Fin. Presque.

Here’s the thing. I actually wrote this post about a month ago and sat on it while I decided what to do. All of the stuff below still stands – I won’t be writing about R and G and our life in the House of Twins any more – but I have really enjoyed liveblogging One Born Every minute over the last couple of years and the new series is starting tonight and…well, I’ll certainly do a couple of episodes and see how I feel.

Anyway. Here’s why I’m ending the House of Twins blog:

House of Twins began life on the Babycentre website shortly after they developed their social networking platform and allowed users to create their own journals. It was a wet Sunday morning, Dh was working and the month-old R and G were snoozing peacefully. I created my Babycentre social networking profile, wrote my first journal entry ‘A little about me’ and said that I wanted to write a journal to satisfy a creative itch (and privately, to prevent my brain from dissolving into a puddle of sleep-deprived mush.)

In April 2008 I duplicated the journal on a separate blogging platform and plucked the name House of Twins from the air because I couldn’t think of anything better. By then the blog had become my public soapbox, on which I railed, ranted and tried to reason with myself about parenthood and, more specifically, All The Things About Other People That Drove Me Mad. Also, I felt that lots of other Mummy blogs were painting a rather rosy picture of parenthood whereas I was determined to be truthful. Parenting is both great and horrible, often at the same time and I wanted to portray that honestly.

Occasionally I was too honest for my own good. I certainly pissed a few people off with things I wrote. People questioned the wisdom of me writing about my mental health so honestly and publicly. I wrote about it because I am a crap liar. I couldn’t present a happy-clappy front whilst privately wishing I could run away. It’s part of the HoT story.

A side-note on me. The dark days of September 2008-March 2012 are – hopefully – firmly behind me and I came off my anxiety tablets in July, with no ill-effects and no November crisis. I now feel more like the early 2007 version of me than the terribly sad, frightened and bewildered creature that I became when the girls were small. I have kept my (current) good mental health quiet deliberately because I didn’t want to jinx it, but I feel really good at the moment (apart from my early mid-life crisis, but that’s not for here.)

I knew at some point I really ought to stop writing about R and G and earlier this year I decided that I would keep HoT going until the end of 2012 and bring it to a graceful end.

Why now? Well, the girls are now at school and they will soon be fluent readers and internet searchers. They don’t know that I write about them and I don’t want to get bullied at school because of HoT, or for them to read it and feel that I don’t love them or to feel exposed. I simply have no time to write HoT now and do it justice. I spent a lot of time writing about teeth and we’re now at the point where the girls are going to start losing the gnashers I waited so long for them to get. Real life has well and truly taken over and things like HoT have been squeezed to the margins. Finally, I’m simply not that cross about it all anymore. The things that mattered to me in 2008 and 2009 no longer seem that important. I can happily read or hear something now and think no more of it whereas 3-4 years ago I was a total keyboard warrior. I’m not totally reformed – occasionally I read something on Facebook or Twitter that is SO MIND-NUMBINGLY STUPID that I actually have to sit on my hands to prevent myself from replying but I’m mostly very well-behaved these days.

I think I have acquired a modicum of wisdom over the last five years and I suppose I ought to share it before signing off:

  1. Whatever you write you’re going to annoy someone, even something seemingly innocuous and that’s not something you can control.
  2. This too shall pass. I bloody hated this phrase when the girls were smaller, but it is annoyingly true. See also: it’s just a phase.
  3. Whatever you’re going through, someone else is going through something much worse. They may enjoy constantly reminding you of this in order to make you feel guilty.
  4. Every household, even a child-free household, should have a plentiful supply of baby wipes. They are useful for EVERYTHING.
  5. Some people, no matter how generous you’re feeling, will get on your tits for no apparent reason.
  6. Just because your children are friends, you don’t have to be friends with their parents
  7. If people vaguely promise you ‘help’ with your baby/ies, make them sign a contract. In blood.
  8. You can cope with a lot more than you think, especially if you get a decent amount of sleep.
  9. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, something happens and you realise you’re still a hopeless hack
  10. Having a baby won’t magically heal a relationship that’s already going wrong. It will make a bad situation much MUCH worse. Dh and I are lucky and we really liked each other before we had the girls. Thankfully, five years down the line we still do. That said, you also have to work at a relationship and you both have to want to do so.

Finally, I say this to Dh a lot (probably to convince myself as much as him) but I am firmly convinced that we will look back on this time at some point in the future and feel ridiculously proud at what we achieved with the girls. That or we’ll be insane. One of the two.

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House of Groupies, or stalking Tom

For months I moaned to anyone and everyone about not being able to get tickets for the Men’s 10 metre platform diving. At the end of the first week of the Olympics I – more in hope than expectation – clicked on to the ticketing website and additional tickets for the preliminaries the following Friday had been released. Moreover, they were in a price bracket I could afford. I put one in my basket, waited 14 agonising minutes for the website to decide whether I was worthy of the ticket or not (I feared that LOCOG may have blacklisted me) and squeaked with joy when the magic payment screen appeared. My hands actually shook as I confirmed my credit card details.

The reason for my excitement? When I said I was going to watch the diving my friends laughed and said: ‘He’s a CHILD Jo. A child’. I protested my innocence until I was blue in the face: I just wanted to pat him on the head; he’s the sort of boy that I’d like the girls to bring home one day; I’m almost old enough to be his mother, all of which was true. Then I SAW him in the flesh (as t’were) and I became a proper 15 year old Tom Daley groupie. The boy had become A MAN.

Flipping heck.

When I was actually 15 I was a total nerd. Very academic, very geeky, extremely gawky, didn’t follow the crowd, liked to be a bit different. A bit weird. When my friends were drooling over Take That I was listening to Pulp and Blur. Mis-Shapes by Pulp was my anthem. My classmates didn’t understand me; Jarvis Cocker did. I missed out on a whole chunk of my adolescence trying (and mostly failing) to be a grown-up. I didn’t really go through the posters on the wall, screaming, sobbing fangirl thing. I’d liked Bros when I was 8 but by the time New Kids on the Block came along I was, like, so over the whole boyband thing.

On Friday night I became the 13 year old I had missed out on being first time round. Every time Tom stepped up to dive I squealed like a One Direction uber-fan. I watched his dives though my fingers, yelling GOOD BOY! GOOD BOY! as he splashed into the water. He wasn’t diving at his best on Friday (maybe I jinxed him with my presence) and squeaked through the prelims. At the end he went over to the mix zone (I’m up with the lingo, me) and I took the opportunity to get a bit closer and take some photos.

Now, I have this weird thing with celebrities and sporting heroes. I’ll watch them perform, I’ll buy their stuff but the thought of actually meeting them fills me with dread. They do their thing, I do mine but I won’t ever put myself out there and press flesh or exchange words with them. My sister will happily stroll up to any cricketer in the country and have a chat, but I always hide in the background praying not to be noticed. I have an irrational fear that they’ll laugh at me, or be rude and I don’t want to put myself through that. I guess it’s one of the reasons Dh is so secure about it all. I admire from afar but I’d wet myself if I ever actually met any of them.

So, I was hanging over a balcony taking pictures of Tom and I realised that everyone around me doing the same was at least 10 years younger than me. Some of them were wearing glittery t-shirts bearing his name. At one point Tom’s Mum looked up at us with an unfathomable expression on her face. She wasn’t cross, more bemused. I tried to put myself in her place. As a parent, it must be weird for one of your children to be revered and adored by total strangers. I can’t imagine how I would feel if R or G were down there being leered at by a bunch of lusty blokes. Actually, I can and I’d take a shotgun with me…

It felt a bit wrong, so I stopped and went home (not before going to the toilet and practically bumped into Team Daley on my way out as they waited for their boy to finish his media commitments) and resolved to get over myself. Then I got chatting to one of my Mum friends the next day. She’s 45 and when I mentioned that I’d been to watch him dive she went into proper PHWOAR HE’S GAWGUS mode and I calculated that, actually, thanks to being a late developer I’m not old enough to be his mother and that it’s all perfectly fine. As it turns out, there’s quite a cohort of 20, 30 and 40-something women that think he’s rather marvellous so I’m not alone.

My friend and I are already hatching plans to go and watch the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The Games themselves are in Glasgow but the diving competition (sorry, ‘meet’) is taking place in Edinburgh. I quite fancy going up there on the overnight sleeper and making a girlie weekend of it. I just need to get a diamante t-shirt made. Then there’s the British diving championships in 2013…

We asked R and G who their favourite Olympians were. G tends to favour ‘OO-SAIN BOLT’ whilst R likes doing his stance. She’s also fond of doing the Mo-bot, in honour of Mo Farah. They both said that Tom was their favourite tonight as they pretended to dive into the bath. In four years’ time the girls will 8, Tom will be 22 and they can take over the fangirl mantle from me.

Idyll

The (belated) arrival of the warm weather means that the children can play on the field adjacent to the nursery in the evenings. I love the fact that they can spend nearly an hour leaping around on what is essentially a sandy mound at the edge of a rugby pitch with kids that they’ve spent the last three years with, getting absolutely filthy, while the parents stand in the sunshine and chat. We eventually drag them home after a series of five, four, three, two, one minute warnings and they chuck themselves in the bath, passing out in bed after the requisite amount of bedtime stories are read to them.

At weekends we tend to hang out with the ballet and tap crowd, having children over to play and vice versa. On a couple of occasions we’ve looked after an additional child for an hour or two and the girls love being part of a triplet team. It’s not much of a stretch for dh and I to take on an extra child for a bit. I don’t envy those that, when they take on our two, go from one to three children…

As I’ve become more involved with our local book group the girls have met some of the children. They have fallen hopelessly in love (R particularly) with a six year old girl on our road who they now regard as the COOLEST GIRL IN THE WORLD. She attends the school that the girls will be going to and R is convinced that she’ll be able to play with her every day. Dh has had a fatherly word and intimated that N may not want to play with younger children like R and G, but the girls are having none of it.

We popped round to see N and her parents re: her old playhouse (which now has a new home in our garden) and R got a little chilly so her mum dug out an old hoodie of N’s to wear. R was allowed to keep said hoodie and has regarded it as a precious gift ever since. I’m amazed we’re even permitted to touch it, let alone wash the thing. When R wears the hoodie she transforms, superhero-style into N because, apparently, when you’re six you can do ANYTHING – drive cards, go to school on your own, watch Spongebob Squarepants, cook dinner…the list goes on.

I was chatting to one of the nursery (BIG STARS, silly billy!!) mums the other night and she reflected that the children have a wonderful life. They have a lovely group of friends, they want for nothing, they are loved and cared for and they are comforted by the fact that they have a loving, supportive network around them.

It’s such a change from where Dh and I were when the girls were small. I felt so isolated and looking back, it’s no wonder that I went a bit nutty for a while. We’re a good, self-sufficient team but it’s good to have other people locally that we can call on when we need them.

I have also become more relaxed about the school readiness thing. I don’t need to teach the girls to to read before they start school. Last Friday afternoon the girls and I went to the ice cream parlour in the village (awesome) and ran about on the Heath like loons afterwards until we were breathless and hysterical with laughter. I didn’t ask them to identify numbers or letters. I didn’t make them talk about experiences. I didn’t test their ability to do anything. I just let them be for a bit.

I hope R and G look back on this time in their lives when they are older and remember it as a happy, fun, idyllic stage in their lives. School is going to come quickly enough. For this summer, I just want to let them enjoy themselves.

Damn unpretty

There’s been an awful lot of debate on the social networks over the last few days about a particular newspaper article that I’m not going to reference here because I don’t want to give the paper any more advertising revenue or publicity than they have already (cleverly) generated. It’s that one written by the woman about her looks.

Allow me to present something written from the other end of the spectrum.

I am not good looking. On my better days I look presentable. The rest of the time I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I’m not saying this to garner any well-meaning sympathy. I am merely stating facts.

When I found out that I was having girls I was terrified that they would look like me. I didn’t want them to suffer the abuse and ridicule that I have suffered for years. I could cite hundreds of examples here but I’m only going to give you one.

A few years ago, pre-children, I was walking home from the gym. We only lived a short walk away from the gym so I used to walk home in my workout gear and shower in (relative) comfort rather than risk the communal showers. I was trotting home one day along a reasonably busy road when the traffic lights ahead changed to red and the traffic stopped. As I walked past a stationary van the window wound down and the driver decided to ‘have a chat’ with me:

“YOU’RE A FAHKIN’ DOG BUT YOU COULD AT LEAST MAKE A FAHKIN’ EFFORT”.

At that point the lights changed and he sped off before I had a chance to retaliate. Although even if I had used my right to reply, I’m not sure what I would have said. I have tried many different approaches to this over the years (I’ve had a fair few opportunities to practice), from giving them both barrels back (usually met with ‘Don’t have a fit luv’ or ‘Ooh language’), to performing a two-fingered salute (greeted with gales of laughter) to my current approach, staring straight ahead, pretending I haven’t heard and not responding. I don’t think there’s an adequate response that would make me feel any better about it.

When I was a teenager, I figured that success would make me immune to such abuse. I hoped that living well (said to be the best revenge) and getting educated, meeting someone and getting married, having children and having a good career and lovely friends and family would render me immune to the White Van Wankers (Ooh language!) but it doesn’t.

One effect of this is that I now can’t leave the house without a full face of make-up, hair blow-dried and straightened and clothes immaculate. Even my ‘casual’ clothes are carefully considered. I make the best of what I do have and wear dresses to work most days. This isn’t vanity, it’s self-preservation.

I envy naturally beautiful girls that can slouch around in trackie bottoms, Uggs and messy hair and still look fabulous. I simply couldn’t get away with that in public without attracting ridicule (believe me, I’ve tried).

As the months and years pass and the girls get older, I breathe a huge sigh of relief that the girls look like Dh with their fair hair and green eyes. They haven’t (yet) developed my too large for my face nose and they have something resembling a chin, which I definitely don’t. (I went on a date once that was going well until the guy looked at me carefully and said ‘Your nose it too big and you’re quite plain, but I like you. You won’t be shocked to learn that there wasn’t a second date).

I’m incredibly lucky because Dh tells me I’m beautiful every day – and after nearly 12 years I think he probably means it! R and G aren’t of an age yet where they notice prettiness or ugliness, but they have noticed my make-up ritual, the length of time it takes me to get ready in the morning and my array of dresses and pretty scarves. Of course, I think the girls are gorgeous but I’m biased because I’m their mother. However, I’m relieved that they don’t look like me. I’m told that there are elements of me in them, expressions and frowns (frowns mostly) but they look more like Dh and my sister than me.

I don’t want R and G to ever experience what I and other women that don’t conform to normal boundaries of beauty go through at the hands of thoughtless, mindless morons*

*I like to think that they have small penises, or are in fact as smooth as Action Men.

Resting

After my hospital dash yesterday R and G were at nursery today so I was able to take it very easy. People that don’t know me very well have assumed that I’m pregnant. I can assure you I am most definitely not! Perish the thought…

I find it really hard to completely switch off but I forced myself to do virtually nothing. I read the Guardian on my Kindle, flicked through Facebook and Twitter, watched and listened to some stuff that my lovely friend sent me to cheer me up, had a long bath and started a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. It’s a bit of an old ladyish thing to do but I find puzzles really relaxing. Funnily enough, I haven’t found time to do them for the last four years…

Dh is a wonderful nurse and is making me a veg-laden casserole for tea. I’d rather have a pint of Guinness and a bar of dark chocolate to boost my iron levels but that’s my Irish ancestry (my great grandmother came from a line of Irish silk weavers) talking.

I’m seeing my GP tomorrow morning. I suspect that I’ll have to go back on the iron tablets again (fun, fun, fun!) and I don’t know if they’ll want to do any further investigations. I still feel really drained so I’ll see how it goes.

R and G…sorry, Alice in Winderland and Tinkerbell (they’re going through a stage of dressing up for nursery. Passers-by ask if it’s a special day. Our reply is usually: ‘Yes. Tuesday’) bounced in to see me when they got home from nursery. G is her usual self and gave me kisses and cuddles whereas R is more wary of ill people. However, they both insisted on extra kisses from me at bedtime and as we shut their bedroom door R called out in a soft little voice: ‘I love you Mummy’.

 

Life is what happens to you…

…while you’re busy making other plans*.

We had no firm plans for today. Dh had mentioned vaguely last night that we should go to the park and it was a good choice because as I ran around it at 7am (I know! Running! Me! I’m surprised at myself) it was apparent that it was going to be a lovely day. As we were getting ready to go out Dh and I discussed what we would do for lunch (our lives basically revolve around meals) and decided that we would go out somewhere after we’d let the girls loose in the playground for an hour or two.

The playground was already heaving with people at 11am, all making the most of the first truly bright and warm day of the year. The girls sat on adjacent swings and suddenly shouted across as they spied one of their friends from nursery trotting into the park with his Mum. We said hellos and chatted briefly before going our separate ways.

We’re lucky to be blessed with lots of places to eat in the area and we happened to choose the museum café today. As we were munching our lunch the same little boy (J) we’d spotted earlier appeared with his Dad. J squeezed himself onto the bench that R and G were sitting on and promptly made himself at home. It was clear that J didn’t want to join his Mum who was sitting outside having five minutes peace while her family fetched her lunch so I said they were welcome to join us. We ended up having lunch with J and his parents and the three children ran riot (almost) around the museum afterwards while us parents chatted and acted as unofficial crowd control.

After an hour or two we parted ways and were just leaving the park when we bumped into another family we know from nursery. They were on their way to meet up with some friends so we chatted for a couple of minutes and parted with an invitation from us to come over for a playdate in a couple of weeks.

R and G were a little fractious by this stage and were getting antsy about the bus ride and walk home so in a moment of ‘Let’s do the show right here’ parenting, I mentioned that we should really return the hair slide that their ballet friend C left at their house after a playdate a few weeks ago. C was very sad to lose the slide because it was a present from her beloved Granny, so we were very pleased when G located it during a tidying up session.

I thought that C and her parents wouldn’t be at home when we knocked on the door but they duly answered and ushered us in. I said we wouldn’t invade and would only stay for a few minutes but they offered Dh a beer and a chance to watch the rugby and then they invited us to stay for tea…which was a full Sunday roast. I protested that we should leave them to enjoy their family Sunday for…ooh…about five seconds before they told me to shut up and peel some potatoes. We all mucked in with the chopping and peeling and the girls helped to make apple and rhubarb crumble. The three girls had a wonderful time and we finally left their house at 7.30pm after rocking up on spec at 3pm to drop a small item off.

As we walked home, I turned to Dh who was carrying a very droopy R and said ‘I love our life’. It sounds terribly smug but I think we’re very lucky to live in a nice area and to have built up a network of friends that we can bump into randomly and have a really nice time with. Living in London, I didn’t ever think I’d get to a point where I could turn up on someone’s doorstep and be invited in for the afternoon. I’m used to making dates and plans with people and it’s so nice that we’re now in a position to drop in and out without anyone raising an eyebrow. I still get a bit jumpy if someone knocks on the door and I’m not expecting anyone, but I’m learning to live with the fact that it might just be someone who’s passing and wants to say hello.

I still think of myself as the gawky, uber geeky, quiet as a mouse teenager with no friends and no life and occasionally sit back and marvel at how far I’ve come. Yes, I’m still a total geek but I’m an awful lot louder these days. It’s yet another thing I’m grateful to R and G for. They have finally given me (and Dh) a happy, friendly, sociable life that I previously could scarcely have dreamed of.

*from Beautiful Boy by John Lennon

Coffee confessions

Every Saturday morning during term-time a small group of four or five people drop their daughters off at ballet and tap class and traipse round to someone’s house for coffee. The coffee sessions only last three-quarters of an hour but the people use the time to swap stories from the front line of parenting.

They even have a motto: ‘What gets said in this house stays within these four walls’.

Of course, I’m referring to Dh and I and a small gang of parents whose children attend the same dance class. They all attended the same nursery until last September when three of the girls went off to prep schools. R and G are the only ones left at nursery, so they started doing Baby Ballet last term as a way of keeping in touch with some of their oldest friends.

All five of the girls moved up to ‘Twinkle Toes’, the combined ballet and tap class for children aged 4-5 in January. The Baby Ballet class was only half an hour so we used to rush through our drinks and head back to the class, which, handily is held in a church hall at the end of our road. Twinkle Toes is slightly longer so we now get to sup our drinks in a relatively languorous manner.

The gang tends to meet at our house because Dh has a rather fancy coffee machine. It’s his third baby, basically. I don’t drink coffee (or tea) but his wonder machine also makes hot chocolate (and cappuccino, espresso and mocha) so that’s my drink of choice. With the exception of one of the Dads who only drinks tea, the other parents nurse their expertly-made coffees.

Our girls were all born between December 2007 and April 2008, so we compare stories and swap parenting tips. We’ve all sat head in hands despairing about the tantrums our strong-willed, larger than life, forces-of-nature daughters continue to have well after the supposed ‘Terrible Twos’. We’ve swapped stories of depression, tablets and CBT therapies. We laugh at the funny things the girls say and compare notes on different education settings. We also weave grown-up topics into the discussion: this morning we discussed sporting allegiances and feisty parents, for example. The other week we talked about Apartheid. Sometimes we discuss rare nights out and the after-effects. It all depends on what we want – or need – to talk about.

I find the coffee chats incredibly reassuring. Dh and I have really been tearing our hair out over G for the last few months (I’ll say more on that in the next few days) and wondered what on earth we were doing wrong. The coffee confessions have revealed that we’re not alone in feeling helpless and that actually some of G’s more outlandish behaviour is pretty normal for a four year old girl (well, that or there’s something in the water round here that makes the girls super-feisty). As a parent, one of the best sentences you can hear is ‘We’re going through that too’. It instantly normalises a situation in which you thought you were totally alone, which is incredibly helpful.

At 10.10am we gather up the empty cups and trot back to the church hall where five little girls, all red-faced and excited, greet us with news of new tap moves, reward stickers and jelly sweets. Sometimes we pop round to the other houses to play for a bit. Sometimes they come to ours. Sometimes we all go our separate ways, but I think that all of the parents carry on with their day safe in the knowledge that their confessions won’t be shared outside the group. Whatever happens that week, they know they can let it all out at the coffee confession session the following Saturday.