Sunday, 31 March 2013

What's in a name?

This is something I've thought about often over the past few years. First, when I was working on a woman's weekly magazine, and then as I prepared to become a mother. Those nine months are a wonderful yet worrying time. Will everything go smoothly? Will the baby be OK? Who will they be? What will they become? What mark will they make in the world? The possibilities are endless. You grow them for nine months, go through the agony of labour, sacrifice everything so they can have whatever they need, all so you can give them a chance, a chance of being successful, fulfilled, happy. So how, I asked as I recently caught up on One Born Every Minute, can you pant and scream and push a child into the world, look into their beautiful, innocent eyes, full of wonder and possibilities, and name them Kale?
Don't get me wrong, Kale is a great name. As long as you are a nutritious leafy vegetable.
I just don't get the recent fad for making up names. Or making up spellings of naming. Or adding accents and hyphens and, apparently in one case I heard of recently, numbers? I just don't get it. It's not you who's going to be stuck with this name for their whole life. You're saddling someone else with it. How can you seriously go with Kale?
Should I have chosen their names after dinner?

It's not a matter of taste, I'm talking about. Of course everyone likes some names more than others. There are some I wouldn't choose, but have no problem with anyone else doing so. At least they're names. For all three of our girls, we chose slightly more old-fashioned names. I adored several names on the Top Ten lists, but we didn't want our girls to be one of many, so we went for less popular but classic ones no one would have trouble pronouncing or spelling. Well, so we thought. I was gutted after the twins' arrival when some congratulations were sent with an alternative spelling for T's name I hadn't known existed. Luckily, her version is more common, so hoping it won't be a problem. Having to spell your name is a new, but annoying experience for me. It's only in recent times that I've had to answer the question: 'Is that Amy with a Y?' When I was younger, that was the only option. These days, there are Aimees and Ammees and heaven only knows what else. It's all go so complicated. We hated the idea of giving the girls names they'd spend their life spelling or correcting or explaining.
Working on a popular woman's weekly mag, I'd seen a huge array of names, from the unusual (the impressively punctuated Kaytee-Lee'ann springs to mind) to the downright bizarre (a whole family of Greek gods from Achilles to Aphrodite). And it gets worse. A quick Google search revealed that someone in this country last year named their son Buzz-Bee. Yeah, maybe a rock star's son can get away with it. But what if he wants to be a doctor or a lawyer or simply go to school without being bullied?  Why do parents do it? Why? Do they think an unusual name is going to set their child apart, give them a chance for a better life? Or is it all about them? Do they want everyone to see how kooky they can be? How clever. But it's not clever or funky or witty or cool. It's cruel. It's not your name. If you want to be funny, change your own one. You can't guarantee your child will like your choice, but at least do your best to guarantee they won't be embarrassed. It's your first act of parenthood. Your first chance to put someone else first. It's not about you any more, it's about them. Do you really want to name them after a vegetable?

Silent Sunday

Monday, 25 March 2013

Slow down!

I just can't get over the fact that just under 18 months ago, I arrived home with a squidgy, wrinkly bundle of toes and fingers. Little M never actually seemed that little to me - she was born a chubby 7lb8oz, while her sisters had been only 6lb1 and 5lb4 - but she was still my little baby. Helpless, clingy, unformed. With two not-quite-2-year-olds, I had a living demonstration of how quickly that would change. How quickly she would become real. A fully-formed person. How soon she would be her. But as I spent a gooey few minutes looking through old pictures recently, I still couldn't quite grasp that that tiny little baby was the cheeky, boisterous, stubborn toddler I enjoy (or at least endure) today.
Brand new!

When I was first pregnant with the twins, so many mums gave me the same piece of advice: 'Enjoy them while they're tiny.' But I found that a really hard thing to do. Of course, I loved them and was overjoyed to finally be a mother, but it was hard. Bloody hard. They fed all the time, wouldn't be put down, left me sore in all the wrong places... And I couldn't see an end. Of course, you know, logically, that there is an end. They will start to smile, to laugh, to crawl, to walk, to talk... But in those early days, those early exhausting days, it all seemed so far off. So theoretical. 
With M, it was different. I'd done it all before. I knew what this baby would become, and instead of wishing away every day, hoping for the next thing that would make it easier, I reveled in it. I loved having a baby again. Of course, it helped that there was only of her, but I was also just a better mum. Feeding, which had been a battle with the twins (well, one twin. G would cling on to her side, no matter what her sister was doing on the other one!) was a breeze. I was so much more relaxed, and M was a dream feeder. I really appreciated the helpless phase. If I put her somewhere, she stayed there. Having two hyper toddlers around would make anyone appreciate that. I wasn't watching for every milestone, every sign I was doing something right. I just drank in every moment of her babyhood.
As it turned out, she chalked up the milestones even quicker than her sisters had. Sitting up alone by six months, crawling at eight, walking at ten, talking before she was 1... It seems despite my newfound love of the baby days, M was on a mission to be a toddler. Now, at nearly 18 months, her language continues to shock me.
'Let's go, Mummy,' she said earlier, grabbing my hand. 'Giraffe sitting in Daddy's chair.'
I followed her through to see she had indeed placed her favourite giraffe on her father's computer chair. She knows what she wants and she's got the language to tell me. I think having two big sisters chatting away all her life helped her learn to speak so early. Or perhaps she was just trying to get a word in. Whatever the reason, what's obvious when she happily sings every word of Twinkle Twinkle while building a tower of blocks is that she's a baby no more. Even as I tried to hold on to it, her tininess slipped away. I love everything she's become, but I can't believe it happened so fast. Will this just keep happening now? Will I blink and find they're all at school? Taking their exams? Going off to Uni? Getting married? When will their lives slow down? I want to make sure I don't miss them!

She's grown up so fast!

Friday, 15 March 2013

A truly crappy day

There was an old lady with shit on her shoe, she had so many children, she didn't know what to do...

The following tale is true, but identities have been hidden to protect the innocent.

It had been a lovely day. The twins little nursery friend had been over for a visit, and the two mummies enjoyed a chat over coffee and cake while the children played happily together. In honour of the special occasion, Daddy's Lightsaber had been liberated from his study, much to the delight of the girls and their guest. After the guests' departure, the Mummy tried unsuccessfully to get her youngest child to nap and, upon giving up, opted for lunch instead. Twin 1, for some reason, insisted on having her lunch in her little sister's high chair in the kitchen. Still in too good a mood to bother arguing, the mummy set her up there, with Twin 2 and the Toddler in the dining room. This is where the problems began.

With her attention split between two different rooms, the Mummy could do nothing to prevent the cascade of  events that was to follow, their unforeseen yet unavoidable conclusion inching closer and closer.

Twin 2 got hold of some ketchup. It wasn't pretty. She was promptly stripped down to her vest and pants, the only survivors of the saucy onslaught. Having been set free, Twin 2 then decided she needed to pee, urgently, so was whisked upstairs to the toilet, deposited on the seat, then left while the Mummy returned to retrieve her other two children. On her return upstairs, she found that Twin 2 had failed to pull her pants down quite far enough, and these now also needed to be removed. Twin 2 was released to seek out new clothes in her bedroom, where she promptly became distracted by Daddy's Lightsaber.

Suddenly feeling very tired, the Mummy was about to rouse herself to find clothes herself when Twin 1 announced, with some urgency, that she needed a poo. She was scooped up and placed on the toilet just in time. However, a stand-off then ensued, as to whether or not the Mummy was allowed to wipe Twin 1's bottom to remove an errant piece of poo, or, as Twin 1 insisted though failed to act upon, she could do it herself. The impasse continued for some minutes, until it was abruptly interrupted by Twin 2's urgent cries.

'I neeeeeed a poo! I neeeeed a poo!' she called, running into the room. 'Quickly, Mummy, quickly!'

The Mummy had a think fast. Twin 1 was still staging her stand-off on the booster step. Twin 2, still pants-less, would have to be manoeuvred quickly in behind her. Only there was a problem. The Lightsaber.

The Mummy cursed George Lucas as her first grab resulted in nothing more than a bruised shin where the weapon swung out and blocked the way. Frantic now, she wrestled it out of Twin 2's hand and lifted her behind her sister, who was now frozen to the spot in wonder as events unfolded, dragging everyone relentlessly, helplessly, towards their destiny...

A exactly the right point in the arc between floor and toilet, Twin 2 could hold out no longer. As she landed on the toilet, silence fell. Everyone stared. As the Mummy's foot grew warm and she remembered the hole in the top of her trainer, no one spoke. Had the poo landed a couple of inches in any direction, there would have been nothing more than a mess on the floor. As it was, as the Mummy began to strip off and attempt to get herself and two twins cleaned up before the Toddler could grab anyone or anything, she was a broken woman. A crapped-on foot. Nowhere to go from that really.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Like mother, like daughter

At what age does separation anxiety start to ease? When do you start to look forward to time apart, rather than worrying about what will happen? Start reveling in 'metime' instead of fearing it? Please tell me it's soon. Please tell me it's 36...
OK, so it's not only me. But it is my clone. To the outside world, T is the outgoing one. She's the twin who takes the lead, who introduces her shy sister around, who rolls up her sleeves and gets the games started. But I know my middle daughter. I know her because she's me. Although it was nothing more than chance that meant G took prime spot inside Mummy and became my firstborn, since they arrived, she's acted like the eldest. She's bossy and opinionated and generally believes she's in charge (although in reality,we all know little M is the boss around here...). Just like my big sister - just like everyone's big sister, I guess. I'm the second of three girls, and the fate that decided G would fulfill her firstborn destiny, also decided T would  match her mum's family position. Seems like it was fate, because she's just like me. She's cheeky and extrovert and loves to be centre of the action. And beneath that, she's hiding the fact that she's scared and insecure.
Do her nursery teachers get to see the cheeky T I do?

I had a catch-up today with G's nursery key worker. Nothing they said surprised me. She's a bit shy and quiet, and doesn't tend to speak up, but she's well-behaved and intelligent. Although 'quiet' is not a word that can remotely be associated with G in the house (my poor old ears and rapidly growing crop of grey hairs are testament to that), I know she's always been shy in social situations, clinging to me if I'm around or her twin sister if I'm not. But I also know that once she's familiar with somewhere, she's fine. She's a dreamer, who can be perfectly happy constructing a jigsaw or pouring water or looking at books by herself. I do think it's such a shame that they don't get to see the real G quite yet. That they don't know that she can sing and dance and spell and add. But she'll show them in time. She's not the one I worry about.

Under that shy exterior, G is a bundle of personality

I have T's one-to-one in a few days' time, and I honestly don't know what I'm going to be told. Which T do they get to see? 
The past few times I've taken the girls to nursery, I've noticed something. T gets very quiet. There's a look in her eye. Tears lurking somewhere deep down. When I ask if she's OK, she always smiles and says she's fine. But I know her. I am her.
As my mother will delightedly tell you, I was the queen of the tantrum. I could scream and shout and rage and wail with the best of them. But that just meant I was tired or grumpy. The real problems came when I went quiet. My silence was never a good sign. And T is her mummy's girl. Once she's at nursery and I've completed the abandonment she's feared, I'm pretty sure she manages to have fun. She always has tales to tell of what she's been up to, and I know she throws herself into looking after G, into making sure her shy sister's OK. Just like I used to do with my sisters. But does she really want to be there. I just don't know.
And I just don't know when she's going to outgrow it.
I'm a married thirtysomething, who's had a great career, a social life I loved, and now loves taking the girls to new and exciting places where we can have little adventures together and meet new people. But deep down, I'm still fearful. I'm still hiding the fears about what will happen, the worries that maybe no one really likes me. On days where I don't have M to concentrate on, when she goes off to have fun with Granny while the twins are at nursery, I never quite relax. After my meeting today, there wasn't really any time to get home and get stuck into any gardening or housework before I'd have to be heading back. So I went for a coffee. A latte, a biscotti and a copy of The Guardian. That's pretty much my idea of heaven. People watching, relaxing, time all to myself... But the whole time, I felt sick. Physically sick. I couldn't concentrate on anything more than headline, and barely tasted my coffee.
What if G doesn't feel confident enough to go to the loo when she needs? What if her clumsy genes (also inherited from me, I'm sorry to say) show themselves and she gets hurt? And what if T is sad? What if she is really sad? 
Those last two are the thoughts that really kill me. I'm so proud of that brave little face she puts on, of how she always looks out for her sister, but the thought of how hard it is for her underneath is like a knife to the gut. Of course, on my return, everyone was uninjured and unsoiled and perfectly happy, but I know as long as T goes quiet, I'll feel just the same tomorrow. I guess all I can do is encourage and smile and reassure her that I'll always come back. That herds or wildebeest and flocks of dragons could not stop me getting to her. And hope that in time she will relax. That she will begin to love the nursery that she could so easily love. That is a perfect place for her to learn to be herself without me there. Like her sister, when she's with someone she knows, she's bubbly and feisty and cheeky and bright, and all I can hope is that, with time, the whole world will get to see that. That the whole world will get to see both my girls in all their glory. Until them, I will just have to enjoy every minute I have with them, and learn to live with the times we are apart.

Photos copyright SS Kelman (