Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Forgiven, in the trolley and while I was sleeping.

Fiona and Kaspa are holding a Mindful Writing Day on 1 November -- do consider joining them by contributing a small stone to their collection. I think most of us would be happier if we were more mindful. I know for my part that if things appear to be falling apart, the best thing to do is to stop for a moment, and observe.

1. It's 2am. What does he want? "Park! Porgle* Alec!" When I say we'll walk there tomorrow when it's daylight, he gets really cross and says he's going to sleep in his cot (which he normally avoids as if it were a plague pit). Two minutes later he rolls back and suggests that I might like to offer him some bubby.

2. I put Alec into the seat on the front of the supermarket trolley. "Granny used to push Uncle Robert and me around like this," I tell him. I look to see if he is comfortable -- I have a clear memory of the cold metal against my bare legs.

3. To wake up and find Nick has come home and Alec has fallen asleep for the night.

* Porgle is our word for a walk with Alec -- you know the sort of walk where you have to stop and examine every. single. stick. and. piece. of. litter.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Some lengths, through the roof and poodle.

1. Nick gives me a treat today: at the end of swimming he takes the wriggling dripping Alec off to the changing rooms so I can have a swim by myself. It's not just the 20 minutes of length swimming, but the chance to shower and change without worrying about anyone but myself.

2. Through the glass roof I can see blue sky and a few wispy clouds.

3. As we leave the tea rooms, it starts to rain. A black cloud looms over the high street, but there's plenty of blue sky and the sun is brave and bright. Some people put up hoods and umbrellas (not us, we didn't even think to bring rain gear) but others pointedly ignore the shining rain -- like the owner of a louche-looking dirty white poodle who continued her conversation, standing on the bridge.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Dachshunds, the unreasonable list and not leftovers.

1. "Don't they look lovely in their winter coats?" she says. I have to agree -- her strawberry blonde  dachshunds, one in primary paintpot red, the other in blue, look jolly pleased with themselves and their cable knit jackets as they wiggle on up the path.

2. When the manlet is cross and tired, he asks for a list of random things (I've learnt to say no to everything except 'bubby lie-down'). Today it was more toot; no nappy; cuddle; no cuddle; more parsnips; water; nappy; no more parsnips; snack cracker (I said yes to the cuddle because I felt so sorry for him, and look what happened!). Bubby lie-down did the trick, though, and soon he was snoring softly while I admired the curve of his infant cheek and the length of his eyelashes.

3. Nick is surveying with some pride the pile of empty plastic foodsavers at the end of supper. "It's not leftovers," he says. "It's creative tapas. We need more of these little earthenware dishes to serve them in."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The right people, chasing you and blanket.

1. Alec takes Jon's finger and leads him to the front door. "I think you've got the wrong person," says Jon nervously. They walk down the hill, Jon taking tiny tripping steps for Alec's short stride and Alec trotting to keep up with Jon's long legs.

1b. When we turn the corner on to the High Street, Alec takes Godmother Charlie's finger in his other hand. I snuggle in close to Nick and enjoy not sharing him.

2. ...and somehow we all end up chasing Alec and each other round and round the little house. You can startle a shriek of laughter out of Alec by turning round and coming back the other way.

3. To take a blanket off the radiator and wrap it around myself.

4. I also really liked Jon's suggestion that we get a router and carve Brio-compatible train tracks straight into the floor.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Coming down, no judgement and roasted pepper.

1. I'm almost ready when I hear Alec chatting to himself upstairs. I want to be ready for lunch before I bring him down, so I don't call up. Then I hear a cheery "Hallo Mummy?" and noises on the stairs. My little man appears in the kitchen doorway, saying "Good boy!" as he always does when he is pleased with himself. I'm glad that he now has even more freedom to move about his home -- though I know that one day I will stop short and realise that I miss "Mummy carry?".

2. I'm old enough as a writer to understand that there is no judgement in writing the first draft.

3. Peeling a roasted pepper, the bright red flesh collapsing in a puddle of caramelised juice.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mummy knee, flowers and the nap.

1. There is breakfast to clear away, but Alec wants to sit on "Mummy knee" and thread some pasta on to a shoelace. What I like is the moment I remember that one day he won't want to be lifted up on to my lap ever again.

2. We're in a hurry, but it doesn't take long to look at the bouquets outside my favourite flower shop. Alec and I pick out our favourites (he likes the pumpkins in the window display) and I like anything blue and orange. Style Workshop uses such brave and (to my taste, anyway) correct colour combinations that I am a bit spoiled for flowers from anywhere else.

3. It's only a nap -- an hour at most, but it's deep and heavy and satisfying. I swore I wouldn't fall asleep before bedtime, but I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Parsnips, compost and out of the bed.

1. The sweetness of parsnips in a shepherd's pie topping.

2. I use up the last of my home-made compost; and then it's time to turn out the half-ready bag and give it a mixing. I always put this task off because it seems heavy and messy and I'm always afraid I'll find a foul anaerobic  mess at the bottom of the bag. I'm always glad when I do it -- the different smells are wonderful (there was very little stinking slime this time, apart from the sad remnants of my failed tomato crop), from rain-on-dry-earth to cool under-hedge rot to ancient dry straw.

3. Alec has a book called Ten Out of Bed which I bought because of the cover. It turned out that there was only one page about trains -- but we love it just the same. It consists of gorgeous, rich, jewel-like double page spreads about a little boy and his toys playing pretending games when they ought to be sleeping. It runs on a formula: "There were ten out of bed and the little one said 'Let's play'." One of the toys suggests a scenario (trains, dancing, seaside), and they play it until the toy falls asleep. It's so simple, but very satisfying to read and the pictures are full of details that we discuss (and food, which Alec pretends to eat).
Yesterday I caught Alec sitting on the edge of the bed with his feet wedged into the bedguard, and Nick saw him do it tonight. Baby and Blue Bear were beside him. Baby was getting a telling off for (I think) not sitting up properly, so I propped him with the wipes box. This met with approval: "Alec drive toot-toot! Baby drive toot-toot! Blue Bear drive toot-toot! Let's play!"
It's the first time I've seen Alec engaged in a full-scale pretending scenario; and it's the first time I've seen him copy something from a book.

Against a grey ground, entertainment and go to sleep.

1. On such a dull day the sun yellow beech leaves and the crimson maple leaves are a joy.

2. Alec pulls faces at two smaller toddlers in the little house at the park. It makes them giggle, showing rows of tiny pearly teeth.

3. It's proving hard to settle Alec. I've got a boring story that I tell him about little sheep with different coloured faces and legs running through a hedge. It doesn't work. I try asking him about the best bits of his day, but all he can remember is the biscuit he had at toddler group -- so I tell him about a plate of all different sorts of bic-bic, some round, some chocolate and some with raisins. He adds a few more and his descriptions get rambly and incoherent and then his arms flop and... snore.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Playing, in the fog and new house.

1. While the cleaner is here, there is nothing to do but move from room to room playing with Alec.

2. A person wearing a red coat on a foggy day.

3. Nick comes home and admires the new cleaning lady's handywork. "It's like an expensive hotel," is his verdict. "I thought I'd come to the wrong house."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Enacting, well played Bill and merchandise.

1. By the time Caroline arrives Alec has made his wooden people enact her whisking me away to London in her car several times.

2. We join a huge queue to get Caroline's programme signed by William Shatner -- he's been signing and talking and sitting for fan photos all weekend. When we get to the front, we are whisked past the desk in moments -- but he takes care to make eye contact with us both. I know that everyone had paid for the privilege, and that he is a man who appreciates the adulation, but it takes skill and stamina and tenacity to remain gracious under those circumstances.

3. While we are getting water from a coffee shop, a member of staff comes back holding a shiny metal object which he treats it with a mixture of reverence and glee. "What is it?" ask his colleagues. "A starship Enterprise pizza cutter," he says, rotating the saucer blade to show them.

4. The costumes -- all of them really, but mainly the steampunk Startrek couple; and the Northern Irish Klingon eating sushi.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Flour, goodbye and clear.

1. We make some cloud dough for Alec to try -- it's flour and oil and it packs like wet sand (but is not gritty) or snow (but it's not cold). He's interested -- but I think we are more so, and after he's gone back to his trains, I play around with a yoghurt pot until I can turn out a satisfactory sandcastle every time.

2. Alec watches us carefully as we say goodbye to our guest. He is covered with flour, and anyway, I don't like putting pressure on him to hug anyone -- but as she is walking down the path he hurtles past me out of the front door, his feet bare, saying "Bye bye, kiss!"

3. To look across the room at a space that I have recently de-cluttered.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hungry day, chestnut purée and Marjorie Daw.

1. To see Alec gobbling down the little fish pie I've made for his lunch. He's like most toddlers, and has hungry days and not-hungry days. On the not-hungry days I worry that I'm starving him by giving him food he can't eat or doesn't like (everyone has a childhood memory like that, I'm sure). Days like today remind me that if he is hungry he will eat absolutely anything and like it.

2. Anna whips up a pudding from meringues, chestnut purée and chocolate sauce ("Don't look," she tells us as she spoons the chocolate sauce on, "It's children's Petits Filous.") It's totally delicious -- I'd forgotten how much I love chestnut purée.

3. To hear Alec chanting "See saw, Marjorie Daw" as he rocks on a wooden horse.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Childcare, boundaries and making marks.

1. Alec brings his doll, Baby, up to the table and sits on the empty chair. He gives him a few bits of dry cereal, a sip of milk and asks me for a bit of egg and a taste of my tea. Then it's time for a cuddle and after that we have to go upstairs and change Baby's nappy.

2. One of my favourite parenting experts is Janet Lansbury. Her emphasis on boundaries -- and the way she recommends setting them -- works very well for Alec and me. Today he was frustrated, and as he often does when things don't go his way, scratched at my face. I remembered Janet's advice and took his hands and told him: "I won't let you hurt me". I could actually feel the tension leaving his body, I suppose because he was relieved that I was taking charge in a frightening situation. Frustration and anger are huge feelings for a toddler.

3. There is still some time before we need can set off for nursery. I get out the playdough and the autumn leaves we collected yesterday. Alec looks a bit bemused, and then asks for the dry pasta that we used last time to make marks in the playdough. I was rather charmed that he'd remembered.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ginkgo, circling geese and requests.

1. A ginkgo tree all in cold yellow.

2. The geese come circling in over our tilted heads. They turn, turn again and bank over the water. Suddenly they are not silhouettes against the sky, but warm feathered bodies.

3. When Alec asks for a particular rhyme -- especially if it's one I haven't done recently. Sometimes the way he asks takes some working out -- "Bug! Bug! BUG!" said with increasing frustration turned out to be "I Went to the Animal Fair" because "The monkey fell out of his bunk" (or bug). Others are easier: "Beer" is "Monkey Monkey Draw the Beer" and "Higgle Piggle" is "Higgledy-piggledy Pop". He goes off them just as quickly, though, cutting you off mid-line by saying "No more" very firmly.

Cuddly days, joy and a better place.

1. Alec will only lie down for Hop Little Bunnies if I let him put his head in my lap. I wish he would join in like the other children -- but then I remember that these cuddly days are ticking away, one by one by one.

2. Alec's shriek of joy when he hears my mother at the door. She takes him out for the afternoon, and when they return, I feel like making a similar noise -- partly because I've been hearing Alec's voice for the last half an hour, and partly because I am so pleased by my progress down the to-do list.

3. To find a room in a better hotel.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Safe, goldfinches and sympathy.

1. As we approach the playground the sounds of adults shouting makes me feel uneasy. Don't like to think of Alec porgling around if there are drunks here. But it's a group of teenagers with special needs enjoying the swings and keeping themselves to themselves. Their mothers are watching nearby and I think, doing all that social stuff that carers need to carry on caring.

2. Five goldfinches feeding in the weed patches by the minature golf course on Tonbridge Racecourse. They are such colourful birds -- too exotic for somewhere so mundane.

3. As we are walking up the platform we pass another passenger. She smiles sympathetically at me because I have a raging toddler on my back.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Leaving, soup and peeling pears.

1. It has been a tough meal, though the food and company could not have been better. Alec was not happy with his food and unusually for him found it hard to sit still. It is such a relief to come out into the sunshine.

2. Butternut squash soup -- it almost makes itself and it always turns out well.

3. At the end of the meal, to sit at the head of the table and cut up a couple of pears for Nick and Alec to pick at.

Book queue, afternoon nap and messy play.

1. The book review section in Interzone. I like marking up the books I might want to read -- I go by subject matter and themes and interesting-sounding characters and I don't care if the reviewer loathed it (writers learn from flawed books, as well as perfect ones). Later I will add them to my Amazon list and months or years later, for Christmas or a birthday or because I want something to read, a copy will come my way.

2. While I am still warm and heavy with sleep Nick opens the attic window to let in a breath of rainy afternoon air.

3. I give Alec and Nick some dry rice to play with after supper. The sound of the grains pattering on the floor. And Alec laughing afterwards as Nick tips him upside down to free the rice caught in his clothes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mushrooms, copy-editing and character.

1. A few mushrooms come with our veggie box. I eat the smallest one raw -- just one, though I love raw mushrooms, because I have a slot for them on the meal plan.

2. I start work on my copy-editing course -- I always forget how satisfying this type of work is. I love the crisp white paper and a bright red pen, and feeling the power that I have over the printed word. And I love using a skill that I have worked at all these years, and doing a job where putting your head down and concentrating is well rewarded.

3. All afternoon Tim and Meredith are buzzing emails back and forth containing pictures of my character in our latest RPG adventure. Daisy Took is a halfling thief, and Meredith was using her Google-fu and design skills to get the right balance of cunning and good-living. Every time I took a break, there was a new image to look at. Tim has put my character sheet on the game's blog, so you can take a look.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The game, bugs and turning blue.

1. To listen to Alec playing with his trainset: It seems that Daddy and Larlie (Alec's godmother and Nick's boss) are going to the station and catching the train to work. They have a snack, and then Daddy comes home and unlocks the door.

2. I love the way Alec always wants to check the rowan tree for the bugs that were there two months ago.

3. It has been raining all day, but now there is a hopeful blue flush to the sky -- where it was unwashed wool grey, it is now the colour of skimmed milk.

Not a wagtail, quiet and marvelling.

1. At Camden Lock Laura and I spot what looks like a wagtail, but it has a bright yellow bum. Looking at the always useful RSPB bird guide, I think it's a grey wagtail.

2. At London Zoo, I love the quiet after a shrieking, chattering, excited school party has gone past and then away.

3. To watch Alec marvelling at wonders -- although his wonders are not always the things that we've paid to see: a narrow boat chugging under the canal bridge. A low wall that he can walk along. A bead curtain in the butterfly house.

4. I am concentrating on this butterfly because it is a blur, except for the black dots on its wingtips. When it settles I understand: its wings are transparent.

5. When I look up from the Evening Standard I have picked up from the seat across the aisle (a voice has been saying "Alec Mummy me!" for the past two articles) I see that my little boy has spread a copy of Metro across his knees and has got a bit excited by a picture of a steam train.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tidy, overdressed and the other last biscuit.

1. A small girl -- really a baby, her face is soft and unformed -- with beautifully fat knees drops the wooden trees and houses from the train layout back into the box. "No don't do that," says her mum. "The others are playing with it." The boys only care about the rolling stock, though, so she's not bothering anyone.

2. Everyone is commenting that they feel overdressed today. "I put on my ski jacket and now I'm too hot," says one mother. It's a grey old day, not very light, but the air is still and mild.

3. While Alec is sitting in the little house, I go back to the pushchair and quickly eat the other last biscuit.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Tank, distracted and toast.

1. This post on childcare expert Pinky McKay's blog made me stop and think. To summarise, it says that children will extract the attention they need from us one way or another. You can give the attention, or they will try desperately to connect with you by whining and tugging at your trousers. She says: "When children's tiny tanks are filled with love and cuddles, their chemistry will be balanced with calming hormones such as oxytocin (the love hormone) and endorphins (a mix of feel good hormones)." 
Alec was whining and tugging while I was making our breakfast. I looked down at his crumpled face and I wanted to say: "I have cuddled you all night. We've been lying in bed having bub since 6am. I've put a clean dry nappy on you. I've carried you half way down the stairs and put you down to walk the rest of the way because you asked. I'm making you porridge! Your tiny tank is full, damn you, leave my trouser cuffs alone."
Then I realised: it's not me who decides if Alec's tiny tank is full of love, and it's not Alec who decides either. He has a tiny tank, and all I (and his other carers) need to do, is keep filling it until it seems full.
So I picked him up, gave him a squeeze and put him on the worktop where we could chat to each other while I stirred the porridge.

2. We are supposed to be blowing bubbles into a watering can -- but Alec has spotted a stout man on the far side of the swimming pool. "Daddy bubs!" he says. (Apart from that, he had an excellent swimming lesson and concentrated very well.)

3. Wholemeal toast and butter and honey.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Wooden railway, the day we caught the train and spectators.

Alec has been modelling a new woolly for Aragon Yarns. He looks very handsome in the autumn sun on Tunbridge Wells Common.

1. Nana has dug out a wooden railway set from her store room. Can we carry it home today? Yes we can. Nick and Alec spend a happy afternoon constructing layouts in our sitting room.

2. On our way home we hear a piercing whistle and see a gout of steam rising above the railway bridge. "Oh we've missed the train going past," says Nick. But we find a gate to look through and -- how wonderful -- an actual Thomas the Tank Engine, complete with faceplate, comes up and halts. It's a Thomas Special day at the Spa Valley Railway. The driver jumps down and gets into a yellow digger, which he uses to fill Thomas' tender. Then he gets back into the engine and in a rush of steam and water and whistles, goes back to the station to continue the show.

3. The square is fenced off for winter, but Alec insists that we stop here, just like does with dad. "Sit down, cricket," he says firmly.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Getting breakfast, imitation and small hours.

1. To go out early on a Saturday and buy breakfast from the patisserie. I miss early morning walks around town: it's so hard to get out of the house early with a toddler, though.

2. Nick comes home and reports that he and Alec got chatting to a man outside the pub. The man said: "Awright mate?" to Alec and Alec said "Awright mate?" back to him.

3. The late night quiet time, when no-one else wants or needs me.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Local paper, rat heap and hot sour soup.

I came across an article about a children's book blog written by a mother from Tonbridge. I expect some of you might be interested: The Lion, The Witch and the Bookcase.

1. To pick up a copy of the week's local paper. It places us in space and time.

2. To clear out a pile of clutter. I am so proud that I have processed each piece without putting it another rat heap. The corner of the kitchen seems to be breathing again.

3. A pan of tom yum soup -- fierce with chilli and scented with lime and lemongrass.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Working from home, soothing and at leisure.

Hillary, who comments regularly here and has a blog at No pens, pencils, knives or scissors, was badly injured in a car accident earlier this week -- she is expected to recover and the prognosis is good. I just wanted to let people know, as she's quite a familiar face round here. There's a lovely post from her father explaining the situation.

1. To hear Nick calling in to say he's working from home because we've had a horrendous night.

2. A soothing drink of hot orange juice and honey at breakfast.

3. I am too tired to do anything much this afternoon, so I just lie upstairs on Nick's bed while he works. Sometimes I doze, and sometimes I read the new Interzone that arrived today (it's a treat to have the time to read it while it's still fresh).

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Conkers for spiders, snacks and farewell.

1. A man is picking through the wet grass under the conker tree. I don't ask, because I know what a pleasure to hand and eye conkers are -- but "what are you doing?" must appear on my face anyway because he says: "They keep spiders away. Just put a few in corners. Got to watch them in the vacuum cleaner nozzle though."

2. Michelle points us towards a basket of small pastries and fruit crumble fairy cakes. Alec firmly takes both from me once I've had a bite.

3. When it's time to go, we tell the boys, who have been tumbling over each other and scuffling over the toys,  to say goodbye. Freddie kisses Anthony right on the mouth, and then Alec. Anthony and Alec hug, and then Alec kisses Freddie.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Run, sour and new character.

1. I need to collect a Freegled item, and I decide to combine the expedition with a running session. Alec, as usual, shouts "Quickly, quickly" from his pushchair while I slog up a hill and wonder if it would be worse to die in the street or throw up. Before we arrive at our destination, though, I am wondering why I don't run everywhere. It's great! Why doesn't everyone run everywhere? Looking back, I think it was the endorphins speaking.

2. Sour Haribo sweets.

3. Rolling up a new character and creating a backstory from the random numbers.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Porridge for breakfast, naming of names and another step forward.

1. The blop-plop-plop of porridge bubbling. Alec is having a hungry day, and so I give him an advance on the raisins he will have to sprinkle on top.

2. Alec adds another name to his list: Godfather Timothy is 'Tibby', joining Larlie (Godmother Charlie) and Yoghurt (Uncle Robert).

3. I've made leap forward in my parenting skills. I now recognise as tiredness that tearful string of random, contradictory requests. I reply firmly to each: "When we get home, it's nappy change, bub-bub and sleep."

Monday, October 01, 2012

While you were sleeping, making my day and domestic god.

1. Both the boys are napping. I leave a note on the table and sneak out to a coffee shop with the laptop tucked under my arm.

2. On my way home a man wheeling a bike in the opposite direction says: "Can I just say, I love your Courier column." It totally makes my day, and I'm grinning all the way home.

3. I  hand Alec over to Nick for story time. When I come downstairs to do my kitchen tasks, I discover that the nappy wash is already hanging out to dry and the washing up is all done. This is a pretty normal state of affairs -- but I still always appreciate it.