on the nipple. Inside I was on fire and I could feel swollen lumps all the way along at least one of the ducts between my nipple and my underarm. Even when you know it is feeding-related, feeling tangible lumps inside your breast sits uneasy with you as a woman :-(
I have now been on a different set of antibiotics since Monday and have had oral thrush treatment. I can now almost touch my breast but often get a short hot stabbing pain on the inside and feeding has gone from excruciating to vaguely unpleasant so I have a way to go yet. I just hope when I finish my antibiotics tomorrow things continue to improve slowly because the next 22 months are going to be a nightmare otherwise!

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Socks and shoes have always been an issue with tiny babies. Apart from the ridiculously expensive Baby Gap socks I have never had a baby who managed to keep his or hers on at all. When you are born around Xmas, you don't want to be hanging around barefoot. Until I had Anna, I had persevered with countless lost socks and shoes and frozen toes. When Anna was born Thomas's Danish cousin sent us a pair of home-knitted booties. I put them on her one day without thinking about it and realized that the laces meant they didn't fall off, and therefore the socks also stayed on. Bingo! By the time Anna was six months old, her one pair of booties was pretty scabby but had definitely proved useful. This time round, my mum must have remembered me raving about them because she knitted Amaia five or six pairs. I, too, made her a pair so Amaia has never had cold feet in her life! I'm a bit annoyed at myself for not thinking of this earlier. I guess very few people knit baby clothes now that shop-bought clothes are actually cheaper, but when it comes to shoes I'd definitely recommend these over any of the cheaper shop models that, like the socks, simply fall off. Time for back-to-basics on the baby shoe front!


Now here's an example of a completely irrelevant piece of journalism. I clicked on it having worked for exactly twenty years in the private sector surrounded by friends in the public domain so considered myself well placed to analyse it. But comparing one random person in the private sector with anyone is utterly pointless given private companies set their own agenda.

So for all you public workers out there who are rushing to hand in your notice tomorrow to pursue a job in the private sector here's a bit of the UK private sector I know (from my own experience, and that of other family members).

Core hours are probably between 35 and 38 hrs a week.

Salary is probably on a par with or slightly lower than public sector for equivalent post. With rises of 1 - 1.5% annually for 10 years many private sector jobs have nosedived behind public equivalents. (For example when I started work in publishing in 1991 I earned 30% more than a school teacher, by the time I left the sector 18 years later I was 30% below a school teacher with the same number of years experience because of low annual rises and salary scales that had been abandoned but not replaced.)

Holidays 25 days a year - but taking them given your workload is unlikely so count on losing 3 or 4 at the end of every holiday year.

Overtime - Twenty years ago rates were written into your contract, ten years later rates were dropped as was overtime, now overtime is an everyday occurrence, compulsory, unpaid, and you never hear a 'thank you' - this is the case for all the private sector job holders I know.

Company pension - final salary schemes were phased out 7 or 8 years ago for the most part and thereafter those on final schemes have become easy picking in every round of redundancies but this is of course simply 'coincidence'.

Bonus - 1% if you were eligible, in my own case I was not and never received a bonus in 20 years though other family members have. Often private sector workers receive an annual bonus instead of a salary increase so they have, to all intents and purposes, been on a pay freeze for most of the last 5 years - not great for mortgage purposes.

Benefits - Healthcare discounts and money-saving offers at selected retailers. Again in my case this was not something I was eligible for though other family members have received these.

Union membership - if you want to pay every month you could join a union but no one will strike or complain because of job insecurity so it is irrelevant.

Something the article doesn't mention is sick pay. Sick pay is something public workers take for granted - I have even heard of NHS workers applying for holidays to be retaken when they've fallen sick on holiday. In my experience sick pay in the private sector is irrelevant as being off sick just isn't allowed - with redundancies hanging over you always, being off sick became a luxury about 4 or 5 years ago.

Friday, March 05, 2010


Today I took Amaia to visit her new playmate 'Lana'. Lana was born exactly six weeks to the day after Amaia. Because Lana weighed only 60% of Amaia's weight at birth, and because Amaia has had six weeks to gorge herself on breast milk seeing them together was quite comical. Technically they are both newborn babies but with Lana still too little to fit in the 0-3 month clothes and Amaia already into the 3-6 month size despite her tender age, I don't think many people would consider Amaia a newborn beside Lana! Amaia looks like she could eat her for dinner. Funnily enough after I left Lana to drive home, I bumped into a friend who hadn't seen Amaia yet. Her own kids are grown up so she took one look at Amaia and announced Awwwh - she's soooo tiny! It's all relative, I guess!