I’m not one to jump at every single service, club and group out there for Baby. For one thing I find it hard to get dressed in time for most of them. But now that the Scottish summer holidays are finished and Big Sisters 1 and 2 are back at school, Baby and I are venturing into the wonderful world of maternity leave fun to see what we can find.
I only want to do one or two things a week so I settled on what I thought would be an easy one to start with: Baby Massage. That sounds nice and relaxing for both of us, I thought, it’s just up the road and it doesn’t start at the crack of dawn. Let’s give it a go.
Before the Baby Massage was an option I’d been popping along to the ‘Baby Club’, which provided taster sessions for various clubs and services available in our area like cooking for baby, language development, safety in the home. We’d even attended a First Aid session where the mature, male Glaswegian tutor kept giggling when he said the word ‘latex’ (referring to his Resusci Annie doll, thankfully) and then had me in tears (and I don’t think it was the hormones) when he told us the story about the day he saved the life of his neighbours’ baby daughter.
Anyway, at these sessions were two very capable mums with older babies who made me feel a little intimidated and welcome all at the same time. They really seemed to have it together and at the end of each session would swing their babies into a sling and were down the road before I’d even bundled mine into her pram. Each week they’d invite me along to the new café I’d been so desperately trying to check out, but with big sisters still on holiday and on a trial run in the house by themselves for an hour, I always wanted to get home sooner rather than later, just to be on the safe side. I was sure these mums thought I was making excuses.
So… when the option of baby massage came along, just before the beginning of term, I decided Baby Club would have to take a back seat.
Monday morning arrived, we got up, dressed, fed and out, across the park to the venue. We arrived bang on time, I parked the pram next to the many others already lined up in the lobby, took Baby out of the pram and went to the door – the windows of which were covered in posters…
You know that moment when you take a deep breath and go into an unknown room and all eyes turn to you and you wonder if you’re really late or whether you’ve got the wrong room? Well, that.
I was pretty certain I had the right room. There were about 12 other women all sitting on the floor with their babies lying in front of them on changing mats and towels.
“Sorry, am I late for the baby massage?” I said, knowing I wasn’t. “The letter said 11:45.”
“Well we like to be ready and start at 11:45” [Heavy sigh… baby mat thrown my way].
Gulp. I was in trouble and had the job of reassuring the other two mums who came in after me, receiving similar treatment.
We eventually settled into the class and before you knew it, Baby Girl was farting with sonorous prowess. She was definitely relaxing. I was just keeping my head down, swearing to make it on time… no, early next time.
Cut to next time and isn’t it always the case that the nappy needs changing just before you leave the house? As we finally left, clean bum-and-all, I picked up the pace. There was no way I was going to be late.
I slalomed through the dog muck – I’m not catching anything else on the buggy wheels again; zoomed past our wonderful library; saw the dog walker with seven crazy dogs, or was it eight – she always seems to have lost one? And I waved frantically to the confident sling mums on the other side of the road who were leaving the Baby Club.
“Hello!” I squeaked as my voice cracked, you know the way it does when you’re trying to be cool, but your voice box lets you down, “Off to massage class!”
I parked up the buggy – more space this time. Yessss! And entered a room with a choice of mats and just a few mums. I feel very smug, but can hardly breathe. Baby’s smiling and cooing, but I can feel my heart in my ears. The scary lady isn’t so scary this time and brings us all a cup of cold water. Phew!
The massage began and Baby Girl was loving it. We got as far as the legs and she wanted a feed. Fair enough. She ate as her eyes rolled and I watched as the other babies and the demonstration-dolly got their tummy and arms smoothed and soothed.
The walk home across the park was less of a power walk, more a relaxing stroll and when we got home I crashed on the sofa, wondering if I could ever keep this up. Then it struck me. This is when I get to relax. Baby Girl had dropped off in her pram and boy did she sleep and sleep after we got in. She was away in the land of nod for a good 3 hours and I had a very chilled afternoon. It was utter bliss and I felt the tiredness ebb away. I even got a cup of tea at the right temperature and as I sipped I thought… maybe I will go back next week after all.
Woohoo! Thank you libraries! Please Lord, don’t close our local one down! Well… after much deliberation, reading helpful comments on my blog (thanks everyone!) and choosing the right moment… I formed a battle plan for the second part of ‘The Talk’ – the sex part – with step-daughter number one, Sunflower.
There, like shining beacons in the personal development and parenting section of our local wee Glasgow Library, right next to ‘Living with a Willy’ were the perfect two books for a growing girl:
… And not one hint of a sex robot. Usborne had redeemed itself.
When I came back from the library, we sat on Sunflower’s bed and I handed the books over. “These are more factual,” I said, “The Margaret book was more of a story but this tells you the facts… for example…” I said coolly, calmly, cracking open the spine and picking a page at random, this talks about things like…” I looked down at the book… ‘erections’.
Well nothing like jumping in the deep end.
Sunflower’s eyes were wide again as I tried to explain this part first. Then I stopped and started again.
“OK,” I said, as if coming clean, “we talked about periods and puberty last time, but we didn’t talk about sex.”
“How much do you know about sex?” I asked as I’d suspected that there was likely to have been some playground chat about it already.
“The boys in my class told a joke last year and that’s how I realised what happens.”
Oh boys have a lot to answer for don’t they? These were the same boys who’d been teasing her about her bra and her changing shape last year. She’s been the first in her class and it’s been tough on her. If only the boys knew what was coming to them soon. And so, seeing that the book appeared to be open on the relevant page I figured we may as well start there. I explained how one day soon they would be reading books like ‘Living with a Willy’ and discovering all sorts of surprising things about their bodies, often in the most awkward of circumstances. She laughed, I relaxed, we had begun.
And so… not glorifying it yet not treating it as taboo we went through the facts to check that what she’d figured out at school covered all the bases. We talked about the risks, the responsibilities, the fact that I’d deliberately waited until I was married (yup) and how tough but ultimately rewarding that had been. I mentioned that a condom and a carrot may figure somewhere with the health teacher at some point. And how there must have been a vegetable famine in North Yorkshire back in my day, as we had to practise correct application on our class mate’s hand instead. Yuck!
We were giggling. It felt good to talk about it and she said so herself. Whoop!
And as suspected, just as was the case with Margaret, the books were devoured in less than a day and this Friday I noticed they were brought out to show a school friend who was sleeping over. I hope her mum’s OK with that, but girls will talk. And thank God that this big girl and her growing-up-girl managed to do just that, in the end.
‘A two-minute talk on any subject you like’ the letter from school said. Sweet Pea had been set her first big homework task: to prepare a talk to give in front of the whole class about anything she liked. The chosen topic? “My Funny Daddy”.
Now, I know this is a proud, shameless step-mum talking but I reckon her talk must have utterly trumped the others’. Who else could claim to have a daddy who split his trousers in front of the Queen? That alone could have done it, but with the claim that he also kept a pet baboon as a kid, that must have blown away the fierce seven-year-old competition good and proper. Brilliant!
He’d first told me about this just before dropping off to sleep a few days into our honeymoon. No amount of shaking would get any further information out of him until the morning. I just lay there giggling through the night.
‘We had monkeys as well,’ he continued the next morning, ‘but they were naughty, they’d pinch food and cause havoc. A lot got killed by the dogs or had heart attacks. They didn’t last long.’ The guard baboon meanwhile, would be let out at night to guard the premises, in the morning he was lured into his cage with bananas by a nervous domestic or human day guard. ‘He was a mean baboon, far from cute.’
The girls, who like me, have spent most or all of their life in the UK, find this fascinating. And so did Sweet Pea’s class. For Hubby, it was just a passing point of mild interest and ever-so normal.
But despite the menagerie of exotic pets, the monkeys, the baboon, the parrots, the dogs – the one that was sold without Hubby and his brothers knowing and the loyal Lassie dog who ran after their car all the way to the airport as the family left China after their dad’s time as Congolese Ambassador there… Pets in our Glasgow house are another matter.
The girls are desperate for a dog. So am I. I’ve had a West Highland white terrier on the top of my Christmas list since the age of seven. Still no luck. But I can’t help but think there is still hope. The girls would prefer a golden retriever or a sheep dog collie. When we went to my boss’s house the other day his very patient Collie ended up wrapped in Sweet Pea’s pink cardigan. We count dogs on the way to school in between times tables and spelling practice. And we especially like it when they’re carrying funny things, like massive sticks, bottles or shoes.
But a dog in our household? Well I think we’ll have to wait until we’re a bit more settled, have a bigger garden, have time to take it on walks blah blah blah. A baboon, on the other hand, could be a little more likely at this rate…
The girls came home with their end of year school reports this week and I am so proud. They’ve both done so well! I’m understanding more and more about what it is to be a proud parent. It almost feels like the reports are a reflection on us as parents – time for the teachers to grade the parenting – How well have they been supported through the year, mentored, brought up, presented, dropped to school on time, how are their times tables… I’m so relieved! Times tables in the car on the way to school has paid off for all of us! But most of all I’m so chuffed that the girls have worked so hard this year and that their teachers have noticed a big difference.
Our first year together as a family is coming to a happy conclusion. We have so much more to learn about each other and about being a family. But I reckon we’re doing OK. All we need to do now is get through the summer holidays!
Oh and 7 x 7 is 49, by the way.
This Sunday was UK Mothers’ Day or Mothering Sunday and this was the first time I could legitimately stand up in church with all the other mums to get some chocolate! Before I did though I looked down the row to the girls to confer. Did I count being a step-mum? Chocolate was at stake here so I was hoping for an affirmative answer. I got the thumbs up and stood – no, jumped up. Chocolate has never tasted so good!
They then played this on the big screen in the service. I cried with a bitter-sweet blend of laughter, a mini chocolate-high and utter shock as I heard my mother and now myself in these lyrics. I may not have the bingo wings yet, but after only 7 months of my step-mum crash course, I’ve been wheeling out most of these corkers already:
It’s not been the easiest past couple of months. We’re all getting a bit more used to each other as a family now and with that familiarity have come a few mood clouds (both in the kids and me – but probably more in me if I’m honest!). Forgotten gym kits, fathoming last-minute maths homework (again, them and me) and the morning scrambles for getting to school on time have all led to a few raised voices and the odd tear and sniff… And as Mothers’ Day has approached, I wasn’t putting to much weight on the day. I wasn’t sure where I stood as a step-mum. I didn’t want to stake a claim on something that was really the girls’ own mother’s day, right?
When we were at the supermarket a week ago I asked the girls if they wanted to choose a card for their mum. They did. Sunflower (10) chose in a flash, a card with a monkey on the front, but Sweet Pea (7) took what seemed like an eternity to choose hers as I made myself look busy and not-at-all a little uncomfortable, staring intently at some decorative secateurs across the aisle for a little longer than what might be considered normal. Eventually she made her choice and asked me what I thought. ‘Thank you for always being there’ it said inside. And for her mum, who isn’t allowed to see the girls without supervision right now, I tried sensitively to help her pick out more appropriate suggestions. In the end she settled on a pink, sparkly design which dazzled with love and affection… and I settled on the fact that they will always have their mum whom they love very much. She’ll never stop being their mum. But I would do my best to always be there… as their step-mum.
Soon afterwards I sat down to write my own mum’s Mother’s Day card and suddenly realised that this was the first non-sarcastic, non-arsy, non-jokey and somewhat sincere card I’d bought for my mum. And then it struck me, I think I was starting to understand this motherhood thing. Only the very beginnings of it. The very tip of the iceberg. But I could finally appreciate, after 31 years, what mums, step- or otherwise, are all about.
On Mothering Sunday morning, the girls were waiting for me outside the bedroom door. Before I could even engage my brain, the mum-esque words of, ‘What are you two up to?’ tumbled out of my mouth, only for them to count to three, stand up and declare in unison, ‘Happy Mother’s Day!’ I was then handed two beautiful hand-made cards complete with sparkly paint and screwed up tissue-paper flowers, ribbons and pictures of puppies and daffodils.
And inside the recently-not-so-sunny Sunflower’s card it read:
To the best Step-Mum in the World!
We have been through some hard times, laughing, crying and just being moody, but you get me and I thank you. Happy Mother’s Day.
I ate my chocolate at church with pride that night. My new life as a step-mum had definitely begun.