Following on from LadyCurd’s Letter to Extreme Breastfeeding, here are my moments of Breastfeeding In Extremely Unusual/Uncomfortable Circumstances:
1/ Hiking up a steep, rocky hill, Tommy in a Kari-Me/Patapum baby carrier (not sure which), both of us steaming ahead of everyone else (Harrison family genetics means you always have to be at least ten paces ahead of any other human you’re walking with).
2/ Backstage at the Odéon National Theatre in Paris, in between scenes from Tartuffe, me playing ‘Marianne’, the young virgin bride-to-be, with huge great milk-laden boobs, dressed in a white dress, sometimes forgetting to put my breast pads back in after feeding Tommy. That deserves a post in itself.
3/In the Paris metro at rush hour, shouting at anyone who dared even vaguely brush against us. I managed to get a whole 2 seats to myself.
4/ In the Jardins de Luxembourg in Paris where breastfeeding is frowned upon in a terribly French manner (they flick their croissants crumbs at you).
5/ in a Carrefour supermarket, sitting on a pack of 6 Volvic bottles.
6/ for every take-off and landing in a plane I’ve ever done with either baby (mostly, and unfortunately with Ryanair, which is why this ranks as extreme breastfeeding).
7/ kayaking naked down the Gorges of the Ardèche.
(NB: one of these is not true. Guess which and you could win a holiday in the hills of southern France …)
(the babies never seem to notice when their breastfeeding session is Extreme – they fall asleep as usual …)
We have a new CD in the car – of English nursery rhymes – quite a good one, the proof being I haven’t chucked it out of the window yet. It is great for keeping Léonie awake as we approach home (as all hardy parents know, a 10 min nap in the car often means no proper nap after lunch, which will inevitably end in toddler meltdown and parental wrinkle-brow headache). The second track is The Grand Old Duke of York. It is Tommy’s favourite. He belts out “OH … The Grand Old Duke of Bjork!” and no matter how many times I tell him it’s York not Bjork, he nods wisely, “Yes, I know, Mummy”, and continues with his homage to Bjork.
Oh The Grand Old Duke of Bjork,
He had some thousand men,
He mashed them at the top of the hill and he mashed them down again.
And when we are up, we are up.
And when we are down, we are down.
And when we are only halfway up we are never up and down.
I just went on Amazon to order a couple of books and discovered I already had 13 items in my shopping basket. Odd. I don’t remember choosing anything recently. So I clicked on the basket button to see what was going on and there lined up on the left-hand side of my screen were : Pirate Hats (pack of 4), Pirate Flag Picks, Plastic Pirate Skull & Crossbones Bunting (6 metres), Pirate Party Bag Fillers, Buccaneer Coins and Jewellery Pouch (with plastic contents), Pirate Treasure Map, Pirate Coin Bag, Pirate Sticker Book, Mini Pirate Telescope, Pirate Eyepatch, Pirate Tattoos (pack of 24), Inflatable Parrot Fancy Dress Accessory and last but definitely not least, The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook: A Guide to Swashbuckling with the Pirates of the Caribbean.
“Tommy! TOMMY! Have you been on my computer?”
Tommy comes prancing into the living room dressed in his current everyday outfit : a red flouncy pirate shirt, a bandana, a pirate hat, beaded necklaces, and a yellow belt with a wooden sword, a treasure map and some wool jammed into it. He is 4 and a half.
“Yes, Mummy. I see Jack Sparrow and one parrot and a treasure chest de pirates.”
“Yes, and did you click on a yellow button on the screen?”
“My buyed all the things.”
“Yes, I thought so. Honey, you can’t just go and buy whatever you want on internet. Thank goodness you didn’t actually buy all that stuff. We don’t have enough money to buy stuff everyday.”
“Yes Mummy, I have money. Look. Is my pirate money.” And out of his jeans pocket comes a small leather purse. I open it. It is crammed full of centimes (euro ones and old franc centimes), UK pennies, a dollar coin and a 100 rouble banknote (worth about £2). “See Mummy? So I buy all the things.”
“Yes, but this won’t actually pay for all those things. You need 50€ to pay for all those things. We can’t go spending 50€ here and there on toys and stuff. We don’t have that much money now.”
“Why we not have much money?”
“Because I’m not working at the moment – I’m staying at home to look after you and Léonie, which means I’m not earning any money. So we don’t have very much nowadays.”
“So Mummy, you must do a show and get much money and buy lots and lots of things.”
“Yes sweetie, I would love to do a show and earn a ton of money and buy lots of things, but it’s not possible at the moment, unless Martin Scorsese or Stephen Frears or Woody Allen happen to come wandering through the hills and stumble across me defreezing the water pipes in the garden with a hairdryer, and think “now SHE is just what I need in my forthcoming film – a 39 year old mother with awful hair and tired eyes who knows how to handle an electrical appliance in a crisis.” It’s just not going to happen darling.”
“Then I going to find treasure in the valley.”
“Please do. Oh, and don’t play on my computer again without asking me.”
“I asking you. I want look at Jack Sparrow book and you say yes.”
And he is right. This morning I had been looking at the Pirates of the Caribbean Guide seeing as Tommy just saw the first film and is now mad crazy bonkers about Captain Jack Sparrow. He now wants to grow his hair long, have a beard, sail the Caribbean and wear black eyeliner. So I thought the book might gain me hours and hours of peace as he thumbed through it. He saw it on my screen and wanted to have a better look. While I was busy changing a nappy/flicking a frozen dog poo out of the garden/discovering the diabetic cat we’re looking after had pissed on at least three mattresses in the storeroom (yes, my life is just one crazy party of wee and poo at the moment), Tommy must have clicked on the other pirate things on the screen which in turn presented him with more pirate things and so on and so on. At least he didn’t click on “proceed to check-out”, “dispatch to this address” and “confirm payment”. They’re all little yellow buttons so he could easily have just ordered the lot and had it sent via express delivery.
Today he has gone to his school’s lottery afternoon, dressed as Jack Sparrow of course. I hope he wins some decent treasure.
So we spent the weekend in our hospital room. The kids couldn’t leave it because they had the dreaded and highly contagious gastroenteritis virus, which apparently is violent this year, and I could barely leave because the kids wanted me to stay with them. Whenever they both dropped off to sleep I would sneak out for a shower or an over-priced, under-rated coffee, but otherwise there we were the three of us, reading books and watching telly programs about digging up dinosaur bones and polar bears hunting penguins (I had to switch that one off fast when our lovely, young, cuddly polar bear suddenly got good at hunting). I did a lot of staring at the strange Disney forest scene which took up the entire wall opposite the beds. It was clearly Disney characters – there was King Louis swinging from a tree and Baloo from the Jungle Book, Bambi, Dumbo and various other woodland creatures, but they all looked a bit wierd. Like they’d had bad plastic surgery which had modified them a little bit, not past recognition but just enough to make them look creepy. Maybe they’d just been in hospital for too long.
Both Léonie and Tommy remained wiped out for most of our stay. They would perk up a bit every now and again and then crash out not long afterwards. But they were getting better slowly. Doctor She-Devil (real name Doctor Voisin) came by twice a day and was overly sweet with us. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. My friend Louise visited us on Saturday and brought me much needed sustenance : proper food, a good book and a couple of hours of company. I found a box of earplugs in my bag which made the second night much easier, plus the nurses had unhooked Léonie from her machine so no BLEEPing all night. A nurse even brought me a cosy blanket to snuggle under. On the Sunday morning, Doctor Voisin proclaimed the kids strong enough to go home. She also said she knew L’Homme would be arriving direct from where he had been performing the night before, so could take us home.
“What about the seizures Léonie had?” I asked. “She didn’t have a fever when they happened, so what could have caused them?”
Doctor Voisin shrugged. “Maybe it’s genetic. Is there a history of seizures or fits or epilepsy in your family?”
“No. At least, I don’t think so …”
“Then maybe it was just an effect of the gastro virus. I’ll go and do the papers so that you can leave when your husband arrives.” And she vanished.
When L’Homme did arrive he was horrified at how skinny the kids looked. Even I had lost a couple of kilos, and I hadn’t even been sick. One of the nurses came by with the kids’ “carnets de santé” (health books) and I noticed there were a couple of prescriptions in each of them. I tried to decode the scrawl and managed to make out “Valium” on Léonie’s prescription.
“Valium? What’s this about?”
The nurse took the prescription and had a look. “It says it’s in case she has another seizure and it lasts for more than five minutes. You should give her Valium.”
“What? The doctor didn’t mention anything about this. How come no-one has explained this to me? Valium? For a 13 month old baby? How on earth do I give it to her?”
“With a syringe.” And she too, vanished.
I had had enough. I just wanted to get the children home. So that’s what we did. And after another two days of having two grumpy rag dolls lolling about on the sofa, both Léonie and Tommy bounced back and have been devouring every meal set before them. Léonie has gained far more weight than she lost, almost as if her little body realised that she didn’t have enough fat reserves in times of crisis. She is now nice and chubby with the most nibbleable chunky thighs.
I of course called our children’s doctor and told him the whole story. He was very surprised that I hadn’t been better informed. He has booked Léonie in for an electroencephalography (a sort of brain scan) next month just to check the two seizures didn’t do any damage, and when we see him afterwards he is going to explain all about convulsions in small children. This is the sort of good health care I am used to in France, not the couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude of Doctor Voisin. I hope I never come across her again. Unless it is just as she is being lowered into a vat of scalding oil and I am the one in charge of the lever.
Today, just after lunch, Tommy donned a denim jacket and sunglasses and asked me to “put Michael Jackson music on, Mummy, because me is Michael Jackson.”
I asked him what track he wanted. “Bad, me like Bad.” So I put Bad on (T: “make it more fort Mummy” … Me: “you mean louder” … T: “Yes Mummy, more fort louder.”) and he danced, wiggled and threw himself on the sofa in a five minute frenzy while his little sister looked on in admiration.
Me: “What now? Do you want another song to dance to?”
T: “Yes Mummy, put Michael Jackson again. Put on ‘Gilbert’.” (pronounced as the French ‘Jzhill-Bear’)
Me : Gilbert?
T: YES Mummy. GIL – BERT!
(pause as I have a think …)
Me: Do you mean ‘Billie Jean’?
T: YES, MUMMY. Me say it. Jilly-Bean.
So I put on Jilly-Bean/Gilbert and he danced his socks off. Good old Michael Jackson and his ode to Gilbert – who’s not his lover – he just says that he is the one. But the kid is not his son.
For those of you who know my blog and have been loyally and mysteriously following my many exciting adventures for months, nay years on end (and for those of your who have just tuned in click here to read about fighting with the fascist, cranky, bloke who used to run the village bar – er, he’s dead now – no, it WASN’T me, or here to discover why my 3 week old baby ended up in hospital, or even here to be warned of the heated perils of living in the south of France in the summer) … erm, I’ve lost track of what I was saying now … oh yes, some of you will know that I spend most of my time living in this tiny village of 30 inhabitants as a single parent with two small, loud children. This is not because I am separated from the father of my children (L’Homme) but because he works, as a technician/stage manager, with probably the most successful touring theatre company in France at the moment. This is good because it means he has lots of work and bad because it means he is mostly away touring. Which when it comes down to it, is a bit like being separated from him; he nips back every now and again for a day or two during which time I complain he does s*d all around the house, he complains I do too much and am not wearing a see-through basque with suspenders as I open the kitchen door to him, packets of condoms hanging from my ears, Tommy insists ONLY Mummy can wipe his bum and cut up his fish fingers, Léonie just screams and grabs onto my tracksuit bottoms thus yanking them down for L’Homme to recoil in horror at the realisation I haven’t waxed my entire body in honour of his homecoming, and once we’ve all calmed down it’s time for him to leave on tour again.
However, L’Homme has now been home with us since June. He worked a bit in July, on an opera festival in Orange which meant he came home every night (except for the ones when he got rat-assed with the technical director and slept on the floor), we all went on holiday to Italy in August, but since September we have been living a normal family life as a foursome-with-dog on a day to day basis. I say ‘normal’ – well it’s not actually very normal, because no-one is going off to work … we are together 24 hours a day.
TWENTY FOUR HOURS A DAY.
Bloody Hell I hear some of you scream, at the thought of your blokes being home all day, everyday. Yes. I know. I have been there. I have the cyanide capsules ready. At first it was horrific in all the ways you can imagine, but having then come closer to separating than we have ever done in our entire flamethrower relationship, we had to make a grown-up decision to stick things out, at least until Léonie started sleeping through the night and we could begin to see things as less of a suicidal blur. L’Homme urged me to “laissez aller” – to let things go, which after a tremendous effort, I did, and this had the magical effect of him doing the washing-up, tidying, cooking and a lot of baby-minding while I got out, went running in the hills, drank coffee with friends, played the drums with a band, saw a show, went to Marseille, got drunk, ate too much pizza, had a handstand lesson, did a car boot sale. Just not all on the same day.
We have managed to find a sort of balance where we share the drudgery and share the fun. We even watch Doctor House together (once I had got over the initial shock of Hugh Laurie being serious and American and stiff). Autumn is stretching on, we still have at least three hours of glorious sunshine in the afternoon each day, when we can work in the garden or just drink coffee on the balcony together. We are (mostly) getting along and are both in semi-shock about this, quite happily. However, it is all to end soon. Someone has to earn some money pretty damn fast. The new show with the company kicks off in January and the tour schedule is as intensive as Abba’s in 1977. L’Homme will vanish from our lives, only to return for brief snippets with differing lengths of stubble on his chin, fill the fridge with stinky cheese and then implode in a puff of train dust. I will be back to round-the-clock housework, nappy-changing, high-chair wiping, reading “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet, they sent me an ELEPHANT!” thirty times in a row and wondering what my name is. Tonight I got a little reminder of this as L’Homme is out at a wine-tasting party with our dentist (who is no doubt persuading him to buy 4 cartons of wine which will mean next month we can only eat frozen peas and crackers), and I am home alone with the kids.
As L’Homme left, he put our old, broken phone in Tommy’s garden playhouse, forgetting he had repainted it this afternoon and storming back up to the kitchen with a paint-stained jacket, swearing life is too complicated, why had I even suggested we give Tommy the phone to play with? I was meant to apologise but was too busy shovelling quinoa in Léonie’s mouth and pretending to feed it to a Playmobile knight so that she would keep eating, and anyway, why should I apologise, it wasn’t my fault? L’Homme left wearing just a jumper, I got to work on the stains with the white spirit and a toothbrush while Léonie splashed, slipped and nearly drowned in the bath and Tommy cried on the sofa because Daddy had gone.
“He’s only going out for the evening, sweetie, he’ll be back later”.
“But Daddy is gone!”
“Yes honey, he will be home in about three hours, when you’re in bed.”
“But him is gone!”
“YES. AND. HE. WILL. BE. BACK. LATER”.
To no avail whatsoever. If it’s after seven in the evening, Tommy is a drama king. He kept crying, heartbroken. Léonie started screaming too. The baked beans bubbled over. The phone went. Tommy banged into the door as he walked through to the kitchen. he screamed. Léonie screamed. I healed Tommy’s mortal injury with a hug and a rub, took a slippery Léonie out of the bath, balanced her on my hip, served up a plate of baked beans, burnt myself in doing so, boiled an egg, didn’t set my iphone timer properly, Tommy refused to eat the egg until he heard the timer go off, I had to set a fake timer, fight Léonie into a nappy and a babygrow, spoon out the edges of the boiled egg for Tommy, put him in the bath, retrieve Léonie from halfway up our Danger Staircase (stone steps, uneven, steep, with razor blades upturned and spears that jab out from the wall), get Tommy out of the bath, dump him in front of a cartoon, carry Léonie up to her bedroom (narrowly avoiding the spears), fight her into her gro-bag, breastfeed her to sleep, put her in bed, tiptoe out, find Tommy asleep on the sofa, carry him up to his bedroom, fall back down the stairs, unload the dishwasher, load it again (have you fallen alseep yet?), wash up the burnt bean pan and the rest of the kitchen, put L’Homme’s jacket in the washing machine on HOT, fold the laundry, make myself a cup of tea which is now cold, and wonder how I’m going to do this on a daily basis when L’Homme is away, without killing someone.
This makes me think I should perhaps make the most of him while he is still here. Appreciate his presence and the things he does around the house. Make him feel that he’s doing a good job. So I’m off to wax my entire body and dig out that see-through basque complete with condom earrings.
I recently heard Tommy say “For fucking sake” while stomping around his bedroom angrily searching for his gloves. This is not good. Tommy is four and a half.
He knows full well that French swear words are not allowed and he frequently reminds L’Homme, “Daddy, tu ne peut PAS dire putain”, but we haven’t touched on English swear words, partly because I rarely use them. Not in front of him at least. Or so I thought. If he has picked up “fucking” and “sake” then it’s clearly from me as I am his only regular source of English. And there I was, oh so proud of the fact his English is so polite and impeccable. I have eaten my words, or rather, I wish I had. I have since explained that he can’t say “fucking sake” even if everyone around him is French and probably won’t pick it up.
“Can say Jeesis Christ?”
“Er … no, no you can’t.”
“Can say bwuddy yell?”
“Bwuddy what? Oh. Oh, no you can’t say that either.”
“Me can say what?”
“Well you don’t have to say anything. If you’re angry, you can just be angry without saying naughty words.”
Tommy just looked at me. I realised I am not setting the best example in the world.
Despite it being raging hot and sunny here, I have managed to get a filthy cold. A sort of laryngitis with a blocked up nose and an annoying cough which keeps me awake all night. Add this to the fact that Léonie is making no effort whatsoever to get back to sleep on her own when she has her night awakenings and that her sleep patterns are getting less and less sociable, and the result is a permanent headache, bleary eyes and a face that has aged ten years in ten days. Mine – not hers. Oh no, Léonie’s face is still as gorgeous and golden as ever. She gets more beautiful by the day while I slump into grey haggardness, fantasising about sleeping more than 40 minutes at a time.
I also seem to be housing some sort of parasite. My own private flea, just for me, that bites my arms – just my arms – in the night, leaving them covered in little red itchy bumps. I scratch all day. I’m scratching as I write. I will soon be banished to the stockroom along with our dog.
Thanks to the laryngitis I have very little, or no, voice, depending on the time of the day and how much I’ve said. This leaves me with pretty much zero authority when it comes to small children. Tommy walked all over me the first couple of days, but when he realised I was poorly and upset (“you sad Mummy?) he calmed down and has been a lovely little boy ever since. Whenever I cough he fills his toothbrush cup to the brim with tap water and brings it to me. “Mummy, you need drink water.” He is right, so I do drink his toothpaste flavoured water. I think it is helping.
Ah, I’ve just discovered my left thigh has also been bitten and is itching like mad. My private flea has clearly grown tired of finding fresh bits of arm to bite and has migrated down to new pastures. I am off to douse my entire body in cidre vinegar in the hope that will put him off. It will also put everyone else off too. Coupled with my raw garlic binge (apparently it kills off colds) no-one will be coming anywhere near me today.
I am living a life of chronic delusion. I realise this, looking at my list of things-to-do. It’s one of the biggest jokes of the universe. Near the top I have written “practise flute”, then “stretch” and “hula-hoop” (post-partum tummy muscle exercise without the boredom of lying on the floor). These things used to be at the bottom, after “sand and oil garden table” and “sort stuff for car boot sale”. I then shifted them to the top as I believed the fact I wasn’t doing them was somehow related to their position on my list. Has this changed a thing? No. Have I even looked at the flute? No. Do I know where my hula-hoop is? No. It is probably in the garden beneath a pile of plastic tractors and a cat poo. But this is not the point. The problem is not the position of items on my things-to-do list influencing what I do of a day. It’s the absolute farce of even writing a things-to-do list that is ridiculous. Sand and oil garden table? Erm, yeah. Sort stuff for car boot sale? In my wildest dreams. And practising a musical instrument or doing anything that might do some good to my body is about as realistic as meeting Brad Pitt as I take the bins out to the front of the village and him inviting me to jump in his private jet (parked a bit further down from the bins) to go and play gin rummy in Las Vegas. Or as likely as Prince William wearing a tracksuit and flip-flops to his wedding tomorrow (this is about as topical as I get). There is no point in me writing a things-to-do list, unless it looked like this : laundry, unload dishwasher, pick up various items of clothing/toys/small bits of pasta from floor, change nappy, make lunch for small persons, clean up kitchen, bins out, make a phone call while juggling smallest person on hip, bath small persons and put them to bed, water garden, feed dog.” And I don’t need a list to tell me to do those things. They are engrained in my brain and I buzz about our home from one wee task to another until the kids are in bed, the kitchen is cleared and I fall into a heap wondering why I’m not being paid £300 a day for all this work.
Today my brain went on a bender (it might have been the shock of baby Léonie sleeping in until 10:30 am) and I invited not one but two of Tommy’s mates round to play. So I had a 6 year old, a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 4 month old to look after, feed, wipe bums and make sure they didn’t die from poisoning as they made (and ate) pies in the sandpit. It was mad. It was great fun. Mostly for them, but partly for me, I have to secretly admit. The friends left, Tommy had a nap, Léonie had a nap, more friends came round. My brain, still malfunctioning, suggested a suicide hike down through the valley, Léonie strapped to my belly. To make things more difficult I wore my flip-flops. We walked, we climbed, we scrambled, we slipped and slid and slithered on bums. It was a real adventure. Some of us cut open knees and scraped palms of hands. But no-one cared, we were having too much fun. When we got back we did death by Haagen Daz and chocolate biscuits and then played darts. The boys’ father plays the flute so he gave me a mini lesson. Tommy, along with the boys, pulled our pedal tractor up to the top of the hill and did hurtling death rides back down again. Amazingly, no one got hurt. Despite Tommy having lost his shoes and doing all this in socks. By the time our friends left it was time to cook dinner, eat it, have baths and brush teeth and read books and go to bed. Of course, today I have done nothing whatsoever on my Things-to-do list and I don’t care. It seems like the fuller the day is, the less I’m bothered about getting things done. And I have a far greater sense of achievement at the end of the day. So I shall now rip up my list and instead just get on with tomorrow as it comes. Maybe I should write the list at the end of the day which will ensure I can tick tons of things off. Todays looks like this : flute lesson – tick, ensure nobody dies despite numerous dangerous activities- tick, go for a walk with kids and dog – tick, see friends – tick, practise darts – tick, open up a free village daycare centre – tick. Sense of achievement – gold star. And I’ve even written something on my blog. Double gold star. And used the phrase “flip-flops” twice. Triple gold star and another serving of Haagen Daz.