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Saturday, 14 September 2013

A eulogy for Monkey

Monkey has now been missing for 3 weeks and 2 days. Isla had taken him as always out in the morning and I'd dropped her at the childminder. They spent the day at her house, took a walk to the farm to collect some eggs and played at the local rec in the afternoon. They've searched their house, retraced their steps to the farm and we've left posters up at the park, but no one can find him.

I can't blame the childminder, I should have told her about his tendency to go missing and to pop him away after breakfast like the previous childminder used to. But I didn't mention it and now he's gone.

On her first night without him, Isla's little lip trembled as she quietly said, "I'm worried we might never find him" so I let her sleep in my bed. But we had been through this so many times before that I wasn't too worried as we always managed to retrieve him the next day. Like the time she left him at a petrol station over an hour away and there he was perched up on the counter among the special offer chocolate bars. Or when she came to view the house we now live in and left Monkey playing with the big monkey in the little boys bedroom. I always thought it was a good omen that Monkey had a sleepover before our offer had even been accepted, as if he'd chosen the right home for us.

But three weeks on and Isla's started to realise that Monkey might not be coming back. When she's tired she sobs, big huge tear-stained-cheek sobs, "I really want Monkey now". And it breaks my heart that I can't ease her feeling of loss. We do have another monkey but he's always been known as Bobo's brother and has been firmly rejected along with all other possible substitutes. A friend who's son lost his bed bear told him that all the lost toys go to help Father Christmas in his workshop in the North Pole. I liked this idea but when I told Isla she got very excited because this meant that she would see Monkey at Christmas when he came back to us as an elf. For those blog followers among you, you will know I only have myself and Alvin to blame for her unfailing logic.

The only way I could stop Isla crying this weekend was to reminisce about the good times we'd had with Monkey and the scrapes he got into. There was the time we left him on the train heading for Ashford International. The train was intercepted at the next stop and a train driver returning home to Tonbridge brought him back, stuffed in his inside pocket. Another time, he didn't Mind the Gap getting off the Tube and he fell onto the tracks. A chivalrous man with very long arms reached down and grabbed him before the next Tube appeared. He was always dropped on toilet floors as Isla went to the loo, and once even ended up in the loo, but being so inseparable meant that when I did manage to prise him away to be washed, we would have to sit in front of the washing machine watching him go round and round. Its strangely comforting to know that the night before he disappeared Isla gave him a wash in her bath as she helped him practice his backstroke, swimming him up and down the bathtub.

She came in the other day with a little bell she found in her bedroom and said, "do you remember, Monkey used to wear this around his neck? If he was still wearing it, we might have found him because we would have heard him." She said his favourite pastime was perching behind the handle on the hoover while I cleaned the house and being pushed around in baby's buggie. But most of all he loved having Isla's little hand wrapped tightly round his neck as she took him everywhere, from the pyramids of Egypt to EuroDisney, where once again we had to retrace our steps to find him safely tucked away behind the counter at McDonalds.

He is just a soft toy and while its understandable that a 4 year old would be upset, it is pathetic that I miss him too. I still automatically go to check we have him before we leave the house, or look for him as part of the bedtime routine. But what makes me sad is knowing how much I loved my Snoopy as a child and I still have him and gave him to Isla (who has no interest in him at all). And I would have liked her to be able to do the same with Monkey, who has been such a huge part of the toddler years. He could comfort her in a way no one else could, calm her down when she was overwhelmed with tiredness, or cheer her up after she'd taken a tumble. When she was feeling shy and worried at pre-school or parties, he was there for her.

So thank you Monkey for being Isla's first love. You are forever remembered.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

The big fat gypsy bike

Its has been nagging away at me that I haven't written my blog in two months but I felt like I had nothing memorable to say - life was just being life. My flat sale completed so my constant state of anxiety waned, we had a gorgeous holiday in Egypt where Isla blew me away with her fearlessness of camels, jellyfish and falafel. I had an offer accepted on what I hope will be our new home which Isla already refers to as our duck pond house because of its idyllic position overlooking a, yep you guessed it, duck pond. And work has slowed down to a bearable jog rather than a Usain Bolt sprint. So life is good, but it felt pretty ordinary until today when I had time to stop and appreciate that you don't need to be doing anything special for life to feel incredibly special.

Normally at the weekend I try to pack it to the rafters with plans and we are off and out visiting friends and family as soon as the last spoonful of CrunchyNut Cornflakes is down the gullet. But today there were no plans (albeit not through lack of trying), so we had a beautiful sunny unplanned day stretching out before us.

We took the big fat gypsy bike down to the park ("its a hill mummy, hold on, hold on! I want Daddy!") and did a circuit of the playground stopping off at the sandpit, swings and zipwire before ice cream. When I bought the bike at Christmas, I was so excited by the thought of Isla's face when she unwrapped the pink monstrosity which only Katie Price and 3 yr olds could covet, I didn't stop to think that I would actually have to be seen in public with it. To retain some shred of dignity I jokingly referred to it as the big fat gypsy bike to friends, not realising that 3yr olds have no sense of irony (or knowledge of the Channel 4 series) and the next thing I know she's asking anyone who'll listen what they think of her big fat gypsy bike. I think that's what is known as an own goal.

I had contemplated getting a taxi back up the hill as there was no way the gypsy bike, laden down with its tassles, padded purple saddle, and the entire Monkey family on the back seat was going to make it up with Isla peddling. (Yes, you read it right, it does come complete with a dolly seat and furry handbag on the front, I kid you not). But our kids amaze us every day and true to form, she astounded me as she huffed and puffed her way determindley up Quarry Hill.

When we got home, the Monkeys were let out of their seat and lined up in a row. She crouched down to talk to them, "did you have a lovely day out, did you? Good." Before going off to sort out the hose to fill up the paddling pool. She yanked the hose across the garden, saying "I'll hold the hose while you put the tap on." When did my litte girl get so grown up?

The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging out together in the back garden, Isla stripped down to her birthday suit and sandals, revelling in her uninhibited freedom. We happily ate our lunch in the sunshine, dug up weeds with our matching pink gardening gloves and lined up dozens of garden snails for a race. Everytime one would start making some headway, Isla would put him back to the start, they must have been getting very frustrated if they had some place to go! After we read some stories we lay on the blanket for a snooze and i put another blanket over her to protect her from the sun. She lifted it over our heads, and as the sun shone through and we looked into each others eyes, giggling in our make-shift camp, I wanted to capture that moment forever. Our kodak moment when nothing could be more perfect.

After bath time, Isla tucked monkey up in his new bed (an empty Ariel tablet box we have stuffed with straw) and whispered "shh mummy, he is sleeping" before putting the box carefully by her bedside. Her little arms squeezed tightly round my neck as if they were hugging my heart. She blew me a kiss and said, "love you mummy". 

Tomorrow we will be returning to the frenetic pace of life, where everything has to slot into place to avoid a domino effect of chaos. But that's ok, because its days like those which make us appreciate days like these.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

A mother's love

Today I saw two incidents that abruptly brought home to me how precious life is. I had taken Isla up to London to meet some friends for lunch and decided to take a walk back along the Southbank before heading home. We were watching some impressive street dancers when I noticed a woman and child sitting against the wall. She was looking pretty dishevelled with matted hair and blotchy skin, a small battered suitcase on one side and a half drunk bottle of Becks on the other. The boy looked about five and was obediently standing by his mother while she looked blankly on. He looked well cared for but I thought how sad it was that while all these tourists were walking past, spoiling their children with treats and trips on the London Eye, they were in their own bubble, a million miles from the wealth surrounding them.

We queued for the London Eye and I spent the next 30 mins fealing queasy and asking Isla for the hundredth time not to lean against the glass to her increasing irritation. Even though rationally you know the glass isn't going to give way with the weight of a 3yr old, the thought of her plunging to the ground made me feel physically sick.

We headed back to Waterloo and down the steps by the National Theatre. At the bottom was an ambulance and a woman being treated by paramedics lying in a pool of blood, her head cracked open. I rushed Isla past and went into the food market where a woman sitting at our table told me the girl had tripped and fallen down the stone steps. She was a young woman on a day out, she hadn't been wearing silly shoes or drinking and she was alone. Was she someone's mother, someone's daughter? As the paramedics lifted her stretcher into the ambulance I thought how awful it would be for her mother to get that call and hoped that she would soon be by her side and she was going to be ok. How terrifyingly quickly our lives can change irreperably.

As we walked back to the station, I made Isla hold my hand even though we were in the pedestrianised area and felt terrified by the fact that try as we might, we can never fully protect our children. And there ahead of me was the same woman and child I'd seen earlier. She was rocking and laughing hysterically. At first I thought she must be laughing with someone but it was just her and the child. Next to her was an empty bottle of wine and he was eating a strawberry ice cream cone. He wasn't in the least bit disturbed by her behaviour, like it was the most normal thing in the world. He just carried on licking his ice cream while she cackled away. And, as I looked around me, not a single passer-by seemed to notice them.

Who knows what may have happened to bring them to this state.  I wanted someone to protect him and make sure he was ok and, in some stupid middle-class way, took comfort from the fact that she had bought him an ice cream as if that suggested things couldn't be so bad.  But what kind of a life is it for a small child to stand as his mother's protector while all around him the roles are reversed? It feels so wrong and yet the bond between mother and child is so unbreakably strong, I suspect there is nowhere that he'd rather be than loyally by her side.

I think of them now while I'm home and warm, my little girl tucked up in her bed, and hope that they aren't sleeping on the streets and his life doesn't have the inevitability that today's brief glimpse implied. At moments like this, it always makes me appreciate how lucky I am with my lot, but invariably we get sucked back in to our own lives and all too soon take what we've got for granted. So the next time that I snap at Isla, or moan about my work, or wish I had just that little bit more money, I hope I remember today and thank my lucky stars we've got it so good.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A new addition to the family

On Wednesday, Isla, monkey and I got home from a busy day in London to find a parcel addressed to Isla. We unwrapped it to find a green box with a gold seal embossed with the words 'The Official Seal of Santa's Workshop'. Carefully, we broke the seal to reveal another box entitled 'The elf on the shelf' and within it was a little red elf, with a red hat, red cheeks and a ruby red smile. Along with our mysterious elf was a story. The story said that Santa Claus had sent this little elf to Isla to keep an eye on her and every night he would fly back to the North Pole along with lots of other elves across the world to report back on their charges.  The book told us we had to give him a name, but mustn't touch him or he would lose his magic. And, every morning before Isla wakes, he would 'magically' re-appear in a different place from where we left him the night before.

We decided to name our elf Alvin. Getting him out of the box without breaking the touching rule proved tricky so I resorted to putting on my woolly gloves before setting him on the shelf in Isla's room. I asked her if she had a message for Alvin to give to Santa and she said, 'please tell him i would like an orange bike'.
Orange? Orange? Where the hell did that come from?
'Really, orange?' I said, wondering if I'd kept the Halfords receipt. 'I thought your favourite colour was pink?'
'No mummy' she said firmly, pointing her finger at me, 'my bike will be orange'.
'No, no, no. Actually, I want my bike to be pink'.
'Did you hear that Alvin? Pink! She wants pink!' Phew.
'Now Alvin is going back to the North Pole soon, so you must make sure that you stay in bed otherwise he will have to tell Santa Claus that you didn't stay in your bed and that will make Santa sad.'
And sure enough, I left the stair gate open and didn't hear a peep.

In the morning, Alvin was perched at the top of the stairs. 'Look mummy! He is back, he has moved! Can I touch him, pleeease may I touch him?'
'But if you touch him he will lose his magic and won't be able to fly back to the North pole'.
'But I will put the glove on and be really careful'.
And so, on went the glove and Isla tentatively touched Alvin's small red foot.
'I touched him, I touched him!' Suitably satisfied, Alvin was then left in peace.

It has only taken a couple of days for Alvin to become integral to our home and my somewhat lazy powers of persuasion. Typically, our conversations all go along the liens of:
'Isla, its time to brush your teeth'.
'But I don't want to'
'Alvin, can you tell Father Christmas that Isla won't brush her teeth?'
'I will, I will!'
Job done.

But, emotionally blackmailing your child on a daily basis, suggesting Santa will only visit her if she's been good, can't be healthy. All the modern-day parenting books say you shouldn't even use the word 'naughty' for fear of giving your child low self-esteem so God knows what mental scars I've inflicted this past week with my threats of the little snitch Alvin reportig back to the Big Man. Part of me thinks, its just adding to the magic of Christmas and can't do any harm but  I can't help feeling like I'm taking advantage of Isla's gullibility and total belief in all things Christmas. Because surely it should be me who's setting the example, teaching Isla about right or wrong, truth and lies, trust and honesty. And instead, I'm spinning her the biggest line of all.

This evening, when my parents dropped Isla home she rushed them upstairs so she could show them Alvin and told Grandad all about how he was going to the North Pole to tell Santa Claus all about Isla. On one level, it feels no different from letting her watch Cinderella and our fantastical childhoods are all too short and we should embrace them. But the other part of me can't help wondering if I'm setting us both up for one big fall when the illusion is shattered.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Loo literature

I have discovered that during this phase of toddler OCD and the great war of wills, you really have to pick your battles. More often than not I resort to any kind of cajoling and game playing to avoid the tantrums (not always hers) but my toilet tactics are coming back to bite me on the bum.

Isla virtually potty trained herself and my only contribution really was buying the pants. These days, I would kill for her bladder control and she regularly only volunteers to go once or twice a day. I tried force- feeding her water to get her to go more, but she was adamant she didn't need to, so I resorted to the 'let's see who can do the longest pee' game. I know, its bad.  But being my daughter, there's nothing she likes more than a bit of competition and without hesitation she's pants down, on the potty, letting it all out.

In the privacy of our own home, this seems fairly harmless but when you're in a public toilet and she's loudly exclaiming, 'well done mummy, that was a good one', you have to question your tactics.  This was made worse by the follow-up comment, 'mummy can i wipe your bottom now, please mummy, pleeease!' I just want to make it clear she has never ever done this, nor has she ever made such a request before but logically I guess she thinks if I can wipe hers, then what's wrong with her returning the favour. It's just unfortunate that we had to work through this particular conversation in a John Lewis cubicle.

In the last week, I have now been doing battle with trying to get her off the loo. She will sit on the potty and say to me, 'Mummy, I need my Prince & Princess book and my stool, thank you mummy'. I duly bring her the Royal Wedding issue of OK! magazine and her step stool, upon which she places her magazine and flicks through the pages whilst comfortably seated on her potty and providing me with a running commentary about which princess is her favourite (Kate closely followed by Camilla's granddaugher). Fine chatter on a lazy Sunday, not so good at 7.15am on a 'school' day with a train to catch.

It took me a while to realise that I could hardly get annoyed with Isla when this behaviour was a direct consequence of my own. Quite often while she's in the bath, I will sit on the loo (lid down, trousers up, honest), flicking through a copy of Hello!, while she painstakingly fills and empties plastic containers.  And so now, seeing as it was me who introduced her to loo literature, I am working on my next act of bribery to wean her off. The promise of 10 bounces on her bed seems to be working well so far ...

Monday, 10 October 2011

three in the bed ...

Ever since the prison bars came down from Isla's cotbed, she and monkey have sneaked their way into my bed in the middle of the night. When Isla was a baby, I was a militant routine mother, determined to have a contented little baby just like the one in the books. I spent hours leaning over the cot, stroking her back and making 'ssshing' noises, the theory being it sounded like the noise in the womb and in twenty minutes they'd be asleep. But if they woke up before twenty minutes you had to start all over again. Inevitably eighteen minutes in, the crying would begin, I could practically taste the glass of wine waiting downstairs but devoutly begun the whole process again. Later on I would try lying down on the floor next to her, by bum cheeks going numb in the winter air and gradually crawling out commando style in the vain hope she wouldn't stir. Instead of being addicted to the X Factor, my evening 'entertainment' meant eyes glued to the baby monitor looking for any flicker of red lights as she woke up realising I wasn't there. It didn't take long for me to decide I had better things to do with my time and let her cry it out.

But after two years of silent nights, Isla woke up to the fact that she had rights too. And, after one lengthy bout of screaming and a loud thud on the floor she also woke up to the fact that she could climb/fall out of her cot. So down came the bars and a cheeky monkey was unleashed. After doing the equivalent of a marathon going up and down the stairs putting her back to bed and more sleeping on the floor and bottom shuffling out the door, it was time for reinforcements. This time it was Isla's turn to sleep on the floor, as I transformed her bedroom into a cattle pen with the help of a stair gate. Exhausted by her own protestations, I would find her lying squashed up against the gate,  but it only took a couple of nights for her to decide the bed was in fact a more comfortable option.

Soon after, the gate became my bribery weapon of choice. 'If you stay in bed, i'll keep the gate open, but if you get out of bed, I will have to close it.' Inevitably, I would hear the creak of a floorboard and see two small feet padding down the stairs and hear a squeal of delight at her own mischeviouness. Consequently, the gate was always shut when she clambered back in to bed but with only a moments objection before she was fast asleep. But now it seems it is part of our nightly ritual. I kiss her goodnight, she tells me not to close the gate. I leave it open, she sneaks downstairs a few minutes later, I take her back to bed and shut the gate. The other night, on returning her to bed she said 'shut the gate mummy'. So much for bribery.

For a while I figured I should try and get her into the habit of going to bed without any props, after all its only a matter of time before she masters the gate. So, I took the advice of Supernanny, picking Isla up and putting her back with no eye contact and no words. Apparently, this is the best bedtime game a two-year old could possibly imagine. After a dozen times of returning her to bed, not only was she squealing with excitment but putting her arms up in readiness for the lift. Why do they make discipline sound so straightforward in the book, then try it in practice and you've just invented a brilliant new game?

Once she's asleep, leg dangling, mouth wide open, I always open the gate and invariably in the night I feel a pat, pat, pat on my arm. Without even opening my eyes, I haul Isla and monkey in, exchange whispered 'love you's' and then we all roll over and go back to sleep, happily defying every baby book ever written about sharing the family bed. But at 2am I come from the 'path of least resistance' school-of-thought more than that of Gina Ford.

So this morning, when I woke to find that Isla had stayed in her own bed all night, I gave her a congratulatory sticker but couldn't help feeling a twinge of sadness knowing that in a few short years I will be lucky to snatch any cuddles at all let alone wake up to the cheeky smile and cheery cry of 'mummy, its sunny time!' each morning.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

like mother like daughter

This week, after much anticipation, Isla had her first ballet lesson. Having seen her twin cousins go last term, she spent the whole of the summer saying 'I go when I am bigger' and now the time had come.

I was working, so Nanny (as in Granny, not the Jo Frost variety) took her along and I arrived half way through the lesson. I felt a huge tug on the heart strings as I saw Isla shyly hovering at the back of half a dozen girls all lined up copying Miss Emma pointing her toes. The other children, all roughly the same age and also new to the class, were happily joining in, holding hands and following the instructions. Isla on the other hand was hiding behind her fringe, sucking her thumb and cuddling monkey. She tried to be brave and hold her position when she saw me but within seconds had cracked and ran across the hall to bury her face in my leg.

When I asked her what the matter was she whispered, 'I don't love it'.
'Are you a bit scared?' I asked. She nodded. 'Do you want me to come with you?' She smiled, and nodded and took my hand and we rejoined the group.

I crouched down to look less conspicuous among a sea of toddlers but this made Isla crouch too, so I had to stand up again. From the corner of my eye I could see the other mothers smugly sitting at the edge, giving me the accusatory 'mollycoddler' look. But if I wanted Isla to join in, I knew that I would have to as well. And before I knew what was going on, I was sitting there doing my 'good toes, naughty toes, good toes, naughty toes'. (Of course, naughty toes is not just a case of flexing the feet, its a full on wagging of the finger as you very sternly tell your toes off.) I decided it was time to draw the line when they started running round in circles pretending to be ponies. To my relief, not only did Isla join in but she was first up and off clip-clopping behind Miss Emma.

By the end of the lesson she came running over with a huge smile and when I asked if she wanted to come back next week she excitedly said 'yeah, yeah, yeah!'

But seeing her with the other girls who had no qualms about running around and doing their curtsies while she stood awkwardly by, was like watching a mini-me and I would do anything to protect her from those gut-wrenching feelings of fear and self-consciousness. It is nature? Is it nurture? I suspect a bit of both, but if there was one gift I could give my daughter it would be self-confidence.