Sunday, May 16, 2010

A week is a long time in parenthood

I'm sitting in a quiet, still house for the first time in six weeks. Mrs Holiday took the kids to her mum's for the weekend so I could get some work done.

It has been a tough time for all of us since Baby A came along. I don't think we appreciated how taxing it was going to be. Unfortunately, our hopes of having a placid second child as a counterbalance to the screaming, non-sleeping, dervish that was number one son, were dashed. Number two may be a slightly better sleeper, but he can emit body shaking screeches for hours on end, and refuses to be put down to give his long-suffering parents a break. Consequently you end up with his screaming head closer to your ears than is strictly advisable. It's like psychological torture and I'm sure the top end of my hearing has gone. Ipods come with volume warnings now - what about bairns?

On Monday it all became a bit much for mum, who was reduced to tears by this state of affairs. I had to step in and give her a break, which meant I wasn't getting much work done. It's a real dilemma. On the one hand, I'm the bread winner and should be getting my head down whenever there is work to be done. On the other, it's nigh impossible to to ignore the situation downstairs when an extra pair of hands is called for. It has been really hard to work.

I find it difficult to collect my thoughts and there is always the possibility of J bursting into the room with a question when mummy is otherwise engaged, feeding his brother, and I'm on the phone to someone. It's not the worst thing in the world - lots of people understand the freelance set up and I've conducted many interviews at home to the soundtrack of babies crying, toddlers questioning and/or dogs barking - but it throws you off course at a time when you are trying to be professional and focused.

Anyway, Monday was really bad. The rest of the week was better, although there were a few nights of little sleep for either of us. Baby can be up for a while between feeds and his elder brother has regressed a little in staying in his own room, so there has been a lot of bed-hopping during the night. However, like the weather, things have improved slightly as the week went on. I knew Mrs H was going away for the weekend, so I was probably slightly demob happy at the prospect of some light relief. But Baby A has started to smile more, so by Friday or Saturday it was hard to connect the cutey beaming up at you with the screw-faced demon of a few days ago. Nature, doing it's work again and brainwashing us of the bad vibes.

So what did I do with my 24 hours of freedom? Well I worked until about eight last night, hoovered, did some laundry and some dishes. Basically tried to return my world to how I like it, in readiness for the madness to recommence.

We've reached the six week mark today, which is one of the mental milestones you look out for. After this, it gets better, we say. It's the end of baby boot camp. Although from what I recall, there is no step change so much as a gradual easing of the load. "Wait until three months/six months/the first year," we tell ourselves. Although the danger of focusing on the horizon is that we we miss the gems of experience at our feet along the way.

Ugh! That was yucky, but I can't help it. I am a naturally quite soppy, as my reaction to a series of pictures of Gordon Brown's last moments in Downing Street revealed. It wasn't so much the end of an era realisation as the little details that showed him as a fundamentally decent man.

The real killer was the shot of him and his previously sheltered sons. Suddenly you had a completely different image of the former PM as a doting dad, and one who feels great love for his boys. There was a great feature about this picture by Ian Jack which explained why the image was so touching. For me, it's an easy connection - dad + two sons equals waterworks.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Explaining politics to two year olds

It was the election on Thursday and a gorgeous sunny day. Having finished some work in the morning, I arranged to meet Mrs HH in the park where she had taken the kids. The plan was to vote and then visit the new cake shop for a treat. J was obviously more excited about the cupcakes than voting, but he showed an interest in the proceedings. "What is vote?" he asked.

Er, that's quite a tough one to answer I'm afraid. I waffled some nonsense about drawing an X in a box to choose the person you liked most. (In retrospect, this may have made more sense to him than I realised at the time, as he associates Xs with kisses. So you figuratively kiss the candidate of your choice. What a lovely/disturbing image. I 'vote' Caroline Flint, but David Blunkett's wispy beard does not appeal.). I then hurried him along before he could come up withe any supplementaries - "What is candidate? Where is government? What is hung parliament?"

On the last question I'm not the only one in the dark it seems. It's surprising that given the likelihood of a hung parliament, the country seems so surprised and befuddled by it. As we are now being told, they are common on the continent, and many councils have no overall control, but the prospect of handing over power to more than one political group seems to worry many people. Which is illogical in a way, as political parties are far from homogeneous. The Labour and Conservative Parties are both extremely broad churches containing a whole swathe of differing and conflicting opinions. These are largely held in check by party discipline, but not always - look at John Major's problems with Eurosceptics and Tony Blair's with opponents of tuition fees and the Iraq war.

Given the prospect of handing over the future of our country to David Cameron and his cabal, I think it's no bad thing than there might be someone to hold him in check. On the other option open to Nick Clegg, although I'm more naturally sympathetic to a progressive solution, the idea of a rainbow coalition of parties holding the Tories off doesn't seem right. Firstly it would be hugely unwieldy. I also fear that the price exacted by the more fringe parties in block grants would antagonise further the Tory heartlands of the South East who already show signs of feeling robbed. Finally, despite the fact that a coalition of the second and third placed parties is constitutionally acceptable, there is something about it that seems to go against natural justice. I know that first past the post is discredited, but it's the rulebook we play by at the minute.

On the other hand, and to use a tortuous sporting analogy, nobody complains (too much) when their team goes out on away goals in a cup competition, even though the aggregate result is really a draw.

Er, does that make sense? I'm not sure I really know, and I wouldn't want to be in Nick Clegg's shoes (or Cameron's or Brown's for that matter). Whatever the outcome, you really can't please all of the people all of the time. I could never be in politics - my skin is too thin. I get upset if my wife doesn't notice I've hoovered up, never mind berating me for the state I've left the country (or bathroom) in.

After making my electoral choice, the toughest decision I had to make was which of Violet's delicious cupcakes flavours to opt for. It was a close run thing, but the will of this person at least was satisfied.