The Guinea Pig

Parenting is definitely a learning curve. Possibly the steepest of all. And every time you think you’re getting the hang of it the little buggers will go through a developmental shift and it’s back to square one again.

Those baby record books, where you (intend to) write down all the developmental milestones should come with an extra column on each page: ‘How we nearly messed it up as your parents.’

Last night would have been a perfect example. Baby Teddy had had his first set of immunisations. He was not a fan. Poor little mite. But still, surely better than a full blown case of DTap/IPV/Hib/PCV/Rota (whatever they are).

Afterwards was to be Eve’s and the boyfriend’s lesson 101 on the subject of Calpol.

The boyfriend: How much are we meant to give?

Eve: The bottle says 100ml.

The boyfriend: That’s how much is in the entire bottle. Didn’t the nurse say two 5ml?

Me: Noooo! 2 point 5ml!

(And to think he was training to be a doctor!)

Dose sorted, then came the fun of working out how to extract the medicine with the syringe. Sometimes it’s fun being the grandparent and just sitting back to watch.

First they tried to extract the plug. Then I told them that you insert the syringe into the plug, before the kitchen got a covering of gloppy pink liquid. More faffing getting the right dose…and then the plug came out with the syringe.

As I walked down the hall I could hear Eve instructing the boyfriend: No! Don’t squeeze it in all at once like that. Do it slowly!

Either way, it was clear Teddy wasn’t keen, spitting the syrup out. No fear of Teddy being overdosed after all. He probably took so little in it was more akin to a homeopathic remedy.

Eve and boyfriend, I’m sorry I laughed at your struggles. It’s only because we’ve all trod in the same stumbling footprints. If it doesn’t so much get easier, you do get used to rolling with the punches.

And We All Moved Up the Family Tree

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I got my Nanny status on Saturday morning. I am indeed a Nanny, it would appear. Just going by my name felt wrong – it lacked my new status. So I grabbed hold and pulled myself up onto the next branch of the family tree. Husband is still debating his own new title, declaring that as he never knew his grandfathers he doesn’t have a name to turn to. This is a cop-out. He’s never been keen on the idea of growing up and being responsible for other people. Let alone seeming old and responsible for even more. He’s definitely resistant to joining me on the grandparent branch.

But actually, the view from up here is quite lovely. I got to be at a birth for one thing without actually having to be the one doing all the work. It was a privilege to experience it from the other end, so to speak. Eve was amazing (22.5 hours takes some doing and she did it all by herself, although I think would have swapped places with anyone if she’d had the chance). She coped with it all with such calmness, even when it wasn’t going 100% to plan. She didn’t tell us where to go when we were at her side like some out-of-practice cheer leading team. She let us eat in the room even when she couldn’t. She grew-up over night.

I learnt some things too. I learnt that I can cope seeing one of my children in pain, that a baby’s head comes out looking the other way up to what I expected (you’d think having had four children of my own that wouldn’t have come as a surprise but I guess I’ve only experienced birth from the other end before) and that I could never be a midwife. Midwives are some of the most amazing people on the planet and my respect for them goes unbounded.

I also learnt that all things are relative. Noodles seemed so much bigger on Saturday than he did when I tucked him into bed on Friday night. Boo seems so much more mature, so excited and ready to embrace her auntie status, already besotted by her nephew.

And I was reminded that love is amazing. How can I have the capacity to love yet another small person with all my heart when I already do just that for each of my children?

I just wish there was the same endless capacity to hours in a day. Or maybe not. 38 hours with only 20 minutes sleep seemed like a very long time indeed. Waiting for visiting hours on Saturday felt like an eternity.

But welcome to our Gluestick family, little one. You’ve pushed us up the family tree and made us all older than our years, but right now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Gran By Any Other Name Would Seem As Old

‘I can’t wait to be an auntie,’ Boo declared the other day, as we wait on tenterhooks for the arrival of Eve’s baby. ‘I’ll be an auntie and Noodles will be an uncle. What will you be?’

The truth is, I don’t know. Whilst Eve and her boyfriend become ever more indecisive about the name of their baby, I’m simultaneously having my own generational shift crisis. What will I be called?

It’s easy for parents. You automatically become Mummy and Daddy or variations on such a theme. You wait with excited glee for the first time you hear Dadada or Mumumu from the mouth of your child. It’s a no-brainer.

But it’s not so for grandparents. You get a choice. ‘What do you want to be called?’ Except the choice is loaded. It feels strange to ask to be called something (all other monikers from your proper name to nicknames tend to be bestowed upon you). Everything feels strange and unfitting.

And old.

Everyone seems to assume I’ll be Nana or Nanny. The consensus seems to be that Grandma and Granny is too old. MY grandmother is Grandma after all. I wouldn’t want us to get muddled up. But even Nana feels too old. I’m 39, a long way from drawing a pension. I don’t even have a pension plan!

I’ve taken to trawling the internet, but the alternatives don’t sound overly appealing either. I could sound like a character from kids’ TV (MeMom, Namma, Womba). Just let me grow fur and I’ll wobble around a magical land. Or worse, I could sound like a euphemism for female genitalia (LaLa, Minny, Noonie). Eeeeew! Or how about over-stepping the mark and going for OtherMother?!!! Seriously? Who chooses that?! No wonder some women have issues with their mother-in-law.

My own mum had similar issues when I had the twins. She felt too young for the traditional labels, so chose Coggy. My dad became Grandy, which I love and has stuck. Even my friends refer to him as Grandy.

And that’s another reason why it’s important to get it right, because I’m going to be stuck with it, no matter how many more rungs I progress up the generational ladder. No one in my family seems to progress any further than their grandparent name. Grandy will always be Grandy, my grandmothers were still Nan and Grandma to my own children (indeed Grandma will still be Grandma even though she’ll be a great-great one).

Although I don’t know if my great-grandmother, Big Nan, only became big on my arrival to differentiate her from new Nan. If she didn’t and was always Big Nan then I only wish I’d met her counterpart as Big Nan was already the tiniest grown-up I’d ever met. How small would a Little Nan have been?

But all the same, when I hear the word Nan I associate it with teeny tiny Big Nan and her strange smelling house and pictures of a stern bearded man on the side table. Or of my own Nan, who could never wait to take her girdle off, always had her hair set and who had a pantry, but not a fridge. I don’t associate it with me. And I can understand why my mum’s mum would never be referred to as Nanny. I’m not the hired help. I’m not paid enough.

My über-cool next-door neighbour is Nonna (she hopes her grandson will grow up to think of her as his Norfolk Nana, who drinks like a fish and makes fab quilts). I’m not sure I’m cool enough or drink enough to share her title. Similarly it’s fine for Goldie Hawn to be known as Glammy, but it’s not something I could pull off. I do love that Joan Rivers is happy to be known to her grandchildren as Nana New Face, but again it wouldn’t be appropriate for me.

Hopefully something will come organically when the baby starts to babble. But until then I might put my foot down, just like my sister did when she became an aunt. She’s never been called Auntie by any of her nieces or nephew, they just call her by her name, but the relationship is the same as if she was Auntie. So perhaps I’ll just be me for now and see what comes from there.

Nesting By Proxy

Aren’t pregnant women meant to have the nesting instinct? It turns out that E’s instinct is more to hibernate. I don’t blame her – I’d rather like to curl up under my duvet all day too. It’s dark and it’s cold and it’s wet out and the house has way too many drafts to encourage getting up. I suppose she may as well lie-in whilst she’s got the chance.

But meanwhile the rest of us are doing the nesting for her.

Up until this week she’s had a typical teenager bedroom. The room that defies the laws if physics, since things go up but never come down. Although the remains left in bowls seem to have tried to develop the ability to escape from The Pit themselves.

She’s maintained it’s all her twin sister’s fault since they’ve shared a bedroom. S’s side of the room has definitely suffered the most with dubious carpet stains. And yet her room at university is immaculate. (Well, except for a large blue mark on the wall, but that was caused by me crashing into the wall knee first in dark blue jeans whilst playing Spin on her chair.) A definite disconnect – maybe E has been sabotaging S’s side of the room, or maybe S has had an epiphany of personal accountability now that she has a room of her own. Yet it’s still the blame game when it comes to the stain.

Thankfully E’s boyfriend has realised that it’s preferable to have a room in which you can put the baby down without fear of losing it under a pile of clothes and that discarded nail varnish bottles probably don’t make the best play things.

So the room has been scrubbed into submission. Instead of mugs and bowls, polish and rubber gloves have disappeared upstairs. I’ve been questioned on every aspect of stain removal. And the vacuum has worked harder than it has before. Attachments have even been used! We’ve got side plates and glasses in the kitchen cupboard again, the bowls with dubious content are soaking (although possibly should be sent to a lab for testing) and I’ve even got my hairdryer back (which the twins vowed they didn’t have).

Whilst all this has been going on, E has sat on her bed moaning. Such is the hormone-adled prerogative of the pregnant woman, I suppose. But kudos to her boyfriend for biting his lip and carrying on.

Meanwhile I’ve had the pleasure of ironing tiny items of baby clothes that I’ve requisitioned from friends to whom I passed on Noodles’ baby things. Ironing is really not so arduous when the clothes are so very small. Too too cute. And so this baby isn’t entirely and hand-me-down baby I’ve been to the shops for even smaller newborn sleepsuits and vests, dinky mittens and hats. The sort of thing that makes your uterus skip a beat.

So the room is ready, the hospital bag packed, the crib is in place and unless 3 people have beaten me to it, a double buggy should be in our possession by Monday. The next bit is all down to E though. We can be by her side, but nobody can squeeze the baby out for her. Maybe that’s why she’s staying put under her duvet!

Not Your Typical Grandma

What do you think of when you think of a grandmother? A silver-haired old lady with the touch of crepe paper and the scent of sweet sherry? A woman with a penchance for knitting and baking and casual racism? A collector of knick-knacks and trinkets and the keeper of generations of family secrets? Or maybe they’re just my grandmothers.

But in a matter of weeks I’m about to move up a generation and become a grandmother myself. Not something I thought would happen before my 50th birthday, let alone something that would happen before my 40th!!! I do make a mean fairy cake and leaving a weekend away for the sake of a tea dance earned me the nickname Granny Nat, but I very much do NOT feel ready to have a status that brings to mind the ranks of the blue-rinse brigade (even if it has been fun watching friends’ jaws hit the floor when I’ve told them the news).

Obviously the biggest seismic shift is going to be for my daughter, E, who despite her ever-expanding belly still seems to be in denial about her impending motherhood. She will have to go from a teenager concerned about A level deadlines and which nail varnish to wear to all the angst and fear and worry and guilt and all-consuming love that comes with being a mum. And those A level deadlines will still hand over her despite the sleepless nights and days that feel as though you’re living a life encased in a gel of tiredness. She’ll be lucky if she can find the time to paint her nails any more.

But, as I’m not of the super-gran generation, those wonderful women who put their children and grandchildren first and who can whip up a 3-tiered birthday cake to Mary Berry standards whilst knitting baby cardigans, those of my grandmothers’ and mother’s generation. I’m also anxious about myself, the impact the baby will have on me and where I now belong. E and her boyfriend are living with us. It’s as though our house operates a one-out, two-in policy as news of the baby arrived just as E’ s twin sister left for university (damn and blast strong teenage abs). A generation ago it did much the same as I moved back home with the twins as babies just as my sister was leaving for uni. Strange how history repeats itself. Until E has completed her A level re-sits in the summer maternity leave will be a luxury unafforded to her and I shall have to care for my grandson whilst she studies.

This doesn’t particularly change my life in any fundamental way as I’m currently a stay-at-home mum anyway, with 2-year-old Noodles and 6-year-old Boo my biggest priorities. But looking after one child is phenomenally easier than looking after two, ditto two compared with three, the ratio of arms to children being of rather whopping significance. And with Uncle Noodles being something of a mummy’ s boy (as 2-year-olds should be allowed to be) I’m intimidated at the prospect of my ability to cope. I vividly remember watching a friend struggle to cope with her toddler son and baby daughter and thinking ‘I’m glad I wont have to go through that.’ And yet there I’m going to be, trying to meet the demands of differing age groups (the one bonus of twins was that at least they’d roughly be doing the same thing at the same time). Please please please let it be a placid baby! And please please please let Noodles be willing to share my time and my body. Mind you, I don’t get to exercise or cook or read the papers or go to the loo without him following me or climbing on me or clutching at my legs (I call him my mini shadow) so I don’t suppose it’s a concept that’s going to come naturally to him. Once more, please please please let the baby be placid!

And then there’s the responsibility of looking after someone else’s child. It seems ok to make mistakes with your own, to muddle along and hope it all comes out in the wash. But someone else’s? You don’t want them looking at you and thinking ‘But I trusted you.’ Although I’m sure E is thinking the same thing, I don’t think I’m ready! On the plus side, I suppose I won’t have to worry about ageing reactions and arthritic fingers and dropping the baby (a big concern for a neighbour who recently became a gran, although she’s been fine so far). But conversely I’m still going through my own tunnel of tiredness with Noodles still not sleeping through the night. It’s not every grandparent whose suffering from child-raising sleep deprivation. Perhaps I will drop the baby out of exhaustion instead!

With B-Day looming large on the horizon it’s easy to worry about how all the pieces will fit, but I suppose once the baby is here everything will slot into place. And I shall be lucky to have access to so much time with my grandson, both in terms of sheer hours with him in the day and (hopefully) in the years before I pop this mortal coil. It’s going to be strange to begin with raising a baby and his aunt and uncle at the same time, to be a mum and a gran in the same breath. To have to explain to strangers that, yes, that one’s my son, but that one’s my grandson. Especially as I bet E will soon have a flatter tummy than me too. Again, damn and blast strong teenage abs. Or to breastfeed Noodles whilst bottle-feeding the baby. To constantly be jumping the generation gap. Or maybe it will be no different to being a mum, just with a different label? I guess it won’t be too long until I find out!

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