You can’t marry your sister

LoveThe Boy is really into asking awkward questions at awkward times.

Just as our friends were saying their vows, unamplified at an outdoor wedding, he asks in a piercing voice: “Why did the people want to kill Jesus?”

Or on a ferry, surrounded by bored people with nothing better to do than eavesdrop on the moral and social education of our son, he wants to know the ins and outs of who can marry who. “Why can’t I marry my sister?” he asks, puzzled. I do my best by explaining that there are different kinds of love. Friend love and family love and the special love that you have for the person you marry.

He nods sagely. “You can NEVER marry your friends.”

“Well,” I back-paddle. “You might find that you start to feel that special love for one of your friends.”

He ponders this. “So why can’t I marry my sister?”

I try to give a sanitized child-friendly explanation of the dangers of mating with someone with very similar DNA. He doesn’t get it all but slowly the awareness seems to sink in that you can’t marry people who are already family.

It’s okay though. The Boy isn’t really planning to marry his sister. He has already chosen his future bride. They had been friends since they were very little and when they discovered there was such a thing as marriage they felt the choice was obvious. It is all decided between them: they will live in a big house in Wales with their 100 children and us parents are expected to visit regularly.

It’s very cute and I wonder sometimes how long this will go on for. Perhaps they will find new and different friends now that they are at different schools and their friendship will dull and the dreams of a house packed with children amid the rolling hills will fade until they are forgotten. Or perhaps they will stay close through the years and when hormones stir they will become Boyfriend and Girlfriend. I have seen this too among my friends’ children.

Today, the Boy asked: “Mama, how do you fall in love with someone?”

I braced myself and plunged in, preparing myself to help him work out future feelings for his chosen bride: “Well, when you see them you get butterflies in your tummy and you love spending time with them. You love looking at them and talking to them and hearing their voice and you want to cuddle them and hold them close all the time.”

His eyes shone in recognition.

“Yes!” he said. “That is how I feel about you, Mummy.”

Love. We’re still working on it.

Life Game: The Brother

Hey there Gamers,

I’m pretty much blazing Level 1. An average day will find me clocking time with the toy garage or the board books to get my xp up and then blowing it all on vocabulary. My latest discoveries are “Daisy” (gets you access to In the Night Garden books and TV shows), “seep” (the name for an undesirable state of affairs where the character you want to interact with is unconscious) and “am” (this can be added to bread to make sandwiches).

But what I want to talk about today is that very special person you might be lucky enough to run into in Life Game: The Brother.

The Brother has been around ever since I started playing and seems to be in control of the game a lot of the time. He controls what appears on the Awesome Viewing Device and also has ways of influencing what food appears on the table. I’ve been observing him closely and as always, the trick seems to be gathering more words. I’ve been trying it out myself and have had some success with words like juice and cheese.

"No! You cannot play with my tower!"

“No! You cannot play with my tower!”

It’s always a good idea to check out what the Brother is doing, because he has a lot of cool stuff that you can use. You do have to be really careful only to use it while he is looking the other way, otherwise he uses Snatch on you and it is gone again. In fact, try not to look like you’re enjoying anything you are playing with while in the Brother’s field of vision or the item will disappear from your inventory and reappear in his. This is an extremely annoying trait but I have recently mastered a skill that trumps Snatch: it’s called Snitch. Basically, using Snitch involves a loud cry of anguish and the repeated use of “Mama!” This will summon the Mummy who will use what seems like Snatch on the Brother, but is really a higher level skill called Discipline. Details, details, I know – the most important thing is that the item is back in your inventory, you get a “Sorry” from the Brother and you can carry on playing with the toy. Or abandon it for something more interesting that has caught your eye during the conflict sequence.

The Brother comes with a lot of entertainment options. He can sing no end of brilliant songs with actions, and you can play running, chasing and hiding games with him which really boost your Happiness. The best game is “Round and round the garden”, where you hold hands and he spins you round and round and then tickles you. Word of warning though: games with the Brother do have a tendency to drain your energy levels and you often take some damage due to falls and bumps or getting squished.

Squishing: this is something that deserves a special mention/warning. Although the Brother is a friendly character, he does come with some “hostile” traits. If you see the words “A is very cute, I want to hug A” float above his head, run for the Mummy as fast as you can. If you don’t manage to get away, he will grab you around the waist (if you’re lucky) or the neck (if you’re unlucky), squeeze as hard as he can, tackle you to the ground and throw his full weight on you. The number of hit points this will cost you depends on how he grabbed you and whether your head hit any furniture on the way down, as well as on the response time of the Mummy. Basically, running away is your best bet, and get a head start because he is both stronger and faster than you.

"Mama! A is playing with the tower!"

“Mama! A is playing with the tower!”

Another annoying feature of the Brother is that he’s got Snitch too. So when you’re minding your own business, pouring out the entire contents of your beaker of juice onto the dining table, he will pipe up: “Mama! A. is pouring juice!” Or when you’re gleefully pulling your shoes and socks off in the back of the car, he will say: “Mama! A. is taking her shoes off! No Baby, don’t take your shoes off, you have cold socks and feet!” Worst of all, when you manage to get down to floor level in a big shop and you make a break for freedom while the Mummy is distracted, he will shriek in distress, shout “Mama, A is running away!” and then run after you full pelt and trap you in a bear hug until the Mummy captures you again.

All in all, though, Life Game is so much better with the Brother in it. Whenever you see him, you get a massive boost to your happiness bar, which is only increased by waving at him and giving him a hug.

Finally, I will leave you with a little montage of great Brother moments:

* When a pint-sized NPC came up to investigate me, he jumped in front of me protectively and told him I was his sister.
* I love holding his hand when we go for walks. Holding his hand makes me feel happy.
* When I come to pick him up from The School, he shows me off to his teachers and his friends.
* The first night we shared a bedroom, I managed to get the Mummy and the Daddy to take me out of bed in the night for extra cuddles, and I had to spend the rest of the night trapped in the travel cot. In the morning, the Brother’s sad voice could be heard coming from our room saying: “Where is A? I want my little sister back.”

brother and sister

 

There is still time to vote for my blog in the MAD Blog Awards! So far I have been nominated in the categories Best Writer, Most Entertaining, Family Fun and Blog of the Year (but that was probably just my mother). Click here to vote, you have until a minute to midnight on the 14th of March.

Opa and Oma

Mmmm...

Mmmm…

To the Boy’s utter delight, Opa and Oma arrived this morning to stay for the weekend. They came over from Nininand [The Netherlands] by car on the ferry, bringing all sorts of delights with them, such as a book about Pinocchio and a Pinocchio puppet for the Boy, and an adorable little dress for The Girl. They made me very happy by bringing a crate full of my favourite Dutch food stuffs and setting about cleaning my house for me.

My parents were not sure they were ready to become grandparents. When my husband and I first mentioned the fact that we were considering starting a family soon, a look of panic crossed my mother’s face and she said: “As long as you don’t expect me to babysit!” Part of the panic was the introduction of a taboo subject at the dinner table (“one does not discuss procreation with anyone other than the parties directly involved in making the baby”), but I think she also felt a certain dread at the prospect of shifting up a generation.

This led me to reflect on what it means to be a grandparent. What is your role, how does your attitude to life shift? Obviously, I can’t comment from personal experience, but from observation a lot of it seems to be about supporting your children as they become parents. It is like you step back a little and work behind the scenes. My parents are used to living like people in the prime of their life: they are active, they travel, they get involved in new things, they take centre stage. Of course, everyone is the protagonist in their own lives, but the importance and the potential of children temporarily gives their parents the very special role of Shaper. For this time in our lives when our main job is to raise children to become well-rounded, happy people, we are shaping society, shaping the world and shaping the future through them. Grandparents are there in the wings. They pat us on the back when we come off stage left, convinced we did an appalling job. They hand us props and tools when we need them. They change the set between acts. And because they are old hands at the play themselves, they know the lines, they’ve done it before, they can cover for us occasionally, when it gets a bit too much.

The day I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was due to pick my mother up from the station. We were going to a spa to celebrate my birthday, so I thought it would be wise to just check. Just to be sure. I wasn’t expecting a positive result – we had been trying for 18 months and I had been diagnosed with poly-cystic ovaries, so the chance was slim – but I just quickly did a test five minutes before I was due to head out. I was pregnant. My husband and I were in shock. I raced out to see my mum, now about fifteen minutes late, and told her straight away.

The first thing she said was: “Oh you *must* move back to the Netherlands, so I can babysit!”

Now that the kids are here, my parents love being Opa and Oma.  They are experts at support from the wings:

* They dedicate themselves to learning how we like to do things with the kids and how best to take care of them so that they can slot into our household and contribute to its running. “Opa, she has to grab the cucumber herself. That is what her mother wants,” my Mum berates my Dad when he tries to stuff a morsel of food in The Girl’s mouth.

* They look out for handy gadgets that might make life easier, appearing on the doorstep with a miniature gazebo (brought over in their car all the way from the Netherlands) to provide shade for our paddling pool.

* They cook, they clean, they make dinner and buy treats. “You shouldn’t take this as criticism,” my Dad says, wearing my apron and wielding a sponge, “but shall I just quickly clean your fridge?”

* They don’t live down the road, which is sad, but we talk on Skype twice a week to keep the relationship going from afar. My son is over the moon when we go and visit them or they come here. When he was a lot smaller, my Dad mused: “Why do you think he likes us so much? What is it he sees in us?”

“He sees that you love him,” was my reply.

So here’s to you, Opa and Oma! Thank you for being so wonderful, and for being there-and-here for us!

opa en oma

Golden days

Who knows what may come in the future, but right now, brother and sister adore each other. Ever since the Baby started sitting up and especially since she has been joining in with mealtimes in the high chair, the Toddler has been seeing her less as a nuisance and more as a potential play mate. He recognises that she is a little person with preferences and even sees a need to speak on her behalf. One day she was crying in the high chair, so I offered her a bit more porridge.

“Maybe not.” the Toddler sniffed.

I gave her some banana.

“Maybe not,” the Toddler said again. “Baby not like-a banana.”

He was right, as it turned out. She was finished and did not like-a more food.

Another morning I went to get him from his room. The baby was already awake and downstairs and unhappy that I had left her. We could hear her crying as we came down the stairs.

“Oh no! Baby crying! Coming Baby! Baby pain?”

“No, I think she is just a bit lonely.”

“Oh, lonely… Poor baby.” By this time we had arrived at where she was sitting in the bouncy chair, making her displeasure known. Her brother went up to her and dropped down to (her) eye level. “Want a cuddle?” He gave her a hug. “There, better. And now: Nummajacks!”

Yesterday they were sitting side by side in the double buggy when the Baby had a bit of a coughing fit. Again, her brother’s concern made my heart melt. He leaned over as far as the straps would let him and said: “Oh, Baby, coughing?” Then he tucked her in under her buggy-blanket and blew her a kiss.

My brother at 3 years old, after I had dressed him up as the Easter Bunny. I thought I'd really done a bang-up job on his face paint.

My brother at 3 years old, after I had dressed him up as the Easter Bunny. I thought I’d done a particularly good job on his face paint.

What seems to have endeared the Baby to him no end is that he has discovered that he can make her laugh. His repertoire of gags includes singing the Problem Blob song from Numberjacks, doing wibbly-wobbly legs (or arms or tummy) with her and making toys fly around her head. Her giggles set him off too and soon he is helpless with laughter. Penelope Leach (again) has a brilliant section on how to help your first child through the arrival of a new baby. I won’t quote it all here, but one of her best pieces of advice is to convince the toddler that the baby likes him – because we all like people who like us. Well, very little massaging of the truth was needed here: the Baby’s beaming smile and shrieks of excitement when she sees the Toddler make it pretty plain how wonderful she thinks he is. But the fact that he can make her giggle has truly cemented their friendship – we like people who like us, but we love them if they think we’re funny. In fact, it is official: the Toddler frequently holds her hand and says “friends!”.

Growing up, my brother and I were always very close, and this is what I hoped for in having a second baby: that my children would have that special built-in friendship, that person who has lived through your childhood with you and can share memories of a happy home with you once you have grown up. Someone, basically, who can both thoroughly embarrass you and make you cry on your wedding day. It is too early to tell, of course, but when I catch the Toddler kneeling down by the Baby, gently taking her head in his hands and placing a kiss on her head, I think at least our two have got off to a good start.

Linking up to Magic Moments.

Top Ten Unexpected Benefits of Having a Baby

1. Prime parking location
With a baby car seat in the back, you can suddenly park in all the ‘family’ parking spots – extra roomy for those of us who left their spatial skills back on the labour ward. Result! I have been so grateful for these every time I drove into town with a toddler who wouldn’t nap in his cot. He’d fall asleep in the car, I’d manoevre the fully reclining pushchair out of the vehicle, courtesy of the extra hatched space around my parking spot, transfer him into it still asleep, and wheel him straight into Starbucks. Ah, those were the days. Sadly this doesn’t work with two sleeping children and one puschair. But that is not the fault of the family parking spaces, they’re great!

2.Pyjama days
When you’re a new mum, nobody blames you for spending all day in your pyjamas. Nobody blames you for not washing up, letting the house get covered in a thin layer of dust and grime, eating take out every night and having unwashed hair. In fact, having a baby gives you a carte blanche to let yourself and your house go completely. I remember having a little meltdown when my son was about four months old. My husband asked me what the matter was, and I said: “I’m worried the new-baby-sympathy is going to run out soon!” I still wasn’t doing any cooking at that point and my son was scared of the sound of the hoover, because he had never encountered it before in his brief life. It turned out I needn’t have worried. New Baby Sympathy is available on tap for as long as your friends can see that you need it. I suddenly realised one day that I had settled into being a mum, and that I no longer needed the sympathy – and that is when it stopped.

3. New friends
Once I had worked out how to unfold the pram – please don’t ask me how long that took – I started investigating local baby and toddler groups. I felt a bit nervous, like everyone would look at me and see right through my clever disguise: she’s not really a Mum, she’s only pretending. I still felt quite self-conscious about having a baby, but I discovered that the great thing about going new places with your baby is that it is a fresh start. These people have never known you in any other capacity than as a mother, and that can help you find your new, enhanced identity. I have made some lovely friends this way and my son has made his very first friends at these groups too.

mini trolley2

Supermarket adventure in the Netherlands with a tiny trolley!

4. New skills
A lot of parenting is very physical, especially in the early days: logging miles up and down the stairs trying to settle a crying baby, breastfeeding, bathing, doing piles of extra laundry, trying to get a heavy pram in and out of a car etc. I am more used to thinking my way out of life’s problems, so this was a bit of a shock to the system. I think it was good for me, though. I am learning to listen to my instincts more. And I have built up some arm muscles, which is a definite bonus.

5. Rediscover the world
Through the eyes of my new arrival I found a new joy in old things. Everything is new to your baby. Everything is a wonderous miracle that needs to be explored and discovered. My daughter has really got into grabbing over the past few weeks, and she wants to explore everything. What does this feel like? What does this taste like? She wants to try out my laptop, wires, anti-bacterial spray, my fork, my cup of tea, a tissue I have just blown my nose on, the nearest plant and so on. I remember when my son had just started to move around, I would scan the house for fascinating things that might keep him in one place for long enough that I could rush into the kitchen to put the kettle on. I was looking at ordinary things with new eyes: wooden spoons as drum sticks, tiny tupperware for putting things in or stacking or sorting, bits of material to wave around like a flag. Everything is amazing when you’re tiny. Going to the supermarket is the best adventure. The library is a maze of exciting books that can be pulled off shelves until you are standing in a sea of them. A flight of stairs is an epic mountain that takes courage and determination to scale. Life need never be boring again.

6. Community
Before I had my son, I didn’t know anyone in the neighbourhood. I’d get up, drive to work, come home in the dark, spend the evening indoors with my husband, go to bed, get up, repeat ad infinitum. Our social life took place with friends we already had, who generally did not live in our local area. Having a baby changed all that. For a start, I was around in the daytime and reluctant to travel very far afield. I also discovered that people on the street are much more likely to at least smile, but possibly even stop and talk to you if you have a small person with you. It’s a bit like walking your dog, I imagine: you have a handy, ready-made topic of conversation about you. This is how I got talking to my neighbours and two years on, my toddler greets all the local dogs by name. I already mentioned baby & toddler groups – they were the means through which I started making local friends. Now we have playdates that we can walk to and our whole area suddenly feels like a more friendly place that we as a family are a part of. We suddenly discovered we were part of a community.

7. Off-peak
Being around in the daytime is great! You have a much wider choice of appointment times at the doctor’s/dentist’s, you can actually park when you go into town, you can go to the shops when it’s quiet and you can travel at off-peak prices. As I was working in education when I had my first baby, we suddenly found that we were no longer tied to school holidays while I was on maternity leave. For a family on a budget, this can suddenly bring a sunny holiday within affordable range. Even if you were never tied to the school calendar before, you will be once your kids are 3 or 4 years old, so make the most of off-peak travel while you still can!

8. Supersonic hearing
I have always wanted a t-shirt that says: “I make milk. What’s your superpower?” Not my witty joke, I hasten to add, I saw this on Facebook a while ago. But yes, mothering comes with superpowers. You may or may not choose to use the milk one, but you can’t avoid the Supersonic Hearing. It is tuned to pick up a baby’s cry at incredible distances, through thick walls, in a crowded cafe and in your sleep. And you will know very swiftly whether it is yours, too. One caveat though: if you live in a fox-rich environment, you may find yourself waking up in the night, convinced your baby has woken up, only to find it is a fox on heat. Slight design flaw in the superpower – or in the foxes.

9. Understanding your parents
I didn’t really want to write this one, as I don’t want my Mum to feel too smug. But yes, when you have a baby you suddenly find a new appreciation for your parents, and an understanding for all the things that used to annoy you about them. Having thrown several teenage-like strops at the ripe old age of 27 or so, explaining to my mother that I was a grown woman with a job and a house and I didn’t need her to point out that my skirt was too short/it was time to phone my grandfather/send thank-you cards/file my tax return, I now see what was going on. As a parent you are always several steps behind on your child’s development. They change and grow so fast that it is impossible to keep up and adjust in time. I remember realising when my son was about 8 months old that I was still bathing him like a newborn, with cotton wool for his eyes, in a tiny baby bath. He could actually sit up and splash about in the big bath by then, but I still thought of him as a little baby. Today, as my daughter screamed in protest at me picking bogies out of her nose, I had a very clear memory of pushing my own mother away as she picked my nose for me. I can tell you, I was definitely over three years old and well able to keep my own nose clean. There is no time to get into habits with children – as soon as you do they change and you have to adjust.

Sorry about the nose-picking story, that was a bit grim.

10. More love.
I’m guessing this does not sound like an unexpected benefit of having a baby. Part of the reason we want babies is because we long to love and be loved. But isn’t there a tiny part of us that is a bit worried that our relationship with our partner will diminish, eclipsed by the love we feel for the baby? I am sure many expectant fathers are more than a little concerned about this. Mother and baby live in such a symbiosis, both before and after birth – will there be less love available for them? Mother Teresa said: “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” When you have a baby, you don’t suddenly have to share the available love out between three people instead of two, there is suddenly a whole lot of extra love to go round.

But that wasn’t even exactly what I meant. Your relationships change when your baby arrives, and the love you feel for your family is different. I remember my husband saying in wonder, during the mad week after our son was born and I was recovering in hospital: “I’ve suddenly realised that ‘Mum’ is no longer the person who looks after me, but the person I look after.” We had added a whole new level to our relationship: besides husband and wife we were Mummy and Daddy now. And our parents were equally bowled over by their new role as grandparents. Both our mothers have remarked that they were completely taken by surprise by the strength of the love they felt for their grandchildren. All this new love has knit us all together as a family more closely, it has given us something unique to share.

So there you go. If I left you despondent with my list of Top Ten Things to do before your First Baby Arrives, I hope I have cheered you a little with some happy things to come, should you be expecting your first baby.

I am linking this post up with Vic Welton’s PostCommentLove. Feel free to nip over and check out some other blogs.

A day late: Prose for Thought

Yesterday was World Poetry Day. I thought I’d honour it by joining in with Victoria Welton’s lovely initiative, Prose for Thought, and posting a poem I wrote this week for my little girl.

Intoxicating

You are asleep, and have been for hours
I have stolen some time away
exulting in a weekly shop at all-night Tesco
or a hot cup of tea at a friend’s.

Then I catch a hint of your scent on my clothes
milk and fabric softener
eczema cream
and just you.

what do I care about these moments of freedom?
in another hour I can hold you close
as you feed in your sleep
one small hand stretched up towards my face
and I’ll be wrapped in your smell and you in mine

(c) Judith Kingston

More poetry here.

Prose for Thought

Love

When my daughter was born, I was slightly wrong-footed by my feelings for her. My very first thoughts were: “Phew! I never have to do that [i.e., labour] again!” My husband and I also repeated that to each other out loud with great relief a few more times as the midwives cleaned the baby up and brought her to us. Second and final child. For sure.

Then she was in my arms and I was: proud, elated, moved, excited and also still kind of high from the entonox.

I also thought: hm, she’s a little wrinkly and very small.

I think in those first few days I loved her just as much as I’d loved my son in his first few days – but then I didn’t have anything to compare it to. When The Toddler arrived to meet his sister the next day, zonked out in his pushchair from all the excitement of a sleepover at a friend’s house and seeing Gran in the morning, I felt overwhelmed with the two whole years’ worth of ever increasing love I had for him – and by comparison our new baby daughter seemed like a stranger. So new, so small, so unfamiliar. She slept and cried and fed. The Toddler giggled and sang and chatted and played and imagined and wept and shouted and ran and cuddled and did Monster Voice.

The Baby was hard and painful work. I loved her, but I loved my toddler.

Now the really tough earliest days are over, I find that my love for her has grown and grown and grown. She is smiling now, and making gurgly happy conversational sounds. She follows objects with her eyes and looks around with keen interest at everything that’s going on around her. She has filled out and looks more and more like a little person. I now find myself looking forward to seeing her smile in the morning, loving spending time alone with her when the Toddler naps, randomly hugging her because she is just so cute.

Right now, I feel on top of the world, not just because I am getting my usual amount of sleep again most nights, but because whereas before I had just one child to delight in, now I have two. I can’t wait to see what they will both be like tomorrow, and next week and in a year’s time and on into the far future.