Rites of Parenthood

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Wikimedia Commons, credit Jon Sullivan

It seems this parenting lark comes complete with several rites of passage, inexperience of which leaves you outside the inner circle of the knowing parental head-nodders.   Several of these rites are in the category ‘poo’, and I had personally cleansed Sprout of several episodes each requiring a two-layer costume change.  Embarrassingly, the first one happened at a friend’s house in the relatively early stages when I had even less idea what I am doing. However, I had been avoiding second on the list in the category ‘poo’.  That is, until yesterday.

Sprout had not, as medical professionals so delicately describe it, moved his bowels for nearly three days.  I suspected his digestion had gone awry and practically begged him to take a shit, if only to save us both from his third trip to the doctor.  Though I did fear the what might happen when the floodgates opened.  As I sat listening intently during a paediatric first aid course, a faint waft floated up to my nostrils.  There were other babies in the room so I couldn’t be sure, but I hoped my offspring had followed my instruction.  After class, I rushed home to change him and on our arrival he was, unusually, still awake and looking pleased: my hopes rose further.  Nappy-removal unveiled a smallish turd.  No constipation, no trip to the doctor.  Feeling smug, I changed him with liberal praise.  Later, he was crying for sleep and needed another change so I proceeded upstairs thinking I could look forward to a blissful hour of not having to tend to any of his needs.

How is it possible for babies to curl out a turd that’s over half the length of their entire body?  Sprout filled one nappy and then, after a quick-draw nappy-shuffle, a second.  Like pride before a fall, my smugness soared to new heights. I left the nappy open and, hoping to release all his discomfort-inducing waste products in one session, executed the wind-relieving yoga pose the teacher sold us.

Seconds later Sprout released his sphincter again, only this time there was no containing the carnage.  My jeans, top, and the surrounding carpet area were comprehensively covered in diarrhoea.  I should be grateful for small mercies: the bum-trajectory was horizontal rather than arcing up to face height.  Nevertheless, I took an involuntary leap backwards and yelled out, which made him cry.  We both looked like we’d taken a tumble into the bog of eternal stench.  I cleaned him up, put him in his cot, and then – him still screaming – went to the bathroom and tried not to cry over the possible ruination of my favourite, most expensive, jeans.

Once I had recovered myself sufficiently to be an effective parent again (it is remarkable how little time this takes when one has a needy bundle of scream) and changed my own clothes, I calmed him down and then we laughed at each other for several minutes before calling K-man for advice on how to remove baby-shit stains from various fabrics.  And it was alright again.

Modern Life is Irksome, Part the First

Sometimes my TV channel of choice is marginally more intellectually challenging than E! Entertainment! Network!  and lately I watched some talking heads discuss the problem that some people are paying too much for their electricity.  The problem is, claimed the heads, people aren’t switching companies to the one offering the lowest price.  If only people would switch companies, they collectively sighed, their household debt would evaporate.  It was the verbal equivalent of a pitying head-shake at the laziness and stupidity of many consumers, with a raised eyebrow of blame.

Now.  I’m going to leave aside the contextual issues including that, for example, many consumers of electricity surely find the switching process extremely challenging (they might for example be older and unused to internet-slash-call-centre trauma, or not speak sufficient English, or have a disability).  Let’s assume we’re talking about the person accustomed to, able to cope grudgingly with, and infuriated by, commercial labyrinths.  Like me.

I have quite strong, yet inexpert, opinions regarding the true nature of the ‘problem’ that some people aren’t switching back and forth like politicians.  I have not yet heard my opinion expressed within the current narrative that more competition is better and people are stupid.

I am, like so many people living Modern Life, time-poor.  Switching electricity company would be bearable if I only had to do it, say, thrice lifetimely.  But that’s not how it works.

Each of the largest six power companies (92% of market share between them) have hit upon the obvious corollary of commercial competition for an essential resource: periodically ensure that theirs is priced lowest, for a Limited Time Only.  So the consumer is bombarded with price packages that include a (relatively) fair rate that rests slightly lower in the murky depths than the second-cheapest deal.  However, there’s a nasty bite in those depths: after the first year or so, the Introductory Special Offer Super Hot Deal disappears and the poor chump who hasn’t diarised a year in advance to research electricity offers during a particular month, and organise switching company, suddenly finds their wallet open and their hard-earned notes blowing away.

To get somewhere approaching the best deal, you have to switch companies anything up to once a year and choose from a quite bewildering array of tariffs.  Will you be boiling the kettle every day and twice on Sundays?  How many people live in your house and do they shower in the middle of the night?  Do you open the window after a particularly malodorous fart?  Given that the last time I engaged in the switching process it took up quite a bit of my time in research, providing meter readings to two separate companies and then listening to them argue over who had made a mistake when they recorded what I told them, several trees sacrificed to confusing paperwork, a month of actual earth time to switch the supply and a further few weeks to refund me for the financial loss resulting from the aforementioned error, this is irksome.

I further note that the average Modern Life household is not expected to limit this approach to electricity.  See also: gas, broadband, telephone, mobile telephone, TV, savings account rates, and insurance deals and find yourself swirling around in a competition-driven nightmare having lost all sense of which way is up.  Or don’t, and get screwed.  Depressingly, a parasitic industry has sprung up amidst the carnage: the switching ‘service’ that uses computer algorithms to do the research and organise the switch for you and pretends the process isn’t that cumbersome.

Before I carry out acts of tedious household expenditure, I perform a rudimentary cost-benefit analysis and recall that I am reasonably cash-rich and very time-poor.  The generalised ball-ache of switching is significant.  The saving might be a few quid or maybe as much as a three-figure sum and I don’t know which in advance.  Even then, it just isn’t worth my time, folks.

Last time I switched company I vowed never again.  Why oh why, I wailed amid rending of garments and through rose-tinted goggles, can’t we return to the days where you signed up with a company and paid a fair and transparent price for your power, building a happy mutual relationship with them, rather than being fiscally whipped for not shopping around constantly to get the best deal?  Put simply, I do not have time for this shit.

So I dropped out, at least where power is concerned.  I finally found a company that appears to share my perspective.  They charge all customers the same (slightly higher) rate regardless of when they became customers or how they pay (aside: many power companies charge poor people with no credit-rating exorbitant rates to load up a plastic pre-pay access key with credit – this should immediately be made illegal).  There are two tariffs, your choice depending on how much you care about renewable resources versus how much you can afford to care.  They don’t have call-centres or choice-menus.  For as long as they continue this approach to their business, they will have my custom.

I resent being impliedly categorised by the meedja and politicians as a lazy simpleton for not constantly switching companies.  I am making a calculated choice taking into account my priorities and resources.  I resent that my options are to either engage in the switching shenanigans, or to pay more.  I resent that many more people who simply don’t know they are being overcharged, or are too busy getting on with life to be able to address it, continue to be overcharged and that according to the received wisdom they are faulty consumers not properly clicked in to the glorious world of commercial awareness, rather than that the companies are mercenary for taking advantage of them.  It is the government’s responsibility, having privatised the power industry, to sort out this mess so the burden rests less with consumers.

</soapbox>

Yet Another Birth Story

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A card-carrying hippie, I was bursting with ideas about how Sprout’s birth would be.   I read the unfortunately-named Grantley Dick-Read’s work on why most women find childbirth excruciating, and how it need not be so. I bought the hypno-birthing books.  I practiced deep breathing, and diligently attended pregnancy yoga.  I went to the antenatal classes that pushed the drug-free birth agenda, one into which I wholeheartedly bought.  I travelled from seeing childbirth as a necessary evil, to actively looking forward to the spiritual experience it would be.  I was encouraged to write detailed birth ‘preferences'; mine could be summarised as get the fuck away from me unless there’s a medical necessity.  I saw unicorns and rainbows, and heard angels’ voices float gently from undulating cloudscapes.

Three days before Sprout’s ‘due’ date I had a few stomach grumbles during the night, which I attributed to K-man’s poor-quality cooking.  At precisely 5.30am the following morning, a gush of fluid woke me up and I found myself reaching in an undignified manner for the incontinence pads and the telephone.  Joy of joys, the hospital voice said, I needed to be ‘assessed’.  Hospital is a 20 minute drive away in clear traffic.

There is little more frustrating than knowing that you’re about to make a pointless drive through rush hour traffic only to be sent away again.  Apparently, I needed to sit in a waiting room for an eternity to have my incontinence pad examined and it confirmed that my waters had indeed broken.  Then, I needed to wait again for a woman who looked like she finished school last week to carry out an internal examination and proclaim that I would need to go home and come back later.

At about midday I commenced my unicorn-hunting using soothing music, candles, and dimmed lights.  I started using the TENS machine.  Things proceeded nicely until about 6pm, when I met the Go To Hospital criteria of three contractions in ten minutes.  At hospital I went to triage to wait for a second eternity.  Triage was the tenth circle of hell: heated to nuclear temperatures and full of people with non-labour-related baby fears.  The TV was tuned to one of those competition shows where the contestants can’t sing and the judges reach for superlatives strong enough to disguise their disgust.  Eventually, I was examined in a be-curtained area and told I had made minimal progress but couldn’t leave before seeing the registrar.  I should return to triage for a third eternity.  Forty minutes later I succumbed to rage and went outside to find out why the hell I wasn’t being seen.  After all, as far as I knew I was the only person in triage in actual labour, and I was sick of being stared at.

The registrar revealed himself to be an arrogant nonchalant tool whose evening mission was to give himself something to do by getting me to consent to an immediate hormone drip to ‘speed things up’.  Ha!  I thought.  I’ve read the books and been to the classes.  I know what that drip does and I want no part of it.  I lobbied to go to the midwife unit, to no avail.  My choices were to stay in hospital and accept the drip in the consultant’s unit or to go home.  He also kept telling me I wasn’t in labour according to the medical definition, and I kept sitting on my hands so I wouldn’t punch him. I oscillated, until the registrar uttered the fateful words ‘You can leave if you want, but you won’t make it through the night with the pain.’

Well.  Well.  I politely told him he could shove his opinions about my fortitude up his backside, and left on the condition that I would reappear early the following morning to have the drip.  Doctors get twitchy when patients want to colour outside the guidelines, and by morning I would be doing so and my infection risk would double from infinitesimal to extremely unlikely.

And thus began the longest night I’ve ever experienced.  Neither K-man or I could sleep, and I had a shower at 3am.  The warm water was revolutionary pain relief and so I made Stupid Decision Number One: why not have a bath!  The bath was so blissful that I saw a unicorn, and my contractions virtually stopped.  A fourth eternity later, we went back to the hospital.

By this time I was 3cm dilated so now suddenly it was my ‘choice‘ whether to have the drip.  Hello? Everything that happens to me is my choice, unless you wish to be prosecuted for assaulting me.  Obviously, I pointed out, I didn’t want the drip in the first place so if I could just stay here and quietly birth my baby in my own time that would be dandy.  Can’t you see the rainbow?

A fifth eternity later I was deemed to have made ‘inadequate progress’ despite some fairly serious pain – with which I coped using paracetamol, gas and air and the TENS cranked up to 11 – and a few splurts of blood.  I was ‘strongly advised’ to consent to the drip and finally, beaten down, I agreed.

Did I want the epidural?  The midwife asked.  Hell no, I said, because I am stubborn as a mule and was confident I could butch it out.  After all, how much worse could it get?

Somewhere in the ether, a unicorn snorted derisively in my direction and the words Stupid Decision Number Two were written in rainbow colours.

I was attached to the hormone drip, and every physiological monitor known to medical science.  There followed six hours of progressively worse agony, a quite spectacular vomiting episode, my causing a chair to look like it had been a prop in a Quentin Tarantino film, and doctors determining there was a problem with Sprout’s heart rate.  It was dropping too far and not recovering quickly enough.  They thought he was reacting to increases in the hormone drip rate so they turned it off and progress stalled.  Anxiety tweaked at the edges of my consciousness.

A few hours later, doctors were satisfied the problem was not the drip, and it was recommenced.  This was when all hell broke loose.

I was contracting every minute and a half, sobbing, and telling K-man I thought I might die when I finally accepted that I needed the epidural.  Blinded by feelings of massive failure, I mentally hurled the hypno-birthing books and the antenatal teacher against a wall.

The poor anaesthetist.  By this time, he had approximately 30 seconds to get the needle into my spine without paralysing me, a flailing tear-stained emotional wreck.  Admirably, when I screamed that I needed to move NOW! just as he was about to pierce my skin he merely explained that it was very important that I stay completely still, and was incredibly quick.  That’s the first moment I flash back to.  He returned later to check on me, and I could have kissed him.  The epidural was both magical and extremely freaky.

During my subsequent sleepy state, Sprout’s heart rate continued to cause concern.  Every so often I would wake up and enquire whether the baby was OK and I was still contracting.  At one point, there was significant midwifery debate about what to do because the heart rate was not OK and the chief midwife leaned into my ear and whispered to me not to worry but she was going to press a button and in ten seconds there would be 15 people in the room.

Yeah, whatever, I thought, and before my brain could articulate anything further I heard the sound of people pelting down the corridor. The door flew open, and someone jammed an oxygen mask over my face asking me to breathe deeply.  Panic jolted through me: either Sprout or I was in serious trouble, and neither eventuality was acceptable.  That’s the second moment I flash back to.

The crash team quickly realised they were superfluous to requirements: the midwife, frustrated that her requests for a doctor were not being heeded, had done the one thing that guaranteed attendance.  I think K-man’s blood pressure is still recovering.

Assorted medical procedures later (the in utero foetal blood sample being particularly memorable) it was determined that Sprout’s oxygen levels were OK and we could all relax.  Well, except for me.  The obstetrician arrived, and I cannot say enough good things about her.  She was calm, reassuring, authoritative, gentle, and expert.  She explained that it was now urgent that Sprout be removed from me, and somehow did it without causing alarm (though it probably helps if your patient is exhausted and past caring about her own bodily integrity).  I may as well have been holding a sign saying do what you like as long as it’s over soon.

I pushed.  The attendants exclaimed that I was good at pushing.  Hell, I said, nobody wants this kid out of me faster than I do.  A midwife explained that I would be unable to have the natural third stage of labour I preferred.  Look at me, I said, I gave up on my preferences hours ago.  I’m delightful in a stressful situation.

A total of 47 hours, one hormone drip, one epidural, an episiotomy and some gentle forceps action later Sprout was eased reluctantly into the world.  Unicorns and rainbows it was not, and he had the cord wrapped around his neck.  7lb13oz of completely fine, healthy screaming baby entered our world.

I will never be the same again, but it was a small price to pay.

Firstborn

This post is brought to you by the winning combination of maternity leave and infant slumber.

In the waning days of November 2014, I had a son.  Let’s call him Sprout.  He’s upstairs now, asleep on the very sensitive pressure pad that assures me he’s still breathing by emitting a loud alarm should it not detect movement in 20 seconds.  These days, eardrums and even digital sound monitors are not enough.  Expensive parenting gadgetry is all the rage, though we are trying to keep it to a minimum in this house.

We never had that in my day, says my mother, and you’re still alive.  This is the woman who let me wander the streets of London alone aged oh, ten or so, and who would boot me out of her country abode to go play in grain silos.  That may not have been her precise instruction, but it was the consequence of her attitude.  My parents eschewed wrapping children in cotton wool: their preferred goal was developing independence and self-reliance in their offspring.  Plus a healthy regard for one’s own bodily integrity.  I think it worked, but I also think that in many ways I am lucky to be alive.   We’ve had some interesting conversations lately.  

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In the last three days I have had two nights of largely uninterrupted sleep, broken only by me waking up to question why I hadn’t been woken up.  My newfound energy led to an astonishing recollection: I have a blog.

From the dim grey recesses of my mind, I grasped the username and password.  Shortly thereafter I was confronted by a largely unfamiliar user interface.  It turns out that the world doesn’t stand still when one is working, commuting, and lounging about playing Candy Crush while mainlining any available Kardashian programming.  What?  You thought I sat studiously reading War and Peace in my downtime?

I’m going to have to re-learn blogging, and folks, that could be a struggle.  I always enjoyed writing: I just reached the point where the twin inhibitions of there being nothing I could say that others could possibly find interesting, and a considerable lack of time, overtook any impetus I felt to put finger to keypad.

I’m going to give it another shot.  It’s not going to be a mother&baby blog (well, OK, there will be the occasional posts loosely connected to my experiences of child-rearing) and I’m going to throw caution to the wind (except in any way that might cost me my job) and let inspiration take me where it will.  There might be pro-socialism pro-feminism pro-hippie-environmental rants, photo journeys, tales of the extent to which I amuse myself, and general cathartic writing designed to keep me sane.

I’m actually looking forward to it.

The Destroyer

I hate waste.  This could be attributable to my parents’ having carefully raised their children to appreciate the few material possessions we had near the poverty line. In our house if you broke it or lost it, tough shit there wasn’t money for a replacement water pistol or another forty hours in my mother’s life to sew a new costume.  We counted ourselves lucky for the shining moment of having possessed the thing in the first place.  

Now I’m older and wealthier, it has more to do with wanting to respect possessions and do my part to help the natural environment not to drown under a sea of pointless human consumption.  Every time the bin-lid clangs another penguin chokes to death.  For a good long while Christmas made me melancholy because of the conspicuous waste. 

I’m constantly amazed by how much stuff others have.  I’m not big on stuff.  A good proportion of my waste is either carbon from long-haul travel, or unnecessary calories.  But I could certainly do better.  As we’re about to find out.

Just occasionally, I’ll fall in love with a tangible thing.  I fell in love with my Mac and five years later we’re still together with no sign of an argument. I adore my books, and my new camera is so coveted it has its own special bag. 

One of my favourite places is the local junk emporium.  So, there I was, perusing a darkened corner and trying not to get crushed to death by a pile of teetering treasure.  I spied this: 

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Now, it may not look like much to you.  And that’s after a spit and a polish.  But something about its shape spoke to me.  It is made of metal, so you would think it’s virtually impossible for me to break it.  Always a bonus. 

Things got even better when I lifted off the lid: Image

OH MY GOD inbuilt ceramic tea-strainer.  Hey. I know, right?  Sold, right then and there to the girl with the big grin, for the ten remaining pounds she has to her name after paying for her commute to work.  

I got the thing home and checked the internet for wisdom.  The internet said it’s very likely a 1930s item, making it very old and probably quite loved by someone.  If not then it could be grateful for rapidly rising in my affections.  I pictured our long and happy union; me with tea, the teapot gently keeping things warm. 

The base of the teapot is heavy. Properly heavy.  So heavy and flat-bottomed that it looked like it was intended to be placed on the stove, with the tea in the strainer while water boiled all about it.  After I polished it up, I decided to give it a whirl. 

I filled it with water and tealeaves, and placed it on the gas-burner.  I turned away to tidy something up and there was a huge bang. Metal had expanded. Violently.  

Still I was not shopping at the emporium named ‘CLUE’.  I let the situation continue, looking forward to my cuppa and virtuous feeling.  

When molten beads of metal started to leak from the inside of the base of the teapot and some odd fumes appeared, I clicked. It was just a normal teapot, and my attempt to imbue it with absent qualities of ancient wonder had cost its life.  

The teapot is, to the untrained eye, fine.  But look closer and the painful truth is that it now wobbles on its base, and is irreparably tarnished brown near the bottom.  Heating it (even from the inside with boiling water) results in fumes that are clearly not water vapour. 

After approximately 85 years on this earth, this thing had the misfortune to cross my path, and I have ruined it. 

The guilt. The guilt.  I feel like I killed a living thing.  I tell you, I have spent the last three weeks trying to console myself with the thought that it was unusable anyway because it’s probably made of toxic metal and that I (and all other future owners) narrowly escaped death by poisoning.

I’m still feeling bad about it, and the teapot has yet to hear the clang of a bin-lid from the inside. I can’t bring myself to throw it away.  

I should probably get a grip. After all, I’m sure this is how hoarders take their first few steps toward being buried under their own mental illness.  

The Bedside Table

There were many reasons I was dissatisfied with my bedside table.  First, its colour: orange.

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Not even a subtle orange.  Second, it has no drawer.  I must either leave my book on the top (which would be fine if I could constrain myself to two books) or I must reach down awkwardly while on the edge of sleep and open the door and throw the book onto the half-shelf within (or as you can see in the photo, simply throw them on the floor).  Third, with a square base and a monolithic stature it has a utilitarian oomph which is not to my liking.

Fortunately, my taste in furniture tends towards peasant rather than palace. When I last persuaded K-man to visit the local junk emporium, we came across this:

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This is the most poorly-made piece of furniture  I have ever encountered, and that includes Swedish flat-pack specials I incompetently put together myself. It seems to be made predominantly from waste wood by a person who hated their job. In places where surely – surely – a nail would have been better, glue has been used and did not stick properly.  Someone made a bad decision to try polishing this turd, and attached a piece of spare dowelling rod to the outside.

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This little cupboard was very cheap, and I have vision. And my vision couldn’t withstand more morning orange.

Yesterday the sun shone, and in our house that means embarking on a stupid project outside using power tools.  Hurrah!

K-man had to shore up the flimsy construction, and wrench off the stupid dowelling. Then I got busy with the power-sander. A short time later, I looked up from my cup of tea and realised this might not turn out too badly after all.

DSC_1016When all the black shit – I know not what it was – came off, the little cupboard grew a personality.  There was an interlude when I got a bit too busy with the power-sander and the bottom piece of wood holding the door up broke off, but what’s a husband for if not to clean up after his wife’s manic sanding experiments?

Then it was time to paint.  As we know, paint is a shit piece of furniture’s best friend. It covers a multitude of sins and can turn something horrible into something you can stand to look at without crying.  I do believe, however, that the trend should be reserved for crap pieces otherwise beyond rescue.  All those people painting over beautiful woodgrain because of fashion are nuts.  Especially if they do stupid shit like two-tone blue and pink and then sand down one layer of paint to display the nonsense.  I have seen more overpriced ruined chests of drawers than I can bear because people think that shit adds value.  Hell no, you just ruined a decent piece of furniture.  What is it with these people?

Sorry – that rant has been inside me for a long time and it needed to come out.  Obviously, I would never paint something pink and blue two-tone. I would simply use whatever left-overs I had available in the garage. Which turned out to be Farrow and Ball New White.

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Of course, every insect for miles around stuck itself in the paint. But progress was made and soon it was time to wax the top.

DSC_1018I was very surprised and pleased with how well this turned out.  You would never guess the top was plywood, or that it cost only around £20 and a few hours of my time.  Check out the sanded and waxed top:

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Here it is in situ:

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A full year after K-man accidentally sold our bedside tables on ebay for a song, I finally have a book-drawer and no orange.

That’s our new carpet you can see in the photo.  What a revelation!  More about that another time.

 

 

 

Forever Behind the Curve

After months of absence, I logged in to two internet entities: google reader, and wordpress.

Apparently, google reader will cease to exist shortly, and I must expend valuable energy locating an alternative and transporting all my feeds (all, oh, twenty of them) over to the alternative. This will take ten minutes, which is a disaster.

WordPress has changed its welcome page and bits of its user interface, again.  Can’t they leave well enough alone? Perhaps it has been a gradual evolution, but I’ve been away for long enough that the changes have hit me all at once.

Oh, and it is still snowing in London. It’s April. I am in an incredibly bad mood as a result.  It is time for horticultural therapy,  but NO the ground is frozen, the wind blasts needles up noses, and our heating is broken. The weather has been like this since November. Thank lard I escaped to tropical climes last month, or I might have been driven half mad by dismay.

Hello, internet. How are you?


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