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Redster: Five years old next Thursday
Cutester: 20 months

The Culprit

What is it about travelling with small children that makes every longish journey feel like a pentathalon? We start these events with detailed plans, grim determination, every kind of snack and entertainment that will fit in the car or buggy, and usually about an hour after we intended to. We reach our destination exhausted – and sometimes exhilarated (as in the exhiliration of the near-death experience).

We went by ferry, Dover-Boulogne – I must have been fairly relaxed in Dover as I remember thinking that the white cliffs really are rather white, aren’t they, and how must it have felt to see them after a long life-threatening haul at sea in ye olden days, blah blah, not imagining I was going to find out in less than a week…

Paris was great – thanks babyaunt – and we got to Boulogne in time not just for the ferry but even some shopping beforehand. My mistake was to sit down with the kids on the ferry in front of a DVD of Winnie-the-Pooh when the sea was not exactly calm. ‘If you feel sea sick,’ I said sternly to the Redster, ‘stop watching this and look out of the window.’ I was trying to keep them out of babyfather’s way because it turned out on the way over that he’s prone to sea sickness. Not only that, but this time he was gripped by a conviction that he’d left the handbrake off and that our car was canonballing around below decks trashing everyone else’s. In five minutes I wasn’t feeling too hot myself, so I took the Cutester for a gaze out of the window. I was just realising that this method really wasn’t working when the Cutester made a strange noise and threw up. ‘All over the table, over the floor, and all over Mummy,’ as the Redster dictated in a belated postcard later that day, after her favourite made-up joke about the Awful Tower in Paris. It smelt of, obviously, vomit, but also of the overly-perfumed yoghurt she’d consumed before Winnie-the-Pooh.

Babyfather was in no position to help so I clutched the Cutester tightly and marched us over to a less malodorous window, not that I could escape what was soaking into my own clothes, where I gripped the frame with my free hand for dear life until the (suddenly) beloved white cliffs hoved into view. Thank God.

The Cutester seemed totally unperturbed – oh the joys of a short oesophagus – and the Redster watched Winnie-the-Pooh to the bitter end despite later admitting she’d felt sick. The lower deck turned out not to be a wasteland of twisted metal after all because they have these handy rubber things for blocking in the car wheels, having done this journey a few times before. And two hours later I got to change into clothes with no vomit on them, so it all turned out fine in the end.

(Much less gruelling than my week camping this summer with the two of them and without babyfather, which would probably fill a whole book in itself. When I got home I collapsed on the sofa knowing full well that the Cutester was running around with no nappy on but caring not one jot. 36 hours later the funny smell on the stairs turned out to be the poo she’d done in babyfather’s upturned baseball cap hidden among all the other camping stuff on the lowest step.)

Redster: Five any day now
Cutester: 20 months

What’s driving me to blog now – and it takes being driven, believe me – is purely not wanting to forget all this stuff that gets forgotten in a matter of months if you don’t write it down.

Here’s a moment that sums up the Cutester’s attitude and I have therefore selected it for posterity:

Babymother: Sit down. You can’t stand up in your highchair or you’ll fall and hit your head.
Cutester – stays standing, looks straight at me, raises one eyebrow and breaks wind.

Sleepy

The Cutester just keeps getting cuter. (Could you possibly mentally photoshop out the dried snot as you gaze at this photo? Thanks, that’ll save me the effort.)

Here are some of her cheeky ways:

She loves beds. If she sees one she’ll get into it, pull the duvet up to her chin, and lie there sucking her thumb and twiddling her hair. She is particularly fond of babyfather’s side of the bed. When she is not actually in it she is bringing it little offerings and secreting them under the covers.

She loves twiddling hair. She prefers to twiddle the hair of the person holding her. If it’s babyfather she resorts to stroking.

She has what’s known as character. ‘I like kids with character,’ another parent told me at church last Sunday. ‘Your daughter’s got it in spades.’ Pause, adopts finger-waggling old codger persona: ‘You’ll have trouble with that one!’ She certainly does not lack the assertiveness to say no. Another child made a move towards her doll’s buggy the other day. The Cutester stood perfectly still and let rip with an ear-splitting banshee shriek. The other child did a u-turn without changing expression and picked on someone else. Remember Queenie from Blackadder?

She is speaking. At this stage of the Redster’s life I had of course lovingly blogged several lists of vocabulary attained so far. It’s long past the stage where I can count with the Cutester. For instance, baby – story – book – juice – shoes – horsey – baa – ow (meaning wolf, or German Shepherd) – moo – spoon – Marmite – I Want Dis – more – Mummy, Daddy, Redster, the 2nd half of the lodger’s name – and my favourite, Na Na, which covers any grandparent or indeed any friendly person over the age of 60. No, my favourite is ‘Ello.’ She can say this with a whole range of intonations depending on the situation. Once we were sitting side by side doing something together and she suddenly turned to me and said a quiet ‘Ello’ in her friendliest voice and gave me a little wave.

Penguins. Our book from the library shows a picture of adult penguins huddled round the chicks to keep them warm. When she saw this she pointed to her arms, which were bare, and said ‘Cold’, then walked across the table to give me a hug. Now I only have to say ‘What do mummy and baby penguins do?’ and she throws her arms around my neck.

Redster: Four years and eleven months
Cutester: 20 months

I still don’t have time to blog, though this might bode well for getting time to myself in the future:

How did that happen!

They are making me wait until the 29th September, to let the youngest in the year settle in first. (She will be one of the oldest.) It will have been a 12-week ‘summer holiday’ in sole charge of two small children, so motherhood can only get less intense from October onwards, right? However – I was in the Natural History museum the other day and a class of school children turned up. I found myself seeing in a new light each schoolbag, lunchbox, and immaculate uniform; and then some of them had plaits – how many hours’ work was I looking at? (That was the only Natural History I learnt that day, as I recall.)

But I only have to contemplate that the start of school for the Redster will spell the end of something which, as every older mother always says, you can’t get back, and then these final weeks take on a kind of sepia-tint gooiness preventing me (crucially) from losing my temper too often. We went shopping today without the Cutester. Shopping for me, not for her, and she helped me look for things in my size and sat in four different fitting rooms and made pertinent comments on the clothes I was trying on and didn’t whine and didn’t get bored and only asked for me to buy her one thing which only cost £1.99. She caused two oldish Asian ladies in one shop to nearly cry in admiration and we left them fondly reminiscing about their own daughters together. So I can’t really complain.

(I have had about one hour alone with the Cutester since the ‘summer’ began. It was hilarious. We were in a cafe. She unzipped the nappy bag, took out the changing mat, unfolded it in the middle of the floor, took out a nappy and then lay down on the mat with the nappy in her hand. That was when I became aware of the smell.)