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 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Cut-Outs

The Matisse exhibition in London has been tantalisingly near, yet far all summer. Yes it is only four and a half hours on the train from Edinburgh, yes I am on maternity leave and my time is my own. But somehow the no's have stacked up against it in my mind. After four and a bit months living out of suitcases home has become a very nice place to be, and the notion of navigating the London underground with a pram has weighed against the friends and artworks on offer down south. So it has been days in the park, day trips to the beach, play in our backyard with the neighbours and quiet nights in for me through this glorious Edinburgh summer. And there have been visitors to stay in with and occasionally visitors to babysit and let me out for a wander in our long twilights. 

Rover mum and Rafa at North Berwick, Scotland 2014

A couple of days ago however I realised that my days as a yummy mummy were quickly coming to an end. Rafa is nearly one and my return to work is immanent. So I took the rather radical decision to take a few days R and R for myself before we go into the next stage of life. I got the husbands blessing, booked some train tickets, arranged to stay with friends and headed off to London – by myself - with two nights and three baby free days up my sleeve!

I am in day two as I write and have to guiltily admit that I slept very well last night – with non of that middle of the night, wake up - check the baby is not tangled in the sheets, suffocating under a pillow paranoia, that sometimes happens when the baby is sleeping soundly in his cot. Nor was there the disturbance of being woken by a baby who has rolled onto his front, tried to crawl in his sleep and butted his head against the end of his cot. I am pleased to report that although the husband took a little while getting him to sleep Rafa slept though till 6.40am – which in our world is a win. I am even more pleased to report that I slept till 7.15am, and have had a dirty nappy free morning in Primrose Hill, and got to drink my coffee in my own time rather than sculling it when it was still scalding – or sculling it after it had gone cold as is sometimes the case at home.

Anyway this blog was supposed to be about going to Matisse – it's just that as so often right now most of my thoughts skew towards babyland (which is a land that I love to live in, but am having a wee break from right now). So yesterday after I got off the train in balmy London I headed towards the TATE Modern, stripping off my layers as I went.

Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs is a 14 room exhibition of works from late in the artists life. There is a great pathos as you watch footage of the artist; he is nearing his death, bursting with creativity, his output getting more and more youthful and exuberant as infirmity takes hold. The works ask you to look for the artists tool marks, discern his lingering hand in the scissor edges and the pin pricks that get lost in reproductions, but are easily visible in the originals. According to the blurbs on the TATE walls the artist himself was dissatisfied with the printed results of his Jazz series, preferring the lively sensitivity of the cut out originals. The printed book certainly has a much flatter feel than the cut-outs – but what a treat to have them side by side.

In the My Trash blog I wrote about my 14 year old self going to the 1995 Matisse exhibition at the NGV. The poster I toted around for years was from the Jazz series – and I quite likely saw these works at that time. But of course you never walk down the same road in the same way twice – the intervening years have changed my eye. I see hearts everywhere and get distracted from the works to look for an echoe of my old self amongst the youngsters milling about – but I did not find her. Instead, babyland as inescapable as ever, I follow the sound of a baby crying – not mine! And soon the baby quietens, fed by its mother in the middle of the Oceania room. Amidst the submarine world of Henri's Tahition lagoon– what will this one be drinking in today I wondered with its mothers milk – what a vibrant mind in the making.

Matisse, and his colours lure me around corners through the labyrinth of the exhibition. Chapels, bees, dancers - the experience is all bright, jagged hearts of Icarus, luminous fronds, repetitious curvaceous plant forms broken by surprises of geometry and close hot people, people, people all soaking up the works and jostling for viewing space.

The blue nudes slow me down at last. I love colour, but it is amid the simplicity of the single colour works that I am hydrated, calmed after the morning journey and months of rush and burble before that.  Here the female figure is allowed to be bold, larger than life; cut in lines that are both fluid and jagged. At first the blue nudes are seated and inward looking – folded in on themselves – this mass of stillness, this oneness spoke to me in my world of all encroaching busyness and babyness. I breathed and looked and imagined that the press of the crowd was receding.

Blue Nude II, H.Matisse (photo of the print I bought)

As I moved, almost reluctantly, on the blue nudes picked up the pace, they started dancing and chatting to each other. In a jovial return to the world of Matisse colour 'blue nude green stockings' greeted me - a happy dancing figure who burst upon me and reminded me I love the outside world with its play and passion, and that a bit of a bustle is just the price you pay for living. Matisse, with his busy scissors and his beautiful assistants certainly knew about the joy of living and creating - and the legacy of his passion, as seen on the walls of the TATE speak to us still of the luminosity of a life well lived.  

Blue Nude with Green Stockings, H. Matisse (photo from TATE Modern catalog)

Monday, 7 July 2014

The New Project

I am looking to collect up travel stories with a twist - travel with babies. Do you think you could be interested in contributing a story, poem, memoir, or travel tale? My concept is still sketchy, but I am ultimately looking to create a book of beautifully written and engaging stories from around the world.

I am provisionally entitling the project: You Won't Remember This – travel with babies

At the moment I am after expressions of interest, and perhaps a brief outline – if a story immediately springs to mind, email:
Even if the idea of writing a story for print is intimidating – but you have a great tale to tell – do let me know, I am more than happy to do some work-shopping/editing with you.

 I am not sure what my story will be for the collection, but here is a Rafa travel one I have been writing...

                                                             A Big Deal

Rafa, in the queue you were your happy smiling self, but by the time we got on the bus something had taken hold. You told us about your unhappiness all the way along the winding farm road. Although we still remember the mutterings of the other passengers, at the time we were mostly concerned for you. What was this red faced distress? The tour guide spoke, but his voice was lost beneath yours: 'I'm not happy, I'm not happy, I'M NOT HAPPY!' On a packed and moving bus we quickly ran out of options for comforting you, and resorted to the old reliable – a mummy cuddle. It did not help.

Blessedly the bus ride was short, but your unhappiness continued in the open air. Your mummy hovered at the back of the group with you screaming in your harness. People with children murmured sympathetically; people without children congratulated themselves. The white muslin draped over your head to block out the March sun did nothing to muffle your distress.

All around us lay fields touched by the long New Zealand summer, but where we in a green bower. Quite likely the tour guide was explaining why, but we did not hear him. Bees may have buzzed happily in this innocent, happy land, but we did not hear them.

The green of Hobbiton, New Zealand, 2014

Slowly, slowly you quietened, moving from slow grizzles to restlessness and finally a hiccupy sleep. Luckily this was in the days when you were not so big your mummy couldn't carry you, and so up hill and down dale we went at last, exploring Hobbiton.

On our way to Lake Taupo for the weekend I happened to spy that Hobbiton was only a small detour. The most expensive single touristy thing either of us had ever done – and it started with the you screaming the place down.

Movie buffs, book geeks, yes and yes we were; obsessive know it all's who constantly need to prove their extensive knowledge of Elvish, Entish, lost kings, and Orcs – we left that for others in the group. I read and imagined Tolkein as a young woman in Australia, but now I live in the land of its authorship, and am getting to know the landscapes in which the author imagined his world into being. In New Zealand we stepped into Peter Jackson's imaginings of The Shire and spent a happy afternoon wandering about with a quiet bub, peering at Hobbit holes, listening, at last, to the guides stories, and having a quiet ale at the Green Dragon. 

Sleepy Rafa and Rover mum outside a Hobbit hole.

And the reason for this distress, we discovered later that day – your first tooth, peaking out of some angry gums. A big deal indeed. Rightly causing you to be upset. But Rafa, this tooth, and those that follow are the doorway to new worlds – chewing and biting new tasty foods.
We look forward to sharing so many new things with you. Tasty lunches, second breakfasts and stories of brave young Hobbits. 

That troublesome tooth on a better day