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Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 5 months inside

1. Don’t be born last in the family, if you want to be taken seriously about anything, ever. If you are, make sure you start your own family first and have more children than your siblings. I’ve failed on both these fronts and the result is that the annual family calendar with personalised photos never carries my offspring on the front page – sometimes, indeed, she doesn’t appear until April.

(We’ve just arrived at Ganny and Gandad’s where the Elder Babyaunt is already in residence with her two children. Actually it’s been very good fun so far, but even pregnant I have less status than her.)

2. Don’t get attached to fellow Londoners who have more family members than bedrooms. They may swear blind that they are not going to leave but they are, especially if they have malicious upstairs neighbours.

The babe’s Very Best Red Headed Friend is leaving London. I can’t blame them for swapping their one bedroom flat (the VBRHF has the bedroom – the parents have the sitting room) for a three bedroom house round the corner from devoted grandparents in Oxfordshire, but I am GUTTED. I cried into my spaghetti for half an hour after they told me. I would think the world of them whether or not we had red-headed offspring in common, but nothing is more bonding than sharing the shock and awe of recent parenthood. And once you’ve fed your children tea at the same table, changed nappies together and put them in the same bath, you’ve crossed a line. (Like being blood brothers, but different bodily fluids.)

On a happier note, Chilled Mum has done me a huge favour. Chilled Boy is 4 and due to start school in September, so I was resigning myself to her return to work and seeing a lot less of her. I was wrong! She is very obligingly going to have a baby, 3 months after the babeling is due. Hurrah. We can be sicked on together (see above re. bodily fluides) and be friends for life.


Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 5 months inside

We had a break in Devon with Nanny, Welsh babyaunt and family, a proper break in which we didn’t even see the babe until 8.30am every day because she was sleeping in Nanny’s room. (In case you are not familiar with us and think we have paid help, Nanny is her grandmother.) There she was every morning at breakfast all smartly turned out and all we’d had to do was roll out of bed and turn up. Bliss.

The babeling took the opportunity to GROW. He grew while I was eating my first meal at the hotel. No, really. I couldn’t finish my food, I couldn’t look at dessert, and I had to go upstairs and be a beached whale on my bed. My girth expanded by about a foot in a single evening. I have been reliably told that I look as pregnant now as I did at nine months last time.

There’s still room in there though – generally I can feel a solid bit of baby under my skin, but just when I want to prove it to someone else he disappears altogether and there’s nothing but jelly to prod. Where he gets to is anyone’s guess. Somewhere he can’t be prodded, possibly. I do have a new party trick though. I lie down on my back without giving the babeling prior warning and he’s left perched on top of me, curled up like a cat. It looks a bit odd, but we can get our hands most of the way around him – and finally babyfather gets to prod him too.

Cold feet

Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 20 weeks inside

‘Madam, you are indecorous,’ said babyfather the other day at the table after witnessing the babe eating yoghurt without the help of her hands.

‘Are not indecorous,’ she said swiftly.

She’s discovered that she doesn’t need to know what a word means to use it herself. When the brother-in-law threatened to ‘beat’ her, a new term, she thought about it for two whole seconds. Then she announced, ‘If I beat Mummy and Daddy…they will be BEATY!’

It almost works – she wasn’t to know the suffix –en was the one to choose – the main thing was that we all fell about laughing, which was good enough for her.

She is indecorous though. The other day, witnessed of course by the Very Best Red Headed Friend’s parents, the babe emerged from the toilet having not quite finished what she was doing.Her trousers were missing, her pants were round her ankles, and she was holding a whole roll of toilet paper in one hand while wiping herself with the other. She had something urgent to say which couldn’t wait, so there she was telling us all about it as she wiped, and mid-sentence she released a massive, reverberating belch.

I was asked how much I was paying that Swiss finishing school. Very witty.

Mama Lama Ding Dong

Mama Lama Ding Dong is gracing my blog today on its way from the States, where it’s been known as ‘The Big Rumpus.’

I am the fifth stop on Ayun Halliday’s virtual book tour of 31 mummy (or sometimes mommy) blogs, one for every day in August. You can follow it round via here if you like.

Ayun writes raucously about giving birth (nothing, no really, nothing, is left to the imagination), having a newborn in intensive care, the joys of breastfeeding – ‘nothing beats the plump little hand resting casually on the breast, asking for nothing more than what it’s already getting’ – the hazards of doing so in public, and life with two kids in a Manhattan neighbourhood. Then there’s the issues of amputating her cat’s claws, her son’s foreskin and her daughter’s third thumb, which I can’t begin to describe so you’ll just have to read for yourself. I can only say that Ayan’s writing style would render an account of drying paint totally riveting.

And now for Ayun herself, fielding my inane questions:

First of all – how did you get to be a full-time mother AND write a book or three? (And HOW could you bring yourself to stay awake in your child’s naptime when you were pregnant in order to write? Yes, this is all a bit close to the bone)

I am a very lax housekeeper, and have pretty much everything I need within a couple of blocks’ walk. Also, I was an unathletic only child, who spent many a sunny day, sitting in a tree, reading library books and drawing pictures of elaborate kitty cat weddings. Writing remains fun for me, a way to play with mental paper dolls. I’d rather do that than go shopping or hang gliding or some other activity that another might engage in to relax and reclaim some semblance of their pre-maternal identity. As for staying awake while pregnant, the second time around, when Milo was in the oven and Inky was two years old, I felt like I’d been embalmed! It’s the one time in our fifteen years together that Greg had no choice but to cook. We ate a lot of spaghetti and it’s indicative of just how embalmed I felt that I forked it up without complaint. Nap times were my cue to tap into some secret reserve of energy, a stash for my personal use. The minute Inky woke up, refreshed, I felt embalmed again.

No, please tell me you actually had a full-time nanny, cook, and wet nurse.

Oh, absolutely! Also an in-house stylist and a personal secretary. They’re all thanked in the acknowledgments.

What have your kids done for your writing? Have they:

a) been the muse you were waiting for
b) driven you to the point that you had to write to stay sane
c) prevented you from writing the Great American Novel?

a & b, with a tendency to swerve toward c when I skip lunch.

Your zine, the East Village Inky, is described as an ‘underground parenting’ magazine. (I thought that was a contradiction in terms – then I read a copy.) Would you answer to the description of an ‘underground mother’ or perhaps a ‘guerilla parent’?!? What pearls of conventional parenting wisdom have you found utterly dispensable?

I’d rather leave it up to the mainstream to determine just how “underground” I am. I’ll concede that the zine has an underground feel, if only because it has no ads and looks like it was put together by a smarty-pants eleven-year-old whose homeschooling parents don’t let her watch tv or use a computer, except for research.

As for pearls, I’ll just scatter five of them on the ground and if anyone feels like picking them up off the ground and stringing them around their children’s necks, they’re welcome to at no charge.

Teach politeness as an expression of gratitude and consideration, rather than just something you have to strive for when a crotchety older relative is visiting.

Unless someone’s about to lose an eye right there on the playground, let the toddlers duke it out over everybody’s favorite plastic shovel, rather than intervening with a fifteen minute explanation of how it’s nice to share.

Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep.

Bribes have their place. Do you not occasionally allow yourself a small treat at the completion of a boring, long, or unpleasant task?

It’s okay to have rules about sugar, tv and toy guns and it’s okay for others to have different rules.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself now as a new mother? Is there anything you’d do differently?

Follow the blood pumping, muscular organ my husband refers to as your heart.

If you’re itching to take your 4-week-old baby to go live in a tent, (I’m not being hypothetical here), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, unless you plan to slather the kid in honey and leave her out in the open during bear season.

If you want to sleep with your baby in your bed even though everyone and his mother insists that the baby needs to sleep in a crib for both of your sakes, take your own advice, not theirs. Why is it so important to them for you to behave as if you’re entitled to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, at any cost? Who are they, your downstairs neighbors?

Feed the baby, when, where and how you want to, which is to say, exactly how I, Ayun Halliday, want you to. Just kidding! What I mean is, aim high, and don’t let it get to you if someone rolls their eyes in a way that implies that you’re insufferable or are doing something wrong.

If the birth didn’t go the way you had hoped, try to embrace it as a stellar example of how there are often factors beyond our control in this parenting gig.

Are there things I’d do differently, if I had it to do over? Oh hell yes! Believe it or not, there are even sentences I would write differently, or not at all. But I try to remind myself that there’s a learning curve to this, just as there is to candy-making or walking on stilts or neurosurgery. It’s all hindsight and experience. I’m suspect I’ve got some critics out there who are all a-slobber, waiting to see how I’ll screw it up when they’re teenagers…

Finally – a word to us mummy-blog addicts – are we on our way to the next great mummy memoir in print, honing our writing skills daily, or simply indulging ourselves as we neglect our children?

As a rule of thumb, I tend to think that those who spend a lot of time denouncing others’ creative projects as “indulgent” are either jealous or pursuing an unrelated, and not very friendly agenda. In other words, congratulations in advance for the next great mummy memoir and in ’til then keep on honing, baby!


Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 21 weeks inside


That’s a hand hovering above the chest. I’d say the face resembles Gandad’s…?


You should be able to see the babeling’s upper leg and a knee in this one – and an almost transparent umbilical cord above the knee. And a complete set of beautiful vertebrae.

(I know – too much information.)

Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 20 weeks inside

Had my routine 20 week scan last Wednesday. I treat these events like going to the cinema. I all but had my popcorn out. Even better when you get a friendly sonographer who doesn’t mind a constant stream of ‘what’s that?’ questions. I suspected nothing when she suddenly stopped chatting and asked me my age, which didn’t seem to have any relevance to our conversation, while taking a very long look at the babeling’s brain.

‘All the measurements are absolutely fine,’ she said at the end.

‘Great,’ I answered, starting to sit up, and stopping short of ‘and thanks for the show.’

‘But,’ she said.

The ‘but’ was the small matter that the babeling has a chance, a very small chance, of a chromosome disorder called Edward’s Syndrome or Trisomy 18. (The other name for Downs Syndrome is Trisomy 21.)

‘It’s nasty,’ she said about it briefly. ‘You don’t want that one.’ (I looked it up on Google. I agree.)

There are four or five cysts in the babeling’s brain – they look enormous, but apparently they disappear on their own in a few weeks and are not harmful in themselves – which can sometimes indicate Edward’s Syndrome. The sonographer was painstakingly reassuring about it all. On its own, without any other abnormality, it means very little; if they see one single cyst, it’s of such little concern that they don’t mention it. She’s seen hundreds of these, in babies which turn out to be normal at delivery. They still decided to send me to University College Hospital for an expert scan and she wouldn’t take any money for the scan pictures, which was probably the most worrying moment. (The hospital got my money via its extortionate car parking charge, so that’s alright.)

The referral was all done very speedily by a less tactful midwife who said, ‘You should have done your blood tests earlier, in case you need to fix anything.’ What she meant, of course, was in case I wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

So we’ve had the scan at UCH. I’ve now seen the babeling from every conceivable angle, including cross-section. I’ve become familiar with his head, his fingers, his toes, his heart, his cerebellum, his vertebrae, his habit of lying with his hand on top of his face. Not anything between his legs, admittedly. They measured everything, again, including the exact rate of blood flow from my body into his and out again. They said that everything bar the cysts was completely normal and put his chance of Edward’s Syndrome at 2 to 3 percent. Only an amniocentesis would give a definite answer and that carries too high a risk of miscarriage for my liking.

London is now full of disabled children and their parents. We had a somewhat sleepless night after the first scan. At one low point at 2am I allowed myself to imagine I was carrying a seriously disabled baby. I know, of course, that I would love my child however disabled, but it was a knee-jerk, gut reaction of horror, failure, and despair – of life imprisonment shackled to a child who never reaches independence, who never charms strangers or looks heartbreakingly beautiful, who cannot hold a conversation or an intelligent thought. Cerebral palsy, which does terrible things to your movements but leaves your intellect untouched, seemed an attractive alternative.

That was one night. Since then we’ve both felt reassured. The risk is so low, and I just can’t believe there is anything wrong with this baby: whether that’s a blind attitude of ‘something that bad can’t possibly happen to me’, or an instinctive or spiritual knowledge, I don’t know; but I do know there’s no point in wasting the rest of the pregnancy living in fear. I love being pregnant. I love the whole miracle of growth and seeing those little chubby legs and hands and upturned button nose on the scan picture (which I returned to again and again for the peace it gave me) and I don’t want to let anything rob me of that joy.

If the child is disabled, that could be another whole journey of unexpected joy if we allow it to be. One of my favourite writers, Henri Nouwen, reached a turning point in his life through his experiences in a community of adults with severe learning disabilities. I’ve seen a young woman with learning disabilities worship God with a passion that put me to shame. Two of the married couples we most respect from our previous church have children with Down Syndrome, and despite the difficulties they face they are happy families.

We would be devastated. Then I reckon that life would go on, and we might learn a thing or two about what really matters, and what doesn’t.

Babe: 2 years and 10 months outside
Babeling: 20 weeks inside

I paid for it the next day, but I couldn’t put the book down. It was a very gripping account of giving birth which left no gasp, pant or bodily fluid unrecorded. All in a birth centre, which left me fuming about my current expulsion from any such place.

Anyway, the reason I had the book at all – Mama Lama Ding Dong by Ayun Halliday – very funny and not exclusively about bodily fluids, though they do feature – is that the author is coming here! To my blog! This Saturday! I feel famous and writerly by proxy. I’m hosting a day of her virtual book tour, which will not be polluting the environment in any way at all, as one of 31 mummy blogs throughout August. Maybe you could come and have a look.