Wednesday 25 August 2010

Angel Islington to Waltham Abbey

Sunday 4th July

It’s my boating anniversary – ten years living on canals! So it’s quite fitting that we are beginning a big journey, from Angel to The Countryside; the River Lee and the River Stort.

The Doctor steers the boat and I allow Big Sister to ‘help’ me with the first lock. There’s a lot to remember around a lock – even for ‘grown-ups’. I am trying to instil the rule ‘Never Run Beside a Lock’ into my daughter, by repeating it many times. She instantly forgets this rule, but enjoys being outside in the sunshine and helping to push the balance beam to open the lock gate. This makes an extremely cute photo opportunity.

We passed a pikie Eton chap while I was steering the boat. He was relaxing on his back deck in a straw boater and tatty stripy blazer. He had dishevelled hair and in my hazy memory he possibly had a tooth missing as he grinned and raised his glass.
“Gorgeous weather!” he said, in a posh accent.
“Hard life isn’t it?” I replied, as I cruised past.

As we drew close to the M25 Ramney marsh was very grassy and rural. The Doctor prepared the lock. The boat was tied up, the engine was running. Baby Sister is smiling in her pushchair on the back deck, and I was doing the dishes. The kitchen window looks out onto a grassy tow path and trees. Big Sister is on the sofa watching episodes of ‘Rosie and Jim’ on the computer, then she’s dancing in circles to the theme tune, skirt spinning out. I can hear Baby Sister jingling her elephant soft toy and happily saying “bwah bwah bwah!” She is wearing her jolly rodger pirate t-shirt and the slogan reads “Yo ho ho and a bottle of milk!” I beam happiness out of the window to The Doctor on the lockside. Today, I have the same chores as usual (children, lunch, nappies, dishes, floor sweeping), but the kids are happy and I’m happy. What’s different? Is it because I have some adult company?

Passing under the M25 road bridge, a shadow passes over the boat. There is a roar of traffic above and a lone swan drifts murkily across the shady water below. We emerge into green foliage, sunlight, and freedom from London. We are officially in The Countryside!

Ask Myself Questions

Ask Myself Questions

Friday 2nd July

It is a sort of anniversary, four years since we got engaged to be married. The whole family had a good night’s sleep and I feel much better for it. I am slightly less paranoid and a lot less miserable. Last night the baby screamed for an hour at bedtime, I think I breast fed her to sleep. The Doctor made a lovely curry and we watched some sit coms. I told him that I loved him and I felt like our family is a nice neat jigsaw of four pieces, inseparable and stable forever.

I have so many questions mulling over in my mind.

When and how should I restart my hypnotherapy business?
How will I ever find time to clean and tidy the boat so it looks like a family home?
Which writing project should I begin first?
Article marketing for hypnotherapy? Prepare a synopsis to present The Secret Diary of a Hypno-Mum to a publisher?
I should have some spare time this month as the Doctor will be sharing the childcare. Should I try to get my driving theory test done? Then I would be one step closer to independence.
How can I organise my work and finances to feel stable, secure? If I had a driving licence I could visit friends more and be less isolated. I just don’t know how to take the double pushchair on an escalator so I avoid the tubes altogether since I’ve had the baby.

Sleep Deprivation and a Hangover

Thursday 1st July

Somewhere in Hertfordshire (by train, overland).

Parenting reaches a new level when done through the dark fog of a hangover. We’re visiting Meg and her partner at their lovely house in the country. Last night was a long battle to get both girls to sleep – achieved by 9.30pm maybe? Risotto, home grown rocket and wine at a picnic bench under a tree in a huge garden. We can see fields surrounding us, distant cows and enjoy a summer evening breeze. Dinner is interrupted by random children’s needs, both theirs and ours. It is so great to relax and chat over wine, I feel like a person, not a parent. We were braced for a bad night’s sleep but the wine makes it harder for us to return to consciousness and deal with both girls waking several times and taking turns at attempting to share our bed.

This morning, I feed the baby quietly to sleep in an upstairs room for mornings nap while Big Sister runs around the garden with Meg’s daughter, who is the same age. The Doctor keeps an eye on her but she can mainly play unsupervised, safely contained inside hedges and fences with a trampoline and garden toys. This seems easier than supervised outings to the park. So, I observe,

kids + big house + garden = easier than a narrowboat.

Not to mention the dishwasher and washing machine!

I have now been studying the real life of a narrowboat wife for one month, and conclude what many people already tell me; it must be hard having kids on a boat.

• Less storage

• More chores

• Less modern conveniences

• No garden

• Less hot running water

• Cannot play safely outside unsupervised – water!

For Barge Mum the hardest thing was keeping the coal fire going in winter. For Polish Boat Mum boat journeys have become more of a chore than fun now. Single Boat Mum says it’s not hard yet, but maybe when the children need to move around and have space it will be hard.

By midday I am so tired I can’t face the train and bus journey back to London alone while controlling a baby and a toddler. (There were tantrums on the train to Hertfordshire yesterday). I’m so tired that I can barely string a sentence together. It’s supposed to be a play date today with four of us mummy mates, and The Doctor is preparing to go home, but I ask him to stay to help me with the journey home. Meg says to me, get some sleep and us mums will look after your kids. She says that The Doctor is welcome to stay too: Sit in a corner, read a book, whatever. The Doctor smiles and says that he will stay, but I am crying. All I can think of is sleep. I go to bed and cry about how much hard work everything is. Sleep deprivation makes the glass half empty. Or was it me drinking the wine that emptied the glass?

Polish Boat Mum

Monday 28th June

The Polish Boat Mum and I met on the towpath and arranged to go to the park together. She already introduced herself to me in Little Venice. She is Polish born and also speaks German. She knows Barge Mum and her baby is born in the same month as Barge Mum’s baby. We go to a shady park in Colebrooke Row, to avoid the hot sun. Big Sister jumps off rocks and climbs small trees pretending to be a squirrel. Polish Mum breast feeds her baby while I spoon feed Baby Sister in the pushchair.
“So what do you think is the hardest thing about being a boat mum?” I asked.
“Probably most things are the same as in a house at this stage,” she says. “But moving the boat, travelling you know, is not so much fun anymore. My husband does all the driving and locks on his own while I look after the baby.”
I agree. Boating journeys used to be something that we did together, now it’s a job that needs to be done.
Also, Polish Boat Mum thinks, by the time the children are walking or running they will need space to run about maybe,
“And then we will move to a house,” she thinks.
“My mum is very worried about me living on the boat with the baby,” she says. She was delighted to discover that me, Barge Mum and Single Mum are also living aboard with children in London, and so she reassured her mum that there are other girls doing it too!

Sunshiney Clockwork

Tuesday 29th June

It feels like the baby cried all morning. Tired? Hot? Hungry? After her lunch I changed her nappy and lay on Big Sister’s double bed, in the front cabin, and breast fed the baby to sleep. She is clean, comfy, soft, perfect, chubby and sleeping in a clean pale pink body suit that stretches around her rounded form; legs bent up, expression so peaceful. Out of the bedroom window I see a boat slow down very close to ours, at an angle that suggests they’re going to double moor against us. This is usual at busy moorings, especially in London. If you are arriving it is polite to ask permission if the moored boat owner is at home, but it would be pretty bad form to refuse permission – unless you have a very good reason (for example, a coots nest in your fender.) So I leaned out the window to see a mature gentleman on a pristinely painted, attractively kept boat. A retired couple; brass polishers. He asks permission to moor alongside.
“Of course, yeah that’s cool” I say.
“But I’ve just this minute got the baby to sleep in the front of the boat, so if you could just, when you’re tying up... you know...”
You can’t really ask someone to moor up quietly, especially not in the middle of the day. Ropes and footsteps across a steel roof inevitably resound noisily inside the boat but,
“Some people talk loudly when they’re walking across the boat.... Or shout to each other...” I explain weakly.
If this couple had a baby it was a long time ago and now I just feel like a moody neighbour begrudgingly allowing them to tie up.
Parents can be as grumpy as hissing geese when being protective eh?!

The Doctor is now in between contracts and oscillating between dimensions, so he’s home for one month! I am still completely busy all day but no longer stressed. The Doctor shares the childcare and takes one or other of the girls on an outing and I am only doing one thing at a time – not three! Instant stress reduction! When both girls require attention at once they get one parent each, so there are less crescendos of crying. The boat is a sun-shiney clockwork of family bliss, with things ticking over, the baby gets cuddles, Big Sister gets toys and activities, dishes are washed, meals are cooked, parents pass in the corridor and smile at each other while going about their parenting business, the beautiful chaos waltzes around the boat like camels and rickshaws on a Jaipur roundabout, and the universe is unfolding as it should.

Monday 23 August 2010

Some Dreams Come Alive

Baby Sister’s Naming Ceremony

“A baby will make love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, bankroll smaller, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten and the future worth living for.”
Author unknown (Please tell me if you know the author!)

“At my eldest daughter’s naming ceremony we had loads of people, a cake, a poem read by a professional actress friend and the whole thing filmed by my mate who’s a TV producer. I spent weeks planning it, but for Baby Sister we’ve picked a week where we happen to be in Angel and The Doctor’s parents are visiting from Gallifrey*. I chose the poems I’m going to read last night, on a laptop, while Baby Sister cried next to me, wouldn’t go to sleep, and eventually when I picked her up to sit out on the back deck with me, she did an explosive poo, that splurged out of the edges of her nappy, and all over my hands.

What I’m trying to say, baby, is that I’m sorry but having two tiny children makes me so busy that there wasn’t time to plan a beautiful party for you, but I want you to know that a lot of people love you and you are the best baby in the world, to us.

How did she get her name? We liked the name when our eldest was born, and it was on our short list then. This time, we knew that we were having a girl, and the other names we thought of were Ava, and Lola. It took us nearly a week to name her I think. For about three days she had no name. Then for one day we tried calling her Lola. We love the name but it didn’t feel right. The next day we called her Ava. We also loved the name but Ava means swift, or bird-like, and her birth was a very swift, quick labour, so we made Ava her middle name and gave her a wintery first name, because she was expected in December.

She came so quickly that she arrived before the ambulance men or midwives, and her birth story has become a bit of a legend on the towpath telegraph. She was born at home on a boat. Delivered by my husband, and it was a strange day for her big sister too, who was a little bit scared.

So, we just want to say, welcome to the world, and I’ve picked a couple of poems to read for you, and one that I wrote myself.

Follow your dreams baby,
You are one of mine
I dreamed of you once
Upon a long time

You were a thought
And you were my wish
And while you were sleeping
I wrote to you this:

Some dreams become people
And whatever you strive
For, if you follow your dreams
Some dreams come alive.”

I really enjoyed the weekend. The Doctor’s parents were here to visit. We had the naming ceremony party in a pub function room. It was really sunny weather, too hot for the children really, we had to find shady places to go.
The naming drinks was small and friendly. There were lovely poems and speeches, cold white wine and hot sun streaming in tall windows of a charming old pub. We filmed it a bit and I filmed Big Sister asking her if she has any messages for Baby Sister when she’s older?
She came up close to the camera so that her mouth and lips filled the frame:
“I love you,” she said, and walked away. Do you want to say anything else?
“No,” she said.

The Doctor’s parents were babysitting while we went out for a date, the first one in months! It was a lovely Mediterranean restaurant; cosy lanterns, mussels starter, tuna steaks and red wine. Sloshing along the street afterwards I asked The Doctor for reassurance that he still likes us being married. I feel conscious that I’m more exhausted mum than attentive wife, mostly. The Doctor says, that’s ok, it’s just what we’re doing at the moment, but he does really want to be with me. I was drunkenly relieved and reassured.

We went to a bluesy pub for a drink, but before we had one sip my mother-in-law phoned with a baby screaming emergency. We left our drinks on the table, briskly walked the five minute walk home and could hear our baby crying as we approached the towpath gate in Colebrooke Row. The poor little one had awoken, and not so familiar with Gran and Granddad, was terribly frightened and wanted one or both parents. The Doctor and I both felt our hearts wrench as we craved to hold her and halt her distress. The Doctor reached her first and she stopped crying as soon as he held her small body. I clutched her soon after and held her tight to my chest and softly cradled the back of her velvet head in the palm of my hand. My baby, peaceful, needed me, and I needed her. She felt safe and was quiet. I breathed out and relaxed. All was right with the world. Date over. Reunited. Baby and I are one.

The Baby

She sucks in time like a crack in the universe
She absorbs our love like a sponge
Her tiny fingers curl around things
Grasping onto bits of this reality
As she takes shape and form
Softly curved, perfectly soft
Bent knees kick out like popcorn explosions in the saucepan of life
She giggles like sunlight on rippled canal water
As she drinks in the novelty of this strange new world.


“Actually Daddy, I want the moon now.”

Thursday 24th June

Every morning Big Sister comes into the living room and plays on our bed while The Doctor gets breakfast ready and I change Baby Sister’s nappy. Big Sister was listening to Hey Diddle Diddle on her PlayBus toy and she wants her cuddly cow shaped pencil case.
“The Cow Jumps Over The Moon!” I get the cow for her.
“Now actually Daddy, I want the moon.”
“I thought you were going to say that!” He smiles. He says he will get it for her.

Today I had two days worth of dishes to do, it took me ages, but I noticed myself singing as I did them. I was happy as I swept the floor! I was uninterrupted as I tidied up, put away the laundry, changed the water jug filter. Today I did one thing at a time. It made me much calmer.

Today The Doctor took the day off work and entertained the children while I caught up on housework. He looked after Baby Sister while I took Big Sister out for a walk; quality time together, dolly and pushchair up the towpath and back. Then while the baby had her big lunch time nap, The Doctor and Big Sister went swimming – I was completely alone for two hours (alone with a sleeping baby). The mental head space was so clear, sun shining, all doors and windows of the boat open, I’m listening to The Beatles all day. I noticed that today I enjoyed my life, and by this observation noted that I am apparently not enjoying a lot of the other days. Something must be done about this. Although it has something to do with sleep. I am waking twice a night at the moment, for either one girl or the other.

Big sister sometimes sings “We all live in a blue narrowboat,” to the tune of Yellow Submarine, and she thinks The Doctor has recently been to see “Prawn McCartney”. As soon as Baby sister is old enough I need to also go to a gig to see The Beatle, before he dies. I cannot live with The Doctor for the next few decades and hear about actually seeing those songs played live, seeing the man who wrote those great masterpieces. Although i don’t listen to them all that much if I had to pick my best and favourite band ever in the world, it would have to be The Beatles.

The Doctor is good at picking and playing and singing acoustic guitar. He is beautifully playing ‘So Tired’ and then ‘Blackbird’ acoustically into the night, while the baby sleeps in a hammock in the kitchen, and I gently type my life into a computer.

The Beatles (The White Album)

Doesn't Anyone Enjoy Their Children Anymore?!

Wednesday 23rd June

We visited our old childminder. In the lift on the way up to the seventeenth floor, Big Sister says,
“I am really incited to see her!” She misses the childminder. She showed her grazed knees from the fall in the park yesterday. The childminder misses her too. She looks after three children under twenty months at the moment, so none of them talk back to her. Big Sister loves re-discovering all of the childminder’s toys and sits politely at the table for a fruit and juice snack.
When I try to encourage my daughter to do a wee she assertively refuses:
“No!” holding the palm of her hand up to halt me. The childminder is surprised.
“I’ve never seen that side of her!” I see it a lot. I smile.
The childminder asks how I am enjoying having two children. I feel embarrassed that secretly my first response to this is, “enjoying?”
Surviving might describe it better.
But yes, I am enjoying them, I reply. I am very busy. I’m a twenty-four-seven stay-at-home-mum but I’m glad that it’s me taking care of them. These early years don’t last long.
“And it’s a really important time,” agrees the childminder.

Yesterday, on I read a thread entitled, “Doesn’t Anyone Enjoy Their Children Anymore? I just seem to hear SAHMs moan about how stressed they are or that they can’t wait until bedtime/kids go to nursery/school.”
The gist of the replies was, “Don’t be so judgemental! We do all enjoy our kids, but it is hard work – and working mums just sometimes have to make ends meet, and look at the juggling act they manage!”

I asked the childminder how does she fit housework into her schedule? I am in awe of her managing so many kids at once. One way she does it is that she sets the washing machine to come on automatically at 5am so that when they get up, a load of washing is already done. I am envious of that convenience!

Angel, Islington moorings are amazing right now, it is a favourite anyway as it’s our winter mooring. It’s near to our GP, our childminder, friends and work. But this summer British Waterways have closed the towpath for maintenance, so we have our own private mooring. We have a BW key, and only boaters can come down here. So no constant stream of curious onlookers peering in the windows, no drunken teenagers or wannabe boaters asking, “Is it cold in winter?”

But the best thing, as a boat mum, is arriving home with the kids asleep I can park the double buggy safely on the towpath, knowing they will not be disturbed, as the only passerby would be an occasional boater neighbour. So they’re sleeping soundly and I can see them from my window and I don’t have to fear for their safety!

Meg phoned, having a bad time juggling work and kids. Everything is relentless. She is considering an extra day of kids in nursery so that she can have some breathing space, but feels guilty. I say, if they can afford it, and she wants it – do it! Everybody has different parenting styles and different work/family life balance and it’s whatever works for you. But don’t feel guilty. Because you have to do what makes you happy. Life’s too short to be unhappy. I arrange to visit her next week. And there are ups and downs and when I have a bad day I phone Meg, but today I’m having a good day.

This morning I just left the dishes, didn’t do any housework at all. I went out with the kids for most of the day. Big Sister had a brilliant time in the fountains at the park, she is really happy. The dishes are still there. I told Meg on the phone,
“I feel reckless, outrageous, wild!” She laughs and says,
“Yeah, leave those dishes!”

The Doctor said he doesn’t mind sometimes coming home and the dishes or laundry are not sorted, so long as the girls are happy. So maybe it’s just me, giving me a hard time.

The day ends with a sunny evening on the back deck, The Doctor and I are eating prawn curry and supping wine and talking and laughing. Afterwards we had cheese and more wine and I decide that Camembert is so good that I’m going to be faithful to it,
“Monogamous, monoga-cheese-mus, or something.”
The Doctor said,
“Fromaganous!” Being true to one cheese.

Shore Leave

Tuesday 22nd June

The Doctor took some time off work, took the kids and gave me an hour and a half to myself. It was completely amazing, I didn’t know what to do first. I have a huge conflicting mental list of useful stuff I’d like to get done, and nice relaxing things that I could do. I did an intense bit of shopping for useful things and then went to a pub for a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio. At The Camden Head, golden afternoon sun shines on the wooden, homely decor of a traditional English pub. It’s so weird not to be thinking of three people’s needs all at once. I notice my mind quieten down to a slower pace. It’s like getting off a carousel roundabout and still feeling giddy as if you’re going round; I need to find my ‘sea legs’!

Universe Expanding

Monday 21st June

I put a note on the single mum’s boat with my phone number. She called me at lunch time and we went for coffee in the afternoon, with the babes and my big girl toddler. Her baby daughter is wearing shiny silver and black pirate shoes with the Jolly Rodger on the toes. Talking about being mothers and boaters. I told her that she is the hard core one for being a single mum living aboard. But she is impressed by my birth story she heard by towpath telegraph: Baby Sister’s two hour labour and then born on board, delivered by The Doctor (who is not that kind of doctor!) before the midwives or ambulances arrived.
“The word is, you were even going to go to the pub afterwards!”
We were! (And we would have got away with it too if those pesky midwives hadn’t called us into hospital for tests).
Single Boat Mum moves around with a couple of other boats,
“Like a little family!” I’d love to do that. She says that I can join them.

We shared and exchanged useful local information and thought we should make a website, Boat-Mums-Net which tells you your nearest launderette, playground, sandpit, baby friendly cafe, children’s centre etcetera. It would be for a very small niche market!

This idea eventually became my Boat Families Facebook group which now has over 700 members.

She debates how long she could or should live aboard with a child. I confess to her how hard I’m finding it all with two, and I say if she’s finding it hard I know a good book she can borrow.
“’What Mothers Do’*?” She guesses correctly. “I’m reading it right now, but I don’t find it all too hard darlin’. I am just so happy to have my baby.” She asks me,
“What is the hardest part, do you think?”
“Sleep deprivation.” I said. “Not getting enough sleep. Feeling tired all the time. So I suppose, that at least, would be the same in a house, and nothing to do with boating.”

Yesterday I had my legs waxed. Today my eldest daughter keeps smoothing down her legs.
“Look Mummy, feel how smooth: I’ve had my legs whacked!”

The weather is gorgeously hot, the girls look so cute in sun hats and sundresses. The towpath and park are bursting with wild meadow flowers. Big Sister plays with water and plastic ducks in a bucket on the back deck.

The Doctor has a scientific paper on parallel universes that is lying on the table because I intend to read it at some point, in my spare time! So, we keep talking about that idea and the nature of reality. Is the universe infinite or finite? The Doctor said, recently scientists have discovered that since the Big Bang the expansion of the universe is speeding up. I said that is consistent with all life forms on earth multiplying and expanding in any way they can. Somebody once said “life is the universe experiencing itself,” and on an individual level the biggest force in our lives right now is that we are completely focussed on our kids, our reproduction, our expansion, our repeating of the pattern. Experience, expand and grow, experience, expand my children. Matter is replicating itself.

A friend of The Doctor’s, The Pub Landlord, phoned today, to announce that his girlfriend has just discovered she’s about five months pregnant! The landlord and lady were both surprised: Expanding! Life is expanding.

*What Mothers Do (especially when it looks like nothing) – Naomi Stadlen.
What Mothers Do Especially When It Looks Like Nothing

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Fathers Day

Sunday 20th June.

The lovely baby seems to be sleeping through the night now. Poor Big sister woke up crying and calling “Mummy!” She doesn’t know why she is crying. I think maybe it is a bad dream, or maybe the people on the boat next door disturbed her. It’s 1.00 am and they are having a party. I explained this to my daughter. They are drunk and laughing and moored only a few feet from her bedroom. I “flip” her covers and settle her by talking about nice things: the park and the swings. As I settle myself back into bed the neighbours strike up a song, playing accordion and a drum! I can hear my daughter saying sadly to herself, in a little voice,
“I don’t like them having a party.”

I met a woman in the park with three children. All three run in different directions. She ran after the eighteen month old heading for the gate and the road. We chatted. She confirmed that three is really hectic, the third is not easier (like the Stay and Play Speech Therapist claimed). It’s just as hard! She chatted to The Doctor, fascinated by boating life while I ran off after my eldest.
Big Sister presented her handmade Fathers Day card of glitter and scribbles to Daddy. She can’t keep a secret and already told him three days ago,
“We made a surprise card for you Daddy!”
It’s still a manic day for us caring for the two of them, but I think I managed to give The Doctor some time alone to read and relax. I really wanted to take us all out for Sunday lunch in a pub for Fathers’ Day. The Doctor thought it wouldn’t be very relaxing, probably very hectic. But I take them out to cafe’s now and then, I told him, and it’s not that bad...

So we did. And it was hectic. Big Sister nearly spilling drinks, running off to sit at other tables, having a tired tantrum. It was Baby Sister’s first time in a high chair, she can’t quite sit up and keeps sliding down which makes her uncomfortable and miserable. I mash carrots and potatoes with my fork for her, cut bits and bobs for Big Sister on a plate. Spoon feed baby. Big Sister needs a wee. We abandon dinner and set off on an expedition. In the toilets she asks, are we still in the pub? The world is so confusing at that age! Return to my dinner, it’s cold now. The Doctor feeds the baby apple puree while I eat but we fail to control Big Sister who now says she wants to go home. I try to finish eating quickly, pack up all our stuff, (plastic spoons, beaker, bib) bundle everyone into the pushchair and laughed as I said to The Doctor,
“That was chaotic!”
It’s kind of funny when there’s someone there to help you: not nearly so stressful as being alone when it all goes pear shaped.

The Doctor is very ‘hands on’ thank goodness! Got home and he had to play boat Tetris while I got the girls ready for bed. We’re double moored on the outside of another boat and they want to go out to fill their water tank. They’ve also got a charging problem so they need a jump start off us. The Doctor helps, their engine starts and to get them out involves lots of people standing on the towpath with ropes while we slide the inside boat out to the outside, and we are pulled to the inside – now we’re moored on the rings on the towpath. This makes it easier to get the pushchair on and off. Also means we can get a nice view out the canal side of trees up a steep bank, and Georgian Islington terraced houses beyond.

The girls are so tired they went to sleep straight away tonight. We had some quiet time, The Doctor read a book on the sofa. I attempted to calculate all the information the tax credits people want out of me, while sat at the table in “the booth”. The boat was an oasis of calm. Summer evening sunshine on the water, wild overgrown plants and purple flowers tumbling on to the towpath outside the window. Other narrow boats occasionally pass by and our boat gently rocks in their wake.


Saturday 19th June.

Mooring: Angel, Islington

Wake up tired, so tired, feeling heavy, groggy, sluggish. My sleep was interrupted by the baby squealing, babbling, making happy noises. I feed her, I try to doze, she goes on and on. I love her but it’s never ending. I shout at her to shut up, I say,
“I just want a day off, it’s relentless, seven days a week, day and night, I don’t want children EVERY DAY!” I am clearly having a tantrum. The Doctor makes no comment. I feel stupid and selfish for saying it all out loud. It’s not the baby’s fault.
My inner monologue is off again: Look at the floor, it needs sweeping. The Mum should sweep it. The dishes need doing. Children to wash and dress and feed. What is depressing is that I know once I get out of bed I’ll begin work, (before I am even dressed my job begins,) and goes on and on all day and doesn’t stop for more than a minute or two (not even long enough to drink a cup of coffee uninterrupted) and very often I am attempting this stupid thing we’ve dubbed ‘multi-tasking’. Which, in actual fact means simultaneously starting perhaps three jobs and then getting interrupted by two tiny people who have five more urgent jobs that need doing. And my miserable monologue moans that I am not doing enough because every job is incomplete. I cannot finish the (insert housework task here) because I am playing (insert toddler activity here) and cannot finish that because I am interrupted by the baby, who requires (cuddle/ nappy change/ teething gel) *delete as appropriate.

Don’t think that The Doctor doesn’t help. He is always the first out of bed. He gets Big Sister up and makes her breakfast. He makes me a coffee, while I am still in bed with my miserable inner monologue. I take my first sip of warm caffeine and I am comforted. I relax.
“Thank you Doctor,” I say gratefully. “This is my favourite part of the day. The bit when you make me a coffee.” I breathe a sigh of relief.
Big Sister’s doing star jumps, but she calls them Pop Star jumps. The baby is chubby and perfect, soft and smiley and dressed in a pale pink bodysuit. I love my two little girls. All is right with the world.

Later that day two boats went by “buttied-up” – tied side by side, being propelled by only one motor. I recognise the boat name of the legendary single mum; she’s heard of me too, on the towpath telegraph.
“Is that you?” she shouts my name across the cut, holding babe in arm. The Doctor and Baby Sister are looking out the window.
“Yes, we are gonna meet up soon!”
“We’re mooring up!” she gestures,” here”.
“See you soon then!”

Goodbye Little Venice

Friday 18th June

We went for a goodbye coffee at the Dutch barge, before leaving Little Venice. Big sister says she will really miss Barge Mum. Barge Mum and I decide to plan a meet-up of all the boat families we know. We untied our ropes and cruised past the Dutch barge to turn our boat in the direction of Camden. This is called ‘winding’ the boat. As we turned we could see the coot’s nest in the tyre fender of the Dutch barge. This is why Barge Mum and Dad don’t have to move on. They are outlaws – outside of the British Waterways law of continuous cruisers, which states that you must move at least every fourteen days.

Big sister helps me with the rubbish and recycling when we stop for water and pump-out at Little Venice. I climb out the window to rig up a torch on the roof of our boat, as The Doctor says the tunnel light isn’t working. We make do with stuff that is broken because a) we’re skint and b) we’re not very practical DIY people.

Big sister doesn’t like travelling on the boat because Daddy is steering, and cannot play with her. She’s watching the Jungle Book DVD indoors. Baby sister is on the back deck in her ‘Bumbo’ baby seat squealing and happy, chewing her teething ring.
In Camden we tied up next to the boat that we previously moored beside in Paddington. I called out to Mrs Jones, perhaps she has the missing part to the washing machine that she was going to find? A tattooed boater bloke comes out on to the towpath and explains,
“That couple were on the run!” They didn’t pay their rent. The boat owner (who is a nightclub owner) paid some heavies to get them off the boat.
“Threw all the plants off of the roof and into the cut. They were selling things that didn’t even belong to them!”

We’ve not moored in Camden for over three years, it’s so difficult to get a space as it’s popular, and double mooring is no longer allowed (because of those pesky trip boats). So we’re pretty happy to find a mooring space, until Tattooed Boater says that there was trouble on the mooring last night – some boats got smashed up. Bless those Camden teenagers. So we untie the ropes and keep on cruising.

I begin multi-tasking again: Baby crying, get her up from nap, kettle on, do dishes, help Doctor with lock, Big Sister asleep on sofa as the Jungle Book credits roll. Baby is on the roof in the ‘Bumbo’. Tourist takes photo of her. I’m pushing the balance beam of the lock gate, red sandals slipping on stone paving slabs. Doctor steers the boat into the lock. Camden teenagers smoking a bong by the lock gate offer to help wind the paddles up. But doing locks is the only exercise I can get. Locks are exciting to me, I muse as I push, but not to the boat wife of yesteryear, who may do seventy in a day!

Thursday 12 August 2010

The Legend of The Hardcore Boat Mum

Wednesday 16th June

The Doctor came home early so that we could go for a drink with our boaty neighbours on their Dutch Barge. They’ve just purchased a baby swing and suspended it from the roof of their living room. Big Sister was really enjoying pushing her baby sister in the swing while we talked about other boat mums we know. We’ve heard a rumour that there is a single mum on a boat in London. We all agree that she must be the hardcore of all boat mums.

‘Controlled Crying’ on board.

Tuesday 15th June

People say with the second one you let them cry more, and this is true; during the day time. But in the evenings on our boat we rock and soothe our youngest to sleep, with patience and lullabies, trying to curb the crying so that she doesn’t keep our eldest awake. Big sister is only a few feet away in her bedroom at the front of the boat. The baby hammock is suspended above the sofa while I read bedtime stories to Big sister and The Doctor cooks dinner in the kitchen. When dinner is ready we lift the hammock, baby and all into the kitchen and hang her in there for the evening. Kitchen light off, we then move dinner into the living room and eat on our laps on the sofa. Sometimes she is asleep by this point, and sometimes not.

I feel calmer, happier now that I’m seeing brand new friend Barge Mum nearly every day. So maybe my problem was loneliness?

St. Albans

Sunday 13th June.

7.00am. Woken up by a sharp tug to my hair. Baby Sister is in the bed. Co-sleeping is not the beautiful intimate experience I’d remembered or imagined. She woke me three times in the night. I turn over, she smiles excitedly and drags sharp fingernails down my nose and cheeks.

Ow! I say. She swings a baby left hook and punches me in the eye. Dear of her, (As we say in Devon) she’s just excited to see me, she squeals happily and wiggles her legs. I swear grumpily. She’s just being affectionate. I dreamed that The Doctor and I lived on separate boats, next door to each other; together but separate. I also dreamed that my double pushchair was empty but out of control racing down a hill. I rushed after it and just in time saved it from being hit by a car.

I had a lovely time at Chloe’s; lunch at The Breakfast Club, the baby is happy in her highchair, giggling at other children across the cafe. We walked through charming English market shopping streets, olde worlde pubs and cobbles and alleyways. Baby sister was asleep when we visited the cathedral. We stood quietly at the back and watched choir practice, a whole choir on stage chorusing up to a crescendo and cymbals! Crash! Baby awakes! What a way to be woken up, poor thing. (Perhaps the early morning violence was her revenge?)

Then, a sunny walk in the park breastfeeding on a park bench discussing Chloe’s wedding, old friends, future plans and ideas of names for Chloe’s (soon to conceived!) children. My youngest child lies on a blanket on the grass, kicking, smiling, shaking her rattle. An elderly couple stop to smile and stare and talk about her babyish loveliness; what a happy baby.

I feel relaxed, it’s so good to get away and break the monotony. I conclude we should probably all go away more often – all four of us. I need to have fun with my family, so that they’re not always my ‘job’! The Doctor and I need to enjoy each other too.

Introducing The Miserable Monologue

Saturday 12th June

Baby sister woke us at 5.45am. I considered this unreasonable and was furious with her. She doesn’t cry, but growls and gurgles and babbles cheerfully. I feed her, both breasts; still not drowsy at all, she wants to chat and play. And shriek. Shut UP! I say. I don’t want her to wake Big Sister, I don’t want to look after two children when I’m this tired and this grumpy. I don’t want Big Sister to wake too early and become tired and grumpy by lunch time. The Doctor wakes without complaining and begins to play with Baby Sister. She is happy with this but still, will not play quietly. I grumble at Baby Sister and open the bathroom door and wardrobe door across the corridor to try to muffle the sound, so that Big Sister doesn’t get woken.
Today, Baby Sister and I are going to visit Chloe in St Albans. It’s going to be a little break away; nice girly chats, eat chocolate, drink wine, and discuss Chloe’s wedding plans.

But I feel so irritable, tired and close to tears. Is it hormones? I explained it to The Doctor in terms I thought that he might understand:
“ I feel like I’m going to get my period maybe.”
He smiles sympathetically. He knows that in a man’s world this means I will be unpredictably over emotional. He helps a lot with the dishes and kids. I do breakfast and wash and dress ‘em. Despite being woken early I leave half an hour later than planned after packing a million essential things needed to take Baby Sister away for twenty-four hours. Plus clean pants and a toothbrush for me.

I struggle to Kings Cross and people on the tube smile at my incredibly cute baby (probably the best baby in the world.)

At Kings Cross ticket counter I see a sign that indicates I may need to take an alternative route to St Albans. One that involves more tubes and escalators with a pushchair.
“The engineering works...?” I nervously ask the woman at the desk.
“Can I get to St. Albans from here today?” I try to stop my lip trembling. If she says no, I might burst into tears. She says yes!
“But the trains are leaving from upstairs today.”
Upstairs? What does that mean? I’ve never been upstairs in the new station. I begin to feel panicky.
What platform is that?
It’s just, I’ve got the pushchair, I explain, pleadingly. I don’t want to go the wrong way.
“There is a lift,” she assures me kindly.
I feel a nervous wreck with a continual self critical paranoid monologue going on.
“You’re the only one who feels like this,” says the monologue.
“Everybody else is coping. You are making the simple molehill of mothering into a mountain. Enjoy your children for goodness sake, they’re not young for very long.”
My monologue throws clich├ęs at me.
“They grow up so quickly these days.” My monologue reprimands me. My monologue is very busy and very paranoid. She says,
“Do you think Chloe wants to hear this? Chloe just thinks you moan too much.”

Saturday 7 August 2010

Is it cold in winter?

Friday June 11th

Both girls were asleep and we were sat eating dinner when we felt the boat rock. Not the kind of gentle listing that it does as another boat goes past, but a steep lean to the towpath side, like someone getting on board. The Doctor leapt up and headed for the back door while I stuck my head out the window. We saw a bloke with a camera stepping off the gunwale and back onto the towpath.
“What are you doing?” I asked, angrily. He gave an embarrassed smile and half gestured towards his camera.
“Sorry”, he said, with a foreign accent.
“This is our home, we have children asleep on board here!” I called after him, as he walked away.

Sometimes teenagers untie us and we awake drifting across the canal. Once in Camden I came home to find French teenage tourists with rucksacks just sitting about on the back deck.
“Get off!” I yelled at them – they looked so surprised, as if they had assumed the boats were all part of the tourist attraction for anyone to sit on and enjoy. Once, in Angel, I felt that familiar lean of someone stepping onto the back deck and looked out the back door to find a woman posing for a photograph. When they were discovered her partner explained,
“We thought there was nobody home”.
“Does that make it ok then?” They made as if to carry on and take the photo.
“No, get off!” I shouted.
Today I bumped into another boat mum and she invited me round for coffee this afternoon. I carried Baby sister, and Big Sister walked down the towpath; there’s no need for the pushchair as she is only a few boats up from us. She has a lovely Dutch barge and it is for sale. It’s wider than a narrowboat, and in comparison seems huge inside. There is a full size bath and two bedrooms! I started to picture that extra bedroom with two little beds in it for my girls. We sat in her wide-beam living room with wooden floorboards and I envied her bookshelves. There is a lovely writing desk in the corner and I imagined myself writing books there. Dutch Barge Mum provided me with coffee and cream cakes, and supplied Big Sister with a washing up tub to splash about in. Baby sister was laughing at Barge Mum’s two little dogs, I don’t think she’s ever seen little dogs up close before.

I told Barge Mum that I am thinking of writing a book about boating-mums. People are always asking me if it is hard having kids on a boat, and I say no. But then I’ve never lived in a house with kids, I’ve been living aboard for ten years, and maybe I don’t think about all the little things I have to do that you wouldn’t have to do if you lived in a house. They all add up. Barge Mum said,
“Yes, like moving the boat, filling up with water...”
“Emptying the toilet, getting rid of the rubbish and recycling...” I added. “Although that’s just a little job, by the time I’ve got everybody’s coats on, loaded them both into the pushchair and carried all the rubbish to the rubbish point it all takes time. If I lived in a house I would just put it all outside the door and somebody else would take it away!”
“Yeah,” smiled Barge Mum, “and you’d be just chilling in the garden with the kids.”
“So what’s the worst thing about living aboard then? Why are you selling the boat?”
“This winter was so cold” said Barge Mum. You can’t maintain a constant heat with a solid fuel stove.
“Yes, this winter was bad” I agreed. “I mean, the canal always freezes for a bit in January but we were frozen in for about three weeks this year. I’ve never been frozen in that long.”
“We ran out of coal,” confessed Barge Mum.
“Oh my god!”
“We managed to borrow a bag from the boat next door, and then Barge Dad got a lift to Uxbridge Boat Yard, and we bought all the bags they had left.”
“We ran out of water,” I replied, “and used bottled water from the supermarket for washing and everything! But having no heating is terrible – especially with a baby!”

Actually, the second winter with Big Sister, our diesel stove broke and we went down to the warden’s mooring and used his electric to run an electric heater. It didn’t keep the boat as warm as the diesel stove though. I think the diesel stove is the best thing we’ve ever bought for the boat. But The Doctor is pretty keen on the solar panel too.

An underwater day

Thursday 10th June.

10 am Stay And Play. So tired. Limbs aching. Feels like underwater. Speech and language therapist introduces herself.
“Any concerns?”
It’s one of those days when if someone asks how I am I would burst into tears. She has a friend with five who said that the transition from one to two children was the hardest. She has three. She says with three it is still relentless. But by then you are used to relentless.
“I remember,” she says, and then admits “Well, I don’t remember, it’s all a haze.”

Back home, I put Baby Sister to bed, make lunch for me ‘n’ Big Sister and wash the dishes. It’s now 2.15pm. Baby Sister will be awake again soon. I need to sit down and have a coffee, maybe more Paracetamol. My breasts are too full of milk, and all of me is aching. I’m looking for coffee on the shelf, but I can’t find it. It must be finished. Is there a spare one in the cupboard? God I hope we haven’t run out of coffee! I look back at my mug on the worktop. The coffee jar is there, already open, teaspoon at the ready. This is an example of how tired I am. Brain. Not. Functioning. At. Maximum. Capability.

I hardly slept last night, and yet nobody kept me awake. Baby Sister didn’t wake until 6.30am but I was fitfully drifting in and out of sleep like when you’re feverishly ill. I had strange, hazy half-awake dreams.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Pop Goes The Weasel

Wednesday 9th June.

Baby sister has lulled us into a false sense of security. For more than two weeks she has slept through the night, I thought I was beginning to function better. My short term memory was returning. The first time we woke last night was when Big Sister called out,

“Daddy, I am finished sleeping. I am ready for my breakfast, can you get my breakfast?”

A brief and sleepy argument ensued about whether it was breakfast time but The Doctor persuaded her that it wasn’t. We slept again until 4.30am when Baby sister began growling. Baby sister has discovered how to growl very recently. It is very cute, and she finds it lots of fun. It’s not funny at 4.30am. I tried to soothe her back to sleep by talking to her, she growled more. I peeped into the hammock, she was wide awake, laughing and really enjoying growling like a little teddy bear. As she wiggles, the hammock bounces up and down. Sluggish and grumpy, I get her out to feed her. This will usually make her sleepy. It must be why as adults, we are recommended trying warm milky drink when we’re having trouble sleeping. A subconscious hangover from babyhood?

Baby sister finishes her milk but is still smiling and apparently still wide awake. I return her to the hammock. At least she has stopped growling, and eventually she sleeps and so do I. Only a few weeks ago it was completely normal to be woken twice, once by Big Sister, once by Baby Sister. But now, out of the habit I am irritable, sluggish, with aching limbs. The next day I realise that perhaps I will still live in the hazy world of night shift workers for some time yet. Can’t string sentence together.

Big Sister says “I’m going to draw a cloud, with two points to show where I have been.”

You’ve been in the clouds have you?

“Yes, a long long time ago. I floated up there, in my parachute.”

Big Sister is playing hospitals. Teddys and dolls are being tucked into bed on the sofa. They are offered a nice cup of tea from the tea set. I’m doing the dishes and we’re listening to nursery rhymes on the iPod (through the car stereo, that is our 12v sound system). Pop goes the weasel.

“Up and down the City Road, in and out The Eagle

That’s the way the money goes, pop goes the weasel!”

“This song is all about The Eagle Pub!” she says. This is our First Date Story:

After getting in touch on ‘Friends Reunited’ The Doctor and I met in The Eagle Pub, on City Road, unaware that it featured in the popular nursery rhyme. Kind of nice to be reminded of our first date now, whenever we hear that childish tune. It is the topic of much debate as to what exactly is a weasel. To “pop” is to pawn. A weasel could be a tailors instrument, but I doubt that he would pawn a tool of his trade. More likely that a man would pawn his coat (rhyming slang - weasel and stoat) for a night down the ole Eagle dance hall.

4pm. Both kids are grumpy. I’m guessing they’re bored and take them for a walk to the water point because we’ve run out of water. Baby Sister is in the pushchair and Big Sister is carrying the empty water barrel, which is huge for her, but light to carry when it’s empty. She has memorised some of the boat names on the towpath here now.

“That’s Marie!”

The sun shines through the trees making a dappled pattern on the paving slabs. Big Sister stops at the foot of a tree to collect pebbles. When we get to the tap its’ encased in a sort of box which makes it impossible to fill a water barrel unless you have a hose pipe. We return home and they are both grumpy again. Now we’re late for tea and they’re both tired and hungry. If I’m not meticulous with my time planning it all goes pear-shaped. Luckily The Doctor comes home quite early and takes a hose and barrel to fill at the tap.

Somebody has got an incredibly long hose pipe, from their boat to the tap. The Doctor follows the hose to the boat it leads to, intending to ask to borrow it. There are five hoses joined together! This means they don’t have to move their boat to the water tap to fill their water tank. It turns out he kind of knows the bloke, it’s a Dutch barge. They can’t move because a coot has built a next in one of their fenders (a tyre). I accidentally met Barge Mum for the first time yesterday. She stopped to chat, seeing that I have young kids and she has a baby. It turns out she’s a friend of a friend, and we’ve been meaning to meet. She asked how it is with these two on the boat. I don’t know how to describe it, so I hesitate, then I say,

“Yeah, it’s fine.”

She is moving onto land soon, because she’s had a baby; six weeks younger than Baby Sister.

Slugs and shipwrecks

Monday 7th June.

A bad night’s sleep. I dreamed of slugs trying to crawl on me, they come out at night in the kitchen. We evict them each evening but still find slug trails under the bed in the morning. I imagine a silent advancing army of slugs, yet their wiggling slimy trails suggest more that they did a merry dance, silently mocking me while I sleep.

Baby sister fed at 6.15am. I’m so tired. The Doctor takes care of her until 8am so that I could sleep some more. I left the dishes. Packed laundry for the launderette. Made packed lunch. At park by 11am. Big Sister happy. Baby sister having lunch. By the time we get to launderette and shops both kids are happy, fed and sleepy. This means I can go to a couple of shops, and do useful errands. Then head to Kensington to the Pirate Ship Park (Princess Diana Memorial Playground). Big Sister wakes up in her favourite playground! Surprise! Breastfeeding Baby sister; Big Sister does a wee in the sandpit and requires a complete costume change.

The trick is to keep all three of us happy at the same time, like three happy spinning circus plates. The pirate ship has run aground, shipwrecked on a children’s sandpit. Palm trees and random rocks are scattered beach-like. There are sunshine paddling pools and man-made rock pools. Big Sister concentrates hard on moving sand from one place to another, slowly, deliberately building a little pile: And I cannot help her, “because Mummy, it is dangerous and not for grown-ups, just for children.”

A brilliant and happy surprise when we got home; The Doctor is home early and doing the dishes as we arrived.

Later, in the still of the night, The Doctor is reading a Carl Sagan book, and I’m breast feeding by a twelve volt night light, listening to the comforting sound of summer rain, pattering on a steel narrowboat roof.

Rudely interrupted

Sunday 6th June

A good day in the park, with friends; people with children. Sandpit, paddling pool, Big Sister was happy all day. So I was too. Out of the boat I cannot see the laundry and the dishes that I’m not doing. Is this the answer? Get out more? Do less laundry and dishes?

Sunday tea time we were running the engine to charge the batteries. We do that most evenings, unless it has been a particularly good day for the solar panel. I was spoon-feeding Baby sister at the table when a teenager knocks on the window. He has a mini motorbike, about two foot high. He signals for me to open the window to talk.

“Have you got some petrol?”

No, we run on diesel. (Can’t he see I am feeding a baby?)

“Well can I borrow some? Just to get somewhere?”

Well how can I get it out? We’re running the engine! (Doesn’t he realise I am in the privacy of my own home, looking after my children?)

“Oh right, Ok.” He leaves.

Little Venice Tourist Information

Saturday 5th June.

Big Sister and The Doctor are talking about The Jungle Book Disney film. The Doctor explains that Mowgli lives in India.

“Does he live with my uncle?” asks Big Sister. (My brother spends half the year in Goa.)

Little Venice Tourist Information:

I’m doing the dishes and a man peeps through the window and asks, which direction to Camden? There is a sign post behind him, ‘Camden 2 1/2 miles’. Later, I’m pegging out the washing, a group of teenage girls ask,

“Where is the boat trip to the zoo?”

Just past the bridge on the right.

“Is it far? Do you think we will make it in time? When does it go?”

I think they go regularly.

People think I am local here. The irony being that as I live on a narrowboat and move every two weeks I am never really local anywhere.

I did a laundry load today while The Doctor took the girls to the park. It took about one hour from start, to pegged out; much quicker than yesterday. Perhaps multi-tasking is not the way forward?

Sunday 1 August 2010

A Typical Day?

4th June 2010

A Typical Day?

The day started in the sunshine, playing shop in the park: I’d like to buy some juice please, I said to my two year old shop keeper. What flavour juice do you have?

“Ummm. We have orange flavour, and we have curry flavour.”

I bought both.

Multitasking: dishes are soaking in the sink, twin tub just finished cycle on back deck, cooking baby’s lunch on hob, (why is baby crying? just checked nappy). Quick visit to supervise Big Sister sat at table making collage, I cut up blue tissue paper for the sky. I am an art teacher, cook, laundry woman, etcetera. All to the absurdly jolly soundtrack of popular children’s song, The Dingle Dangle Scarecrow.

Today I’m trying a new routine. Meg suggested taking Big Sister to the park, first thing. The idea is if I let her run off some steam she’ll be happier for the rest of the day. 9 am we were in the park. Baby was supposed to be napping in pushchair, but wasn’t. By 12.30pm Big Sister has moaned through the morning’s collage activities and now whining and refusing to eat lunch. I’ve been multitasking like one of those circus people that spins plates on sticks, and my tension snaps.

“If you don’t eat lunch you’ll feel ill and grumpy mid-afternoon just like yesterday!”

I remove lunch from table, put Big Sister in front of TV, return to twin tub wash that I started two hours ago. Am now unreasonably irritated by towpath passers-by who stop to ogle and point at my mini washing machine on the back deck. I want to shout at them. William Blake pipes up in my head,

“I was angry with my friend, I told my wrath, my wrath did end,

I was angry with my foe, I told it not, my wrath did grow.”

Go to bath to fill bucket for rinse cycle and baby wakes up crying. It’s a poo. This is what Naomi Stadlen calls being “instantly interruptible”: I feel like I’m doing too many jobs at once. Meg says that I’m trying to do too much. But how else are the dishes and laundry gonna get done?
What Mothers Do Especially When It Looks Like Nothing

2pm. The washing is finally spun and hung on rotary washing line on back deck. I put a bucket of water with bath toys on the back deck as an activity for Big Sister to play with – it’s a lovely sunny day. But she still wants to watch TV. Baby sister is on the back deck in her play chair growling at soft toys. It’s nearly time for her next breast feed. It’s awkward stepping across the open deck boards across the engine with buckets of water from the bathroom to fill the washing machine. The machine’s cable runs over the deckboards and down to the invertor next to the engine below. So I plug in and charge the food blender while the deck boards are up, ready to mash baby’s dinner later4. Finally replace the deckboard, which is heavy steel and I am nervous about dropping it on my bare feet. The dishes are still in progress. I put more in to soak. I persuade Big Sister to eat lunch (now cold) by promising another trip to a park.

Baby sister is blowing raspberries. She’s just discovered how to do this and does it a a lot. It makes her laugh; me too. I’ll just change her nappy and we’ll go to the park I promise.

“Mummy, I need a poo!”

Well go to the bathroom.

“Mummy COME!” She is standing on her stool by the toilet.

I leave baby on bed, nappy off. Why can’t you pull down your own pants?

“I want YOU to do it.”

Back to bedroom, finish nappy change. Back to bathroom, wipe poo. More shouting. Pack bag with spare clothes in case of spontaneous wees out and about. Can’t find portable nappy kit. Bring washing machine in off back deck. People on towpath stare at my laundry on the washing line. I feel like I live in a goldfish bowl. A very busy goldfish bowl. All boaters used to have a strict code of behaivour and manners.
"No one ever stepped on to or crossed another person's boat without first asking to do so, and when tied up side by side with the butty nearest the towpath, if anyone from the motor wanted to go ashore they were obliged to step across the butty hatches, and this they did while staring fixedly ahead, as even a fleeting glance down into the cabin would have been the height of rudenesss. They never liked to tie up where the towpath was a popular place for people to walk, because often they were so rude as to lean over and stare right into the cabins, which was very unpleasant for tthe people inside." (Eily Gayford.)
The amateur boatwomen: canal boating 1941-1945

Unlock pushchair, lift onto towpath. Insert baby. Load saddlebags with rubbish and recycling.

Big Sister has removed sandals that I just put on her and is now playing with water bucket activity that she refused earlier. We leave the boat. I can smell nappies and rotting food and really notice how much waste we produce when we have to get rid of it ourselves. Big Sister asks the name of each boat we pass: Kismet, Ellie Rose, Moondreams, Summer Breeze, Marie, Cheddleton, Tank Girl. We post the recycling into the correct bins and Big Sister enjoys this. We are at Little Venice General Waste Facility. “For general domestic waste only. If these bins are full contact British Waterways. Do not leave bulky items, oil, etcetera.”

I speed-walk to the park, pushing double pushchair, wearing trainers, an idea to get fit. The park is in beautiful Porchester Square; Georgian terraces and leafy dappled sunshine on primary colours of climbing frame. Breathe. Relax. Laugh and play with Big Sister. I must be doing something wrong. I must slow down.

So: Doing the dishes, the laundry and keeping two children fed and happy is an over ambitious plan for the day. Do I really have unrealistic expectations of myself? Meg (who has two the same age as mine,) says,

“You’ve got to remember, we’re in the eye of the maelstrom right now!”

Get home and find nappy kit in bottom of pushchair all along. Make pasta dinner while Big Sister sleeps in the pushchair on the towpath. Big Sister wakes up, The Doctor comes home. Big Sister calls me over, sleepily, “Mummy...” I go to her, bend down and she says,


Blend Baby sister’s pasta into mush, lay table, sit both girls up. Big Sister doesn’t want dinner. The Doctor bribes her to eat by promising strawberries. Bed time hour is manic, everyone tired, everyone washed, dressed, baby in hammock, Big Sister in her room. The hammock hangs in the living room with black out blinds and Fisherprice lullabies. I clear the toys off the back deck and bring in the washing from the line. Lock the pushchair to the back deck with a bike lock (last pushchair was unlocked and stolen from back deck). Come indoors. The Doctor is cooking dinner, Big Sister calls me into her room and points at her chest.

“Mummy, is this my treasure chest?” I adore her. She’s too hot to sleep. ‘Reads’ a book, throws it out of bed, it thuds onto the floor.

The baby wakes up and cries. I soothe her back to sleep, bouncing the hammock on its spring. She’s clutching her small, floppy, fluffy, white bunny. Tired moans, closes her eyes. Gripping my finger tightly in her clenched fist.

Dinner is ready. The Doctor turns off the kitchen lights, the blackout blinds are down. Together we lift the hammock and sleeping baby from the living room into the kitchen. She hangs there peacefully bouncing a little. We eat dinner on our laps in front of the TV. Relaxed, we smile at each other; so tired. I have a mental ‘To Do’ list, post and paperwork to read, emails to reply. Instead, I show The Doctor a phone video clip of our toddler in the park. We get the bed out early, 9.30pm ish. Unfold the futon, make it up with sheets and duvet, tea, coffee, chocolate, read books in bed. Check Big Sister, peaceful, sleeping, flower shaped plastic night light. Baby sister is sleep-breathing in the kitchen. There is a distant babble of chatter from the posh waterside pub across the cut. I catch sight of a gliding goose family, goslings all in a row. Tonight, as I got her ready for bed my eldest daughter asked,

“Why are you happy Mummy?”

Because I’ve got a lovely family, I said.

Police visit Little Venice

3rd June 2010

Little Venice

Two policemen knocked on the boat. Baby sister was in a car seat on the back deck. Big Sister was indoors watching cBeebies. They wanted to check if the baby was ok?

“We didn’t know if anyone was about!”

I’m just making her lunch!

“How old is she? I’ve got a three month old,” (shows photo).

I bet you’re not getting much sleep then.

“Actually, I’ve got seven!”

Crikey. I said.