Saturday, 31 January 2009

The truth about man flu

I believe I have stumbled across a number of truths to add to any research being done into man flu.

It’s not actually man flu, it’s non-mum flu

Before I was a mum, I would be ill for days. I would lay up in bed with DVDs, books and magazines and a box of tissues. If possible, I would get someone (hubby, parents, housemates) to go and buy lots of soup, fruit juice, coke, ice cream, custard and bananas. If anyone else was around and not ill, they would be called upon to bring me the various food and drinks at regular intervals. Otherwise, I would crawl down the stairs and do it myself. I used to be ill frequently, and for considerable periods of time (often coinciding with a break in work – and conveniently releasing me from any housework duties).

My (single, childless) sister will still do this, though she tends not to ask for others’ help, unless she really has to. But she’ll happily stay in bed all day, watching TV and so on.

My mum (yes, I know, she’s still a mum, but we’ve all flown the nest and she has no-one to look after, other than when she’s looking after R), will also take to her bed quite easily these days.

It’s sort of our fault (don’t hit me!)

Having had some times recently where we have all been ill, and I’ve been the one running around doing absolutely everything, I’ve noticed that, if both hubby and I are ill, I will still do the essential housework tasks (unless I’m writhing around in agony and really cannot move).

One night recently, I’d been feeling like I was coming down with something and thought I was getting what hubby had had a few days before (the days when I did all the childcare, all the shopping (with child in tow), all the cooking and all the cleaning, and even walked the dog, getting my sister round for half an hour to watch R while I did so). When I mentioned this to hubby, he asked whether I would prefer him to tidy the kitchen or put R to bed (of course, he couldn’t possibly bathe her as well as walking the dog, because that would be too much for any human being to cope with in one night). I chose tidying the kitchen, because reading stories isn’t too much hard work, really.

Of course, on returning from the walk, hubby suddenly realised that he was ill too, and would have to go straight to bed. Without tidying the kitchen. Or the living room (which hadn’t been offered, because no-one realises that I tidy it every evening before going to bed; presumably the housework fairies do it. And, of course, I couldn’t leave it undone, because I would only have to deal with it in the morning. So I tidied the living room and the kitchen. And put a load of washing on.

And there is the problem. If we’re well enough to do the washing-up, tidy living rooms, and do whatever other domestic tasks we consider essential (in other households, this might also include preparing packed lunches, getting clothes ready for the morning, etc.), we are clearly not ill (in the eyes of the non-mum). Because they can leave it. They have no guilt.

So… ladies, the only way to prevent the spread of the man-flu virus is to take to your beds when ill and leave all the housework to pile up. Are you up to the challenge?

I really don’t think I am.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

How much are you worth?

I got sent a link to this household economy calculator today. It’s been created by Cornhill Direct (insurance company) and gives you an idea of what the (household) work you and other people in your house do is worth in monetary terms. It also gives you percentages to show who does the most work. It’s quite fun, but it’s also quite detailed and interesting what it shows. (Could be of use in divorce settlements!)

I filled it in thinking that I might get something to show hubby that would prove how much more housework I do than him. I figured the split would probably be 75% to 25% in my favour (i.e. me doing 75%). But it was actually only 59% to 41%, so not hugely far off half each. I wonder if that’s because we both work from home and are in a better position than some to split the household tasks, or whether I just found me a good a bloke. (Or maybe I just estimated wrong – perhaps I should count everything up over a fortnight to see if I was accurate or not.)

And it looks like we’d have to pay out around £35,000 a year to get someone else (or multiple someone elses) to do it all for us. I think we’ll probably be doing our own washing and gardening for a while, then.

Would be interested to hear the results other people get. More than just a mother, maybe you should stick the nanny’s tasks in there and make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Side benefits to potty training

The cushion covers and throws on the sofas get washed much more often (or, actually, for the first time ever). Unfortunately, though, she doesn't sit on them all, so some cushions look much cleaner than others. I'm tempted to pick her up and move her when she's watching TV and very, very tired.

Of course, I could just wash them all. That would be the sensible thing to do. But you just know that if I did that, the day after they went back on the sofas, she would pee on them.

Mummy-daughter Tuesday mornings

Sometimes I hate Tuesday mornings. When the place is a mess and I’m trying to keep R amused (sticking her in front of the TV) while sorting it out and C is having fun working upstairs. Or I plan lots of stimulating activities (baking, painting, crafting…) and they take too long and frustrate her (and me) rather than amuse us.

Sometimes Tuesday mornings are nice but busy, when we have friends round to play or meet up at the toddler cafe to drink coffee and eat far too many delicious home-made cakes.

Sometimes Tuesday mornings are Daddy-daughter mornings instead, and I sit up on my computer, occasionally visited (interrupted) by the pair of them, or called up from town to ask whether we need milk and bread and whether I really want the hugely expensive out-of-season vegetables, instead of the cheap in-season ones.

But sometimes, Tuesday mornings are just perfect and remind me why I try to keep them free. Yesterday was one such day. There was nothing particularly amazing about it. There were no definite plans, except that we would go to the library and shops before nursery school.

We both lazed around in our pyjamas after getting up to a very exciting power cut – just required flicking the trip switch. There was a little bit of TV watching while I drunk my tea and had a quick flick through the internets. Then I just followed her lead.

We did some magic painting and, while it’s actually not possible to paint outside the lines, she was using different colours for different bits (yellow sun, green grass, orange flowers, purple donkey), which was nice to see.

We spent about an hour and a half playing dentists, tooth fairies and doctors and nurses, sometimes with me as the patient (or toothless person), sometimes R and sometimes one of her toys.

We ate Cheerios, banana, pear and a couple of biscuits and had an early lunch of R’s favourite food, noodles and I cleaned up the kitchen while we were eating (and she could see me and talk to me), instead of while she watched TV.

She played with her dad for ten minutes, while I got washed.

She got dressed without any fuss and stood still while I did her buttons up.

We walked to the library, skipping for a bit, running for a bit and with R riding on my shoulders for a bit and giving me a running commentary about the people walking on the other side of the road and the cars and the houses.

We read books, R played with the beads while I chose her some story books, she used the porta-potty in the library loo and she even came with me into the adult library so I could choose a book myself and was mostly good.

We went to three different shops and she helped get things down from shelves, held on to the basket most of the time and only got a bit frustrated at the very last one.

And then we had a leisurely walk to nursery school, talking about what she would do there.

And I smiled all the way home, instead of stomping or fuming.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Food snobbery

R has recently developed a liking for salad. This makes me ridiculously happy. Much happier than her adoration of all things ice-cream related makes me sad or guilty.

It is especially ridiculous because she is actually a pretty healthy eater, anyway, and has been eating most of the constituent parts of salad for a year and a half, at least. It’s just the leaves she’s shunned, really.

She’ll happily eat a bowlful of cherry tomatoes or cucumber sticks. Given the opportunity, she would devour two or three cans of sweetcorn a day. She’s perfectly at home with peppers, raw or cooked, and has even deigned to munch on a stick of celery.

But she’s never taken to the whole combination known as salad. Until a few days ago, when I chopped it up small and drowned it in mayonnaise. Now, her response to the question ‘Do you want salad with dinner?’ is ‘Oh, yes please!’ and, instead of uttering the universal condemnation of the under-10s, ‘Yuk’, when a bowl of salad is placed next to her dinner, she says ‘Ooh, salad! Yummy, yummy!’ and polishes it off before even glancing at the pasta.

Of course, my over-reaction may well be related to my being a die-hard vegetarian. In the veggie-carnivore (yes, I know, it’s technically omnivore) fight to dominate our daughter’s culinary affections, the green stuff is winning. Yay!

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Does Blue Monster like peas?

As parents of a child in the midst of her third year (or, as it’s more commonly described, the terrible twos), we have developed a number of methods of persuading, bribing, scaring and tricking R into doing what we want or need her to do. None of them, I’m sure, are at all new.

One of the most successful ones is having someone else tell her what to do. Teachers at nursery school are great at getting her to do things. Grandma and Grandpa (who live too far away to have their boundaries tested much) are pretty good, too. But at home it falls to a number of others to help us in our endeavours:

  • Blue Monster (also called Boo-Boo), and his somewhat cheeky daughter Purple Monster (also called Gra-Gra). Purple Monster is a little bit younger than R and therefore R is able to help show her how big, grown-up girls behave. Examples of behaviour that R models for Purple Monster are going to sleep without any fuss, sitting quietly for stories at bedtime and going straight back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night. Blue Monster usually goes to sleep in Mummy and Daddy’s room, just in case he needs to talk to his daughter during the night. During the day, Blue Monster is the main customer of R’s shop and also consumes every piece of plastic food in the house at least three times a day.
  • Snake. Snake has helped R to get dressed in the morning. He has kept her amused while having her nappy changed. He has read her stories and explained when it is time to go to sleep and stopped her screaming when the light is turned out. He has got her into her buggy and explained that she can’t get out to press the buttons on the cash machine, because it’s his turn. Snake is an all-round good guy, really.
  • Pooh (Winnie-Ther-). Pooh helps R wash her hair. No-one else can do it without screams and water and soap ending up in her eyes. For Pooh, she’ll tip her head back and even get her hair thoroughly wet herself and it will be washed, conditioned, rinsed and brushed within the space of about two minutes.
  • Dragon, Fairy, Knight, Wizard, Lion and Hippo. For the most part these are just characters to play with. They might come to R’s shop or for a picnic. They might play chase with her or read her stories. They might just sit and watch TV with her. But, whoever is in play at any time, will often be roped into providing a bit of persuasion if it’s dinner time, tidy-up time, bathtime, bedtime, getting-dressed time…

Thank you to whoever invented puppets!

So what persuasion do or have you used?

Friday, 23 January 2009

How do I make a date with a mum?

Ever since my first trip to a post-natal class, I have felt that making friends with other mums is like dating.

You have to work out if they are suited to you – are you going to argue about public versus private education, vaccinations, TV allowances? Do you have anything else in common, other than your having children of the same age? Do you have similar politics, do you both work outside the home or from home? Do you both like Costa Coffee or the local independent, organic place?

And then you have to sell yourself to them. You have to look like someone they would like to spend time with. You have to show that their child will benefit from spending time with your child. You have to make them laugh and laugh at their jokes. You have to be able to look past the little annoyances.

I never dated. No, that’s not quite true, I went on one date when I was 12 years old. To the fair. It was all very awkward. I didn’t know what to say or do. Apart from that, all my relationships (four of them) have started when drunk. I’ve never been out for a movie and a meal to get to know someone first. I’ve just fallen straight into the relationship.

So maybe that’s why I can’t make friends with other mums. I don’t have the dating experience under my belt. And I can’t very well get drunk before going to a toddler group.

The only local mum friends I have are people I’ve known since school days. None of their children are the same age as R. There are a few mums of children R’s age, who I would love to be friends with. But I don’t know how to do it. I see them walking round town together, texting each other, I hear them talking about going round to each other’s houses for coffee and joking about buying cake instead of baking it. I have absolutely no idea how to break into that.

Will it get better when she starts school? Should be I standing outside the nursery school doors, waiting for mums to talk to? Do I need to wait for an opportunity, like the one Single Parent Dad got when a local mum needed his help? Or should I go out there and be pushy in some way?

Is it just me, or do other mums and dads have the same problems?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Bad household management

We ran out of nappies. Had one for last night - phew! But none whatsoever after that.

So R has been forced to go out with just knickers (and tights, trousers, T-shirt, vest, shoes and coat, of course) on, along with a bag full of changes of clothes and the port-a-potty. My poor mum! She's (R not my mum) been doing so well with using the potty at home over the last few days that she was going to have to try this soon, but it would have been better parenting to have made the decision on the basis of her success at home, rather than a lack of nappies.

Well, it's only four hours. It can't be that bad, can it? And two bus journeys. You just know she's going to wait until she's on the bus to do anything, don't you?

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

It's carnival time!

Head on over to Alpha Mummy for the latest British Mummy (and Daddy) Bloggers Carnival. The last one of these was what persuaded me to finally dip my toes into the Mummy Blogging waters and is also where I discovered many of the blogs on my blog roll. I have yet to read them all, though there are some great bloggers listed on there, so you're pretty much guaranteed to find something you like.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Let’s go fly a kite

One of the perils of working from home, especially when you both do so, is losing your weekends.

Since becoming parents we have, generally, become much better at trying to make sure we get some family time at the weekends. However, every now and then deadlines are looming, hours have been lost through the week or there’s just too much work and you have to play juggle the daughter.

Juggle the daughter theoretically involves childcare shifts, where one of us works and the other does exciting, developmentally stimulating and energetic activities with said daughter.

What it usually involves is childcare shifts where one of us works and the other one attempts to do a week’s worth of housework while ensuring there is a constant stream of CBeebies, Nick Jr and Playhouse Disney to keep daughter quiet.

Today, I managed to miss out on the fun trip to the park. It was sunny for the first time in a while, so it was decided that it would be OK for daughter to put on a nappy and some clothes for an hour and go out and be energetic. I missed out on the first flying of the kite that husband had been given a year and a week ago for his previous birthday. I missed out on seeing my sister at the park. I missed out on getting mud all over my trousers.

Instead of all this fun, I was sat at my desk proofreading.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

To sleep, perchance to dream

For the last two nights, R has gone to sleep almost immediately after I left the room. She hasn’t called out Mummy (or Dorothy) three or four times. She hasn’t needed a wee or a pooh and then sat on the potty for five minutes doing neither (actually, she did need a wee, but that was before I’d properly left the room and she did actually do one). She hasn’t tried to go to sleep for five minutes and been quiet as a mouse, making me believe she’s gone to sleep, but giggling like a teenager when I walk past her door. She hasn’t jumped out of bed and run to our room five times, laughing like an evil mastermind, who is succeeding in a plot to take over the world. She hasn’t required her dad (who can do a much more authoritative voice than I can) to take over, because I am failing so miserably (though she has been warned that he will take over if she does try to mess about).

She’s just gone to sleep. Within half a chapter of my book, I have heard her snoring.

The night before last she didn’t wake up at all throughout the night. Last night she did wake up – bad dream – but was back to sleep within about two minutes. Not ten minutes. Not an hour. Not having woken both of us up and made his really grumpy and tired. I’m fairly sure that, earlier in the night, I heard a wake up a couple of times and go straight back to sleep. All by herself.

I have no idea whether this is the start of things to come and we have somehow, finally, managed to help her to sleep well (or she’s just got there on her own), or whether it’s just a brief and pleasant blip in the nightly struggle that is bedtime. But it’s given me a glimpse of possibilities. Possibilities of changes similar to those that came when the daytime nap disappeared and she started going to bed at around 8pm instead of 10.30pm. 

When that happened (about six months ago now, I think), we suddenly had evenings. The bedtime routine took about an hour or an hour and a half, instead of three. The person putting her to sleep could go downstairs afterwards and do things, rather than collapse into bed the minute she fell asleep. I took up ironing (giving me the excuse to watch old episodes of ER on DVD), C often works in the evenings or is able to relax and play LoTR for a decent chunk of time, we’ve occasionally sat downstairs together and watched a film, we’ve been able to go out like normal people, after she has gone to sleep (instead of having someone look after until 10pm, then returning to put her to sleep ourselves).

If she can finally manage to sleep through the night (or get herself back to sleep easily if she does wake up), I might be able to get up a couple of hours before she wakes up and do some work, or some writing, or something. I always used to be a morning person. I would usually get up at 5 or 6am and I would have a few hours’ work done before the phone started ringing or the emails started coming in. I  would be at my best in those early hours, doing my most creative or intellectual work tasks then and leaving the more mundane, repetitive tasks for the early afternoon.

But these days I don’t wake up until R does and then I’m lucky if I can muster the energy to read her books and play with her, rather than just switch the TV on while I drink two or three cups of tea, read things on the Internet and attempt to wake up. I sometimes manage to empty and/or fill the dishwasher and occasionally put a load of washing on. I’m usually woken up at least a couple of times during the night and usually somewhere around 4.30 when I can’t just get up after she finally goes back to sleep, but have to go back to sleep myself. And I no longer have those fantastic breastfeeding hormones that allow you to survive on lots of small chunks of sleep.

Will I turn back into a morning person when (if?) she finally manages to start sleeping through the night on a regular basis? Or will I be catching up on the last few years of not enough sleep and still sleep in until she wakes up? I really hope I get to find out!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Your hair’s all floopy, mum

Yesterday morning, having managed to shower and dry my hair while R* watched Timothy Goes to School, I was putting my make-up on (fairly rare occurrence since I work from home and usually manage the nursery school drop-off bundled up in big coat and hat and scarf, so un-coiffed state can go unnoticed) when she came through and asked if she could watch. Fortunately, she is over the phase of grabbing every piece of make-up and gouging bits out of it, so I agreed, rather than persuade her to watch more TV.

She asked lots of questions about it all and was allowed a teeny bit of rouge (figured it was the safest and least conspicuous of the lot) on each cheek (which I completely forgot to wipe off before leaving the house – oops).

I started putting it all back in my bag and said, ‘OK. I’ve finished.’

R looked at me, with her head tilted to one side and said, ‘No, you’re not, Mummy.’

‘I’m not? Why not? Have I missed something? Have I smudged my eye-liner?’

‘No, mum. Your hair’s all floopy!’

‘Floopy? How?’

‘It’s just wrong. It’s just floopy!’

‘Oh well. That’s what it’s supposed to look like, so you’ll have to make do with a mum with floopy hair.’

‘OK. Do you want buy something in my shop now?’

I am not sure whether it was floopy because I had gone to the trouble of using a hair dryer and actually brushing it in a specific direction rather than just letting it drip dry, or whether it was because I’d dried it flicked out, instead of bobbed in . The former is probably most likely, really.


* R = daughter, 2.5 years

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


When I was a child, my mum had an alter-ego called Betty. Betty had a Birmingham accent and would sometimes persuade me to do things I didn’t want to do, such as getting dressed, brushing my teeth and so on. I don’t believe (though I should probably check with my mum) that I in anyway instigated the creation of Betty. I think my mum created her to help with the whole getting a toddler to do things they don’t want to do problem. We use puppets in much the same way.

My daughter, however, has decided recently that I’m Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz). It started with her naming one of her cuddly dogs Toto (yes, she had been watching The Wizard of Oz quite a lot). I asked if she was Dorothy and she decided that she wasn’t, but that I was. But it’s grown from there. She calls me Dorothy when we’re out and about, now. She will sometimes refuse to listen to me unless I confirm that I am Dorothy. Instead of calling out Mummy in the middle of the night she calls out Dorothy.

It’s really quite strange and I hover between finding it cute and endearing and worrying about whether I should be discouraging it.

Tonight she decided that her dad is Charlie (presumably Lola’s elder brother). I wonder if we should be investigating deed polls, and maybe throwing out the TV?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Building up immunity

At the drop-in we go to on a Wednesday afternoon, some of the mums were discussing all the illnesses they'd had over the holidays. Many of them had some kind of cold flu going round the whole family over the two-week period. We didn't have any. We were all healthier than we'd been since the end of October.

My daughter started nursery school in November (at 2 years 3 months), since when she's had three nasty coughs, four colds, and one stomach bug. Prior to that she was hardly ever ill. She's only there for two sessions a week (one morning and one afternoon), yet seems to pick up everything available.

She's had three days off nursery school already, which, understandably but no less annoyingly, have to be paid for. One of us has to down tools to look after her and then make up the work in the evening or early morning, when we're already overtired from getting up more than normal during the night. Oh yes, and we have both had at least two of the illnesses she's had ourselves.

I know that it's really important to build up immunity. I know that it should mean she'll be generally healthier as an adult. And, of course, I know how much she benefits from nursery school in other ways. But, in the middle of the night, when she's waking up every couple of hours because she's coughing so much, I am very tempted to keep her at home until she's ready to go to university.

Thursday, 8 January 2009


Something most of the parenting books don't mention - when your body starts releasing those pregnancy hormones, it also lets loose a tidal wave of guilt. The hormones go away eventually; the guilt you will never be rid of.

All mums feel guilt. Stay-at-home mums feel guilty when they stick their kids in front of the TV so they can cook the dinner. Working mums feel guilty when they stick their kids in front of the TV while they put their make-up on. Work-at-home mums feel guilty when they stick their kids in front of the TV while they check their email. Mums without TVs feel guilty when their kids come home from school asking why they can't watch Charlie and Lola.

I always planned to be a WAHM. I went into the publishing industry knowing that it was one that offered very good freelancing opportunities (among many other reasons). I set up my business years before starting my family, so that it would be well-established by the time that family came along. My role model in this was probably my mother, who always worked from home, and her mother before her, who co-ran the family business. I actually found it difficult to imagine doing it any other way.

I thought the guilt of working full-time would have been overwhelming, as would the boredom of being a SAHM. But the truth of it is that the WAHM has her fair share of guilt and the SAHM with children under five is unlikely to find the time to be bored, the job is far too varied.

I feel guilty when:
  • I turn the TV on at 3pm (Peppa Pig on Nick Jr, followed by Peppa Pig on Nick Jr 2) to get an hour of housework done

  • I shout, or screech even, 'Come here and put your coat on! Now!' instead of finding some creative way to turn it into a fun game

  • I use biscuits to cajole her into the buggy

  • I sit and watch TV without ironing or being in some way useful

  • I have to stop playing shops to take a phone call

  • I do something other than work during nursery school and granny hours

  • I snap and shout because I haven't had enough sleep

  • I snap and shout because I haven't got enough time

  • I snap and shout because I've got my period

  • I snap and shout because I'm annoyed with someone else

  • I snap and shout

  • I'm late for pick up

  • I say no to a bath because it's too late

  • I say no to play dough, because it will make a mess

  • I say no to digging in the garden because it's too cold.

And so it goes on...

Loathe though I am to sound soppy and corny, it is, of course, worth every single second of guilt and I wouldn't have it any other way. Except maybe if those lottery numbers come up.