Saturday, 26 February 2011


I posted a couple of weeks ago about libraries, and my fearful sense of a future without them. Especially without them in remote or unpopular places. I'm still shuddering. I fear this may look funny, but the bookworm in me has been drawn out of the earth again, as my local book store has started a valiant fight for survival in these wintery economic climes. But Tim assures me there's no conflict of interest and libraries are good for bookshops, encouraging a future of readers and interest in each other.

Tim works at The Big Green Bookshop. It is my local bookshop, an independent set up by two rogue heroes. Spider-boy calls them guitar man and the other man. Go and visit and see if you can tell who is who.

It would be easiest to tell on a Friday morning when their usually both about reading books and singing songs with N22's (and N8, and N17, and N15, and even N4s who are prepared to walk) under fives. There's free coffee for Mums, enthusiastic strumming which indulges local variations on classics like row-row-row your boat and tolerance for the kids' excited pre-empting of the bear's entrance in We're Going On A Bear Hunt. And most charmingly there is no hard sell, no grumpiness about buggies, no worries about kids who want to look around the shelves between songs. Perhaps that's a problem, the lack of hard sell I mean, you have to hunt out the collection box to contribute for tea with more perseverance than Rosen's ursine seeking family adventurers.

Simon and Tim are smart because they know books and people. They understand and saw a need (and huge desire) for Wood Green to have its own bookshop after the large Waterstones shut down a few years ago. We may be in the heart of Harringay but for now Wood Green has a thriving massive library and lots of community stuff going on. Despite Harringay's shit poor media rep which suggests we're some gun ridden shoplifting social services no go zone, living here is generally quite nice. And TBGBS embraces that.

They told the story in their blog OPEN A BOOKSHOP, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG (TWO BLOKES, ONE BOOKSHOP, NO IDEA). It is typically fun and open and honest. Like their website with its exuberant reviews. John Hegley's Glad To Wear Glasses is reviewed thus:

This is John Hegley's first and probably best known collection of poems, and frankly, it's brilliant. There are a lot of poems about glasses and one about a brown paper bag. He has an ability to make the everyday something special, and for that alone he should be carried around North London being cheered and waved at as he goes. Sadly this hasn't happened yet to my knowledge.

I wanted to blog as I admire them hugely. Not least as things are tough and they had the balls to admit it. To email their customers and explain that they were open and wanted to keep it that way. To say they were struggling and to ask for help. They did it with their usual honesty and wit - they have a struggleometer on their newsletter, Blue Peter appeal stylee, to show how far they've come. It's so retro it is almost achingly cool. It isn't about cool though, it is about survival and frankly, I bloody hope it works. Because I feel about them, much like they feel about John Hegley.

I felt like crying when I heard the shop might not survive. I could blog for ages about all the wonderful memories I have associated with it. Newborn's first book bought with a thorough analysis of which 'That's Not My...' title would be best. Their indulgence of a hopping Spider-boy in letting him use the staff loo. The day Tim went through all the kids' shelves looking for one with a bus in that would satisfy Spider-boy's obsession. The scathing but tolerant look Simon gave me when I went through my shameful Twilight phase and asked where the third book was on the shelves. 'You're looking in adults' he said. 'It is for teens'. Both of their excitable reviews of any book you mention and their gossip about their book group. Perhaps my fondest though is for a day when I arrived 10 minutes after closing. Rather than turning away a harassed Mum Tim invited me in, after hours, and offered a glass of white and a raucous chatter. You don't get that on Amazon.

I could tell you all this, but actually, it is the kind of hang out book loving place you have to discover yourself. So get it while it is hot. I'm sure you'll like it.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Be-crutched, Buggered and Bewildered

There was an article in The Guardian last weekend about SPD/PGP. I didn't quite know how to marshal my thoughts about it straight away. On the one hand, the piece is about an extreme case. A woman who is now a wheelchair user for a large part of her life as a result of the condition. She is admirable in her approach which is one of showing joy for what she has rather than focussing on what she has lost (a great deal).

I developed this complication in my second pregnancy, but I didn't know if I should post about it as there is so much scaremongering one of the comments below the article wonders wearily if The Guardian and other papers have editors dedicated to putting the shits up pregnant women. This would be poor. However, as someone who had heard of the condition but, like pnd, and other (maybe all?) illnesses mental and otherwise, NEVER THOUGHT IT WOULD HAPPEN TO ME, I think it might be better to write it down.

You never think it'll happen to you - a smart defense usually against curling up in the foetal position and refusing to engage with life. But me. I mean ME? Unable to walk. Don't be silly... As a bear of little brain and no imagination, it rather took me by surprise. And though I may still have wound up housebound and becrutched for the final months of my pregnancy, I could have certainly, perhaps, avoided drama had I heeded signs.

It started with twinges and soreness. TMI but right across thefront of my pelvis, and in my hips. There was referred pain in my back and knees too. It got worse. And worse. Things like stairs, climbing on to buses/tubes, they started to hurt, and make me feel wobbly, somehow. It was distracting. I wish I'd seen someone then.

Instead I ploughed on until I went to the London Transport Museum with Spiderboy and felt a sort of cracky sensation as I climbed onto a tram. It hurt, in a briefly blinding sort of way. I limped home with my boy. I took paracetamol. I carried on over the weekend but found I was stopping to rest. I booked a physio appointment the next week and looked online. They will tie me back together with elastic I joked and kissed my husband goodbye for a business trip and set of for work.

This approach, ignoring a condition I'd heard of, was, in hindsight INSANE. It concluded with a sort of nightmarish sequence of events. I say nightmarish, I honestly only remember them in the style of an over stylised student film. Flash images of me on an escalator, pulling myself along a railing on Dean Street, lurching down a corridor at work, sitting at my desk, and a strange moment, once sat there, where I realised I couldn't walk. The humiliation was hideous, as I had to be partly carried out (massively pregnant) by a very gracious colleague and then chaperoned, by another colleague (and friend), to hospital.

I'll never forget the moment when I realised people were all looking at me and the physios brilliant no nonsense, no melodrama, decisiveness as I said 'I don't know if I can walk to the room' and she said 'No, you can't' and just got me a wheelchair. Nor the horrified look in my colleagues face as I tried to get into it. Luckily I have forgotten how I did get into that chair and what noises I must have been making.

If the physio was an antipodean angel (she was), then my colleague? He's a saint. For several reasons. One for coming along and being there (my husband was away in Northern Ireland for work). Two for forgoing any food for the 5 or so hours he stayed. Three for staying, even though I couldn't talk. And four because he's male and 20 or so years older than me. He is a good friend, but obviously not my partner. No-one else knew that, and I imagine we looked like the most insane pair. Me doing that focussed breathing and moaning and nervous incoherent chit chat that only people in dreadful pain do. Him sitting nervously not touching me. The looks from other patients and members of staff said it all. They thought he was the biggest bastard out, the father of my baby unwilling to even hold my hand!

My pelvis had separated/become unstable. The condition is caused by hormones so even now I'm not lugging my nearly 8lber around with all his commensurate goo wherever I go, it hurts and feels strange. But I don't need the crutches any more. This is good as Spiderboy was sick and tired of my sticks and had taken to saying 'I don't think you need them any more Mummy' whilst walking off with them to another part of the house.

Last weekend we were clearing up, doing chores, trying to stop our house looking too Iris and he saw my sticks in the spare room. 'Why have you STILL got those Mummy?' he demanded with three-year-old scalpel precision.

Damn he's wiser than a wise old thing. And certainly wiser than me. He may hold on to his broken toys like the last lifeboats on the Titanic but even he can see when clinging to fear and the past and the broke stuff is a bad idea. I don't know quite what the answer is. Well I do, I'm still afraid. Scared that I'll wake up another morning and not be able to walk. We've made a deal. He thinks about chucking out his now wheel-less door-less bendybus and I'll think about returning the sticks. It's a start.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Into your arms, oh Lord...

My second pregnancy was 30 odd weeks of dread and panic. It was one of those pregnancies where one drama followed another - bleeds, panic attacks, flashbacks, incontinence, hysteria and anxiety, tests for growth and diabetes, possible DVT, mental health speculation, and (literally) crippling SPD/PGP as my pelvis gave way. Even I was bored of the drama way before it escalated.

It is not a time I remember with much fond nostalgia, and at some points I wondered whether I could possibly continue with the pregnancy. I am ashamed about this, as now I actually know my son I know I would do anything for him. Anything. Even be pregnant again.

But there was a turning point, of sorts, which arrived at my house one summer eve in the form of Marcia Lord. A doula who I'd met before but who arrived on our doorstep, chatted buses to our three year old (boy does she know three year olds, and North London bus routes), and listened to us recount his birth.

She listened, and soothed, and talked about other women she'd worked with. Her ladies, who she seems to love and delight in. She said she would love to be at Newborn's birth (we'd already named him and she always got it right). And from that moment, from the minute she said she would like to be involved I felt better. Only a tiny bit better, but better.

I can't explain what she did for us really, she was mainly a warm and firm and soft pair of hands, bossy enough to handle errant taxi drivers on the rush to labour ward, thick skinned enough to take in very good grace my immediate demand for an epidural and or c-section when I was told I wasn't dilated on our arrival, very quick to hit the red button when my waters went and the clear voice which let me know 'thatwoman, are you ready to meet your baby?' when he flew out a few minutes later.

She says on her (fabulous) blog that she's a doula not because she loves babies, although she seems to, but because she loves people. This is abundantly clear and beyond reassuring. She's hilarious and straightforward too - at one point I asked what would happen if I died in labour, she hugged me tight and said, if you do that, I'll kill you. Adding that she and Mr Thatwoman would be there, but it wouldn't happen.

She's realistic, clear and calm, it isn't about an idea she has of idealised natural birth with her, though she is bang on about the benefits of labour without intervention, it is about supporting the birther in all her choices where possible and helping out when not. She didn't tell me what to do, she reminded me what I could do. On our first meeting she seemed struck by how disempowered I felt.

She also freed up Mr Thatwoman, who was also incredibly anxious about the d-day and still a little strung out from our first extended push. She allowed him to just be with me and did everything else, whilst making sure he knew that just being was important. We fell into her arms and were held and contained.

I wish I was a poet, and I could write her a song. A love letter of gratitude for shouldering so much. Instead I'll have to share a brilliant poem I wish I'd written instead, which has all the rhythms of childhood chanting and again demonstrates a love of people, all people. These are the hands.

*These Are The Hands one of my favourite poems, written by Michael Rosen about the NHS (another of the few things which makes me feel very, very proud, and very, very lucky).

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Lucky Stars

I realise I've posted a good bit about remembering - remembering the good and remembering the bad. I saw my Mum this week and she told me that memories faze and fade, and that everyone with larger families, or older children, has melded memories and has forgotten much of the minutiae of early family life. She's a good Mother, especially excellent at bedtime stories, with four grown up daughters who are (mostly) all right, so she should know.

My best friend is an advocate of regularly pausing to count out lucky stars. A corny sounding truism, which belies astute wisdom and a lifeline for future calamity. She reckons a few moments of contemplative contentment can offer something tangible to hold onto as when life throws you off course.

She's another wise lady. Which is why I've put the picture above. It is blurry around the edges and the image is already dangerously familiar, not worth a pic as we see it all the time. I've even posted before about my boys at bedtime. Marvelled at them together, making each other laugh without any prompting from their parents.

What I like about it is that it is clearly unposed. The position may have been decided for the youngest, who hasn't yet got control of his limbs, but the smile, the joke, the movement, the moment - that's all theirs. I want to catch it and throw it up into my galaxy of good fortune rather than let it slide into that complacency of the commonplace and risk losing it forever. The valley of the unknowing complacent is one I have trod, and by Jove is it a dangerous place.

It's where you walk along an excited newlywed wanting a baby, of sound mind and functioning pelvic floor. The path is so obvious and normal that it feels inevitable and true, despite ups and downs the path colludes with you in a sense that all is certain. But the pathway is a mirage. It isn't a steady path but a tightrope we skip along happily ignorant of what is choice and what is circumstance. On either side the fields mask a drop where Alice-like you can tumble and find yourself somewhere else entirely. In my case, trudging up Highgate Hill in the sleet, tears whiplashing back into my tired eyes, an hour late for an appointment where I'd be asked if I wanted to kill myself (yes) or my baby (NO). Unwitting, happily ignorant complacency sits next door to the bleakest places, defined by a sense of loss and where the lost wander giddily, unable to grasp who or what they were before.

This blog is partly an attempt at creating an anchor in case I slip off the path of the everyday and a reminder to take stock of my good fortune gratefully. I feel I'm charging it with that grave responsibility: forming a record of who I am in case I get lost again.

But the blog is also offering something else. Something positive, and hopeful, and fearless: a starting point. A peak to stand on gazing over the horizon if I can look above my navel. Like the snap above, which shows the unfurling bud of my boys' relationship in real time but also could be a snatched shot of the future. An inkling of the life they will lead even when me and Mr Thatwoman are no longer around to micromanage them. I should be so lucky.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Depression and trendy #hashtags

A week or so ago there was a Twitter hash tag trending. This means, for those who aren't members of the twitterati, people using twitter across the world were writing short microblog posts on a similar theme, linking them by a repeated phrase starting with an #. It was trending, which means lots of people were using it at the same time. The hash tag was #nostigma. Tweets abounded as people talked about depression and mental illness.

I toyed with joining in but wasn't sure. Partly as most people who know me have been bored to tears I expect by my depression talk which is either naval gazing or horrific. But also as behind this self-deprecating defence lay a nub of something else. Shame. A big hard nutty nub of shame and fear.

I know the drill, don't get me wrong. Depression is an illness just like any other. Mental illness is physical (unless your brain doesn't count as an organ any more). There should be no worry over anti-depressants as you'd have a plaster for a cut or take drugs for cancer or if you broke your leg. There would be no shame over a broken limb, why feel ashamed if your head is a bit broken. These are all true, after a fashion. All things being equal they are how we are supposed to think. This was the point, after all, of the hash tag itself. Dissolve the stigma; be honest.

And I'm an educated liberal minded type who prides myself on trying to avoid the sort of thinking which would collude in the stigma. I hate that sort of thing. I don't think people who are depressed etc are different from the rest of us.

But I sometimes want to shout, IT ISN'T THE SAME AS A BROKEN LEG as no-one, no-one, NO-ONE is even slightly uncomfortable or embarrassed, or challenging if you have a broken leg. There isn't any slight sense that you should not talk about it, bemoan the pain, speak about how it affects your life.

I say this knowing it could make me sound terribly ungrateful for the simple kindness and support I have been so lucky to receive from so many friends and family. Good people who've listened and behaved in exactly the way the #nostigma campaign and similar are encouraging us all to. Who really have not, even once, made me feel like a total twat for getting so mind-knotted.

I'm not ungrateful, but I am a bit embarrassed. And annoyed with myself for being embarrassed, but slightly something (defensive? protective?) of that bit of myself too. It is okay, I tentatively suggest, to be overwhelmed and humiliated by your private torment and to feel uncomfortable and ashamed to admit that you don't adhere to an image, not of perfection, but of basic normality. That you cannot think straight and need help to do it. That you are on a downer and don't know if you'll ever climb back up.

In the end I did tweet. I put 'I have suffered from depression. And other more embarrassing illnesses'. This is true. Go to the knackered snatch clinic and cough to pee as part of your assessment and you'll know what I mean. But I felt a little bit of a fraud and not a little scared, yes, shamefully, of what people would think.

Little Red Books

Newborn went for his second set of jabs this week. On the way out I had to grab his little red book, which I'd lost and blogged about before. It was, with everything else missing in the world, in the shambles that is (was?) our dining room table.

It didn't fit into my changing bag. Or in my poor excuse for a handbag (big enough only for keys, oyster card and purse). It did fit tucked under my son's cocoon, behind his head, in the buggy.

This was good, in that it solved a simple storage problem and it allowed me to leave the house on time (ish). It was bad as it reminded me of thatwoman. The worst thatwoman I've ever been, whose profile isn't even in my About Me lists.

Now I posted earlier this week about the glory of remembering and my dear wish that some things, like marvelling over tiny toenails or wet newborn dribble kisses, are forgotten. Forgotten and buried amongst the shit being preferable because that means they definitely happened before. Confusing though it was to express (and feel) it seemed right. But as I slid the red book behind his nibs' beautiful be-hatted head I realised it swings both ways. In searching the forgetfulness of post-post-natal depression you find some horrors.

You see, the red book was a key prop in the story I told of my depression. With Spider-boy, to my eternal shame and horror, I never lost the book. Never once. Because I kept it, in his pram, behind his head. Not for safekeeping or to avoid losing it in the mess tsunamis we nearly drown in. Not even so it could be filled in with each milestone - those pages are as blank as my emotional canvass was, a very clear reflection. But so when I threw myself into the traffic, or slid down and lay on the tracks of the tube someone would be able to identify him. It felt imperative that someone would know his name. That they would realise he had been mine and that he now belonged with his Dad. My poor Paddington.

It was a clear plan with a perishing fatal flaw. How could I be sure no-one would steal him? He was, after all, perhaps the most heart-stoppingly, chest-freezingly beautiful thing, all sculpted snub nose, shiny black eyes, perfect round head. Who would be able to resist him? The plan itself would offer an ideal opportunity to take him as onlookers were preoccupied with the traffic carnage I would cause.

I never found an answer. So I never did it. I thought about it all the time though. I took to using a sling, not because I'm a natural 'Earth Mother', a North London uber Mum breastfeeding and slinging in soft-leather sandals as I skipped between coffee breaks (which is not a dig, I wanted to be one), but because I could never have jumped if I had him strapped to me. Whilst waiting for the solution (which was, I realise now, NOT killing myself, rather than solving the dilemma) I wrote lists. Mainly of things like the paint colour of each room, and who would be pissed off if my husband missed their birthday, so his life would be easier and my sum of knowledge in the running of our family wouldn't be lost.

People have often remarked on how honest I am about depression, although I wonder if I just talked about it then because I didn't think enough of anyone I know not to. The worst thing about the story above is it is a dull repeat for many who know me and I am beyond lucky enough to call friends. I was too far gone to feel shame or worry about the excess of dramatic self-pity such plans betray. And I had gone so far past empathy that it never occurred to me how upsetting it would be for anyone who cared for me to hear them.

So it is with apology to them I write this post, but also because I was discussing depression with a friend this week and shocked her again with a revelation about my depression when pregnant and I realised I have a way to go in working out what really needs to be remembered.

It is the worst kind of apology though, because I'm sorry and sad, but I have to keep writing. Because depression is a lonely place, pnd in its own particular peculiar way and it feels important to record the worst of times as I hunt for the better ones.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Packing Light

Well, yesterday's post which (I hope) contained a lot of adulation for my baby and the noises he makes was savagely beaten with the irony stick when he 'spoke' to us. A lot. Through the medium of crying and screaming. In the manner of a colic ridden newborn. He howled, and shouted, and mithered, and cried all night. And pretty much into the morning. He's still sticky as Velcro and cross as anything. Serves me right for getting sentimental.

But today is another bleary eyed day, and a chance for future planning. We have planned a holiday. Just short, but away in Italy and (briefly during a train stop over) France. To make it work financially and timing wise we'll have to pack light and be ruthless. No prisoners to be taken here, and no excess of clothes or toys or similar. How will we do it? I've no idea.

You'll notice this blog contains a lot of excess baggage, feelings, emotions, worries I cart around with me. They, these thoughts and bloody things, are all paid up members of the crap I carry around with me and can't sort out club (which clutters my mind and my ever bulging changingbag). I'm one of life's worst hoarders, clinging to all manner of, often unhelpful, rubbish because I am too pussy to let go. From morbid fantasies, to fears of failure, through receipts (that remind me of the things I shouldn't have bought) to presents I don't like but can't get rid of. My head, my house, my handbag: they are all full.

Spider-boy is as bad, reliving nightmares and refusing to relinquish even the most bashed up and broken toys. He and a friend were playing the other day and *somehow* by *someone* (I don't want to know) his favourite poster of Cars was torn. He wanted to keep the two unfixable (even with selotape) ripped sheets, and I recognise that terribly, the need to hang on to broken bits, to savour what they were and the sadness of losing them.

Don't get me wrong, I was messy before I was depressed, and was, like Spider-boy, bound somehow to stuff even at three. But depression definitely underlined and exacerbated my inability to let go, at all, of anything, and an emotional horror to the point of fatigue. It got so bad that a friend had to come and help me tidy our bedroom for a whole day when I was pregnant this time. As she said whilst rifling and decluttering, 'these things don't upset me, for me this is satisfying for you it would be terrifying'.

But there's no room for redundant thoughts or objects, on this trip. I have to plan ahead, make lists, whittle down, exorcise, reduce, re-evaluate. A capsule wardrobe for me, and him, and him, and him. The clan minimally clad. The bear essentials for playing, even though there will be a 7 hour train journey over European borders. I think it will be good for us.

If you'd suggested this to me last year I would have laughed out loud and died inside. The task of slimming down what we need and functioning out there, all together, with just our wits and some spare pants would have sent me wailing into the night. But today I'm excited. I'm hoping the planning and paring down will help us see that maybe, just maybe, we can function together without the detritus we cling to to prove who we are.

PS: Getting into the travelling spirit I'm also going on a blog hop. Scary new country....

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Glorious Forgetting

Newborn continues to wake up. Both throughout the night, but also in the day. He holds his head, chin jutting out, eyes wide open, hungry for new sights.

And he's found a new way to call for me. Wailing, yes, of course but he's started talking too. All delightful, glorious, babysqualk nonsense. Scribble talk. Frankie Howerd meets Sid James. Sighs and growls and chuckles and oohahhs.

He makes the simple half sounds we all associate with babies. He goos and gaahs his way through the cliches, burbles so repetitive and mundane they could even be annoying to strangers. But his handful of dribbly notes enchant me precisely because they are familiar repeats.

You see, I must believe these are all familiar notes, a new tune in the same key, my second son's arrangement reminding me of my first's. I must believe this as the alternative would kill me.

I find myself telling people (as I revel in my baby with all that new Mum worshiping) that I've forgotten quite how sweet and perfect newborns are. That over a few years I'd lost my keen love of their feel and touch and smell. Their biscuity heads and downy backs, pursed lips and clear eyes learning to follow you, their smooth brows and bow legs.

But this is a protest and a plea, not just a joke. I hope I've forgotten because it would break my heart if I had never experienced them before. If I thought I had never marvelled at these everyday miracles before. If hadn't sat back to listen when Spider-boy tried his first chatters and chants and revelled in the marvellous mundaneness. If I'd been too lost to notice it all. But I can't be certain. Because although I loved Spider-boy, and of that I'm sure, of the rest? Well, I can't quite fathom it. It turns out the price of happiness now is a tough one. Who knew post-natal depression had such a final blow?And that blow is an instinctive move towards forgetting, obliterating even that which we should be keeping in our mind's eye.

Forgetting depression should be a fail safe, a relief, a saviour. But for me it has come at a price I'm not prepared to pay. Getting better means I'm losing my memory of being ill, filing the memories deep, deep down. But I'm sure by doing so I lose happiness too. And can't tell which experiences with this son are glorious, reinvented echoes (as they should be) and which ones are new (and perhaps reflect a lack of concentration the first time round).

Which is why I must keep peeping behind the dark curtains in this blog, just to check, and to see that sometimes, thank God, I do remember. And when I do I find nice things, amidst the darkest hours. Like the picture at the top. A crappy snap of a baby laughing. So like anything I'd put on my Facebook page today. But I know it was taken in 2007 not 2011, and it is of a different newborn just finding his voice. It is important as it is a photo I know I took, and it proves I was listening to him then and I have been there before. So however hard remembering all that shit that surrounded my first baby might be, obliterating it rather than just forgetting it is so much worse, and having never been there before? Having missed the mundane moments in the first place? That's would be just unthinkable.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Discipline and Punish (and little yellow boats)

I don't know why I wanted it so much, or where we bought it from. And I have no idea where it is now. But I can still feel the tummy churning yearning. The sweaty toddler palms, the quick breathing and anticipation. It was a little wooden yellow yacht, in a tiny perspex case. But oh, it was so much more than that.

When I finally had it, in my three year old hands, you could take the back off and twang the dark brown rubbery mast. A mast no thicker than a toothpick, tantalisingly bendy but immovably rooted to its plywood base. Best of all you could hold it tight, letting the plastic edges dig in, the corners eluding my chubby fingers, poking out, always one quick squeeze away from flying to the floor. If I close my eyes, I can still feel those corners over the edge of my grasp.

But mostly I remember it out of my hands and above my reach. Sitting on top of the wardrobe where it had been placed for a punishment. I remember standing below and staring, shadowed by the purple woodchip in my parents bedroom. A beacon of injustice winking in the shafts of sunlight, elusive and magnificently tiny.

I don't know what I did wrong, or how long the boat was placed aloft. Minutes, hours, days, a week? I have no idea. And what crime I had committed? I close my eyes and nothing comes back. But I have an idea of how it must have been for my Mother.

An idea that comes back to me when I hear something in my voice. When I'm talking to Spider-boy as he yet again refuses to put his shoes on when we are going out. After playing with his spaghetti. And forgets his angelic, fervent promise ('I will be good' 'I will get ready' 'I will get my socks') because he's seen a cast off tram or dinosaur or his special car in the hall. Baby screaming in the pram, me standing at the door, him STILL sockless and immediately immersed in a very important game just seconds after his pledge, I burn.

And I can feel a swelling inside. An end of my tether, quivering sensation as something forms in my head. A threat. It comes to me: 'Spider-Boy' I say, punctuating his names. 'If you don't come here right now I'll take Lightening McQueen away and put him on my wardrobe and you won't be able to play with him...'

He jumps and looks at me with wide eyed horror. Is it my threat or my raised voice which have burst the bubble? His lips look on the verge of trembling. He says 'but how would I play with him?' and I crumble. 'QUICKLY' I say, inside saluting my Mother and wishing I had her resolve as I fumble him out of the house, we are a shambles but on our way.

'When I was a little girl' I tell him sagely. 'I was naughty and my Mummy took one of my toys away until I was good'. I wait for a reaction. 'At my work', he counters, 'I took your computer away because you were naughty to me all day'.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Moving Images

I love American Beauty. I remember seeing it with my then boyfriend, now husband and, knowing it would be a shoe in for best picture, planning an Oscar party. We transformed our flat with apple juice in sample pots in the fridge, scarlet (paper) petals in the sink and obscure home-made videos playing on our PC. But I digress. I was minded of American Beauty this weekend because I saw plastic bag after plastic bag floating in the wind all over Wood Green.

The bags moved with a certain lyrical something, but they didn't remind me of the beauty in the world. What does? At a push, if we're looking for beauty and meaning in the mundane, the glistening of tarmac under orangey street lamps after rain and cold snowflakes melting on warm hats and gloves. But I must confess the poetry in my heart has been somewhat ruined since having kids. Observations are no less bright but have a darker set of references. It isn't the beauty in the world I see, but the scary possibilities.

It isn't suburban soul seeking I channel, but AntiChrist, as I notice the foxes and rats on North London streets. Chaos reigns indeed. I see the end of the world in falling acorns, read Schindler's List analogies into Toy Story 3 and spend Tangled keen to reassure my sons that I am their real mother and brown hair is totally okay.

Luckily, as with all navel gazing in this house, I am fortunate enough to have the world in all its myriad nuances reinterpreted for me by my children, even if I'm too tired or wary to read anything other than potential disaster as I walk our streets. Spider-boy with his toddler desire of order in the world points out the strange and unfamiliar in a bog standard house clearance: 'Mummy, there's a sofa on the pavement'. But more than that, along with his puppy dog love of sticks, he can see things I am to blithely, tiredly, complacent to notice as we trudge the same steps each day.

Yesterday was a case in point. Walking down our road, retracing our everyday steps, I noticed Spider-boy had stopped, stock still, by the third tree down. They are greying, unremarkable birches I think, and a bit of a hindrance for a buggy. 'Mummy', he said when I turned round to see where he'd gone. 'Something here looks like a bottom'. A little bemused I walked back to him, standing so solemn in his Paddington duffel coat staring at the bark. Sure enough a slash in the tree is prominent. And it looks like a giant arse. And I'm relieved. Arsing around about trees is surely more preferable to seeking meaning in the litter.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Today we went to the library...

So today we went to the library. I shivered at a future that might have been. It is the first place I lost my son. And it taught me a lesson, in parenting as watchfulness and our duty to concentrate on what our children are doing.

He was two and escaped the safe paddock and playhouse of the Children's floor. A kindly old woman, had spied him whilst studying and scooped him up. She knew that we all have a role in watching our children. There he was, standing at the top of the stairs. Small, but unafraid, eager for the steep journey ahead. I was terrified. I thought he would fall. Afterwards I thought he could have fallen. It haunted me.

We have returned many times. We have returned to get lost. To find jokes, and rhymes, old friends and new. We've been there to sing, to draw, to play, to be still. Mostly to rent Fireman Sam and pay fines. My son knows the library well. He's comfortable amongst the shelves and tubs, sneaking behind the desk, finding the secret hiding place where The Giant Jam Sandwich gets wedged. He knows the computers, big books, the old toys. He can open the gate himself and usher his younger brother to the lift (NOT the stairs).

So today, we went to the library, to find two books about being scared. Shark In The Dark and Shark In The Park. We rooted and rifled and returned victorious. We've read them and played with them, screamed and squealed. We've shared them with friends, we've learned the words, and we've joked, about Timothy Pope and his trusty untrustworthy shark-spotting 'scope. And we've all, our family and our very best friends, wilfully, laughingly, joyously lost ourselves. Lost in the rhythms and rhymes, we've shrieked at the jokes and peeped through the holes and found much more than some scary fish in a duck pond.

Because today, when we went to the library, we were there for something else too. We were there in support of Nick Sharratt's fibs and fins and every child's right to scream into the night in fear of a great white shark in their window. Support, not of our library, but of an idea. Books are free in this country, and that is one of the very few things that makes me feel proud. Properly, goosebumpy proud.

So today we went to the library. I shivered at a future that could come. It is the first place I lost my son. And a place I am proud to lose him any day.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts...

Here are both boys looking cute they are, transformed by what is still one of my most treasured baby gifts from a fellow film geek. But which is which?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Shit days

It has been a shitty day. I mean seriously, Newborn (ish) has shat two of his loveliest babygros and his lovely new amazing baby soothing vibrating baby miracle chair. The seeping orange menace is EVERYWHERE. Me, him, clothes, the changing mat.

Not huge pools that could be cleared up easily you understand, but tiny smears sneaking around and hiding on cheeks and crevices. Nothing screams motherhood more than looking in the mirror and thinking 'Eurgh, what's that shit on my face. Oh, it is SHIT. On MY FACE'.

To make matters worse, me rantier, and add to the general rainbow myriad of crap (and puke) that coloured our day Newborn's BCG jab exploded too spurting green gunk and blood on both of us. Is this normal? I ponder whilst giving him an impromptu soak in the sink (careful not to splash the pus volcano). And realise how would I know, because I have lost his red book. Nice one thatwoman. Mother. Of. The. Year.

Luckily I've calmed down, and so has he, and we had a spur of the moment sing out in the kitchen. Thunder Road meets Twinkle Twinkle - diamonds for him and roses thrown in the rain to reawaken my fictional blue colour 70s youth for me. And, well, his wound is clean and the babygros will wash. And if they don't, we'll survive. And hopefully I'll convincing the Health Visitors that I've only lost the book, not the plot this time.