Thursday, 22 May 2014

(Breast) Pumping my way to insanity

I had one of those moments yesterday, zoning out in Costas, that the endless faffing about with coffee machines was not dissimilar to the mechanical putting together of a breast pump.  My husband used to liken this to my assembling a machine gun.  I suspect that this was a stoic, if fruitless, attempt to make me feel that I struck a glamorous and edgy figure in the kitchen.  As opposed to just being some task that I was destined to do approximately 8573 times, in preparation for the ritual throwing out of the OCD quantities of frozen breast milk that had been stockpiled once several thick lines had been drawn under breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding.  Ah yes, how could I forget?  That quagmire of failure, bastion of middle-class competency.

It is fair to say that I was not a natural at breastfeeding.  I shall spare you the exceedingly long and very dull story, but my eldest daughter ended up being mixed fed.  Which I can tell you for free is the worst of all worlds.  My inverted nipples didn’t exactly help matters in an already sorry state of affairs, so we ended up with this ridiculous, self-patented scenario where – apart from the very occasional concession to a nipple guard – I ended up pumping and feeding it to my daughter in a bottle.  In addition to formula feeding, as I was convinced my milk wouldn’t be enough.  Basically a one-way ticket to insanity.  There is very little as pointlessly time-consuming as pumping and then bottle-feeding it straight back to your child, but that was the way I rumbled.  For 13 sodding months.   And then I wisely stopped, had a good drink, and promptly fell pregnant again.

You’d think that there would have been some lessons learnt here, wouldn’t you?   But no, with my following two children – who miraculously breastfed ok - I continued with the nonsense of pumping.  Nominally in case of some emergency scenario like alien abduction or a burst appendix.  I say they fed ok, obviously I mean ok in the sense of the obligatory 3 months of toe curling and health visitors sending you well-meaning (but essentially useless) articles on wet-wound healing.  It’s magical stuff.

Clearly this doublespeak feeding strategy was the cause of some frequent discussion in our house about the logic of keeping a freezer stacked with milk that was on a constant going-out-of-date watch.  But I probably wouldn’t have liked to push this point too strongly with me at the time either.  A sane person would have also invested in an electric breast-pump, in some sort of a nod towards efficiency, but I was much too far some down the road of crazy by now.  Instead I worked my way through about 10 models on eBay, learning along the way that I couldn’t get a drop out with some makes no matter how hard I tried.  I also learnt that if you want to stimulate the letdown reflex then don’t bother reading anything that might even vaguely stimulate your brain.  I became exceedingly skilled at zoning out, and imagine I was pretty amazing company of an evening.

In retrospect I think the feeling of total failure with my first was not exactly helped by the fact that I went on a post-birth NHS course where we learnt a series of outstandingly helpful techniques like how to brush teeth, and when to start thinking about weaning.  I am not even slightly exaggerating when I tell you that one session was pretty much dominated by discussing the versatility of an Annabel Karmel guacamole dip for dinner parties.  The dip, incidentally, was very good; I wasn't so big on dinner parties at the time so can't comment on that eventuality.  All stuff that I presumably could have read in a book, but in my state of new-parent panic felt that a good old course would settle one and for all.  After all, this theory had worked in most other aspects of my life up until now, and it also kind of distracted me from some of the scary health stuff that was rumbling on with my daughter at the time.  I was normal, see!  Anyway, the other parents on this course were totally rocking the breastfeeding thing, and the following few months were punctuated with this weekly drain on morale.  I’d gleaned that I probably wasn’t in the same social group as them from the off when they all talked about their husbands’ practices and Very Important business trips, but when a post-course knees-up was organised at one of their houses, my suspicions were confirmed.  My car recognition is poor at the best of times, but even I could see that there wasn’t a car in that cattle-gridded drive worth under £30k.  So I turned around, and drove home in my 10-year old Micra, punching air that being - nominally - a grown up I was free to go, and that the ritual humiliation was at an end.

The breastfeeding was actually rather lovely with the second two after the first horrific weeks.  But the pumping sucked big time.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Fairies in the Wood: Furzey Gardens

Over the bank holiday weekend, when Charlie was off running his favourite marathon (Avebury to Stonehenge, in case you’re interested), we took ourselves off fairy hunting.  Furzey Gardens is this hidden gem in Minstead in the New Forest.  It's fairly unique in not being the traditional stately home and gardens set-up, but a charitable trust in which the wonderful gardens are tended by volunteers and young people with learning difficulties.  It was one of the first places we were brave enough to embark on day trip to when Charlotte was a baby (I know, we are pretty hardcore, venturing all the way to the next village: we should probably write a book about this kind of stuff!).  And it’s one of those places that keeps us coming back because every time there’s some new structure or discovery to be made.  And of course there are the fairies ...

Same child, same wall of pink ... eight years on

When we first started coming the fairies had just moved in.  Now they seem to be pretty well established, with over 30 fairy doors waiting to be found.  The great thing about these is they’re not set on a trail, and while there’s a vague kind of map it’s more a nudge in the right direction.  So you never discover them all, and finding a new one is genuinely magical.  Some of them are probably totally secret.  This time we found Midas’ Mansion for the first time, off the beaten track: a door at which fittingly a pile of coins had been left to be turned into riches.  It would be rude not to join in.  We found about 10 doors today, and the expression on Katie’s face – who thinks Ben and Holly totally rule, and who is gutted that there is no sign of the tooth fairy visiting her yet – was priceless.  Throughout the gardens little offerings of flowers have been at the fairies’ doors, and it struck me, particularly after Long Barrow a few weeks ago and the sudden death of someone in our village whose doorstep has since been decorated with pots and wildflowers, how compelling our need is to reach out to fairies and the dead with colour.
We’ve been to Furzey loads, but the spring is truly spectacular, I haven’t seen pinks and reds like it anywhere else on earth (I haven’t retouched any of these pictures).  There’s an adventure playground, inventively made up of a series of African treehouses, tunnels and a dry boat.  There’s a great three-floored treehouse with views over the Isle of Wight, a bug barn, eccentric scarecrows, alpacas studiously ignoring the interlopers, a giant’s picnic table, a hidden star-gazing hut, and 16th century cottage complete with a family of sleeping children guarded by a spider (you really have to see it to get it).  It’s a place for stories to unfold, and you don’t need to say very much at all because the children are immediately drawn in.    For the adults there’s a rather good coffee shop, art gallery and plant sale (I say for adults, like I would have the slightest clue how one negotiates a plant sale). But really, with the massive lawn looking down over the spectacular mass of colour, picnics win every time.

It’s true at one point Katie had a total meltdown after cruelly being taken away from the swings. (Am I the only person in the world who totally hates swings?  You spend your whole time either queuing or riddled with guilt that your turn might go a millisecond over the agreed norm.)  We made some cursory attempts at distraction, making grass guns, fountains and horns, which she treated with the disdain they deserved.  But such is life, and as my older children point out, it makes it somehow it more memorable remembering the various places where strops have been had.  It was only really when we discovered the next fairy door that some semblance of order was restored.  And such is Furzey Gardens that there are so many compelling new spaces to be discovered; it’s hard to maintain a funk for very long.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The pros and cons of oil pulling

I’m not quite sure how the world got so polarised that oil pulling has already become more or less passé within the online community.  Yet whenever I mention it in real-life I get a ‘Huh??’  Followed, when I explain it, by a look that rapidly turns into mild suspicion, and finally backing away.  Indeed my dentist all but fell about laughing when I mentioned it, so bang go my hopes of being taken seriously as a human being there again. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Avebury Stone Circles and Long Barrow West Kennet

On Easter Monday we returned to Avebury stone circles, which we’d discovered just after Christmas.  But it takes a while for us to drive there, and it felt like we’d only just skimmed its surface before. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Back to reality (again)

Something has always got in the way of blogging recently, with the result that now I sit down and try and catch up my head is a mess of disparate thoughts, and no hint of a theme to string them all together around.  Holidays are always a bit like this, pushing the door shut against the throbbing to-do list.  Pretending to be totally relaxed about this kind of stuff.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Failing at Easter

Today being Easter, the social media backdrop has ramped up a gear, reminding me how ‘other people’ do this kind of stuff.  Providing a handy rulebook to substitute for the one I lack for all manner of social situations.  

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Blogging for One

I just noticed that I’ve missed my blog’s birthday.  Sorry about that, blog.  Having said that I’m not exactly up on the etiquette of a blog’s birthday, pretty much as I wasn’t up on the occasion that a baby’s first birthday calls for.  I think there is probably a life manual that I missed somewhere along the line.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Postcard from Tanzania on International Women's Day #lastingchange

Today is International Women’s Day, and for the past month or so parent bloggers have been taking part in TeamHonk, a massive relay across Britain to raise money and awareness for Comic Relief.  It has currently raised over £22,000 and is now around the Manchester area on its way up to John O’Groats. 

This week, without fanfare and with their typical good humour, the architects of Team Honk – Annie, Penny and Tayna – set off to Tanzania to see how the money raised by Team Honk last year hasbeen invested by The Gatsby Trust to support female entrepreneurs in order to make a #lastingchange to theirs and their families’ lives.  Lack of education, hostile labour markets and gendered violence have seen women suffer disproportionately high levels of poverty, something with Comic Relief and the Gatsby Trust are fighting to readdress by working to create sustainable improvements in community life.

Team Honk have been sending back digital postcards of the inspiring women they’ve met, and I’m privileged to have Forestiana on my blog today, a wine processor, who sounds like a woman after my own heart. 

Team Honk have been stoically sampling her hibiscus wine, which people are literally knocking on Forestiana’s door to buy!  You can read more about her on Mammasarus’s (Annie’s) blog.  If you get a chance,please do have a look at some more of the inspirational women that Team Honk have been meeting, and you will get a glimpse of the ways that women have been investing their enthusiasm and grit into gradually making the world a better place.  Seriously, I struggle to think of things I would miss more than clothes, soap and wine, just some of the wonderful products that the women featured today have been making for their communities to give their families a better future.

If you would like to get involved further in Team Honk’s fundraising, you can donate here and help support these life-changing projects.

You can also retweet these digital postcards, and wherever you see the hashtag #lastingchange.

Thanks for reading and, whatever you do, have a wonderful International Women’s Day.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

How to be ill - by my children

You might think that being ill is just one of those things that happens. Yeah, right.  Life ‘just happens’ to losers, and being ill is a groove that you can work to startling effect with a bit of creative energy.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The day I met Barbara Castle: Inspiring Women for International Women's Day

Barbara Castle would always have been one of my inspirational figures.  I grew up in a household where being awkward and passionate were valued qualities, if not the source of numerous arguments.  A trailblazing firebrand, what exactly isn’t to like?