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You can do better, Zara

Zara. I’m saying this as a friend. We’ve had a thing going for about 12 years now. Your coat game? Fierce. The fit of your jeans and trousers? Dreamy. Your prices? Sometimes I break out in a cold sweat of excitement because everything is so reasonable.

So, as a friend, I need to tell you that I’m not happy about this:1165558712_1_1_1

This is a nice baby sweater, right? Your baby would totally be the most stylish baby in this thing. The fairytale design is quirky. It’s not pink. There’s no glitter or mice drinking cups of tea or ballerinas or all the other stuff that people tend to put on every single item of baby-girl clothing. So what’s the problem?

The problem, is that the cartoon prince is ‘brave’ and the cartoon princess is ‘little’. I’m not a fan of the little-girls-as-princesses thing anyway, but I’ll put that aside because of the fairytale theme. But if clothes for girls must have princesses on, couldn’t they just, for once, be fucking brave? Or strong? Or anything but little or pretty or precious?

I’m saying this because I like you, Zara. Little princesses aren’t good enough.

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Deadbeat Holiday

HolidayBebeBefore we has a baby, holidays were ephemeral wisps of sheer luxury. Cocktails from airport to airport; limitless amount of time for lounging, exploring and drinking cocktails; bars, spa treatments and shopping; cocktails.

Holidays now are different.

Packing, is different. On previous trips, there was careful planning of outfits, selection of co-ordinating heels, finding a book for the flight and putting together a playlist. This year, I corralled a Biffa bin and charged frantically through Mothercare and the Boots baby aisle until it was full. Then, because this was not nearly enough stuff, I wrapped a buggy in bin liners and parcel tape, filled a Gruffalo Trunki with toys, wipes and nappies, then filled my own flight bag with toys, wipes and nappies in case we somehow became separated from the trundling Gruffalo. At some point I remembered I had packed nothing for myself and swept everything from the top shelf of my wardrobe into the Biffa bin.

The journey, is different. The idea of a few hours on a plane with nothing to do but sit, read and watch a film used to be a bore. Now, obviously, I would swap both of my hands and all the equity we have in the house for six uninterrupted hours. This year, the flight was spent watching Peppa Pig (spoiler alert: they jumped in muddy puddles) before changing my daughter on the floor of a filthy public toilet after she soiled herself with immense gusto the minute we joined the passport queue.

Eating out? Well, the food is still just as good, but there is considerably less time spent lingering over a bottle of something fizzy resting in a gently perspiring ice bucket. But if you enjoy bribing your child into silence with an endless supply of breadsticks because they are the only thing she doesn’t look at suspiciously before firmly saying ‘no’, then you’re in luck!

Swimming pools on holiday with a baby probably aren’t very different, except that instead of suspecting you’re swimming in urine, you know for sure you are.

Walks, rather than being an opportunity to explore the coast or countryside, are now an opportunity to play a kind of sunshine Jenga with the positioning of the parasol on the buggy, while saying in a panicked voice around every 14 seconds ‘I think she’s in the sun, we need to move it again’.

Suncream is less about skin protection and more a kind of extreme sport where the two of you pin down your toddler and try to coat it in a layer of factor 50+ before it slithers away and merrily spends the required 10 minutes of soaking-in time transferring a white film to every soft furnishing it can find.

All of this makes a holiday with a baby sound appalling, which of course it isn’t. A holiday with a baby is wonderful, and I’d go away with her again right now if it weren’t for things like ‘paying the mortgage’ and ‘not getting sacked’. It’s just that instead of returning home refreshed, tanned and replenished, you return home feeling like you spent the past week at some kind of military bootcamp, with a weird graze on your shin caused by a giant inflatable crocodile.

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You shall not pass

m swingWay back when I was growing up, kids didn’t need passports until they were 16. I’m not sure exactly what the procedure for taking a child out of the country was, I assume you just scribbled its name on your own passport and nodded assertively when customs asked if it was yours. At some point, someone decided that this made life far too easy for parents and that actually, children did need passports after all. I imagine that person also squeezes toothpaste from the middle, puts toilet roll on the wrong way round and forgets to scrunch down biscuit wrappers so they don’t go soft.

When you decide to get your child a passport, one of the crucial elements is a photo. The rules around passport photos are pretty prescriptive, which is great, because everyone knows how great babies are at following directions.

Normally, my child loves having her photo taken. So naturally, the second we began trying to get a simple face-on head and shoulders shot of her against a plain background, she became hysterical. First she began wailing. Not crying, just going ‘eeuuhhhhh’ at an egregious volume and pitch and contorting her face without producing tears. Clearly, this was not enough of a protest, so she simultaneously relaxed all of her limbs and slithered to the ground like a large, petulant snake. Any attempts to sit her back up were met with increased levels of wailing and flopping, interrupted by furious attempts to speed-crawl across the room and plunge her fingers into an unguarded socket.

After around 7,000 attempts to get the picture and around 7,000 blurred images which would have left CPS wondering exactly how we were torturing our child we decided to come up with a plan B. Having discounted a series or preferable options, including using a picture of a stranger’s baby from the internet and divorcing so we’d never need to go on holiday together again, we hit upon a truly genius solution, used an Iphone to YouTube episodes of Peppa Pig and dangled it in front of her.

Having managed to secure a photo of our daughter beaming, glassy-eyed and positively catatonic with delight, we got the form off so that it can go sit at the bottom of a very large pile of other hard-won baby passport forms.

The unfortunate side effect of our magnificent technique is that the baby has now realised Peppa is not confined at the TV and has taken to seizing smartphones and manically incanting ‘pahpah, pahpah’. Still worth it to end a wresting match akin to trying to dress an angry octopus into a tuxedo.

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Things I have learned in my baby’s first year

mooTwelve months is a strangely flexible amount of time. It’s one fifth the amount of time I once accidentally paid for mobile phone insurance for a phone I no longer had. It’s around 24 times longer than a packet of hairgrips lasts before somehow evaporating forever. The twelve months my baby has been alive seem to have simultaneously passed in the amount of time it takes to say ‘didn’t I just buy hairgrips?’ and the amount of time it appeared to take your mum to have a conversation with a friend she met in the street when you were a small child.

Sometimes I miss the floppy, squidgy, dependent newborn stage. Always, I’m delighted by M doing something new. In the past week alone she had stood unaided, said ‘ball’ for the first time, started making kissy noises and learned to imitate monkey sounds. All extremely valuable skills which will serve her well as an adult.

I’ve learned a lot in the past year. Some I’ve retained. Most will terrify me with a fresh and vigorous terror whenever we have a second child.

Here, in a list sure to be essential reading for all new parents, are some of the things I’ve discovered since my husband and I first looked down at our freshly minted child and wondered how the fuck we were supposed to buckle it into its car seat.

*You can clean pretty much anything with baby wipes. The baby, the floor, the highchair, yourself, the packet the baby wipes come in that is somehow permanently sticky
*Someone needs to invent a range of baby toys that look like channel changers, small rocks, things that fell off the dog, carpet fluff, coal and bank statements. Because fuck the brightly coloured wooden shit you bought; this is the stuff your kid really wants to play with
*You’ll waste a lot of time worrying. But your kid will probably be fine. It was only a small rock it just swallowed after all. Really though, if you break your own ‘no sugar before two’ rule, nobody will die
*You won’t get everything right. But that’s fine. And how were you supposed to know your kid would choose the precise moment you took your eyes off it to get your iPhone to learn how to roll twice in a row and tip itself off the sofa?
*No matter how stupid you think the thing you’re googling is, enough people will have previously googled it for it to autocomplete
* Someone will always think you’re doing it wrong. That’s alright though. Because there are lots of ways to do a good job of being a parent but your way is the best way and everyone else is going to break their kid
*You might not always meet your own expectations, but your baby probably won’t explode because one time, when you were so tired you stood in front of the dishwasher for ten minutes looking for the ‘defrost’ function, you decided to give it an Ella’s Kitchen pouch and a handful of Cheerios for dinner and let it watch Peppa Pig
*Just when you think you can’t possibly love your child more, it will wrap its arms round your neck , tilt its face up for a kiss, say a new word, drift off to sleep in your arms or do something else so overwhelmingly adorable that you realise the amount you loved it up to this moment was woefully inadequate.

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Whole lotta precious time

MpartyIt’s been a while since I blogged. So long, that it’s now only three days until Baby M’s first birthday, which means that I have somehow kept her alive for 162 days, despite knowing terrifyingly little about baby-rearing. This is partly because since my child developed the skill of independent movement I mainly spend my time chasing her around and removing from her hands and mouth things which have the power to kill her. Because apparently strawberries are revolting and the appropriate reaction is to throw them indignantly to the ground, but anything that falls off the dog is an unparalleled delicacy.

When I’m not yanking knives from her grasp and Googling ‘is it ok if your baby just drank a little bit of bleach’, I’m usually either at work, at Tesco, or thinking about what I need to buy from Tesco. So blogging has sort of slipped off the radar for a while. However, I realised the other day that the only creative thing I’ve done in the past six months was a fairly appalling drawing of Peppa Pig, which I sketched out absent-mindedly while the baby chewed through the wax crayons I wasn’t using.

By way of a catch-up, here is a quick rundown of some of the things that have happened since I last posted.

*I went back to work, and the baby did not forget who I was
*She had her first Christmas and ate an appropriate amount of wrapping paper, tinsel and pine needles
*We are still breastfeeding despite the fact she has five teeth, which is a clear sign I must secretly hate myself
*The baby started saying words. Mumma, dada, woof and bear were quickly followed by ‘Peppa’, which makes me glad I don’t to to baby groups any more and run the risk of having clearly flouted the ‘no screen-time before age two’ rule, making me an embarrassment to parenthood
*Real meals replaced milk, and it became clear that people were not just playing some awful joke when they said things like ‘you will miss the smell of baby poo’
*A health visitor told me my baby is too small and that I should stop breastfeeding and give her custard. It’s ok, she’s dead now
*The baby did not magically potty train herself in the night no matter how hard I wished
* I realised that the teeny, tiny blender I bought for weaning, which could hold approximately half a small carrot, was actually the most pointless thing I ever parted with money for while sober
*The baby continued to sleep 12 straight hours pretty much every night. Please nobody send me faeces in the post.

Hopefully my next update will be a bit more timely.

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A guide to nappy changing, as told by a seven-month-old

changecryFor reasons nobody knows, parents really like changing nappies. They do it at least six times a day regardless of how much you protest (sidenote: actually more if you attempt a dirty protest).

These people will drop everything for the chance to take off all your nice warm clothes and leave you freezing cold and exposed on the changing mat. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing: eating, talking, playing with those weird little light-up boxes that I REALLY want, getting ready to leave the house – they will drop everything if they decide you need a clean nappy. So far, I’ve been unable to determine what set of circumstances lead to them deciding a new nappy is needed, but it seems like the more urgently they need to be somewhere, the more likely they are to want to change you. Berks.

So, anyway, I’m not saying I’m a nappy-changing expert, but in my seven months I’ve already been changed about 9,765,043,654,209,810 times. Along the way, I’ve learnt a few things which I think other babies will find pretty helpful.

Firstly, the second they put you on the changing mat, start screaming. This alerts the parent to the fact you do not wish to be changed. Mine don’t listen, but I scream anyway. Surely they will one day get the point. Ideally, the screaming should be maintained throughout the changing process. It gets a little tiring though, so make sure you save some energy for nap-time screams.

Once you’re on the mat, they will start to undress you. This is when you want to start getting in a little exercise. you’ve probably discovered your limbs by now. Maybe you’re rolling, you might even be crawling; whatever you can do, do it. Do loads of it. Thrash your tiny arms, flip yourself over, arch your back, kick them in the face. Whatever. You know you’re doing it right when they end up pinning you down with one hand, trying to wrestle off your tiny little weird-necked vests with the other, and muttering things like ‘for fucks sake’ and ‘Jesus christ, you’re like an octopus’.

The next step is grabbing. The one good thing about changing time is that it requires a shitload of stuff. All of this stuff is stuff that you cannot have but really really want. Ideally in your mouth. While your parents are distracted by trying to remove your 9,000 layers of clothing, grab whatever you can. Talc is great. Nappy cream is awesome. The nappy they just took off you is the holy grail. Try to fit whatever it is that you’ve got in your mouth.

Now, you won’t be able to keep whatever it is you grab. Your parent will notice, say something like ‘shitting fuck’ and snatch it away. However, this affords you a valuable opportunity to get your feet inside the nappy they just took off. You’ll probably have done a poo, so get some of that on your heels and just kick them about madly like someone is trying to set you on fire. The aim is to make contact with as many soft furnishings as possible.

While they try to clean up, make the most of not having a nappy on. All that padding is pretty restrictive, so it’s an ideal time to have a big giant wee all out in the open. Although be careful: if your parents are not feeling lazy, urinating all over yourself will result in a full bath. Don’t even get me started on those bizarre torture devices. Although I will quickly mention that bubbles may look delicious, but are not.

By this point, you’ll pretty much be changed (hopefully you remembered to scream uncontrollably throughout the entire process). Your parent will be sighing with relief and thinking about cramming you into your car seat so that they can go somewhere silly like ‘work’ or ‘a doctor’s appointment’ or ‘baby group’. Show them that you’re in charge by either vomiting a load of milk down your clean outfit or doing a poo. Sure, it means they have to change you again, but it’s worth it.

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Little discourage

sleepsuitThere was a lot I didn’t know about babies until I had one. I have mentioned this before. One of the fundamental things I had no idea about, was that it is not ok for a baby to be small. I mean, obviously all babies are kind of small; if they weren’t, they’d be born all full-sized and creepy, like real-life Benjamin Buttons*. But it is not ok to have a baby who hangs out at the lower end of the centile chart.

M is a lower-end baby; she hangs out around the tenth centile for weight (although is around the 70th for length and head size). Her weight gain has been stable, she feeds well, loves solids and is bounding through milestones. She sleeps right through the night (unless I have jinxed this by writing it down, which is totally possible) and is an utterly content and happy baby.

To some health visitors and many strangers, this does not matter. Because M does not sport enough rolls to stock a Gregg’s, apparently I should be concerned. I myself, am 5’2″ and weigh about 118lbs. Even in pregnancy, I only gained about a stone despite eating like a pig with some kind of thyroid condition causing it to be constantly ravenous. Both my brother and I were small babies. My husband is long and lean. These are also things which do not matter.

It has been suggested I replace breastfeeds with formula, try to increase my already ample milk supply, and ‘hide’ butter and cheese in my baby’s food. I have not done these things, because having your very healthy child fit into its clothes for a little longer than other babies is not the worst thing to happen since the UK stopped manufacturing the Secret chocolate bar. I myself am still able to wear clothes from many children’s sections, and frankly, who doesn’t love to save on tax?

I can also take comfort from the fact that M will eventually level out with other kids and people will stop complaining that she is not fat enough and start complaining that I’m doing something else wrong.

*Incidentally, I found The Curious Case of Benjamin Button excessively irritating because he was not born as a full-size man. However, at the end of the film, he was a baby-sized baby, so logically he should have been born adult-sized. Also, it was very boring and actually not very curious at all.