Six Month Check Up

No matter how solid your relationship (and I consider mine to be rock solid, thank God), becoming a parent shakes its foundations. For one, there’s the obvious sleep deprivation, which, as readers of this blog will know all too well, has been the biggest challenge I have faced since becoming a mum. When you don’t sleep more than three hours at a time (yep, still the case after nearly six months) the outcome is a state of permanent crankiness that inevitably puts a strain on your relationship. You don’t mean to snap at your partner over stupid little things (‘Why can’t you put your shoes here instead of there? What is WRONG WITH YOU??’) but find yourself doing so at every opportunity, which only serves to make you angry with yourself as well as with them. But you’re so goddamn bone-tired that you do it over and over again. Gah.

Then – and just as importantly – there is the sudden lack of free time. To do anything. Even basic needs like eating, washing, brushing teeth and going to the toilet come second to the needs of your baby (Note: when you’re a breastfeeding mum not finding time to eat properly is particularly problematic as it interferes with your milk production. I know this to be true and yet still regularly fail to eat my meals on time. Yesterday I actually resorted to eating C’s discarded mashed avocado to avoid starvation. Out of his bowl. With his plastic spoon). You think this will improve as they get older but sadly this is not the case. By the time they reach five months they are more mobile and becoming conscious of their effect on you (read: turning into manipulative demons). This is a lethal combination. Time to kiss goodbye to toilet breaks and buy some adult incontinence pads.

Which brings me nicely onto my next point: There is no better form of contraception than having a baby. Especially when you live in a one bedroom flat. For the past six months my husband and I have exchanged whispering sweet nothings in the bedroom with whispered baby chat over the kitchen sink as we hurriedly brush our teeth before bed (our bathroom has windows into the bedroom so we can’t even use that past 7pm these days – bang go the romantic, candle-lit baths we used to enjoy so much). My boobs may have grown but I feel about as sexy as a dairy cow (not helped by the fact I am constantly having to pump in order to keep up my supply – on the occasions I have tried to supplement with formula C has developed an angry red rash around his mouth, suggesting an allergy. Brilliant). Every day as I wander around in my sick-stained dressing gown, absent-mindedly clutching an organic carrot and humming Iggle Piggle’s song from In the Night Garden, I promise myself that today will be the day I make an effort with my appearance. But by the time my husband gets home I’m so frazzled I’m still wearing the hoodie with bits of carrot stuck to the front (hey, at least I made it out of the dressing gown) and am struck by the realisation it’s been two days since I brushed my hair.

When you become parents you have moments of panic about losing your identity – both as a couple and as individuals. Eventually that panic rises to a crescendo and you decide it’s time to re-enter the social scene. You organise childcare and have a night out, drink too much, stay out late and generally shirk all parental responsibility for a few hours. It is BLISS. But when your small-human-sized alarm clock goes off at half past six the following morning you curse yourself to hell and cry into your (cold) coffee, vowing never to do it again.

In short, being a parent is a bit like being entered into an ultra-endurance race you realise too late you haven’t trained nearly enough for. But nonetheless you’re in it. For life. So you may as well get your fat ass over the obstacles and make the best of it (Note: Coffee helps. A LOT).

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The Awakening

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Lottie blinked at the alarm and it blinked back. Slowly but surely its neon green numbers came into focus. “Shit!” She shouted, throwing off the covers and leaping out of bed. “I’m late!” She scrabbled around for her clothes and tossed an assortment of random items into the hold all her mum had left out for her, then tumbled down the stairs into the kitchen where her family were having breakfast. “Why didn’t you wake me?” She demanded. From behind his newspaper her dad raised an eyebrow. “If I remember correctly you told us in no uncertain terms the other night that you were-and I quote-‘perfectly capable’ of waking yourself up in the mornings.” Lottie stuck her tongue out and chucked a piece of toast into the toaster. “So,” said her mother, “are you looking forward to the trip?” Lottie shrugged and tossed her mass of frizzy hair over her shoulder. “I s’pose.” Her parents exchanged one of their unfathomable-and therefore infuriating-looks. “Isn’t it the first time your school and the boys’ school have done a joint trip?” Lottie rolled her eyes. “And?” Her mother smiled. “And nothing darling. You have a lovely time.”

 
When she reached the school car park the final few students from St.Anne’s were boarding. Lottie knew the boys from St.Swithans would already have been picked up. The thought of it made her stomach do an involuntary flip, though she wasn’t sure why. The last thing she wanted was a boyfriend. If her brother Tom was anything to go by boys were not only stupid but also gross in the extreme. Nonetheless, she hasn’t had much experience of them to date, which explained her nervousness at being about to spend two whole days with some.
 
She climbed up the steps into the coach. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness so her heart sank into her new boots-the only available seat was at the back of the bus in the boys’ section. As she trudged past them her best friends Ali and Sabrina shrugged apologetically. She scowled back at them. As she approached the back of the bus the boys whooped and cheered. Feeling faint with apprehension she sat down in the empty seat, casting a cursory glance at the boy beside her. He was slim but not lanky, with closely cropped brown hair and the longest eyelashes she had ever seen-even Ali’s weren’t that long with mascara on, she thought. The boy caught her looking at him and she felt her face flush red. His lips parted into a lopsided smile, and Lottie noticed that he had dimples in his cheeks. “I’m Dan,” he said, extending a hand.” “Lottie,” she said, holding out her own. From behind them there came a series of disgusting slurping noises as the boys took the mickey out o their exchange. But because Dan seemed so unphased by it, Lottie found she didn’t mind at all.
 
When they reached the ferry port everyone was told to get off the coach. Most of the boys sprinted off to get the best seats at the front, the girls in hot (but doing their best not to look it) pursuit. Dan, however, held back, choosing instead to saunter towards the back of the boat by himself. Lottie hesitated, torn between following her friends and seeing where this new acquaintance might lead to. As if reading her mind Dan stopped and half-turned towards her. “Coming?” He asked. She nodded and followed him. There were no other people at the back of the boat so they had their pick of the white plastic seats. Dan sat down and busied himself untangling a knot in his headphones. Lottie walked to the railing and leaned over, feeling the sea’s salty breath against her cheek. “You an only child?” Dan’s voice beside her made her jump. “No,” she said. “Are you?” He nodded and pulled the hood of his coat up over his head. “How old are you?” “Fourteen,” said Lottie. “You?” “Fifteen.” They stood in silence for a few moments until, emboldened by the bracing sea air, Lottie asked, “Why didn’t you go with the others just then?” Dan shrugged. “Dunno. Sometimes they just get a bit much, with all the stupid jokes and messing about.” Lottie smiled. “I feel that way with my friends sometimes. All they talk about is makeup and clothes. Sometimes it’s just easier to be by myself.” Dan nodded. “I know the feeling.” “Not in a sad way or anything. I like reading books and stuff like that.” Dan’s eyes widened. “Yeah? What books do you like?” “Fantasy mainly. I’m reading the Hobbit at the moment.” Lottie reached into her bag and pulled the corner of her battered copy out of her bag so he could see it. “Cool. Can I borrow it when you’ve finished?” “Don’t see why not.” Dan smiled his lopsided smile again. “And maybe we can hang out sometime after this trip. You know, be by ourselves, but together. Only if you want to though…” Lottie’s stomach did another flip. “I think I’d like that,” she said, feeling the redness creeping back up her neck. She looked at her watch. “We’d better get back to the bus.” As they both made to move their hands brushed together, and Dan’s fingers tightened around hers. Perhaps, she thought as they walked back to the bus, boys weren’t so gross after all.

The long game

There’s nothing like the first flush of love, that rush of warm emotion that engulfs you in the early stages of a relationship as you realise that this person could be someone really special. It’s not something that can be put into words, but rather an unspoken agreement it’s the two of you against the world. A look, a smile is all it takes to reinforce that secret pact: You are unified in love, your bond unbreakable.

Fast forward two years and you find yourself sitting on the sofa on a Saturday night drinking Merlot and waiting for the pizza delivery as the love of your life sits in front of a giant plasma screen TV, a games console controller glued to his hand and a look of concentration on his face that’s so fierce you don’t dare to interrupt with anything as banal as intelligent conversation.

They say that love is blind, you see, but what they don’t tell you is the blindness is only a temporary affliction. Before you know it the bad habits will begin to rear their ugly heads, slowly at first – a burp here, a fart there – but come they will. And when they do, you’ll also start to notice all of the deals you’re unwittingly entering into; when he does something nice for you, you realise it’s not just for the sake of being nice, it’s a bargaining tool. The nice acts all add up to passes, tokens to appease the various indiscretions that will certainly occur during the tenure of your relationship. You, my friend, are being played, and whilst it’s by no means malicious (let’s face it, men are simple creatures), it’s nonetheless a startling realisation when it finally dawns.

One such token is for gaming time, not something I’ve had to endure for several years until today, but now apparently a cross I’ll have to bear from this day forth. In those halcyon early days he wouldn’t dream of suggesting you watch him playing computer games with his friends; he’s far too busy charming you with meals and flattering you with compliments. When you’re more established, however, and you have earned the title of ‘being one of the boys,’ I say to you this: Beware. For it is now that you are on the cusp of losing what little power you had. Feminine wiles only go so far, the lure of gaming is infinite.

So it’s with a heavy heart that I accept my fate; that my relationship has finally taken that inevitable turn into the comfort zone. But at least my boyfriend knows how to look after his gaming widow; he’s bought me a bottle of Merlot and a copy of Grazia to keep me entertained. Which has bought him at least another hour of gaming. Hmm, thinking about it, maybe men aren’t such simple creatures after all…