Monday 31 August 2009
Me: "Listen to that song on the radio, Boy #1. It's about a girl wishing a boy was her boyfriend. One day you might have a girlfriend..."
Boy #1 stopped eating, put his sandwich down, and looked at me. He raised his left eyebrow (where did he learn that by the way? It's so unfair when your 5 year old can do stuff like that when you can't...)
Boy #1: "Mama. Don't be silly. I don't need a girlfriend. When I grow up I am going to be married!"
Me: "Really? Well, that's good. Who did you have in mind?"
Boy #1: "I am going to marry E."
This was new news. Previous candidates mooted by Boy #1 for his bride to be had been J or R. What happened to them, I wondered? I asked.
Boy #1: "Well, it's obvious Mummy. They don't have the right dvd's. I am going to marry a girl with the right dvd's. J and R just have (sneer) Barbie stuff. Some girls are like that..."
Me: "But not E?"
Boy #1: "Not E. She has grown up dvd's. Like Kung Fu Panda. Please may I get down now?"
He wandered away, leaving me to question why on earth I had never realised that finding a life-partner was so simple...
Sunday 30 August 2009
Naturally all other activies in the Potty household have been put on hold until a suitable work of art has been created and posted off to the mag. I think he's done a pretty good job, myself. Admittedly there was some help provided by yours truly in sketching the outline, but all the colouring-in was his own work, honest guv... (And to those who accuse me of being an over-protective mummy, I was driven to such supportive lengths only after many - many, many, many - abortive attempts by Boy #1 to do it entirely by himself, which resulted in much frustration, shoutiness, screwed up paper, and our being down to our last sheet of white A4...)
This is a situation which I imagine today's British Blogging Mummy of the Week, Brit in Bosnia, would completely sympathise with, since she writes of herself:
'When I'm not being a Mum to my 2 boys, I am doing a very much part-time PhD on football and reconciliation. There's also the dog to be walked, household admin, trying to work out how to do things in another country and a blog to be written. I have recently discovered that I spend most of my time sounding like a very shrill international rugby referee ('put the ball down' 'leave it!' 'one more time and I'll send you to the naughty step - I mean sin bin'). '
I especially recommend you check out her recent post on postcards - a very good way of letting off steam and an approach that may well appear here before too long if the situation with the gate at the playground in Holland Park doesn't sort itself out soon...
To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too)
Friday 28 August 2009
It seems that the victims can outwardly live a perfectly normal life. They can get up in the morning, they can dress themselves, they can care for their families. But the moment that they enter a gated enclosed play area for their children, the sickness strikes.
They are incapable of closing the gate behind them.
And it drives me blxxdy crazy. I mean, they've got to be ill, surely? Because otherwise, you would be forced to think that a person who walks into a playground full of babies, toddlers and young children and leaves the gate open behind them so that the little angels can wander off into the great unknown, must just be criminally stupid.
Fortunately for them, yesterday in Holland Park there was an increasingly flustered mother who kept an eye on the gate and when it was left open marched over to it, closing it with a emphatic clang and making terse remarks to the miscreant who left it open.
So if you were one of them and recall passing a harrassed looking woman muttering obscenities under her breath as she closed the gate behind you, don't worry, there was no need to say thankyou (which is lucky, since none of you did).
Just shut the frigging gate yourself next time...
Thursday 27 August 2009
I know that some of our friends think we're crazy, moving to Moscow with the children. And as some of them live there already, I suppose they should know what they're talking about. I have to admit that there are times when I whole-heartedly agree with them, especially when I contemplate Russia's freezing winter temperatures and the fact that if the thermometer dips below around 11 deg C my fingers can go white and numb because I have such poor circulation. This makes the prosect of -25 degC rather daunting, and I expect that you'll be able to spot me at school drop-off time in January because I'll be the one wearing the comedy gloves the size of a small country in an attempt to keep my fingers moving. (I'm not proud when it comes to staying warm...)
Despite things like this, however, I have to say that I'm starting to feel a sneaking sense of excitement at the prospect of our adventure. Last week's trip has added to that rather than diminished it in any way. Admittedly, there was the minor irritation that whilst the UK baked in up to 30 degC sunshine last week we were shivering in our inadequate summer togs in a grey-skied and chilly 13 degC, which doesn't fill me with confidence about the afore-mentioned finger situation, but overall it was great to be together as a family and see my Boys reacting so well to the numerous new situations we put them in.
I think though that what really made me feel more comfortable with this choice was the way that the locals reacted to our children. Russians are not, on the whole, the most accomodating of people. Oh, they're warm and open when you get to know them, certainly, but don't get in their way if they're in a hurry, and don't expect strangers to go out of their way to assist you. The 'service culture' - as we understand the term, any way - is not so... widespread in Moscow. I mean, obviously they'll club a fish to death for you to stop the bag rustling as you pay for your shopping in the supermarket, but opening doors, offering helpful information, or telling the full story about how to validate your visa in a way that will ensure you don't waste hours trekking about the city in a fruitless exercise that ends up with a heated debate with your significant other in a deserted carpark somewhere, are not their strong points.
So my jaw practically hit the floor as I witnessed unprompted acts of kindness towards our children every single day we were there. Never mind that I had palpitations every time an eldery lady pressed sweets into the Boys' hands (I don't yet know how to check an ingredients list for the words 'contains nuts' in Russian, you see), the fact remains that these ladies clearly didn't have too many of those sweets left for themselves.
And whilst in London, if a small child has a seat to themselves on the tube, they are expected to get up and offer it to an older person if necessary, in Moscow the reverse is true. I don't think my sons had to stand on a single tube journey in the week we were over there. There are clear practical reasons for this altruism, admittedly. The Moscow Metro, whilst a thing of great splendour, incredibly long escalators, wonderful art-deco and communist decoration, and a punctuality that would make Boris Johnson weep (there is never more than 1 minute 30 seconds between trains, except on a Sunday, when you might have to wait 2 minutes 30 if you're very unlucky), is also a bit of a speed demon. It's hard enough to hold on effectively if you're an adult, but if you're 3 years old then standing up can get quite... exciting. Best not to try it unless you want your child to turn into a human pinball, but still, the good citizens of Moscow didn't have to think about our Boys' welfare in the way that they so generously did.
Of course, I still have concerns about whether my children will be happy in Moscow. But, luckily for us, it appears that they are in fact very cheap dates. Their initial feedback to our (OK, my) unsubtle questions about what they thought about the city has been that anywhere they get given Macdonalds for dinner the first night they arrive (bad mother, PM), handed sweets out of blue (even if the treats do get vetted by their bodyguard mother before they're allowed to eat them), and where they get to sit down in pasha-like splendour whilst the grown-ups have to stand, is OK with them...
Wednesday 26 August 2009
Me: "Well, we're looking at X, Y, and Z areas at the moment. Although I think X might be a little far from the school and with the traffic being so bad... Which areas do you both live in?"
Mummy 1: "Oh, we live in Y (5 minutes walk from the school). It's perfect, although houses there are scarce. Of course there's always A. Have you thought of looking there?"
Me: "No, we definitely won't be living there. A is just so far away - I can't believe it can work, it must take hours to get here. And where do you live?" (To Mummy 2)
Mummy 2 (fixed grin on her face): "We live in A."
Tuesday 25 August 2009
Once upon a now, in a land just down the road and around the corner, there lived an Eco-Worrier, called Rose.
Rose was an average sort of woman who lived a moderate sort of life, with a family, a home and a job to juggle. She was generally a happy little flower, but every now and again she worried about the impact her existence was having on The Environment...
One day, on looking into her empty cupboard, Rose decided it was time to visit the supermarket. She wrote a list, packed up her recycled carrier bags, and set off in her Toyota Prius. Just as she was pulling into the carpark however, a tangle-haired pea-coloured imp appeared and sat on the bonnet. It was Environmenta, the Green Imp, curse of all women trying to live a moderate life...
Rose ignored her in the hope she would turn her attentions to the owner of the petrol-guzzling 4x4 parked in the next space, but Environmenta, smelling noisomly of damp clothes that had never seen the inside of a tumble drier, followed Rose into the supermarket.
“Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble” she cackled. “You’re on my turf now, little flower! Are you up to the challenge?”
“Oh yes, Environmenta. I think I’m ready...” replied Rose, hefting her recycled bags and waving them threateningly at her pursuer. Catching the imp off-guard, she knocked her over with a nifty swing of her trolley, and made haste for the vegetable section, hoping to lose her pursuer in the crowd of elderly ladies perusing the gondola end display of buy-one-get-one free offers on un-ripe strawberries and out of season hot cross buns.
Our heroine made it to the fruit aisle, and started to pick out some locally grown Braeburns. But as she reached for a plastic bag to put them in, Environmenta skidded round the corner and knocked them out of her hand.
“Oh, I don’t think so, my little Worrier! Think of the extra packaging! Think of the damage to... the ENVIRONMENT!”
Unphased, Rose reached into her Magic Handbag, grabbed a handful of extra-strong Common Sense Powder, and threw it at the imp. “Bollocks!” she replied. “I don’t want my apples bruised by the bottom of the trolley.”
“Fair point” replied the imp, still under the influence of the powder, and disappeared. But moments later, as Rose reached for a packet of dwarf beans from Tanzania, Environmenta surfaced again.
“Aha! Excessive Food Miles! And when you could buy this delicious locally grown swede instead!” She snatched the pack of beans from Rose’s hand and hovered triumphantly a foot above the ground. Rose thought for a split second, and then pulled her List of Planned Meals out of the pocket of her Cardigan of Invincibility, raising it like a shield and advancing on the imp.
Environmenta, cowering wimpishly in the Holy Light of the Truly Organised which fell from the List and illuminated the shop, covered her eyes. “Stop it! Stop it!” she begged. “I concur! Nothing else will go with the organic ethically farmed salmon and Fair Trade couscous you have planned for tomorrow night’s dinner! You win this round...” and she slunk, sobbing piteously, around the corner to hide in a display of over-ripe bananas.
This was not the last Rose was to see of the troublesome imp, however. As she approached the fish counter, Environmenta was waiting slimily for her amongst the squid and smoked haddock. “Ha!” she shouted obnoxiously. “Thought you’d won, didn’t you! Well, answer me this, Eco Worrier! Why are you buying ethically farmed salmon and not.... WILD ALASKAN???!!!! I’ve got you now! You are miiiiiinnnnneeee! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”
Rose stopped, thinking feverishly. Was this really the end? Had she miscalculated? Was this an opportunity to be both Green and moderate that she had somehow missed? But no. Breathing a sigh of relief, once more she reached into her Magic Handbag, this time pulling out her Double-Edged Sword of Generally Useless Information (otherwise known as a Blackberry). She clicked triumphantly on her preferred news website button, and spoke the following spell...
“Abracadabra, riddle the notion,
There’s a vast plastic island afloat in the Ocean.
It’s made up of bottles, biddle-de-dish,
Which when they breakdown in water pollute all the fish!
And this is the reason, if it’s from open sea,
That truly organic, fish never can be!”
There was clap of thunder. “Curses!” shouted Environmenta. “Don’t think this is an end to it! I’ll get you yet, my pretty!” and she disappeared in a puff of evil BeanFeast scented smoke.
Rose finished her shopping in peace. As she reversed out of the ‘parents and child only’ parking space she had inadvertently parked in when being harassed by Environmenta on arrival, she took a sip from her Fair Trade coffee to go and decided that next time, she would definitely do the weekly shop on-line...
Monday 24 August 2009
But therein lies another post...
In the meantime, however, I'm late - again - with this week's British Blogging Mummy of the Week. So sorry... But I hope you'll forgive me if you get the chance to read this week's pick. I waffle, I know it, so when I find a blogger who is trained to write and is able to be short and to the point, using only 3 paragraphs when I would need 10 to do the same job, I'm a fan.
This week's blogger, Susie Mesure at Babies Who Brunch, writes of herself:
'I'm a budding newspup trying to carve out my own little niche in the blogosphere. I'm just back from living in DC for six months where I had fun blogging about history as it happened. After the excitement of Obama's victory, Gordon Brown's tribulations just aren't doing it for me so I'm giving politics a miss for a while. Luckily there is plenty more to write about.'
I particularly liked her confession of how she found herself becoming one of 'those' mums. You know. The competitive ones that we all diss until we find ourselves doing it too...
To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too)
Sunday 23 August 2009
The Potski Familiski were at Boy #1’s new school in Moscow. He had gone with Husband to be ‘assessed’ for an hour so they can decide which class he ‘fits’ into. This is a rather cautious move on our part, as we won't be here until at least October and will be going back to his UK school in the meantime, but me and Baden Powell, we like to Be Prepared...
Anyway, it was a long hour. I have to say, that when Husband failed to reappear during it, I assumed the worst; Boy #1 had expressed a strong opinion that he did not want to do this, and his strong opinions on matters like this are never good (see last September’s fun and games for examples). We had decided as a result that Husband – being less easy than I am to manipulate – should accompany Boy #1 to the classroom, as this should mean fewer fun and games from our oldest son. That of course left me to deal with the fun and games our youngest son decided to dish up...
Whilst we were waiting I needed to use the facilities. Boy #2, with his ever-increasing sense of self, decided that whilst he needed to use them too, he was not going to use the Ladies. He is a Boy. They use the MEN’s loos. Obviously, with my being a Lady, and NOT using the Men’s loos, this presented a problem. No way was I letting him loose in the Mens on his own with unsupervised access to unlimited loo-roll, but likewise no way was I sneaking in to use the Mens with him on our first visit to the school. What would the stalwart mums from the Parent Teacher Organisation stationed directly opposite the loo entrances think, for a start?
I informed him that – just this once - he would just have to use the Ladies. He refused – of course.
Left with a stand-off situation and picturing having to deal with a smelly wet-shorted son if we didn’t sort this out sharp-ish, I took the snap decision to re-brand one of the cubicles within the Ladies a Men’s loo. All went well; Boy #2 accepted the compromise and was just washing his hands when a teenage girl, all long blonde hair and spray-on jeans, walked in. She decided to use the very cubicle that I had temporarily redesignated the Mens...
(Please note that the following conversation was held at the top of Boy #2’s voice. Any louder and they would have heard him in London.)
Boy #2: “What’s. She. DOING?”
Me: “She’s going to the loo, Boy #2.”
Boy #2: “But she’s gone into the MEN’S toilet!” Me (thinking, best brush over this, we’ll be out of here in a moment): “Has she? Oh dear.”
Boy #2: “Why? WHY Mama? She’s a lady... (he paused for thought). Or is she? Is she, mama? Or is she... A LADY MAN?”
Me (struggling not to laugh) “I really don’t think so sweetie. I think she’s just gone to the loo in the wrong cubicle.”
Boy #2: “No, No. She’s a LADY MAN! She IS, Mama!”
Me: “Right. Now, let’s just put your coat on...”
Boy #2: “And what’s. That. SMELL? Is it the LADY MAN, Mama? Is it her?”
Me: “We’re leaving. We’re leaving now...”
Thursday 20 August 2009
Yes, the Potski Familiski is visiting Mother Russia, hence the unaccustomed quiet on my part over the last few days. It’s an interesting experience being here, not least because there is no internet connection where we are staying, so I’m reduced to begging for crumbs from the internet table when Husband is not tapping away on the laptop. This is a rare occurrence since he's working flat out, so I've been forced to adopt a more laid-back approach to posting over the last couple of days. I can handle it, this lack of access, of course. It’s not making me itch, or anything. Not at all...
Anyway, you don’t want to hear about my addictions. I bet what you’re really wondering is - if you've not been here yourself, of course - what is it like over there? Well. More different from home than I’ve noticed on any of my previous trips, to be honest. Perhaps that’s because it’s more the same, as well. What on earth am I talking about?
The first time I visited Moscow was back in 1995. It was not long after the communist regime fell apart, so of course it was all new, exciting, and the city had more than a hint of the wild west about it. There was an air of energy, an attitude of ‘anything goes’. I loved it. Not enough to up-sticks and actually move over here to join then Boyfriend (eventually to become Husband), you understand (which in hindsight was exactly what I should have done), but still, it was exciting. Certainly Russia was more raw than anywhere else I had visited in my sheltered life up until that point.
Now? Well, now it is more as if I’ve stepped through the looking glass. I’ve been back a few times since ’95, but perhaps it’s finally being here with the children that have given me this impression. You know, trying to do some of the same things – shopping, finding a local playground, watching Husband trek off to the office – whilst being a completely different city where I speak about 3 words of the local lingo. One of which – vodka – is not one I’ve much cause to use whilst looking after my boys...
At first glance, things over here look – sort of – the same as they do back home. Same Starbucks on the street corner (thank god for wifi), same Macdonalds serving nutritiously questionable meals, same brands of car on the street. Scratch the surface though, and things are not quite so similar. And I’m not just talking about the fashion, the ridiculously high numbers of smokers*, and the similarly high proportion of unattractive men...
Through the Looking Glass Example 1: The UK is a relatively safe country, isn't it? Apparantly not, at least, not to the rest of the world. Before disembarking the plane, for example, no-one was allowed to leave the plane until a rather large lady wearing socks with sandals had boarded it and, holding a star-trek type of ray gun device, had pointed it at our ears and pronounced us well enough to be admitted to her glorious country. Oink, Oink...
Through the Looking Glass Example 2: At the supermarket the same evening we arrived, when wandering past the fish counter, Boy #2 was delighted to see a sizeable aquarium behind it, with fairly large fish swimming around in it. The next moment an assistant was fishing one of them out with a net, (you think you know what’s coming, don’t you? I certainly didn’t), and in what I suppose was actually a more humane gesture than simply letting the poor thing drown from lack of water, she put it in a sink and clubbed it to death with a special ball-headed hammer before putting it in a plastic bag and handing it – ungutted – to the customer. Not what you see at your local Sainsbury’s, as a rule. Boy #2 took it surprisingly well. In fact, he showed rather more interest in the hammer that she used – asking all sorts of questions about it – than I would have expected. Perhaps C-Beebies is more subversive viewing than I realised?
Through the Looking Glass Example 3: Yesterday we spent the morning viewing apartments and houses shown by pony-tailed estate agents that had such attractive features as a raised bed platform with – gasp, the convenience! - a bath directly next to it. That;'s in the same room. You could, in fact, roll straight from one to the other. Questionable taste is not a purely British affliction, it seems...
Anyway, time to go. Husband needs the laptop and I'm about to run out of Starbucks wifi credit. Plus, my hot chocolate has gone cold. There's another through the looking glass moment, by the way. It's Autumn here. I wish someone had told me that before I packed a beautiful capsule wardrobe suitable for - yes, you guessed it - weather about 10 degC warmer than it is here...
*Note; interestingly, I had been going to write: 'the ridiculously high proportion of beautiful women', because when I first visited here 14 years ago that was indeed the case. Gorgeous girls wherever you looked, with skirts up to their elbows showing off long toned legs and fantastic figures. But guess what? I discovered today from people watching that fast food seems to have levelled the playing field there a little. Food for thought - if you'll pardon the pun...
Monday 17 August 2009
I can't even bring myself to write it, let alone say it.
Although of course by the time I do get to fi... my half cen... (there's no pretty way to say forty-ten, is there?) it will no doubt be the new 40. Or, if I'm lucky, have won the lottery, and am fortunate enough to live somewhere with continual soft-focus lighting, the new 38...
Anyway... I am suddenly aware of the winds of time because my darling Husband and I went to a concert on Friday night. And not just any old concert, oh no. The ULTIMATE concert. The concert, that if you were a concert, you would just be desperate to be, because this gig was just the coolest kid in school, the Usain Bolt amongst runners, the topmost peak of Everest of concerts.
Me, Husband, and 87,998 others all packed into the new and swanky Wembly Stadium for a night of worship at the feet of one of the ultimate rock and roll bands of the last 20 years. And it was fabulous. Everyone I told we were going to or had been to this gig said something along the lines of 'Oh, and I hear the set and the lighting is/was amazing!' And yes, I suppose that it was. Well, if you're going to entertain close to 90,000 people at a minimum ticket price of £85 per head (you do the maths, it makes my head spin), you better be sure that it's going to look good - and it did. It was - amazing.
But that wasn't what blew me away. I'm not what you call a die-hard U2 fan, by the way. This is the first time I've seen them live (if you discount the time we saw Bono and the Edge sinking a couple of drinks at Pastis in the meatpackers district in New York a couple of years back, that is. I developed a crick in my neck trying to look as if I wasn't looking when I was, in fact, clearly and obviously looking...) No, what blew me away was the fact that listening to Bono and his mates rock the joint, practically every single song they played could form part of a soundtrack of my adult life. I caught myself filling up more than once as the memories flooded back. Add to that the fact that the words of their songs seemed so much clearer and more impactful live, and still relevant even after 20 years (I'm thinking particularly of Sunday, Bloody Sunday here), and it's a pretty powerful cocktail. I'm sure I wasn't the only one blinking back the tears.
There had to be a drawback, of course. I remember that, even around 15 years ago at the tender age of 27 at a Simple Minds gig, I was shocked by how old it made me feel when, at the moment the main event arrived on stage half the audience - myself included - reached into their pockets and put on their specs.
In these days of laser eye surgery and contact lenses of course that didn't happen this time, but the evidence of aging was irrefutable; the audience (at least around us) seemed to be composed mainly of chino-clad middle-aged bankers, accountants and surveyors punching the air whilst doing slightly tipsy dad-dancing as wildly as it was possible to in light of the fact that there was a perilous drop between them and the stage 200 feet below. ('And you can't be too careful' as I heard one say to another...). I tried to ignore the fact that to call the audience 'edgy' would have been as far from true as calling my consumption of chocolate 'minimal' or the summer weather in the UK 'reliable', but when Bono pointed out that the band were way older than the stadium I'm not sure there were many wannabe youngsters there who thanked him for it.
Still, it was outstanding. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And I might be getting older than I like to accept, but even I have to agree that there are benefits to not being wet behind the ears when you go to a gig nowadays.
At least I was wearing comfortable shoes. And I'd remembered to leave my slippers out ready for when I got home.
Rock and roll, baby. Rock and roll.
Sunday 16 August 2009
Then I got real, contemplated the fact that in reality we're talking about 10 - 20 people, and took the executive decision they could wait a little longer whilst I cook my son's favourite meal; spaghetti carbonara.
What has he done to merit such an (actually amazingly convenient) Sunday feast? Simply this; when I picked him up from his grandmother's this morning, he was complaining about the eczema behind his knees. Normally a brave little soldier about such matters, he was in fact so uncomfortable that he was sobbing about it. How does that merit his favourite grub? Well, when his grandmother announced that his inflamed eczema was probably the result of playing outside on the grass, he was gentlemanly enough to wait until she had left the room before turning to me and whispering "Actually Mummy, I think it's because of all the dust in the carpets..."
So, onto the British Blogging Mummy of the Week - who has, I must say, more other other bloggers on her reading list than practically anyone else I've visited, heaven knows how she keeps up with it all - writes that she would:
"like to read other Mother's and Father's blogs and know that people are having the same experiences (or problems) as me! And I'd like other parents to read my blog and laugh. "
To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too)
Friday 14 August 2009
And as luck would have it, on logging on - post toast-frenzy - I decided to check out Powder Room Graffiti, and guess what; they're running a piece I wrote about my relationship with Exercise today...
If you get the chance to read it, you'll see why I give it a capital 'E'.
Wednesday 12 August 2009
If you see a baby or a child with bad eczema, what is your first thought? Is it:
A: What a pity, such a shame, but it won't do any long term damage and I'm sure he/she will grow out of it...
B: Gosh, that looks uncomfortable. I suppose they've tried everything they can to shift it. I wonder if they've tried changing his/her diet?
C: I have a pretty good idea how the parents of this child might improve this situation, but they might not want to hear it. Should I say something, or should I just mind my own business?
Before my sons were born – or rather, before Boy #2 was born - I used to default to answer B. I’m a long-term sufferer of eczema myself, although nowadays you wouldn’t know it, and growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s there was only one recognised way to deal with it; moisturising and steroid cream, lots of it. Oh, we knew that the latter could have nasty long-term effects, like thinning of the skin etc, but the benefits to me as a crusty-faced 14 year old girl of smooth skin vs resembling what I imagined at the time a leprosy victim looked like, meant that those potential drawbacks were usually ignored.
As often happens, my eczema decreased as I got older, leaving me only with the belief that there must be some way other than steroids to deal with this condition. I convinced myself that what I ate was the key, and tried various different diets throughout my early twenties, but looking back now I think I just grew out of it.
When Boy #1 was born, it turned out that he also suffered from fairly severe eczema. Remembering the scare stories from my youth, I tried everything under the sun rather than bring out the steroids. We went dairy free, we went soy free, he drank goat’s milk formula when he went onto bottles, we went wheat free. We even had him allergy tested at 7 months old, but nothing showed up, not even the nuts and sesame that would nowadays hospitalise him. It didn't help that 'eczema' is a generic term; there are many different things that can cause it, and at the time we had no idea what they might be.
Still he had those persistent patches of eczema that occasionally flared up into something nasty, and which would then necessitate a course of antibiotics and the grudging application of the thinnest layer of hydrocortisone cream imaginable. Basically, he itched, but got by.
Then, Boy #2 was born. He also suffers from eczema, initially even worse than his brother, and after 4 months of skin infections, hospitalisations and a constant round of on-again-off-again courses of antibiotics we discovered that MRSA is particularly fond of children with eczema. Not the best of times, but this last did at least get him treated – finally – by the excellent team of paediatric dermatologists at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital who helped us get a handle on the problem.
And you know what I found out?
Steroid creams have evolved. They are no longer as aggressive as they used to be, and nowhere near as harmful.
Now I freely admit to being a touchy-feely middle class parent. If there is a way of dealing with a problem without resorting to drugs, I will take it. If I feel a headache coming on, I’ll drink more water rather than take a pain killer, and if I feel bloated I’ll reach for the organic remedy rather than a pack of laxatives. But I’ve tried that approach to my children’s eczema, and it doesn’t work. This is one time when, as a parent, I had to forget about all the alternative therapies I automatically drifted towards.
It’s natural in today’s less intrusively-inclined culture not to want to put chemical substances on your children’s skins, and instead to change their diets, or to take them to chiropractors, cranial osteopaths, kinesiologists etc (all of which I put my hand up to, by the way) but believe me, I’m now a convert to the conventional medicine route in this situation. As a fantastic consultant once told me, a little bit of steroid cream and a rigourous moisturising regime as prescribed by someone who knows what they are talking about is a great deal better than dealing with the fallout of not treating eczema properly, and early.
Having seen my baby hooked up to an iv which delivered two different types of antibiotics because the skin cultures that had been taken from the infected area wouldn’t be back from the lab for 5 days – 5 days that we couldn’t afford to wait in treating our son - I have to agree.
However, therein lies the rub. ‘Someone who knows what they are talking about’ can be very hard to find. After the last six years of caring for my two eczema-prone sons, I know that in reality it’s practically impossible. I would even hazard a guess that I know more about the condition than most GP’s – and certainly most health visitors. And that’s not to blow my own trumpet, but simply to highlight how poorly informed they often are.
To look at my sons now, you wouldn’t notice they had eczema. Paradoxically, my younger son – who has been treated almost from the start in a much more aggressive steroid-slap-happy manner than his older sibling – is the one who now has much better skin. You can draw your own conclusions from that.
So, whilst I know that every child is different, and the root causes of this condition can be any one of a number of things, here is the checklist that we use and which I hand out to friends and family who find themselves at their wits’ end trying to sort out their child’s eczema.
1. If your child’s eczema is not simply the type that manifests itself as an occasional flare-up which can be treated with prescribed hydrocortisone, get your child referred to a paedriatric dermatology team as soon as possible. Some hospitals will have better teams than others I know, but all of them will be better equipped to deal with this than your local GP or health visitor.
2. Whilst you’re waiting for this appointment, you will no doubt find different ways of coping. We follow this routine;
a) Moisturising morning and night, even the eczema free zones. We use Cetraben lotion twice a day; I was told by a very experienced eczema nurse ‘this stuff is magic’, and compared to the others on offer out there I couldn’t agree more.
b) Our boys have a bath every day, rain or shine. It’s often said that children with eczema should only be bathed once a week, but this may not necessarily be the case. In fact, of the serious sufferers that I know, almost all of them have been prescribed daily baths by a dermatology consultant.
c) Before they get in we cover them with a mild anti-bacterial lotion; we use Dermol 500, and this replaces the need for soap.
d) We use a capful of fragrance-free Oilatum or similar in the warm water.
e) We wipe off the Dermol 500 with a clean flannel in the bath.
f) No soap, and once a week or so, the gentlest shampoo we can find. When we do wash their hair, we rinse them off with clean water from a shower attachment as they get out of the bath to avoid the shampoo staying on their skin.
g) After drying off, we moisturise all over as detailed in point a.
3. This is our routine only, but whatever you do, when you get your appointment with the consultant make sure to tell him exactly what you’ve been doing as they may wish to try something completely different.
Finally, as unfashionable as it may be to say it in today’s increasingly alternative therapy-keen society, whilst the routine I’ve listed above has improved our children’s skin immeasurably, it’s been using the prescribed drugs – the dreaded steroids - that has really made the difference.
Sometimes, the drugs do work.
Note: Oilatum Fragrance Free, Dermol 500 and Cetraben Lotion are all available over the counter from your pharamcist or on prescription from your doctor. I would recommend the latter; a large tub/bottle of each will set you back between £9 - £11, and will only last around 3 - 4 weeks (although I do have 2 children...).
Obviously I have got to get involved with this one; it would be against the trade descriptions act if The Potty Diaries didn't participate. I did think of writing a completely new post about this wide and varied topic for the newbies to the whole Poo experience amongst us (Dancinfairy and OMG Pregnant, you know who you are). It would probably cover such fascinating topics as;
'What is a Backer'? Answer; new born poo that shoots half-way up your cherub's back and which necessitates the use of at least half a packet of wet-wipes in the clean-up process. You think it's bad until you discover the answer to the question...
'What is a Necker?' Answer - see above, but substitute 'neck' for 'back', and just hope you have an extra packet of wet-wipes and a change of clothes for yourself as well as for the baby.
'How to clean your baby's poo-ruined clothes effectively.' Answer; get your mother / mother in law to set to with the Ace Bleach, or alternatively just get rid; you'll be given far more clothes than your baby can ever wear in the first 6 months of their lives anyway...
But then I thought, no. Why take away the magic for those who have yet to experience it? And so instead I've gone through my archives and have dug out the diary entry below which, whilst it is not specifically about poo - more about the expectance of it - is a snapshot from when I was potty training a nearly three year old boy whilst also looking after a 6 month-old can be...
(And yes - I have edited it and tidied it up from the original post. I am that sad.)
August 17th, 2006
This morning I found myself on my hands and knees before 9.00am clearing up the first puddle of the day. I decided drastic action was needed and bundled the Boys into the car to make the trip to Baby Central; Mothercare in Chiswick Retail Park.
The omens for our trip were good when it only took an hour from the moment of my decision to leave to actually getting both little angels strapped into their car seats; double-quick time, something of a record.
However, I did wonder whether my speedy departure was such a good thing and if I should have done a mirror-check before leaving the house, when I got there in my oh-so-fetching combo of birkenstocks, paint-stained jeans and Boy #2 puked-upon t-shirt to find it full of just-so Richmond mummies who usually shop for their cherubs in Gap. Just occasionally - and this was clearly one of those days - on finding themselves looking for a bargain in TK Max, they take a wrong turn and flutter like unexpectedly exotic butterflies around Mothercare, beguiled by the 2 for 1 offers and the baby-changing facilities out the back...
Once inside Mothercare’s brave new world, I gave Boy #1 a mini-trolley to push. He promptly ran it into the back of my ankles, and we headed straight for the potty section. After the ankle slamming incident I let him go first… I don’t need telling twice.
I then gave him instructions to choose whichever potty he wanted, and after giving it much thought and test-driving a few (with his clothes on, I might add), he selected what I can only call a 'throne', complete with Winnie the Pooh branding. An apt license, if I say so myself... But just to be sure that the reason for our trip had sunk in, I also let him see me buying a few pairs of training pants. Apparantly, if you are nearly 3 years old and at all concerned with your appearance, these are the sartorial equivalent of the brown Clarkes shoes our mums used to force us to wear when all the other 9 year-old girls where wearing white courts. (Even though the court shoes made the daintiest feet - which mine were decidedly not - look like a duck's, I still wanted them…).
Amazingly enough, under the ominous threat of the awful training pants, the throne has been used 3 times since we got home (along with, I suspect the bath – but one step at a time), and in a real milestone, was once actually requested, so am keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that the trend will continue tomorrow.
But Pooh has still not seen any poo, so I am now panicking when – and how – that is going to arrive...
Tuesday 11 August 2009
Stuck. At. Home.
Granted, it's a gloomy day, but do the people at the service centre think at all about the misery they're imposing when when they tell you that the engineer is going to arrive 'some time between 8am and 1pm'?
"Wonderful!" I always want to reply when they tell me this. "Fabulous! A whole 5 hours penned inside for the children in their summer holidays waiting for you guys not to turn up. And it's not as if I can put the washing machine or the dishwasher on because your guy may want to turn the water off when he gets here - if he gets here - so I can't even get the chores done. And let's not kid ourselves about this - he's going to be late. They always are, and that's assuming that he doesn't ignore the carefully given instructions on how to find us that I always provide because past experience has shown that without fail, he will go to a flat 200 meters away that he thinks is our address but isn't (curse the road labelling around here), ring the doorbell, and finding nobody home will go on to his next job. I will be sitting here watching the minutes tick away until around 11.30am when I will call to check that this hasn't happened. You will of course then tell me he's in transit, on his way, and it will only be when I phone an hour later that you'll say 'Oh, he called at 10.40am but you weren't home. Shall we reschedule for next week?' When, directions ignored for the second time, exactly the same thing will happen again..."
Of course I didn't say any of that when they made the appointment, and so we're waiting. As a result I'm here with the Boys whilst they make confetti out A4 (in the name of small motor skills building, what a good mother I am) and I adjudicate in the matter of who gets to use the 'good' scissors whilst doing my impression of a forensic scientist trying to get to the bottom of why exactly Boy #1 has bumped his head on the wall for the second time in 5 minutes.
After discounting the obvious explanation - that his brother was involved - it turns out that this is simply a spatial awareness problem. Which leads me on to the question of what exactly he was doing. And whilst we're at it, just out of interest, why would he do that for a second time after bumping his head doing the same thing first time round?
This last was greeted with a long-suffering sigh.
"BECAUSE, it's important that I climb up onto the top bunk to view how my new Ben 10 poster stuck to the back of the bedroom door looks from there, Mum."
Sunday 9 August 2009
Oh, sod it.
PM pauses for a moment, listening to the echoes of her forlorn shout bouncing off the walls of the vast cave that is the Internet, and wonders if there's anybody out there who actually cares she's finally got off her big fat cake-fed bottom and found the time to get round to selecting a British Blogging Mummy of the week.
OK, OK, I know. You're all off doing other things, and it's entirely my fault. I've been far too busy drinking rose in the sunshine and kicking back enjoying the relaxed mood of summer. 'Relaxed' my arse, by the way. Have you ever tried relaxing when there is a pool and young children in the same place? Never. Going. To. Happen.
In any case, I'm back at the coal-face now - for the moment at least - so I'm taking advantage of that to belatedly flag up another British Blogging Mummy of the Week.
In her blog 'Sleep is for the Weak' Porridgebrain writes of herself:
'Twenty-something slightly neurotic and seriously sleep-deprived stay-at-home mum from Staffordshire in the UK. Doing my best not to be too bad a mother to my delightful and spirited son while stealing all available free time to write, think, grow and try to stay sane.'
To check out the British Mummy Bloggers Ning, click here. (Note: It's called 'Mummy', but Dads can be members too)
Friday 7 August 2009
Thursday 6 August 2009
- done the holiday laundry (although I still haven't reached the bottom of the basket where the beach towels from our holiday nestle, safe in the knowledge they won't be used for some time - sob)
- done the shopping
- done the filing that had been building up for the last 3 months or so
- entered all our household expenses onto our incredibly exciting spreadsheet that keeps track of these things (OH MY GOD I SPENT HOW MUCH ON SHAMPOO AND MOISTURISER?)
- looked in the mirror and had a heart attack at all the wrinkles (no way am I spending less on moisturiser)
- gone through all the boys toyboxes (yes, that is ALL the Boys' toyboxes) and got rid of everything that was broken or came off the front of a magazine.
- made 4 of the 6 cakes I needed to for my mother's birthday
- gone to the cinema to see the latest Harry Potter (good, but if you're not into the books it might seem a little slow as really it's just setting the scene for the next - and final - installment)
And in the quiet stillness that the absence of small children can create, I have had the chance to come up with a couple of life lessons that I feel I must pass on...
- Do not, under any circumstances, make the mistake of trying to pull on a pair of tumble-dried jeans after a couple of weeks living it up on holiday on an exclusive diet of white bread, soft cheese, and rose. That way lies Despair.
- Do not, under any circumstances, then follow up the jeans experience by icing a chocolate cake before breakfast. Despair apparantly gives you a bit of an appetite
Wednesday 5 August 2009
When Husband and I were planning our journey to the South of France we wrestled with the ‘to fly, or drive?’ question for a while. Having never done the latter we thought it might be a good time to give it a shot (never again – see my previous post), and once we found out that we would have family staying in the Dordogne, that was the deciding factor. We would drive, and break our journey there to spend a day with them.
So when Keycamp contacted me and offered us a free holiday in one of their parcs in France (in return for writing about the experience), and then turned out to have not just one but two sites in the relevant area, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.
First though, let me start by saying that I know a little about caravans and mobile homes. And that’s not an attempt at understatement, it’s a bald statement of fact; I know a little about caravans, but I’m certainly no expert.
What I do know is that we often sat behind them on the long A-road to Devon for our summer holiday in the 1970’s and ‘80’s as they – almost invariably towed behind Volvos - crawled up the shallowest of inclines. I know – having stayed in them on more than one occasion – that they are usually cunningly laid out with space-saving measures that whilst sensible are not necessarily hygienic (a shower whilst sitting on the loo, anyone?). And I know that I spent more than one summer in my youth cleaning caravans for pocket money in my family’s static caravan site on the south coast of England. (Suggestion; if at all possible, never – repeat NEVER – draw the short straw and end up cleaning a caravan that has been occupied by a group of men on a weeks’ fishing trip. The fridge full of maggots and flies is not an image I will ever forget...)
So I had no illusions when I accepted their invitation, which is lucky, because they would probably mostly have been wrong.
We stayed in St Avit Loisirs near La Bugue in the Dordogne for 2 nights. No fishermen and their scuzzy habits here; this camp was full of families, sparkly clean, and seemed to be very smoothly run. The site comprised a mixture of various types and sizes of accommodation, from teeny tents to some very swanky timber chalets. Despite it’s reasonably large size, it didn’t feel that way mainly due to the wooded aspect and the fact that it was built on the folds of a gentle hill.
What the Boys called our cottage - but which was in fact a Villagrand 3 bedroom mobile home - had a lovely view over open fields, and even though it was quite close to other units was not noisy at all. It was well equipped with 3 bedrooms (one double, two twins), a separate loo and shower-room, enough crockery etc for 6, and even a proper oven (rare in this type of accommodation in my experience) along with a microwave and a fridge freezer.
And I didn’t really question the importance of that last item until I saw a Dutch family two pitches along packing up their ‘super-tent’ to go home, and loading an actual fridge into the back of the trailer along with the rest of their kit. My practical – Dutch – husband didn’t bat an eyelid, by the way. I’m so last century; apparently a fridge is just one of the necessities you take along when you camp in style these days...
There were also two sunloungers, an outside table and chairs, and a gas-fired barbeque; all in all, everything you need to make a home from home for a comfortable couple of weeks. Or nights, in our case...
Other pluses... I thought the pool complex was pretty good for a campsite, and would keep kids happily entertained for hours with water shutes, loungers and three pools. There was an onsite shop for emergency purchases, a self-service restaurant for the nights you couldn’t be bothered to cook (PM sheepishly puts her hand up), where the food was pretty ordinary but OK, and also an a la carte restaurant that I didn’t have the opportunity to investigate.
Minuses (well, there had to be a couple, surely, or I wouldn’t be doing this review properly)... The live dinner cabaret went on until 11pm which I know is nothing compared to some resorts. However, whilst earlier in the evening it provided background ‘holiday atmosphere’ and gave doting parents lots of time to photograph their winsome kids dancing prettily to various ersatz hits from the ‘80’s, it was still audible from where we were situated. By 10.30pm I would definitely have preferred to have been listening to the cicadas than ‘The Boys of Summer’ accompanied by a synthesiser. But maybe that’s just me.
Also, the parc gates were shut in the evening from 10pm, meaning that if you had been out for dinner (say, with family not far away, ahem), you had to park in the visitor’s car-park and carry your heavy disgruntled and still sleeping children the 10 minute walk back to your chalet. I wouldn’t have minded but the night watchman was actually there when we arrived 10 minutes late and could easily have let us in with proof of accommodation.
Overall though we had a comfortable stay and the staff were very accommodating. I would have been very happy to have stayed another couple of days and explored the beautiful surrounding area a little more than we were able to.
Monday 3 August 2009
The South of France (near Carcassone if you're interested, and if you want details watch this space over the next few days) seems a long way away, as do relaxed afternoons by the pool, gentle meanders around fragrant markets, and scrambles up steep hillsides to visit Cathar castles.
And actually, now I think about it, that's probably because the South of France IS a long way away. I can tell you this because we drove there and back, mad fools that we are. Probably for the last time. Or at least, if I have anything to do with it, for the last time in a car without air-conditioning...
And yes, I know, for those of you living in the US, Africa or Australia, a 12 hour drive is no more time than you would spend on a trip to the beach, but to us namby pamby North Europeans? A twelve hour car journey is a BIG DEAL. Especially when it miraculously telescopes out into a 16 hour drive as a result of traffic jams, speeding tickets awarded by French policemen who quite frankly have no business looking as trim as they did in their tight jodphurs and boots (bearing in mind that they do nothing but sit in their cars in laybys aiming their speed-guns at foolish British motorists trying to reach the beach as fast as possible), and torrential - no, make that biblical - rain storms. Both ways.
Anyway, as I said; more details of our trip to follow. In the meantime though, we're back in the normal swing of things.
And I knew that this was definitely the case when I returned from the gym this morning, and instead of finding the two tidily dressed small boys that I had left gently playing with trains and a husband tap-tap-tapping away on his laptop in the corner, I was greeted by a cacophony of shouts and roars through the front the door as I searched for my key. When I opened it, I saw Boy #2, bare-chested and brandishing a wooden sword almost as large as he is, herding his older brother (wearing only a lion mask and a pair of dinosaur pants) through the undergrowth of toys and books that had sprung up around our dining room table in the 50 minutes that I had been away, whilst Husband sheltered in his office reading the papers, catching up on e-mails, and generally being important.
So for now, the details of our French idyll will have to wait as I can't stop long; I have about 50 cakes to make. Oh, alright, not 50. 6. And all for my mother's birthday. (I wouldn't mind but I'm not sure she even likes the stuff. Or at least, not as much as I do...). This is extremely inconvenient timing wise; I'm supposed to be on a healthy eating regime right now. You know, the sort of thing you come up with on holiday when you're sitting by the pool glancing enviously at your friend who is 4 sizes smaller than you and for whom bikinins are not just a distant memory.
In any case, I've only just finished making the first cake, and I have already overdosed on raw batter that I scooped guiltily out of the bowl on the end of my fingers in the misguided belief that if it doesn't arrive in my mouth on a wooden spoon there are miraculously fewer calories.
Which brings me to this poem on Powder Room Graffiti. It's not mine, but if you've ever planned for a future day when you're a smaller size than now, you might find - as I did - that it rings so very true...