Monday, December 15, 2014

A short intermission.

Everything is exactly as it should be but various things have piled on and now I'm struggling to keep up. I'm going to take a break to give myself some space to recover and re-group. I've always advised people to not worry about leaving gaps in their record, to just pick up without embarrassment or apology in due course. 'Due course' is Alec's least favourite phrase because no-one can say when it will be; but I expect to return in the New Year. In the meantime I'm turning off comments to keep my workload minimal. Thanks for your patience.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Good deed, all you wait for and something sweet to share.

1. To show Alec how very easy it is to do a small good deed -- we go to a toyshop and buy a little gift for the Mayor's Toy Appeal then take it to a drop-off point. (I explain, briefly, why there is a need for this appeal. He says the toy for a little boy whose mummy fell in the water and was eaten by a shark.) Information here, links on the right hand side.

2. An elderly lady behind us in the Santa Special land train is grumbling to herself about the lack of '...ruddy music. It's all you ruddy wait for, isn't it.' The driver offers up a roughly tuneful snatch of We Wish You A Merry Christmas over the PA system to console her.

3. A text message confirming our arrangement '...and we've got something sweet to share!' It's a fat panettone -- Otto is so excited that he throws it through our door the moment I open it.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Steam, presence and name.

1. To watch steam swirling around under a glass pan lid.

2. I retrieve and comfort a furious wailing Bettany and manhandle an on-the-verge-of-a-tantrum Alec out of the soft play area and march back to where I had been waiting and watching. My gaze is at small boy height but I am aware that some shoppers have rested their bags on 'my' bit of the bench. I continue in full tirade: '...and we are going to sit here quietly until you are a calm boy and then you can apologise and I will decide whether we need to tell Daddy why Bettany fell over...' It is gratifying to see the bags swiftly removed without any need for interaction.

3. Bettany's attempt to say her own name sounds very like 'Baby! Baby!'

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Trick, buttons and all down.

1. Alec finds a Christmas box and tells me I have to pretend I think it's full of chocolate (it's not, it's empty) so he can say 'TRICKED YOU!' Then he wants me to persuade him that it's full of chocolate.

2. It is such a small thing, but to have twenty minutes to sit down and sew the buttons back on my coat. I've been going around buttonless for the past few days. And to have someone else cook my supper.

3. When I get home both the children are asleep and Nick is looking very pleased with himself.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Distracted, warm up and sprawl.

1. It is ridiculously easy to buy the umbrella that Alec wanted without him noticing. The shop staff think it's very funny to see me holding it high up while he is distracted by the low mirrors and the displays of shoes.

2. To warm up with a huge cuddle on the sofa and Cbeebies on TV and the blinds and curtains drawn tight against the chill and dark.

3. When I've finished getting Alec off to sleep I come out to find a rather bemused Nick looking down at Bettany, who has fallen asleep on the bathroom floor, sprawled out in her 'new' and oversized 18-24 month sleep suit.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Craft, no children and proud.

1. Rather boldly, just before lunch, I turn off all screens, slap poster paint on the children's hands and feet and make some prints to use in Christmas present crafts. Bettany is not taken by it, but happily dabbles with a brush. Alec -- normally very unwilling to do anything messy -- dances gleefully on a piece of increasingly yellow tissue paper and then on the floor and I have to use THE VOICE... 'that's enough, Alec- I said THAT'S ENOUGH.' Oh well, poster paint wipes off easily enough.

2. Child-free afternoon. I spread my stuff out across the table and do gluing without immediately clearing up and eat a sandwich not at a meal time and read a book while eating crisps (salt and vinegar).

3. I glance down the pre-school play cast list and see that Alexander is to play a sleeping child... no, no, no, I am told: Alec is down here -- he's Father Christmas. What a proud mother I am: I must think of a natural way to mention on Facebook without appearing to boast.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Ball, stuck and state.

1. As we come round the corner by Mountfield Gardens a football bounds across our path, bounces and rolls down the grass. It is followed by a boy in school uniform who looks embarrassed, as if he didn't mean to let it go so far.

2. 'I stuck, I stuck, I stuck' is poor Bettany's refrain today. She is feverish and her nose is snotty and she keeps being sick. I shove everything else to the bottom of the to-do list, cover the sofa with an old blanket and sit with her, dozing and nursing, chatting and putting on the TV and picking up her doll as required.

3. It is one of those days when it never really gets light. Everything is flat and grey, insipid, half-arsed and badly made. Nightfall, sometime around 4.30pm, is a relief because the dark feels entire and definite.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Away from the bed, paperchains and prank.

1. I manage to point my puking child at the floor and away from the bed. The clock reads 1.50am, which means another four hours of sleep if I am brisk about the clean up.

2. To make a paperchains with Alec (it is slow going as he keeps stopping to measure his chain as we add each link and he will keep pulling off great lengths of tape just to hear it rip, but I am glad to be doing any sort of papercraft with him).

3. Alec gleefully plans a prank (a bowl of screwed up yellow paper with a label (written by me) reading 'cheesecake for Daddy' and a string to jerk the whole thing away when Nick is tempted). We make a real, tiny cheesecake in case Nick is not amused -- but he is.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Box, game and sleepy baby.

1. Alec and I dig into the December 1 box and get out all the Christmas books and the first of the decorations. Then we settle on the sofa with 'Twas the Night Before...'

2. The sound of Aunty Biddy bravely pretending to be Darth Vader looking for Luke Skywalker, who is hiding under the kitchen table.

3. My mother is discussing important house sale matters with her sister. Bettany is dozing comfortably on her lap.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Pushed, crepes and notes.

1.  'I'm glad I did that,' says Nick of the Christmas shopping I pushed him into doing.

2. We have French biscuits for tea, crepes dentelles. They are lacy pancakes, rolled up and wrapped in pairs in gold coloured wax paper. They melt on your tongue (or shred into tiny flakes, if you are Bettany) and Alec eats two pairs before we notice what he is up to. Nick says they are the most French thing he has ever eaten.

3. To pile Alec's party invitations in a neat column as I complete them. To avoid mistakes I fill in each blank for all the cards and then go back to the top of the column for the next blank.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gift of sleep, reading time and on the sofa.

1. After we've cleaned up the bed and Bettany... and then cleaned them up again and cleaned me up, Nick asks why I don't go upstairs and sleep in his bed for a bit. I do and it's lovely. It's amazing how much better the world seems when you have had two uninterrupted hours of sleep.

2. Bettany spends most of the day asleep on top of me on the sofa. I spend most of the day reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion -- it's the story of a strictly scheduled genetics professor who decides to find a wife by filtering out unsuitable women using a questionnaire. It's very touching and very funny and what might have been a frustrating day passed quickly and pleasantly. A friend has nudged me into a bookclub and this is the first pick for the new year.

3. Godmother Jo sitting with Alec and Nick and Bettany on the sofa watching Star Wars: Rebels.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

By myself, not lost and weird citrus.

1. Bettany asks to be lifted up on to the horse on a spring. I do so and start to wobble it, holding her safely. She removes my hands and squawks 'nah nah nah!' She is very far off the ground and can't even reach the bar meant for her feet. But the surface is woodchip so I back off and let her get on with it. She looks very self-satisfied.

2. I had sort of assumed that the yew maze would be closed: but it wasn't. We tramped confidently along the gravel paths to the centre and then Alec scrambled through a hole in the hedge and wouldn't come back -- I couldn't follow him because I had Bettany in the backpack. I left him to it, though I was nervous that he might come out before me and tumble into the moat. I could hear him giggling to himself and occasionally caught flashes of his colours through the hedge so I knew roughly where he was and that he was happy.

3. It is not often that Janey is startled by an unknown plant -- but the weird citrus Buddha's hand surprises her (and me, too).

Friday, November 28, 2014

Freedom, recuperate and collecting.

1. I can never get over the sense of giddy freedom I get when I run out of the door at nursery -- whether it's one or both children it's like a burden has been take off me.

2. I am starting to feel ill,  but it's a Thursday afternoon so I have a chance to rest and re-group.

3. Bettany in her brown dungarees sees us arrive but goes on playing. After a while she notices us properly and gets up. She runs round in a circle and then bends over to put her head on the floor -- she often does this when excited.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cobwebs, excuse and you do it.

1. The hedge in Calverley Grounds is decorated with silvery grey cobweb platforms -- they look like abandoned dance floors.

2. I was going to run once more round the park but Bettany is complaining from the pushchair that she is stuck. It's just the excuse I need to go home. ('I stuck' is her go-to phrase for any situation that isn't to her liking.')

3. To hand over to Nick this child who won't go to sleep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Roots, independent and way back in.

1. One of my paperwhites has put down a few roots, following unknowable senses to the water below.

2. At toddler group, to watch Bettany across the room. She has just realised she can't see me. She looks this way, that way, back the way she came, cranes up and then catches sight of me waving. She smiles, waves and then she goes back to trotting along by the wall.

2b. I see our neighbour in the park and when I say I'm sorry about the noise from Alec's tantrum she says 'Oh don't worry, it's just family. That's what it's like.' and she says if I need an extra pair of hands for a moment to just knock.

3. Alec is helping make french toast for supper; and he breaks up one of the soaking slices. We're still all of us walking on eggshells and I snap because I'm convinced supper is RUINED. I start to fish out the broken pieces and he comes and stands next me and puts his arm around my leg in the most comforting, gentle, kind way possible. It gives me a way back in and a safe space to admit that I over-reacted. The smaller pieces of toast crisp up much better than the larger pieces.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Off duty, skating and jigsaw.

1. Our friend the guide dog is having a carefree lollop in the park. She is skittish and when Alec runs after her up the bank she turns and nearly knocks him over: he is half scared and half thrilled by the experience (I think he is very brave).

2. We drop Bettany at nursery and scamper down to the park to see about ice-skating. The rink is empty and they attendant says 'I've never seen the ice more perfect. It's thick because of the rain yesterday and now it's cold so it's frozen hard.'

3. Alec works independently on a jigsaw by my feet while I bub Bettany off to sleep on the sofa.

Monday, November 24, 2014

New game, craft and shoes.

1. While it is still dark Alec and I lie in bed together and whisper about things. I tell him that there is a new chapter of the tablet game Monument Valley out -- and I don't think I've ever seen anyone get out of bed and into his clothes with more enthusiasm. We eat breakfast together, just the two of us, before we begin.

2. Two mothers escaping into the rain for a paper craft workshop. We spend a happy couple of hours with Freckles and Fire making decorations without small hands tugging at our legs. It is such a luxury to be able to focus completely on the task at hand.

3. The clippity-cloppety sound that suggests Bettany has asked Nick to help her put her new shoes back on.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Noted, hostess and stuck.

1. To write a firm note in my baking book about how much we disliked working with muffin dough. It has no fat in it so it is horribly sticky (the muffins were delicious, though) and next time I will use the mixer instead of kneading it by hand.

2. To watch Anna bobbing round her party moving guests towards people they need to meet. She bumps past the group I am in and mentions something that we have in common, nudging another person into the circle and filling our glasses at the same time.

3. I come home to find my delighted mother stuck on the sofa under the sleeping Bettany

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Anniversary, black shoes and running home.

1. Today is our wedding anniversary, the fifth. Both children sleep late. We creep down and eat breakfast together, just the two of us, and then kiss on the doorstep as Nick leaves.

2. We are rather at a loose end so I conjure some errands out of thin air to get everyone out of the house. We go to the post office, pick up this, pick up that and end up at the shoe shop: I get their feet checked every six weeks or so because tight shoes are a misery. Bettany needs a new pair -- and a new pair of real shoes instead of the soft cruisers she has been strutting around in up until now. They have a black patent pair in her size -- last year's style so very, very cheap. They make her look rather formal and she is charmed by the clippity-cloppety sound they make.

3. On a dampish, greyish sort of day to run home pretending the big bad wolf is after us. We make it through the door just - in - time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Drop-off, village and paperwhites.

I've written a blog post for Depression Alliance about how writing these lists helps me stay healthy.

1. An easy nursery drop-off: two small people trot away, quite self-sufficient (Alec comes back, as always, to give me a little kiss.

2. When we come to pick Alec up from nursery he is hiding in a cardboard house in the Christmas village. Judging by the way the walls are shaking it is quite full.

3. Anna comes in the evening and we plant up paperwhites and talk. We do it (apart from because we like paperwhites, and each other's company) because we want to remember the gardening journalist Elspeth Thompson.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tasks, leading and bath.

1. I love the quiet satisfaction I get from the Wednesday tasks: I do a lot of the things that need doing once (or twice) a week on a Wednesday, taking advantage of the disruption caused by the cleaner coming. It's things like chucking all the kitchen linen in the wash, cleaning the water bottles, adding things to the shopping list, changing towels and flannels, clearing the places where clutter gathers.

2. After lunch Bettany leads me upstairs because she wants a cuddle and some bubby.

3. It's been a trying evening and so Nick sends me off to the bathroom. Before I've even got in, though, he and Bettany and a horrible nappy are knocking on the door. But that's OK, because the bath bomb I've just used, Lush's Golden Wonder, is completely spectacular and I want someone else to see to confirm that the deep green shimmering water is real and not just my tired imagination.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aiming high, here now and pushing.

1. We visit a primary school with Alec today. It is bright and noisy and busy and studious and the children who show us round are enthusiastic and confident and we like it a lot. Afterwards Alec tells us he thinks it's a good school for him because the teachers have not killed anyone.

2. When I came to pay I found I'd forgotten my purse. "You're here now," said the coffee shop man, "So drink up and you can bring the money in later." This is extraordinarily kind of him: he hadn't even started making my tea yet.

3. Deliberate naughtiness on Bettany's part: the third time she grabs the bucket of sugar packets off a nearby table she glances behind her to catch my eye, gives a naughty laugh and then scampers round to the seat of a wing chair where I can't see her. When I get there she is emptying the bucket in double handfuls. This is sophisticated, boundary testing and she is getting very grown up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why, worth and Bettany.

1. I am besieged by Alec's whys today. Finally I throw them back at him. 'Why do you want to know?'
'Because I asked you?'
'But why?'
He says with exasperation 'Now you've got the why bug, too!'

2a. One of our favourite shop assistants gives us a jigsaw out of the bag she is taking to charity.

2. Alec is being particularly (almost) four this morning -- he is asking for everything that looks like a snack (I am sorely tempted, sorely, to buy him that piece of soap) and jabbing at fragile-looking packages and responding rudely to any correction. 'You need the patience of a saint,' says the shop assistant serenely, and I know she is not judging my worth based on my son's aggressive interrogation of our social customs.

3. After Alec has taken his boundary testing (and all the associated drama) off to sleep (I assume he is analysing his data) I get some time to play with Bettany and enjoy the discovery that is giving her pleasure today: lip wibbling.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tender, will power and bowling.

1. As promised our shoulder of lamb is pull-apart tender. The children eat and eat and eat.

2. We get everyone ready for an outing, open the front door- and it's raining. We nearly turn back but the children need a run-out so we thrust unwilling limbs into rain gear and go out anyway. I would not have had the strength of character to do this if Nick was not at home.

3. Nick bowling a rubber ball to Alec (armed with an undersized cricket bat) in the rain is the most English thing I've seen all year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ready to eat, quick read and chorizo.

1. Our butcher's display always looks delicious, about as ready to eat as raw meat can be. I can't put my finger on what it is -- but there's nothing clinical about it, and nothing industrial, like in a supermarket. No plastic trays or fake parsley. He presents it all on mismatched kitchen plates so it looks like food.

2. To snatch a quick read of my Steampunk Cthulhu book.

3. 'It's chorizo, you won't like it,' Nick tells Alec.
Alec takes a nibble and spits it out -- the flavour is too strong. But then Bettany has to have a piece, too, and she does like it. So Alec's competitive spirit kicks in and he gives it another chance.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Playdough, memory and lids.

1. All the children sitting round the table with playdough. To have another parent marvel at our tools -- I tend to forget that we have accumulated a good set of moulds and cutters until someone sees them with fresh eyes.

2. We discuss mumnesia, which is the bashing your memory takes while the children are small from a combination of distraction and sleep deprivation. She's lost her car before now; I've... I've er.... and now we can't place what I put in the playdough a couple of days ago to make it smell so nice.*

3. Bettany turns out our tin of plastic lids (she often does this and then wanders away). Our guests are fascinated and use them to make pictures. We mothers sit on the floor and idly sort them by colour.

* Ginger. It was ginger.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Done, Father Christmas arrives and following.

Three Beautiful Things has been recognised by the respectable and long-lived mental health site Psych Central as one of 2014's top ten depression blogs (they do acknowledge that this isn't a typical (or topical) depression blog, but I'm on the list because other depression bloggers are talking about me). Anyway, thank you very much to Psych Central for the recognition, and thanks to all you depression bloggers for mentioning me: I'm very glad to be of service to you. One of the most wretched things about depression is that it is hard to talk about and I'm pleased to be helping the dialogue along.

1. At the end of the afternoon I go to do a few household tasks and discover that Nick has emptied the dishwasher. I was working feet away at the kitchen table but I was so absorbed in my task that I didn't notice him clattering plates and cutlery. I thank him. He laughs at me.

2. I see on a social network that nursery have taken 'some children' into town to see Father Christmas arriving. When we pick Alec up they hand us a Golden Moments sheet recording the visit and I tell them I'm so glad they went: I'd been feeling sad that I wasn't taking him myself because it was nursery afternoon.

3. To follow Bettany across the landing and to enjoy the the way she walks with one hand behind her back and to look down on the beautiful shape of her head while her hair is still so sparse.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cleanish, water and childcare.

1. Our cleaner is ill and can't work (which is actually OK because Nick is ill, too, and needs to rest). I look around and realise that it's all right. The house is cleanish, and it will take me perhaps half an hour to do the bits that really matter.

2. To remember to ask for a glass of tap water with my lunch -- and later to buy myself  bottled water and refuse to entertain guilt over spending 55p that I would not have spent had I thought to fill myself a bottle at home.

2b. Two sleepy children in pushchairs and an hour of sun between showers means two mothers get to walk and talk without distraction.

3. A poorly Nick means there is someone at home to look after Bettany while I scamper out to collect Alec -- it is very pleasant to leave the pushchair at home.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Help, gloom and over her head.

I've scribbled a quick encomium to Sarah Salway's beautiful garden book Digging Up Paradise because I really have enjoyed it very much.

1. A lady with a storybook Scottish accent helps Alec on to the train and then off again at our destination. She is concerned about his legs in the gap between the train and the platform. (He is more concerned that people might think he can't do it himself.)

1b. Across the aisle there is a man holding a conversation through his tablet using sign language. The soft claps and clicks suggest strong feelings and much emphasis. In the still spaces he smiles at Bettany.

2.  To spot gloomy purple mushrooms -- they are the colour of new bruises -- pushing out of the moss at the roots of a beech tree.

3. There are dark clouds on the horizon but Bettany is just too unsocialised to pick up our cues and . She just wants me to puff out my cheeks so she can pat them flat and then laugh.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mycologist, back for lunch and bookshopping.

1. Alec wants to stamp on mushrooms. This is the sort of mindless violence against nature that I loathe (even though our Learned Aunt Jane says that stamping on mushrooms is the plant harming equivalent of picking a leaf off a massive oak tree). So I make him look -- properly look with his whole self, so he can describe the colours and textures and smells of caps and stems and gills and pores -- and we agree that he can stamp only on specimens that have fallen over, are already squashed or are more slug bite than mushroom.

2. On our way back for lunch we run into our friends in the park. In passing we discover that their dishwasher is broken and so we bring them home with us. There's one of those satisfying good deeds that is easily accomplished and makes our lives more delightful, too.

3. As a child I was always intrigued to see the title of Gumdrop and the Secret Switches in the list of books by the same author in many of my brother's extensive library of Val Biro books. Alec finds a copy in Oxfam and then goes back to his busy schedule of chasing a giggling Bettany around the shelves (there is no-one else in there and the man behind the counter appears more amused than horrified so I don't feel too guilty).