Friday, 13 November 2015


As this wet and windy week has gone on I have fallen in a bit of a physical heap. Various aches and pains laying me low. A sore throat has been the latest symptom added to the list. Nevertheless I managed a 'very' social day yesterday – which included an afternoon playdate at a friends house with lots of mummy and kid chat, and an evening out to celebrate a work colleges promotion – being on maternity leave I had lots of news to hear and share. By this morning I could barely manage a whisper. Usually even if I am a little horse my voice will find its way back before to long. But not today. Today I am voiceless.

Looking after a toddler – who is himself learning new words at a rapid rate – without a voice has been interesting. A lot of our usual conversations go like this:

'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'
'Yes Rafa'

And I wait, always saintlike for him to get to the point. He is evolving. His conversations with strangers of: 'Hi,... by', now sometimes have a few words thrown in the middle, and even if he does not know all the words he does this very cute 'mumble mumble mumble dog mumble' - sentences in waiting. I have been thrilled with him learning to say Finn, on top of his usual repertoire of Mummy, daddy, baby. Anyway – the point is he expects a response! And I have had to whisper at best, which is confusing – and confusing, or frustrating a toddler is not something you want to do.

Our two boys in Autumnal Edinburgh, 2015

I did not dare take charge of walking Rafa along the street today. It is a challenge which requires a very firm voice – with clear 'Stop' commands. Luckily Jon was home and able to look after that task.
While Jon and the little boys went off to playgroup, voiceless me took my laptop to the local cafe to send some emails – a task not requiring a voice aside from an apologetic whispered 'Flat white.' I got on well enough. People who come to cafes with laptops are expected to be anti-social after all.

When the boys all came back after playgroup I took wee Finn and gave him a feed – he and I like to be together without words. Jon told me about the playgroup events and I nodded along.  Somehow due to the small cafes configuration Rafa ended up in a high chair adjacent to the woman sitting behind us in a wheel chair. Armed with a pork pie and plenty of words he did his best to chat with her and she did her best to chat back.

'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble mummy,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady
'Mumble mumble mumble pie,' said Rafa
'Yes,' said the lady.

As their chat went on – and round and round I began to realise that her chat was as limited as Rafa's and mine – though for different reasons. She had perhaps suffered a stroke at some stage. Rafa eventually got restless and I turned around to him. The woman's face showed her delight in realising that there was a smaller baby nestled in my arms and the movement I made distracted Finn from his settled feed – and drew his attention to the woman smiling at him. He smiled back. Sharing the delight of a beautiful babe in arms does not need any words. 

As the day has gone on it has been interesting to see how communication between my husband and I is impacted by my not having a voice. I have been limited to 'necessary' additions. A bit like speaking to someone who does not speak much of the same language – you are not going to speak of feelings or tell involved tales, you are going to ask where the bathroom is, and how much the beer costs. 

His speech however has been in full flow! With no pesky wifely interjections he can tell long Nordic sagas whilst I can only listen and nod along. If the occasion should arise that I should need to leave the room to feed the baby I can only hope I have the chance to catch his eye before I go in case he continues telling the story to an empty room.

Rather than calling out from room to room with a list of tasks I think he should be doing, if I want to speak to him I need first to make sure I have his attention. A touch on his arm, and eye contact needs to precede my quiet murmurs – or else all the effort is blown off in the wind. Nordic sagas aside I did at one point remind him that he need not whisper back to me, but there is something nice about looking your beloved in the eye and speaking the quiet important things that need to be said in the day.

Silence has interesting resonances. Pesky, frustrating at times, but on occasion the unsaid, or quietly just barely spoken connects us all. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Clutter Queen

I find notes she's left. Little tid bits. A train ticket from Melbourne 2011, half a postcard, a small pile of stamps shorn from past post, a stack of old magazines with pictures cut out, a bag of lace doilies- moth eaten but with some usable fragments, wrapping paper from last Christmas and don't get me started on the drifts of old receipts - avalanche warning!

Every time I come across one or more of these hindrances to my stream lined self, these annoyances, this... this clutter - I curse her. I curse myself of yester-year and yesterday. I swear it will be no more. There will be bin bags in the skip, there will be Japanese books on streamlined living read (online so as not to add to the groaning bookshelves). There will be order in my life and not this debris underfoot. Past recollections be dammed.

And for half an hour I sort and throw out.

But she's crafty. She gleans things back. I see her out of the corner of my eye as she tucks the old train ticket between the pages of a book. She is touching that top that used to fit and I think she's going to add it to the throw out pile, but then I find it hanging back in the wardrobe. She's artful that clutter queen, she stacks things under the bed while I get the dinner on.

 'Look, look,' she says. 'We've made progress, real progress. Life will be orderly!'

And I believe her until I stub my toe on the box containing almost nothing but thimbles.


Monday, 15 June 2015

Imaginary Mansion

plural noun

a large, impressive house..
stately home
manor house
country house

In May we welcomed baby Finn into our home. With our nuclear family up to four, and our post baby support team swelling the bodies in our two bedroom flat to six, I have been imagining what life might be like if we lived in a slightly larger house. 

In my imaginary mansion I would have a sewing room in a turret,
and a writing room in another turret.

I would have at least one sound proofed room.

I would have a library in the entryway so that everyone was greeted by books when they arrived.

I would have plenty of storage for prams and mice would never play in the linen.

There would be granny flats for all the grannies who wanted to come and visit the babies, and guest rooms for all our near and far visitors.

The wifi would work in all the rooms so that nobody had to use the toilet as a desk.

I would have a cleaner.

I would have a kitchen that can hold more than one person at a time.

Tenement kitchen and Rafa, Edinburgh

I would still have a communal backyard because it is lovely to share toys and bump into our friendly neighbours while we are in our yard. Wine time and playtime are especially sweet when you don’t have to catch the bus home afterwards.  

Communal backyard. Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Bath Time

This pregnancy has seen me take many baths. Resting, with the weight taken off for a little while has been helping me get through my busy days. The bath was one of my pre-requisits when we were flat hunting: No bath = No deal.

I recall a conversation a month or two back, with someone who commented that baths were good 'me' time, letting you shut the door on the world for a little while. Personally although I remember the concept of 'me' time and shut doors my baths do not represent either. They take place amidst the busy flow of my day, not outside of it.

This afternoon's was not a 'me' time bath, though it did start out promisingly. I worked the morning shift and got home with a sore back to an empty house. I emptied the bath toys out of the tub, turned on the hot tap, put some bubble bath in and fetched a glass of water, a small packet of potato chips* and a book. I got into the bath before it was full and kept the temperature on the lower side of too hot as per my midwife's instructions.

I breathed out, and let the hydro magic begin. Then I opened my chip packet and began to eat. I am aware that eating in the bath is possibly not for everyone, but hey, I'm pregnant and it was what I was in the mood for. I started to relax, though I was aware that my husband and son could be arriving home at any moment.

I enjoyed my first few chips and then I heard a cry that could only be Rafa's coming from the base of the stairwell. My son sounded like he was in considerable distress. I ate another chip – not enjoying it quite so much. The wailing got louder, but did not seem to be getting any closer. Should I go into mummy panic mode? Why wasn't my husband a) soothing the beast? or b) getting his ass up the stairs more quickly? Should I leap out of the bath and rush my seven month pregnant self out into the communal stair well dripping bath water and bubbles? Was there time to pick up my towel?

I did have all these thoughts but because I am a slummy mummy I sat in my bath and ate chips while my son screamed. I ate them without particularly enjoying them and slightly more quickly than I would have otherwise. I didn't want to have to share. 

Rafa trampolining, March 2015. Edinburgh.

Eventually Jon and Rafa made it up the stairs and inside. The cause of distress was not a violent bump to the head or a dinosaur having bitten off his hand, it was Rafa's response to not being allowed to go out and play on the trampoline. My son was snot stained but perfectly healthy. I wet the clean face washer I had been planning to rest my head on when I got around to lying back in my bath, and washed Rafa's face with it. Once inside his anguish was forgotten (by him at least). Despite my knowledge that his screaming was a tantrum and not a 'real' trauma, the distress still clanged in my brain like a burglar alarm.

As did the knowledge that I had sat in the bath eating whilst he screamed. Earlier in the day there had been a saccharine facebook post asking mums to repost something or other if you were a mum who thought about their children with every breath ect ect; I kept scrolling. Now I had to wonder if all this made me a second (or third) rate mum.

Did I want to be that person?

While I was trying to stop Rafa from throwing good Sherrin AFL footballs into my bath Jon showed me the jeans he had picked up for me from the mummy store. Once buying jeans was a highly personal task that involved mirrors and visits to different shops and your best girlfriends. This week with my current maternity jeans falling off me every three steps and sick to death of the skinny jean shuffle I went online and found some bigger, baggier, higher waisted mum maternity jeans and sent my husband to collect them.

How did I get to be someone who does not even have time to go shopping for herself? For jeans: the modern woman's wardrobe staple and personal statement about who she is?

Did I want to be her?

I lay down in my bath and Rafa repeatedly drove his matchbox ute across my head whilst going 'ne naw ne naw'. All cars make this sound, especially when they are repeatedly smashed into mummys skull. I closed my eyes.

Did I want to be here?

My husband was in the doorway. Over the sound of Rafa's burble he told me about the rest of his afternoon. After the shopping errands he had been to the hospital. His work college and Wednesday night football buddy had missed a few games with a sore back. A few days ago he had emailed to say that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive tumour and was about to start chemo. As far as he had known, this forty something year old man with a young family had been healthy a week ago, and now he was bed bound without the use of his legs or his bowels. I had read his email and been struck by his brutal honesty about where his body and head were at.

The word was that he wanted visitors, so Jon and Rafa spent the afternoon visiting a man whose life has been knocked out from beneath his feet.

I lay in the bath with my own young family crowded around me and wondered did I want to be here?


*or crisps if you are from the UK.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Learned Behavior

My 18 month old son was exhibiting somewhat disturbing behavior the other day. After my initial surprise at his actions had worn off I realised that his behavior was of course entirely the fault of his parents. He is not in daycare, does not spend large chunks of time with anyone besides us, nor does he watch a lot of television.

He has been demonstrating just how susceptible he is to following our lead for quite some time. His favorite thing to do is talk on the phone, or talk to anything his brain vaguely conceives could be a phone. He and I had quite a squabble during a skype conversation with his Australian Grandmother the other day. I was willing to share the phone: he was not.

Other behavior he has obviously taken on board hi is his love of sweeping the floor and wiping up spills. I do not love doing these things but I certainly spend a good chunk of time doing them. Unfortunately unlike his little friend Rose, Rafa does not have a mini broom and he quickly comes to grief when it comes to navigating around corners with an adult sized broom.

Rafa playing in the mud, February 2015, Edinburgh.

He also loves to help push his own pram, play on the beach, eat from my breakfast bowl, splash in mud puddles and give cuddles. It was with cuddles that the disturbing behavior started. This morning whilst I was sitting on the floor playing trucks with Rafa he came over and gave me a cuddle. That was very nice - one of the highlights of my life. But he quickly moved on from the cuddle and leaned in to give me a kiss. It was not a fairy kiss on the cheek. It was a full and insistent open mouthed pout. Whenever I tried to move away he gripped me tighter and shoved his mouth at me again. If this unwanted advance was taking place between adults at a party there would be a knee in the family jewels.

When I howled with laughter at his passionate embrace he howled back in distress. Eventually I managed a compromise and returned a couple of his open mouthed kisses with my own closed mouth kisses and he let me go and returned to his trucks.

Appartently a similar pattern had played out when his father was putting him to bed the night before. Jon's question was - what has he been watching that he is doing that?  My answer was - us.

 He is at an age where he absorbs everything around him and he lives in a house where his mum and dad exchange kisses. We give him plenty of kisses as well - but they are different from the kisses we give each other. I am not saying we spend the majority of our time together playing tonsil hockey, but obviously from the perspective of our little blond angel kisses happen.

This demonstration of how much of a sponge toddlers are is a good reminder of how aware we need to be of our own behavior around these precious bundles. Rafa does not live in a home where he is ever exposed to violence, but his slimy kissing attempts made me think of the ugly adult behavior that a child can learn at his parents side; making the saying that violence breeds violence take on a real and scary dimension.

Luckily I am so far seeing good evidence that love breeds love as well.

I just have to hope that  Rose or some other of his other girl or boy friends teach him what happens to slimy unwanted advances before he hits the teenage party circuit. 

Monday, 29 December 2014

Any Day Adventure

A day can take you a lot of places, even when you don't really go anywhere at all. 

Today at the bus stop I was reading a library book my husband picked out for me. Love with a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche is a memoir about an adventursome couple who sailed from the USA to Australia via all sorts of Pacific Islands. I am still at the sea-sick stages of their journey (hers not his), but even with the graphic descriptions of ocean going illness, reading sun kissed tales of sailing off of Mexico whilst standing at a frosty Edinburgh bus stop with your feet freezing to the ground does make the other life tempting. 

Cover for Love with a Chance of Drowning, Torre DeRoche

My reading was interrupted by the arrival of a little mittened girl with her grandmother. We chatted about the neighborhood – how great the park is, how annoying the overflowing bins are, how great the nearby library is and how little parking there is for locals. I told the little girl I was impressed at her wearing her hat. My son I told her throws his off immediately. She told me Jack Frost was here and pulled her mittens on securely. 

The grandmother asked me my sons name and when I told her she said: 'Raphael, we know Raphael don't we Katie.'

Katie nodded enthusiastically and the penny dropped. This was the Katie and her grandmother my husband reported regular play times and chats with at the playground. Katie told me how Rafa likes the shute (slide) and often has dirty knees. Katies mother does not like dirty knees, but Rafa's mum and dad don't mind. I recalled being told that some days Rafa plays enthusiastically with Katie, other days he ignores her in favor of boys kicking balls. Boys will be boys. I was delighted to get this little glimpse of my boys out and about in the world and to meet some of their new friends.

The grandma and I smiled over the coincidence of meeting in this way and agreed that we do indeed live in a village.

My bus ride takes me out to the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary. I don't have an appointment today, just an errand to run. In the week before Christmas I was struck by a big case of baby brain. I organised the baby, my husband and some friends to attend Christmas carols only to turn up a day late, I got my work schedule tangled up and got a call from my manager 'checking in' due to my no show and I caught the wrong bus home and had to walk a good distance with pre-Christmas groceries.

This was all topped on Christmas Eve when I attended my 20 week ultrasound out at the Royal. With my husband running a little behind, I left my phone out when the scan began. The baby measured up against whatever measures are important for a 20 week old bun in the oven and Jon and Rafa arrived in time to get a glimpse of the new family member.

After the scan we headed off to do some Christmas Eve grocery shopping and it was not until we loaded ourselves back in the car that my brain pinged that something was wrong. I searched through my backpack in the dark of the car for my phone, but came up empty handed, but I reasoned, I could easily have missed it in the miasma of my bag.

I told my husband about my suspicions when we parked at home. He called my phone from his and we listened to the ominous silence. Upstairs I upended the bag and found nothing. I recalled clearly setting my phone on top of the bag on the chair next to the scan bed in case Jon rang. Jon and Rafa had come into the semi dark room, moved the bag to sit without seeing the phone, which had no doubt toppled quietly to the floor. My focus was on saying hello to Rafa and on watching the new bub bob about on the black and white screen.

When we rang the hospital someone went on a search for us with the aid of a cleaners keys. The phone was not in the room. It might be in the office, but it was after five on Christmas Eve, (Wednesday) and nobody would be back until Monday. My stupidity clanged in my head. This was my first ever grown up phone, I had no insurance and while it was probably locked safe in a drawer, it could be anywhere! And I could do nothing about finding it or replacing it for four days. 

Rover and Rafa on Christmas Day, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, 2014

This morning (Monday) I woke up with a mission, go out to the Royal and seek out my phone. When I laboriously checked my emails (on my computer rather than on my phone as I am used to doing) I made a happy discovery. Along with the fifteen junk emails from Amazon there was a note from my radiographer to say she thought I had left my phone! I blessed her from my bed, she needn't have tracked down my email and sent me word of my phones safety, but she did.

My mission was successful. The world would soon be at my fingertips once more. All I needed was a power point to recharge the sad inanimate lump.

Returning from my late morning outing to the hospital the bus passed though some streets still cloaked in frost. I mused that no matter how nice the houses, living in the shadow of Blackford Hill would not be a pleasant thing in December. I could see the sun tinting other houses golden just over the way, but here Jack Frost was most certainly at work.

After a bowl of soup in Morningside I took myself to the library to catch up on my emailing and reading for the You Won't Remember This project. I had the work of two poets (Australian and Scottish) to read and some correspondence with writers from India and Canada.

Spending time with the writing of adventuresome parents tugged at me just as the sailing memoir had at the bus stop. My life just now is exciting, but it is the suburban parent excitement of watching Raphael get his knees dirty at the park and of a new life growing in my belly. Life is about catching the right bus home so I can splash with Rafa in the bath and chat with my husband about their day, and find out if Rafa was nice to Katie.

It is good to have those adventures tugging at me, keeping me pondering where we will spend next Christmas.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The 'You Won't Remember This' Conversation

Having a child draws you into all sorts of new communities. Some days our little family: mum, dad and Rafa can be more than enough to handle; on other days gathering others around you is essential. Living on the other side of the world from the friends and family I gathered about me during the first thirty years of my life can make many things about being a parent challenging.

On maternity leave with a young baby, your days are often filled with miraculous moments shared between just mum and bub. Sometimes though it is that conversation with another adult, at the library or the playground which can make all the difference between feeling like a human being and feeling like a mummy machine (even if that mummy machine is a super yummy mummy machine).

Throughout the summer I unapologetically networked at the playground, determined to feather my nest with friends for the long cold winter ahead. These day of course it is not just through family, work, hobbies, antenatal classes, the playground and playgroup that you connect with the people who make up your world, there is also the internet. And you can talk to people online long after the baby has gone to bed and the playground is dark!

Getting to know the neighbors, Edinburgh, Summer - 2014

I love that Facebook lets me keep in touch with friends and family who are far and wide. Some lives feel remarkably parallel, and others are taking paths that lead them on other adventures. But Facebook only gives you fragments of peoples experiences, only tells part of the story, wets the appetite for more.

One of the motivations behind the 'You Won't Remember This – travel tales with babies' project that I wrote about in my July blog post is to take some of these fragments and conversations to another level. To go beyond the blury glance at a photo of a friend and her son on an elephant in Thailand, or the snippet of conversation at Buggy Bootcamp about an upcoming trip to Turkey and really be immersed in the experiences and reflections of other people who have a similar passion for travel and family.

I am very excited to start receiving stories that have been written for the project, and have had to sit on my hands not to blab to much about the contents before I have the whole collection together. The challenges to write have in themselves been forming part of the in depth conversations going on around the project. Not surprisingly mums and dads with very young children, bursting to tell their tales, find it impossible to prioritising deadlines over sick children and blown up hard-drives.

Rafa on the road at Lake Louise, Canada, March 2014

Thankfully as this is an entirely independent project deadlines can be re-visited. Yes I can hardly wait to share the stories I have received and bring more folks into the conversation about the delights and perils of traveling with babies, but I can wait.

And in the meantime the conversation continues. I have gone public and put a call for submissions up on Creative Scotland– It is very exciting to see my little idea up online... time will tell who I will get to strike up a conversation with next.
If it is you, please don't be shy about getting in touch. If you have a story to tell email