Sunday, 13 April 2014

Cool Music For Babies

I was sat in a Baby Sensory class last week explaining to my visiting friend how the classes always begin with a signature song. Said song involves waving hello to the sun and greeting the corn that feeds us, twinkling stars, flowers that gladden our hearts, etc. "It's totally cheesy!" I chuckled, "we sing it every week!" Without missing a beat, one of my mum friends turned round: "Don't give it all that," she said, "You're not too cool for Sensory."

It's true. We've been going to classes since July. I sing every word, I sign every action, I love it. I am no longer the new girl sniggering at the back. This time last year I swore my baby would be into something obscure Peruvian techno and would have no interest in nursery rhymes, but Five Little Speckled Frogs is his favourite song, and that's all there is to it. I never said motherhood wouldn't change me. However, I maintained that it would not change the music I listened to. I have to level with you -it kind of has. Just a bit. Even if it means picking the Pharrell album over Perfect Pussy because E is happy bopping to funky r 'n b and finds hardcore punk a bit upsetting (he'll get there, right?)

To try and maintain the illusion that I haven't completely compromised my uncompromising music taste, I have spent some time gathering baby-friendly songs by bands you might actually go and watch, as well as some old classics that haven't lost their cool. It's a work in progress so feel free to suggest any additions you may feel are appropriate.... the meantime, if you need me, I'll be in the nursery singing.

"one jumped into the pool, where it was nice and cool, then there were no green speckled frogs, GLUB GLUB."

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In Which I Get Out And Do Things Like A Normal Person

It's incredibly easy to fall down the mummy rabbit-hole during maternity leave. You meet a whole new load of people who don't care if you own such-a-record on clear blue vinyl or what new bar just opened in town or that Righteous Golden Unicorns are playing there next Saturday. Most of these people don't even know your name, they just know the name of your snotty oik. And that's only because you're bellowing it at ten thousand decibels as your offspring body-slams their precious cherub and pokes it in the eye.

So it was very nice to be whisked out to Tower Of Song last week and be reminded that I am not just a mother, wife and aerobics instructor, I am also a (very amateur) writer of music, and that this formed a huge part of my life once upon a time. Tower Of Song is a monthly night co-run by my bandmate Nicky at the Fox & Newt in Leeds. Each month there's a theme and a style, which you can adhere to or ignore as you choose - the only proviso is that all performers play original music. You can go and gawk or go and play, it's all very friendly and fun.

OK so some of these people are really good...Nicky and Iz's songwriting prowess is positively terrifying (I nearly bottled it after S showed me a video of their Eurovision-style song about biscuits from February's do). But despite this it was such a relaxed and lovely atmosphere for March's installment - 80s Action Heroes performed in a punk style.

It's positively encouraged to stop in the middle and wonder what the next chord might be or (as I did) bury your head in your carefully written out lyrics with zero showmanship and a terrible strumming technique. It's all about taking part though, isn't it? I had such a great time once my nerves left (round about the time of the last verse), and it proved that I can still knock out a song in a couple of days, even with only a couple of hours to do it and a 9 month old clinging onto the strings and trying to dance for that entire time. I'm only sorry I don't have a video of the writing process.... I do, however, have the footage from the night:


 Worth a listen just to hear my impression of a machine gun, which S says is "really good for a girl".

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Tears Factor

Oh it's Oscars day! You know what that means. Some people win, some people lose, everyone wears ritzy stuff that cost a boat-load of money. You know what else? People will cry.

They'll cry because they're happy, mostly. Crying because you're a bad loser is just poor PR, isn't it? Imagine it now, you've lost out on your Academy Award to some jumped up little porcelain-veneered, perma-tanned, simpering nobber fresh out of drama school and the camera is on YOU. You have no option but to suck back that tide of It's So Unfair hysterics, suck it in baby, and smile for the camera like you're an unmoveable mountain. It's the performance of your life. You're acting baby! You're doing it! They should give you that award just for THIS!

I don't know how those Hollywood stars do it. Even with my highly impressive grade at GCSE Drama, I can't hold back the angry tears of injustice. Sad-Tears at watching Bambi I can lock down. Pain-Tears when I stub my toe I can contain. Tears because you just took credit for my work/pushed in front of me in the bus queue/were just downright rude to that little old lady? That's when the dam bursts. I start to say the very coherent, cutting and composed thing I have in my head, find myself getting ten words in and starting to hyperventilate.

"Excuse me, I think you'll find this dear sweet old lady was simply trying to (sharp intake of breath) find her spec (hic) ta (hic) cles before you (snort) reversed your four (snort) by (snort) four over her footAHABAHHHAWAA..."(face turns purple, collapses into a puddle of snot)

I do wonder what greatness I might have achieved if I had been able to stay more composed during times of heightened crossness. I definitely have the right words to say, words that would deal a crushing blow if my voice didn't rise up three octaves halfway through my sentence, making me look about as scary as Piglet trying to argue his way out of a parking ticket. Is it a girl thing? Is it a me thing? Is it a millenia-old evolutionary device to stop me getting into punch-ups at soft play cafes? Would you hit somebody who was crying, even if it sounded a bit like they were calling you a bell-end  between the sobs?

Anyway. Happy Oscars day all, whether you are an avid red carpet fan or couldn't give a taffeta shit about the plastic ponce parade. I heartily endorse Lancome for waterproof mascara, just fyi.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Things I Have Learned On Maternity Leave.

CPD's got nothing on this...
  • How to dress a baby in a nappy and three layers of clothing as it crawls away as fast as possible, whilst ensuring a xylophone beater stays in its left hand at all times
  • Household flotsam that previously had no discernible use (lid-less Tupperware, boxes of ping-pong balls) will hold a baby’s interest longer than the entire stock of the Early Learning Centre. Rule: if it has no small parts and makes a noise when struck, don’t t throw it out
  • TMI warning: If, pre-baby, you have ever had negative thoughts about the snotty offspring of others, this basically acts as a curse ensuring your children will always have an impossibly large glistening string of snot swinging from their nostril. This will be a permanent facial fixture until their 30th birthday.
  • Extreme TMI warning: If this snot forms a crust upon your child’s nostril, do not, I REPEAT DO NOT attempt to remove it. It is there for a reason. To hold back the tsunami.
  • Never leave the house with a baby and fewer than three correct sized nappies for that baby. Never.
  • Re. the above, apparently even the cutest baby has the capacity to poo so hard it ends up shooting down trousers and into socks without even grazing the legs...
  • it might be worth putting a change of clothes for yourself in that change bag.
  • Anybody wishing to purchase a singing/talking/shrieking plastic toy for somebody else’s offspring should be forced to sit in a locked room with it playing on repeat for 48 hours before purchase is permitted.
  • People tell you maternity leave is all sitting in coffee shops eating cake. This is because coffee shops now function as drug clinics where you can get a supervised hit of the caffeine and sugar you are now hopelessly addicted to, with a bit of counselling on the side.
  • Also, nobody ever warns you that somewhere between 6 and 12 months your child will become mobile, these coffee dates will stop dramatically, and you will be forcibly catapulted into the seventh circle of hell: SOFT PLAY.
  • You will want to call whoever brought you up and tell them you’re sorry on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.
  • But for some preposterous reason, once you’ve been immersed in this crazy, puke-splattered, saggy eyed, puree-smeared world, you may never want to leave. And even if you do, things will certainly never be the same again...

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Legally Brown

Last weekend I went mental and had my hair dyed from bright blonde to brown. Not a gentle, caramel hued fudge. Not a soft, coppery oak. I'm talking batty Bonham Carter brown, darker than madness itself.

I had been blonde for six years. Blonde is the fun, dippy, easy-going, party-loving Me of my late twenties. I don't have the time, the bank balance or the deep conditioning treatments to deal with it any more. Post-baby, I had been walking round like a dog-eared version of my former self: hair scraped back, haloed with frizz, ends so split there wasn't even hope of a reunion tour. It was time to take drastic action.

Going dark was more of shock than I'd expected. I'm seven years older than the last time I had dark hair. My thirty-something complexion is going to take some serious TLC before it can stand up to the harsh mistress Brunette. My hair is now a brutal contrast to my pasty face, mutinously pointing out my extra bags and wrinkles. I haven't been able to leave the house without a FFOM (Full Face Of Make-up) yet.

I tell you what though, it still feels good. I can wear yellow again. I can go an extra day without a shampoo. I'm saving £10 and an hour and a half at hair appointments I can now wait weeks longer for. My hair doesn't look like its been cooked in a George Foreman mega-grill anymore. I can get away with wearing at least ten times more eye make-up, which is my absolute favourite thing to do. And I can pretend to be dark and mysterious for at least five minutes before opening my mouth.

Who wouldn't want to be a brunette?

(I give it at least six months before I go post-box red)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Out Of Time

Patience is a funny thing.  I’ve spent so many years waiting for the next big thing… the next job, the next holiday, the perfect pair of shoes. Always wishing my life away waiting for something a little bit better, a little bit more grown-up, something that takes me that little bit closer to ultimate fulfilment.

Now it’s not weeks and months I’m concerned with - it’s minutes and hours. I start at one hundred green bottles, not ten, as I think longingly about the dinner that’s getting cold downstairs, that phone-call I really need to make, how much I want to lie down on my feather soft bed and close my eyes. On bad days I attempt to harness psychic powers to will that clock around to 6:15pm so somebody else can hold this screaming, teething, tomato-faced baby who clearly hates me. It’s a continuous mental battle of wanting time to pass quicker, faster, now, now, now…or watching it slipping past as I’m stuck marching up and down a nursery with an aching back and an inconsolable, wailing boy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of always wanting to be somewhere you’re not. To fall into a pointless spiral of misery.

I don’t know when it clicked for me. Somewhere during the horrible weeks before we worked out that E was dairy intolerant, I think. I reached a tipping point, and my mind gave up. It just quit. It stopped trying to teleport me somewhere I wasn’t, stopped trying to hold back the sands of time, stopped trying to change something it couldn’t change. It wasn’t a conscious decision I made - my brain simply couldn’t take any more. Immediately everything else in the world fell away, and it was just me and my little boy. The irritating hum of what’s on telly when is S home I haven’t done the washing up I think the cat is weeing on that banjo stopped. There was nothing but me and the crying. And when that happened, I finally heard him properly, focused on him, realised there was nothing I could do to help him that I wasn’t already doing. So I just cuddled him. And the minutes suddenly started to pass more quickly, and I wasn’t cross, and it didn’t feel like my fault anymore. It didn’t feel like he was broken and I couldn’t fix him, it felt like he was a baby who was crying, and at some point he would be a baby who wasn't crying. And then he would probably cry again, and that would stop too. And that was just the way of the world.

I'm thinking about this now because I've recently tried to take up meditation, and it seems to me the same sort of set-up. Getting your mind to Just Let Go is simultaneously the simplest and the most elusive thing in the world. To suggest it's even an act you can perform or a state you can achieve seems wrong somehow. It's the opposite of all that. It's a giving up, almost. It's the ultimate patience. Not necessarily being happy, but being content to just sit and be. Let chaos go on around you, but keep yourself still at the centre.

It doesn't always work for me - the thought of having to go back to work in a few months is already giving me sleepless nights. In a bid to stop the pointless dread of the inevitable  future (that almost certainly won't be as bad as I think it's going to be) I'm going to milk every drop of joy from the weeks we've got left together just the two of us. To be still together. To have patience.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

2014: Persist

Last year was amazing for me, the best for as long as I can remember. I am so lucky to have had the experiences I have had. I have learned to be patient, to be present in the moment and consciously switch my brain off from thinking about the past or the future. I have learned the value of time.

Having acres of time is paralysing. It's easy to put things off. But when, suddenly, time is only available to you in twenty, ten and two minute bursts, you are thrust into the present. Every waking moment becomes an opportunity to get things done. Prioritising becomes an artform. You become an efficiency machine. "Today I will 1 - wee 2 - eat 3 - sleep  4 - shower 5 - wash up 6 - work/email 7 - sit my knackered arse down." So rarely do I reach the end of that list in a day, but it's definitely more often than it was six months ago.

It should be exhausting. It is. But sitting and letting the tide of Stuff That Needs To Get Done wash over me like a tsunami of drudgery is no longer an option. Money is running out. Maternity leave is running out. It's time to ride the wave.

My word for 2014 is PERSIST. When I fall off, I will get back up. If I feel sad, I need to dust myself down and keep trying. Make that list longer and keep hitting it until I've achieved. I will not spend the next twenty years treading water or wondering what I might have accomplished if I'd tried a bit harder. Even if I only get five spare minutes in a day, those minutes have to go towards something. Another step in the right direction, however small.