Thursday, 29 December 2011

People who don't have children.

Why do they let people who don't have children design things for people who do have children?

Yesterday, we took the children to lunch in the garden centre. (I know, we're all about fine dining and introducing them to new experiences here...)

In the well-equipped and planned baby changing room there were a changing mat, a big expanse for putting the baby on, a hook for your bag, a loo (top marks for that, because going for a wee in a very small cubicle while holding a baby is always fun)and a clever machine for those emergency nappy changing moments.

For the price of just a pound, it declared proudly (their capitals), you could have:

ONE soft disposable nappy (fits size 9-22 pounds)
ONE hygienic nappy bag

and, wait for it,

ONE baby wipe.

Now there's someone who's never changed a nappy....

Scottish Ballet's Sleeping Beauty (for kids!)

I'm not a dancer.  I don't have the build, or the grace, or the rhythmic ability.  Nor can I, as we are constantly exhorted to, dance like nobody's watching.  Because they always are aren't they?  And while I'd love to move like liquid, losing all my sense of self in the power of the music (and don't phrases like that make you want to kick someone, probably quite hard?), I just don't.  Can't.  Won't.

My children, on the other hand, love dancing.  Dancing is where it's at.  Whether it's a Spoonful of Sugar  or the Firebird.  They also have two classical music loving parents, so they're pretty well up on their Tchaikovsky and Prokoviev. (It was with equal parts pride and horror (poncy parent alert) that I heard L, aged just four, inform someone in a shop that her favourite song was "Stravinsky".)

So I was totally delighted when Scottish Ballet got in touch and asked if we wanted to take part in their Forty Winks Workshop which is running in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  The girls, obviously were so far beyond delighted there weren't words.

Having done our homework (downloadable sheets of colouring and questions about ballet and the story of the Sleeping Beauty, which will come in very handy for some while to come - we've got eight children in the house at the moment and have spent a very happy morning colouring in enchanted forests and drawing mutants (yes, they do feature in Sleeping Beauty, who knew?)), we bundled into the car yesterday morning for a trip to Edinburgh.

The workshops are taking place in the National Museum of Scotland which has just reopened and is amazingly brilliant, even without Sleeping Beauty Treasure Trails.   We though, skipped past the dinosaurs, Egyptian artefacts and rockets to the education centre where we spent two happy hours (S and A first, and then L and a chum) being trees, fairies, bluebirds and rocks (me only - so that my bluebird could perch on the top), and waving our wands, pointing our toes and generally having a marvellous time.

The highlights?  For me, the live accompaniment, with piano (clavinova), and percussion.  Their ballet lessons happen with a tape, and I think the live music added enormously to the experience.  For L, "climbing on Mummy". And "seeing a real ballerina".  Though as the ballerina in question (actually one of the Scottish Ballet's ballet teachers) was not wearing a tutu, we had to have a fairly heated debate about whether she actually counted.

Lack of tutus (and costumes, which we had hoped to see) aside, we had a wonderful morning and can heartily recommend the workshops, and, perhaps more, Scottish Ballet's wonderful website and youtube channel which have a wealth of resources for children of all ages.


Obvious disclosure - Scottish National Ballet invited us to come to the workshops (normally £6) for nothing.  They have also offered B and me a pair of tickets for the actual show (we reckoned the girls were a bit young still). I can't wait!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

When did we give up the definite article?

Pause for breath...

And rant.

What's wrong with the definite article? Those three little letters. You know the ones, you use them every day, hundreds of time, without thinking.


So what is it about having children that makes them disappear? And from the one word that everyone's using?


Let's listen to baby.
See, there's baby
Shall we change baby?
How's baby's weight?

No. No. No.  The baby.  Your baby.  My baby.  Not baby.

But I stay calm and I don't scream. Because when you're pregnant or have just had a baby everyone thinks you're hormonal and there's nothing worse than being mistaken for an oestrogen-fuelled lunatic when actually you're a grammar-loving pedant.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

What I most dislike about pregnancy and birth*

Not labour, or sore hips, or achy backs, or stretch marks, or heartburn, or morning sickness, or insomnia, or getting fat, or sore breasts, or saggy skin, or that strange taste in your mouth, or leaky breasts, or strange spots, or c-section scars, or sweeps, or mastitis, or stirrups, or unsympathetic midwives, or false labour, or elbows in the ribs, or needing the loo every ten minutes, or pelvic floor exercises (or the lack thereof), or not being able to eat brie...

Nope.  None of those.

The thing I most dislike?

Moulting. Still.

*with a caveat that clearly I was incredibly lucky to have easy, uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries, and much worse things than any of these do, sadly, happen to much nicer people than me.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

I admit it: I'm rubbish at crafting with my children.

I have a guilty pleasure.  And yes, it's blogging related.  It's all those wonderful, beautiful blogs that show you amazing creative things you can do with your children.  Brilliant blogs like Red Ted Art or the Imagination Tree.  Only they're not really a guilty pleasure, they're more of a pleasurable guilt. Or just a guilt, in fact.

Because I'm rubbish at all that stuff.  I'm rubbish at the ideas, and, more importantly, I'm rubbish at the execution.

Because is it just me or does it always take significantly longer to get the stuff out and put it away than the time they're actually entertained doing it?  And does it not always end up with you turning your back to help one with a particularly intricate bit of gluing, and turn back to find the other two fighting over the scissors, or the blue paint or the sequins, or putting hand prints on the newly-painted walls.

And is it just my children or (whisper it) is the stuff they make not generally rubbish too?  And of course I can do wonderfully enthusiastic as well as the next mum, but what do you say when they catch you, twenty minutes later, surreptitiously shoving it in the recycling?

I could claim it's more difficult because I'm trying to entertain three.  Or that they're still very little. Or that they've got different abilities.  Or that I don't have the right tissue paper, or glitter, or glue.

Because I try.  I really do. We made these hats (now gathering dust on the table) on Monday.  But it's never quite what I want it to be.  I have visions of happy hours spent, chatting merrily, little heads bent in concentration over some masterpiece, while the clock ticks on unnoticed and we look up astonished that an entire afternoon has passed.  

And somehow, it never quite works out like that.  Maybe it's me.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I missed my baby

About ten seconds ago, I had this:

And then I blinked, or I turned away, or I did something; but I don't know what, and when I turned back, and opened my eyes, I had this:

And I'm not saying that the second isn't every bit as magical and astounding as the first; I'm just saying that  all I did was blink.  And I missed my baby.

Because he's six months old tomorrow (or possibly the day after: B and I disagree on this one.  If you're born on the 31st May are you six  months old on 30 November or 1 December?  And how much more complicated if you're born on 29 February?) and he's not a tiny baby any more.

And somehow, where with L, the first six months took years: an endless, wonderful,  wouldn't change it for a second agony of learning curve and colic and sleepless nights, and with S and A they were a focused marathon, feeling every yard of those twenty-six miles, don't worry about whether you're enjoying them or not (for the record, I did; in parts), just get through, the last six months have disappeared in the blink of his unbelievably long eyelashes, or the flash of his ever-ready grin.

But I didn't want them to. I wanted to savour them.  I had plans. There were pictures I wanted to take, that I never managed to get of the girls: the mole-rat face of a tiny baby, just off the breast, nose to the fore, eyes tight closed, like a naked rodent and no less adorable for it; the bottom lip, pushed out in fury beyond the seeming stretch of those tiny muscles; the first taste of solids (adores them, for the record, but I still haven't taken a picture); the first weighing in the calico hammock the health visitors bring; the moments he mislaid his thumb...

Because all those are gone, fleeting as daybreak, a moment in time that will never be repeated.  Like the sounds and feelings that I will never experience again: the tiny weight of my newborn, the blind seeking for milk, the first hesitant squeeze of my finger, the tearless, angry, babybird cries.

And I tried, I really did.  I have found myself thinking, countless times, that I wanted to bottle that moment, that feeling, that smell.  But it passes, and I forget, and now I can bearly remember what he felt like at three weeks, or looked like at three months.

M is not the baby he was.  He has lost his startle reflex. He has lost his skinny new baby look.  His voice is older, his smile is more knowing.  He has grown and changed and I am so proud of him. But despite all that I can't help wishing I had noticed the moment that I lost my baby.

Friday, 25 November 2011

What do your children call your friends? (Or your friends' children call you?)

1.  My mother, overheard a couple of weeks ago on the phone to the utility company:

No, you may not call me Mary.  You may call me Mrs F....
Good on you Mum.

2.  My friend Elizabeth, taking her children home after worms in goo (spag bol) and snot (stewed apple) on Hallowe'en:

Say thank you for a lovely supper and goodbye to Mrs C

Excuse me?  Mrs C? Who is this Mrs C of whom you speak?  I'm not Mrs C.  Or at least I'm not if you're not the utility company, or my mates having a laugh.  I'd like to say that Mrs C is my mother-in-law, but I think most of the time she'd be aghast at being called that too.

But why?  When did that happen? 

When I was a child my friends' parents (and my parents' friends) were all Mrs or Mr Whatever.  There was an awkward stage when we were at university when we were all separately told, "Call me Marjorie" and we used to mumble "Mrs, erm,  you, erm, Marjorie" and revert back to Mrs Whatever where we felt more comfortable.  In fact there are still friends of my parents whom I feel much more natural calling Mrs and Mr than I ever will, despite my degree and my four children, by their first names.

But my children call people whatever I call them.  And that's almost always first names.  As a result there are, I think, only two categories of people that they call by their title and surname:  teachers, and the elderly neighbours.

Because I call the neighbours Mrs Black and Mrs White.  Of course I do. They're both in their eighties. They're both utterly charming and have said on numerous occasions "Call me Whatever" and firmly, both to their faces and behind their backs, I stick to Mrs Whatever.  That's what you call elderly ladies, after all.

But is it still?  And will it be what my children's friends will call me in fifty years time?  And will I mind then, as my mother (not eighty) is clearly beginning to?  Because somehow I feel that I will, and that it matters.  That there is an element of respect implied in the use of surnames that people of an older generation deserve.

And so I wonder if Elizabeth is right, however odd it may have felt.  I asked her whether she wanted my children to call her Mrs Cotton, and she said "It's entirely up to you,  I'd just rather my children called you Mrs C".  

I suspect it's too late to change the names of most of my existing friends, but should I be changing the names of the new ones?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Just call me Santa's little helper - The Craft Market has reopened!

Welcome to the Christmas Craft Market!!!

Beautiful items made by real bloggers....

It's over a year since I last updated the BMB (now BritMums) Craft Market, and new stalls have arrived in their droves.  Who needs catalogues or busy high streets when you have this much lovely stuff all handmade by brilliant bloggers?  
Where better to get all your Christmas shopping done in one go?! (And they're a good read too)

For the background to the craft market, click on the craft market tab in my blog homepage, or to see the wares for sale, read on...


Tracy Glover makes beautiful dolls

Kerry Goodman makes amazing photo albums and wedding stationery as well as bespoke items

she also hosts crafting parties in West Sussex and Hampshire.

Tracy T makes artisan jewellery and crafts in silver, beads, paper and fabric

Fee makes really beautiful solid wood decoupage blocks which she sells through

Alyson makes pretty much anything with words on it: clothes, canvases, signs, wall art, name art, table plans...

Heidi-Elizabeth Storer makes all sorts of beautiful things in her Beehive 

Becky at Hazel and Blue is a thrifty Kiwi who loves sewing and ribbons

Aimi Rowe makes various toys, soft furnishings, wall hangings, decorative door hangings and bags. all out of your childs clothing


Nicky makes stunning handmade paper products which she sells under the name of Gooseberry Moon

The Butterfly Experience is this month opening her bespoke online jewellery shop: Lunar Moth Jewellery.  Check it out...

Zoe Grant is inspired by the seaside with products for you, your home and your Summer holiday (and Christmas too!)

Viv Smith makes jewellery and accessories including mummy necklaces and birthstone jewellery.  She also creates ribbon flower corsages, available as brooches or hair accessories, including in school colours

Melisa Moody is originally a textile designer but now makes delicious looking jewellery and accessories.

Helen runs  producing all sorts of beautiful hand made things for babies, boys and girls, their mummies and daddies...

Amanda loves making shabby chic and primitive sewn items.

Fiona makes stunning personalised children's artworks:

Helen Rawlinson  has two shops.  One on Etsy, selling beautiful fabrics, mugs, bags, cushions and more fabulous stuff:

 as well as her own website of lighting and textile design

Claire Mackaness also has a shop on Folksy, in her case selling vintage inspired gifts:

She also makes beautiful cards and occasionally runs classes in Brentwood, so pop by her website for more information.

Helen McIntyre also makes hand-made gifts for beautiful girls of all ages.  She also sells crafting supplies if you're feeling inspired!

Janice Thomson makes baby gifts

Hilary Pullen makes little purses and beadkits for children

Harriet McAlonan makes bespoke children's jewellery for boys and girls  Click the link for lovely pictures

Grit doesn't sell her playbags, she gives them away to local toy libraries.  What a star.  The playbag blog is here.

Louise Horler makes funky bibs, tooth fairy cushions, baking bags, activity bags, buggy blankets, aprons and more!


She is also the UK co-ordinator for Dress a Girl Around the World, a charity which asks crafty types to make a dress for sending to a girl who hasn't got a pretty dress.  She's always looking for more sewers so get in touch if you think you can help!  (Louise, you've got me inspired for one...) 


Aingeal at Mum's Survival Guide creates unique one of a kind pieces of jewellery (and cards)

 Tola Popoola makes personalised chocolate bars

Maggy Woodley paints children's pop art and greetings cards 

Kim at Four Teens and a Teabag makes beautiful bespoke bunting

Fanciful Alice makes handbags, brooches, children's toys and anything else she fancies

 Petra Hoschtitsky (and a friend) make jewellery, knit, sew, embroider, crochet and work with many different materials (textiles often recycled/upcycled). They also organise jewellery making parties for children and adults, as well as art and craft or sewing parties in the Manchester/Cheshire area.

(No picture because the links never stay live to this one, I don't know why, but click the link to have a look)

Sew Mental Mama makes children's (and adults') clothes


Steffi loves to knit, make cards and has recently explored felting

You can also buy her book, A Hat in Time which contains 37 patterns for hats to knit and crochet and from which all profits go to Save the Children.

Jude specialises in creating personalised nursery art (including canvases and framed, boxed Christening prints)

she also turns your children's artwork into masterpieces for your wall ....

Suzanne Harulow is a freelance textile artist.  She makes bespoke wall hangings and lots of other stuff

Mummy Mad at the Madhouse makes all sorts of wonderful crafty things with (and without) her children.  She's also been known to sell them from time to time.

And then there's me.  I make personalised children's stuff.  T-shirts, towels, bedclothes. Anything you like really... 

And I'm also a trained milliner.  So if you need something special for a wedding, Ascot or just running round the park, let me know:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night....

Monday, 21 November 2011

I killed their imaginary friend.

No really.  I did.

I pushed her out into the path of an oncoming car.    To be honest, I pushed her out into the road and held her there until a car came along and then I said:

Look.  The car squashed her.  She's gone.

It's A, you see.  The child, not the imaginary friend, although her name begins (began?) with A too.  Alla.  L discovered them, Milly and Alla.  Sisters, I think, or sometimes possibly just friends, but either way they get brought into the conversation from time to time.  They don't particularly do naughty things, or get blamed when the children play up.  They just occasionally come and stay, or have a race, or dress up.   A and S have also become rather taken with them, so now we have several Millies and Allas. ("My Milly and Alla, not your Milly and Alla....")

So, as I say, it's A.  A is, at nearly 3, determined.  I know all nearly-three-year-olds are determined, but A, well, A is part ox, part autocratic dictator.  If she doesn't like something she'll let you know, and if she isn't sure where the boundaries are she will push, and push, and go one little step beyond.

Which is literally what she did today.  She and I had gone to get L from school (actually pre-school, but there is pride and English friends who really are at school at stake here) and were coming back across the park.  I had the pushchair, into which, apparently, Alla had been put, and A was pushing her, ziggaging across the muddy grass, bent almost double with the effort.

She got bored after a while and asked me to push while she ran ahead, through the arch and into the layby.

A! Stop!
A! Stop!
A! I said stop right there!

She was on the kerb then.  Momentarily paused.

A!  You stay there!

She looked round.  Right at me.  And she stepped out.  Both feet.  Into the road.  As she has twice before.


There was nothing coming and I was right behind her by this point, so I picked her up, heart in mouth, while she screamed and kicked, and manhandling her, L and the pushchair (and imaginary friend) crossed the road.

We turned into our lane.  It's a cul-de-sac so I normally let them run along, but I couldn't trust A not to run back into the road just to prove a point (it's been done before) so I tried to put her back in the pushchair.  She screamed.  Louder.  "Alla's in the pushchair!".

And out of nowhere I said,

No she's not.  She got out.  Look! She's run into the road.  Come back Alla!  No! She isn't coming back.  
Oh no.  A car's coming.  It's squashed her.
She's gone.

And now I honestly don't know if I've solved the running into the road problem once and for all.  Or scarred her for life.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

If I'd never wanted children

In my next life, if I'm not a beetle, I want to be someone who doesn't want children.

I've been imagining it.

Not that I didn't have children.  That's a totally different imagining.  I'm nearly 35 now.  We started trying to have L when I was 29.  In the parallel world in which we didn't conceive we've now had six years of trying.  Six years of disappointment and doctors. Probably thousands of pounds of IVF and other treatments. Possibly now wondering when we get too old to adopt. Wondering when we give up.

I can imagine perhaps only a tiny bit of that life, only a minute part of that heartbreak; and I am so, so, endlessly grateful that that wasn't us.

So don't think about that.  Think about a life in which I didn't, you didn't, want children.

Because that's what we mean, isn't it, when we have those guilty, secret thoughts?  The ones we have at 8.34 on a Tuesday evening when we're trying to write a blog post and someone appears because there's a moth in her room.  Or when she bites her sister.  Or when a nappy leaks.   Or when you have to turn down champagne, or a wedding, or the volume.  The thoughts that say: "What if I hadn't had children?".

Imagine that life.  Two incomes.  No children and no regrets.  Late nights.  Classy (and not so classy) bars. Exotic holidays. New restaurant openings.  Country pubs.  Muddy walks with people who want to be there.  Weekends spent in bed.  Reading Sunday's paper on Sunday.  The cinema.  Dry-clean only clothes.  High heels.  Sheer tights.  Filling other people's children full of sugar and then not having to clear up the mess.  Pretending to be interested in stories about poo.   New paintwork that stays new.   A small car.  Dangly earrings.  Sleeping off a hangover.  Finishing a cup of tea.

It's another life.  And it's a life that, sometimes, I yearn for.  But it was never a life I could have had.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Life lessons from the under fives

Oh fu-pause-udge, I've done that badly!
Why Mummy?
Because driving backwards is difficult and it's not made easier by you three first messing around so we're late, and then whinging and fighting so that I can't hear myself think or concentrate on what I'm doing.*

 We-ell Mummy... (Were ever two words more calculated to raise a parent's blood pressure?) and Daddy should have been thinking about that when you did say "Let's have children".

She's right of course.  And I've been trying to remember that.  It was only yesterday, but I'm trying.

*and yes, I do talk to her like that.  I probably shouldn't, but I do.

Monday, 31 October 2011

What would you do if your anaesthetic didn't work?

Rhetorical question surely?  Of course anaesthetics work.  That's the point.

Well no. They, specifically epidurals and spinal blocks, don't always.  And they didn't for my friend S when she was having her second baby by caesarian section.  She is not alone and she believes that this may be due, at least in part, to the protocol and questions used as standard in the NHS.  S's story, in her own words, is below, but suffice to say, she is taking an experience so horrendous it never occurred to me it could be possible, and campaigning to ensure it doesn't happen to any other woman again.

She's starting with an anonymous survey, to gauge women's experiences of epidurals and spinal blocks and please, please, if you had either, whether for a c-section or vaginal delivery and even if you read no more of this post, click here to complete the survey.  It'll only take two minutes.

And if you can spare another minute after that, please email the survey or this post on to more women.  Your responses really could help.

Thank you.


"I had to have a c-section for placenta praevia. I had a consultant anaesthetist who put the epidural in and was VERY confident it was in the right place. However, the anaesthetic worked on my motor nerves so I couldn't move, but did not work on my sensory nerves so I could feel. The test the anaesthetist was using to check what I could feel involved spraying alcohol onto my skin and saying 'Can you feel that as cold? You may be able to feel the sensation of fluid on your skin but can you feel it being cold?' I definitely could feel but found it really hard to distinguish between the sensation of the fluid on my skin and cold. I stalled and stalled but eventually the weight of expectation that it would be working and the number of people waiting got to me and so I said I supposed I must be only feeling fluid not cold... Which was a bad thing to do because the first incision felt like I was a bean bag being opened and it got worse from there. They stopped the operation 3 times, topped me up with seriously potent painkillers intravenously and gave me gas and air - the last was surprisingly effective but maybe that's because I was out of my mind with pain and just needed to be totally out of my mind. I stuck it out to see my baby boy born but then had to have a general because the pain was indescribable. 

In all it was a really traumatic experience and then it was compounded by nobody being told on the ward, and my GP and community midwife not even knowing I'd had a general anaesthetic - so I left an operating theatre after a horrific operation to zero support. Thankfully when, after 10 months, I told my GP that I was still having flashbacks and wondered whether I could have PTSD, she was brilliant - which was just as well because initially the hospital maintained that I had been 'conscious and comfortable' when my baby was born. But while I could push for more than an apology (which I did eventually get) it's only ever going to be a hollow victory because it doesn't change a thing. 

I started thinking about why I let it happen - and kept coming back to that one odd question. Talking to others I've realised that it wasn't me not knowing my own body and mind but that lots of people have found that same question very hard to answer - which made me wonder whether a better question could be used. I was put in touch with a very senior obstetric anaesthetist in the States who told me that he would never use cold and would only test using pin pricks - and that's what he teaches his students to do. 

So I've set up a survey (which respondents do anonymously) to gauge as much as I can in 10 questions about women's experiences of epidurals: whether they've felt under pressure, whether they could distinguish between sensations on their skin, whether they needed further pain relief after the epidural was administered , whether their GP was well informed and whether their experience put them off having more children. And now I need as many mothers as possible to complete the survey."

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Daylight saving

Is today officially the best day in the year? 

Pre-children that wonderful, lazy, extra hour in bed.  Always in bed, obviously.  Why spend an extra hour anywhere else?  Post-children, the hour is less relaxing but so much more appreciated.  I spend 364 days of the year wishing for another hour and today I get it.

And they want to take it away from me...

Am I the only person in the country who thinks this is an awful idea?  It's not just, honest, because I'm now in Scotland. I've felt like this ever since I heard of these proposals.  We're told that lives would be saved because evenings would be lighter when children are coming back from school, but surely that would be counter-balanced by the darker mornings when the same children are going to the same schools.  Calling time by a different number isn't going to change the fact that we don't, whether in Land's End or John o'Groats, get enough light at this time of year.  I should know.  My birthday, in mid-December, gets less than seven hours of daylight, and to change that I'd have to go a lot further South than the South of the UK.

But my biggest complaint?  It's the dark mornings.  Wasn't that the best thing about this morning?  Whatever time you got up, however much your children didn't appreciate the effect of that extra hour, or extra glass of wine last night, wasn't it wonderful that it was so light?  And isn't the bliss of not getting up in the dark, even if only for a few extra weeks, far, far greater than the misery of dark evenings?  I rather like dark evenings.  I like the childish excitement of shops with their lights on, especially once the decorations start to go up, I like the anticipation of a warm house, and the welcoming glow as you open the door.  And oh, I so much prefer it to the brain-assaulting blare of the alarm clock when your eyeballs tell you it's still the middle of the night.

Today was actually horrid.  B and I were out last night and were late and tired. The children were up at some horrendous hour, and my parents are staying which always stresses me, but I still think today's great. 

Please don't take it away.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

You can take the girl out of England...

L and I are listening to the Proclaimers, unofficial patron saints of Scotland (where we have now lived for 18 months).

"Why are they singing in French?" wonders L.

Not fully assimilated yet then.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Six things every parent should know about meningitis

Go on.  Admit it. You don't really want to read this post do you?

It's like turning over that stone. You know there's going to be something gross under it. You know that you don't really want to get whatever it is out and deal with it.  Wouldn't life be much easier if you just left it there and pretended you never saw it anyway?

Well of course it would.  Life's often easier if you ignore the stuff that scares you. And meningitis scares us, especially as parents; apparently more than any other disease.

But ignoring the things that scare us doesn't make them go away, and it doesn't make them easier to face when we do have to, so it was with that in mind that I agreed (actually I was enormously flattered to have been asked*) to attend the UK Blogger forum Unfolding the complexities of meningitis last Thursday.

Faced with representatives of the three UK meningitis charities and a GP, Dr Rob Hicks, we bloggers were informed, enlightened and able to ask as many pathetic, stupid and worried questions as we liked.  I came away, not with my fears allayed (how could they be?) but determined that as many people as possible should learn what I had. 

Who knows? We might save a life.  Just read the blue bits... honest, it won't take long.  And if you've got questions, put them in the comments - the charities have promised to provide an answer to every question. 

Meningitis isn't that common

The good news first.  On average, a GP in the UK will see two cases of meningitis in his or her career.  That's it.  Two in a career of, what, forty years, seeing say fifty patients a week.  It's not common.  It's a horrible, terrifying, life-threatening disease, but the chances are you and your children will never get it, or even come into contact with it.

That said, what that means is that most GPs won't have that much experience of meningitis.  They also don't know your child as well as you do.  If you're worried, and you think your GP isn't taking you seriously, call Call NHS Direct or NHS 24.  Or even 999.
Don't wait for the rash

The charity representatives said to us that they had been victims of their own success.  Everyone knows about the meningitis rash, but this is a late stage symptom and doesn't appear in every case.  The rash is actually a symptom of the onset of septicaemia: the body is shutting down, poisoned by its own blood.  By the time it gets to that stage the disease is very, very serious.  Don't look at a sick child thinking "It can't be meningitis, there's no rash".  It could be. Get help.

Oh, and practice the tumbler test too.  It sounds awfully simple in theory, but it's much less so in a panic.  Get a glass, put it on its side over the rash. Press.  If the rash goes, it's not septicaemia.  If it doesn't, ring 999.

Three symptoms you should worry about before then

The difficulty with meningitis from a parental or indeed medical professional, point of view is that there's no one distinct symptom that you can look at and say "Phew, it's not" or "Panic, it is".   It can often appear as flu-like, and there are a number of different symptoms that can appear.  Click here for a full list from the Meningitis Trust, or here for their smart phone app or call 0800 028 18 28 to get a free credit card sized symptoms card to keep in your wallet, or on the fridge, or anywhere you'll know where it is when (if) you need it. 

That said, Rob Hicks said that he, as a GP, would be particularly worried by the following signs, any or all of which might appear before the rash:

  • Cold hands and feet even though the child (or indeed adult) is hot and feverish
  • Muscle, joint and limb pain such that the child can't stand up
  • Pale, blotchy skin and blue lips
Got those? Get help.  Now.

If your child is fully vaccinated he or she still might get meningitis
This is why I started with the good news.  Even if your child has had all their NHS prescribed vaccines, and their red book is fully up to date with a big gold star on the front, your child (or indeed you, your cousin or your friend) might still get meningitis.

This is because there are multiple different sorts of meningitits and only some of them can be vaccinated against.

Briefly, meningitis is an inflamation of the lining of the brain which can lead to blood poisoning (septicaemia) but which, crucially, can be caused by a number of different bacteria (or viruses or fungi, but these are less common and generally less serious), each of which responds (or doesn't where none is available) to a different vaccine.  

Children in the UK are vaccinated against pneumoccoal disease, which can cause meningitis as well as pneumonia, HiB (another cause of meningitis) and meningococcal disease type C.  That's it, and it doesn't cover the biggie.

The biggest infectious killer of children under 5 in the UK is meningococcal disease type B.  There is, at present, no vaccination for this disease, although one is in development. 

In addition there are three other types of meningococcal disease, A, Y and W135 (no, I don't know why it has a number either), which tend to occur in other parts of the world and are very uncommon in the UK.  We're not vaccinated against those either.

Where to get help fast

If left untreated 90% of people who catch meningoccal disease type B will die.  Even if diagnosed early and treated, 5-10% will die and up to 1 in 7 of the survivors (and new research by the meningitis charities suggests that this may be an under-estimate) will be permanently disabled.

Speed is absolutely of the essence.  And this is why all the charities and the doctor were unanimous.  If you think it might be meningitis, get help. 

Call your doctor.  If you get fobbed off or ignored, insist, or call someone else.
Call NHS direct on 0845 4647  or NHS 24 (in Scotland) on 08454 24 24 24 (I've actually rung both from Scotland, and they don't turn you away if you're the wrong side of the Border.)
Call 0800 028 18 28 for the Meningitis Trust's 24 hour helpline to talk the symptoms through with someone who knows.
Or 0800 8800 3344 for the Meningitis Research Foundation's helpline.
Call 999.

Don't feel stupid or guilty, feel relieved and proud

If you're like me, you'll be thinking "Yes, but if it turns out just to be one of those non-specified viral infections it was last time, they'll be looking at me like I'm neurotic and then I'll feel stupid and guilty for wasting the doctor's, or worse, the paramedics', time".  But we were told, again and again, that that's wrong.  If you see the doctor and it's not meningitis, you should feel relieved, obviously, and proud that you have taken action that could have saved your child's life, even if it turned out not to be necessary.

You are your child's advocate.  If you don't fight for them, no one else will.

The Meningitis Forum was an amazing thing to have taken part in. I don't tweet, but apparently tweets from those taking part reached over 21,000 people on Thursday alone.  This is important information and should be disseminated.  Please pass it on.   The Meningitis Trust wants symptoms information in every house in the UK;  I really hope that it is now in yours...

The three charities who attended the forum were

The Meningitis Trust - which supports people affected by Meningitis in the UK
Meningitis UK - which does pure research into finding vaccines to prevent against all forms of meningitis
The Meningitis Research Foundation - which funds research, supports those affected and raises awareness.  They are currently, in advance of the new vaccine, running a campaign called Counting the Cost: weighing up the cost of caring for a meningitis sufferer against the costs of vaccination.  You can sign their petition here asking the Government to do all it can to support immunisation against meningitis.

All of them have agreed to answer any questions, any at all, on meningitis that you put in the comments of this post.  Now is your chance....

Thank you.

*In the interests of full disclosure, Novartis, the drug company that is, you guessed it, behind one of the two new vaccines against meningoccal disease B currently in development, set up the forum and paid for me (and M, who throroughly enjoyed his trip to Birmingham) to go.  Thank you to them.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Balance bike or stabilisers?

We have a policy on Christmas (and indeed birthday) presents: try and get them something that we'd be buying them anyway.  It's worked so far, although I realise it probably won't for much longer, and certainly not once they hit school and peer pressure.

Anyway, this year, with L four and a half and S and A coming up three, we think it's time we introduced another life skill.  Time to get up on two wheels.  Bikes it is.

But even the world of bikes is not as straightforward as it was when my parents bought me "Bobcat" thirty-odd years ago.  There are now choices:  do we go for the tried and tested stabilisers, or the modern and trendy balance bike?

I rather feel that for L, we have missed the boat (if that's the right metaphor in this context) with a balance bike, although that might simply be because you tend to see very small children on them, and not the slightly bigger ones, but that for S and A, we could decide to go either way.

Fortunately we have cousins, and fortunately the cousins have both sorts, so this weekend we tried them out in an attempt to see what suits.

My instinctive preference is for the balance bike.  If riding a bike breaks down into two parts: balancing and pedalling, then pedalling is, surely, the easy bit.  Better therefore to master the tricky one first and then add the easy one.

The problem is, of course, that that leaves balancing as the tricky bit, and three year olds, or at least my nearly-three-year-olds, aren't that good at perseverance in the face of initial failure.  They tried the balance bike, gave up and proceeded to fight over the one with pedals and stabilisers* for the simple reason that they could do it.  My sister-in-law also pointed out that with twins, balance bikes, which require an initial intense element of parental participation, are even harder - you can't hold on to two children on bikes at the same time, apparently, especially if they're heading in opposite directions.

So I'm veering back to the principle of four wheels good, two wheels bad, but what do others think? Does mastering a balance bike first really make learning to ride a "proper" bike easier in the long run? Or doesn't it make much difference?

PS: You'll be pleased to hear that compromise was finally reached...

Monday, 17 October 2011

Places my car keys are not

The car
The table
The kitchen worksurface
My handbag
My pocket
B's pocket
L's pocket
S's pocket
A's pocket
B's desk
The toy box
Under the bed
My handbag again
L's school bag
Under the table
In the pushchair
The bedside table
The chest of drawers
My handbag one more time (just in case)
Down the back of the sofa
On top of the cistern
M's carrycot
The other toy box
The wendy house
The fridge
The kitchen drawers
The fruit bowl
The bin (even under the nappies)
All the other bins
The recycling bin

Air of desperation...

The oven
The dishwasher
The tumble drier
The architect's pocket (he was here this morning)

My handbag.  Still.

If I don't find them soon, my sanity might vanish too.


Update - and one place they were!!!  Under the kitchen table, tucked into the frame into which the leaf of the table would fold if it were folded.  Thank you A.  Didn't look there.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Brainwashed by the breastapo

Let's get one thing straight.  Breast is not "best".  Breast is "better".  Unless you think there are more than two options for feeding a new born of course.  Pate de foie gras?  Chicken biryani?  Steak and kidney pudding?

I have breastfed all of my children.  I did it because I believed, as I still do, that it is better for them and for me.  L, A and S consumed nothing but breast milk for the World Health Authority's recommended six months and beyond that they had it combined with food.   It was good for them. They grew and thrived and enjoyed it. 

But M, who is now four months, is different.  He is, clearly, enjoying it, and he is, equally clearly, thriving and developing.  But he is still not, really, growing.  At 19 weeks he's now about twelve pounds (I think), which is significantly smaller than a friend of mine's (admittedly very large) four week old.

He has, thus far, had nothing but breast milk.  And if I want him to put on lots of weight, which he is not at the moment, there is an obvious plan of action.  I can see it.  I can virtually smell it (unpleasant isn't it?). Formula.  Formula fed babies tend to put on weight quicker. They tend to be bigger.  They tend, let's face it, not all to grow up to be psychopathic killers.

But I can't do it.  I have been brainwashed.

I know, logically, that formula is fine. I have many friends who have either never breast fed, for whatever reason, or who have, again for multiple reasons, moved onto formula before weaning.  Their children are all just as exasperatingly,  infuriatingly, lovingly, brilliant as mine (well, not as mine, but as most other people's anyway...).   I also live in a country where I am fortunate enough to have clean water with which to make up my bottles.  Formula is not going to damage my baby.  I know this.

But I don't feel it.  And what's weird is clearly nor do the health visitors.  I think part of this is that although M is small we are not, now, worried about him. He is growing - just not as quickly as most other babies - and  he is tracking the bottom line on the authoritarian charts. He is doing all the things a baby of his age should do and he is happy and smiley with it.  But while no one is worried, we are all agreed that it would be nice if he were a bit fatter.  Yet when I wondered out loud about formula, I was met with looks of horror.

What is that about?  How did we all get so scared of something which, let's face it, the majority of mothers in this country use from birth?   How have we, intelligent women all, become so brainwashed?

How did I allow myself to get to the point where I feel that if I introduce a bottle, I will have failed. I will be that dread being, the bad mother?  And how is it that I know I am not alone in feeling like this?  Why am I ashamed by the thought of giving my baby a bottle in public?  Why is it that I know if I were to do so, I would be judged, and found wanting?  And, most importantly, how does that help the breast feeding campaign? Is this really what they would want?  How is that better for mothers or babies?

I know that formula is not going to hurt my baby, and I also know that if I choose to give it to him it will be for all the right reasons.  Surely that decision, whether made by me or any other mother, should be praised and not condemned.

There is, here, an added level, perhaps.  For me, dealing with three other young and demanding children, the time I spend on the sofa or in bed, M on the breast, secure in a bubble of us, is the best and most focused time I can give him.  He doesn't get much of me and this is something that I can do for and with him, and for him alone.  More than that, it is something that only I can do.  No-one else can (given the lack of wet nurses in the Yellow Pages) do this for my baby.  That feels very important.  I feel, somewhere visceral (or possibly mammarian) that I need M, in years to come, to know that I did this for him, that I loved him as much as his sisters.

But that's stupid isn't it? Because loving him as much doesn't mean treating him in exactly the same way. If formula is right for him then giving it to him is as much an act of love as breast-feeding him currently feels.

So I know all this.  I really do.  But despite that for the moment I'm going to hang on to my time with my tiny boy, and the experience that only we can share.  It just feels, perhaps against logic, right for us. Maybe I really have been brainwashed.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The strange taxonomy of children's clothes

Since having M I've become aware of a whole new area of children's clothing.  It's not the blue stuff, or the green stuff, or the brown stuff, although there's plenty of that.
No, it's the crabs, and the whales, and the bears, and the lions, and the tigers, and the snails...

Why?  Why don't these feature on my daughters' clothes? Well, obviously, I now realise, it's because they're boys' animals...

Before I had children I had no idea that animals were, or even could be, divided by gender (other than the obvious, is it a boy sheep or a girl sheep? sort of division).  But it turns out they can. Someone, somewhere, has sat down with a list of animals and, Noah-like, sorted them out.  The list probably looked something like this:

Boys' animals:
Reptiles and amphibians (all sorts), insects (all sorts except butterflies),  lions and tigers (but not, it appears, leopards), hedgehogs, alsatians but not most other dogs, crustacea (all sorts), bears, sharks and whales, aardvarks, dragons.

Girls animals:
Cats, rabbits, horses, most farmyard and domestic animals (though I remain uncertain about goats), all small rodents (except rats.  Rats don't seem to feature strongly on children's clothes of either gender); dalmatians, dachshunds and yorkshire terriers, butterflies, fish (other than sharks) but not crustacea, seahorses (do they go with horses or fish, do you think?), birds (all sorts except parrots), zebras, unicorns.

Parrots, giraffes and elephants, turtles and most Australian mammals appear to be unisex.

But honestly, who decides this stuff?  And what on earth are the rules?

ps The eagle-eyed among you may notice I've changed the title of this post.  I woke up this morning and decided it wasn't very me. Not sure if that's allowed, but I've done it anyway...