Why we had a third child

‘Is this your first baby?’ the nurse asked as I hand her my urine sample wrapped in a sodden tissue. I took a sip of water and allowed for a very pregnant pause.

‘No’. I cleared my throat. ‘My third.’

Holy mother of… Only as I finally heard myself speak the words for the first time, did I believe them. I was having a third child.

How did this happen? I thought to myself.  I was rolling up my sleeve for my blood sample, I’m still not comfortable at giving blood so I feigned intense interest in the poorly painted sea landscape image too far to my right; I had to strain my neck to focus on it.

Only then, 14 weeks pregnant and having just ended an intimate 8 week relationship with the toilet bowl had I begun to raise my head beyond the level of the bottle of domestos to think about the reality of a third child.

My mother was shocked. But she was shocked each time I told her I was pregnant. As the middle (and misunderstood) child I’m sure she thought I was destined to become an intrepid explorer covering areas of the rain-forest previously undiscovered,  enduring bites from mammoth mosquitoes and drinking my own urine. Although there has been moments of parenthood when it’s felt this desolate and when getting to the kitchen for a drink has felt like a penultimate scene in He-man as I drag my lifeless body through the house “Must…reach…sword…of…omen”

Motherhood was not something I was destined for in my mother’s eyes, I was the wild child, the one who went against the norm; I had never conformed to what society expected of me yet there I was, knocked up for the third time looking at the nurse surreptitiously wiping my wee off her hand and putting myself firmly in more than enough metaphorical boxes to throw that theory firmly out of the window.

It only feels like five minutes ago when we were living our lives for ourselves only. Self-employed and living in the Richmond Upon Thames. Work ended at 12pm for me and then I was free. Free to play badminton until my wrist burnt, free to swim endlessly with only the silent counting of my lengths to contend with, free to sit next to the river and contemplate my relatively uncomplicated life. And when those activities no longer captivated my carefree mind, it was home for a well earned siesta and tea in bed with the Weakest Link.   

Children were always on the agenda. Like every couple we imagined our lives as parents to be much like an Aptimil commercial. Terry towel cladded infant being gently lulled to sleep by a calm and fully dressed parent. The reality was alarmingly comparative: wailing infant flailing arms in every direction, engorged breasts spurting milk into her cross colicky face whilst grappling around for something that resembles clothing.

“But Nina, you’ve just got Bodhi off to school.” Were my mums wise but wasted words when I broke the news of the third child to her. “We thought you were going to say you were moving abroad” was the response when we told the fam we were pregnant the first time. Our second pregnancy news was an extension of the word ‘what’ with far too many a’s and went on for 3 extra seconds too long.

No one has a perfect life and there is no perfect time to attempt any life changing project, you just have to take a deep breath and go for it. I am wise enough to know that behind every perfect profile picture and album of images on social media is a true reality of life. Like that swan who glides gracefully across the river, underneath his legs are paddling like hell. We’re all just trying to stay afloat in our own desperate crazy  way.  It’s the same for every individual who doesn’t have an entourage of nannies, gardeners, housekeepers and chefs to keep their lives running smoothly. I mean who doesn’t enjoy that sinking feeling after rummaging through mount laundry for 15 minutes shushing a fractious infant in one arm to find something that vaguely resembles an outfit,  only to realise the only pair of trousers that fit you are wedged down the side of laundry basket and never in fact made it to the wash.

 So how did we end up as parents of three? As a couple, the one thing that has bound us is our outlook on life; slightly out of focus and never quite arriving where we were heading. We’ve always been a slightly left of the middle, fly by the seat of our pants, kinda couple. We’ve never been the types to plan things meticulously, make 5 year plans or talk about the ‘what ifs’.

Our Aptimil outlook on life predicted at least 3. In fact I have vague recollections of late night vodka fulled musings of four possibly 5 kids.  We romantically imagined our Larkin Family life in A Darling Buds of May scenario wiping icing sugar off the noses of our pink cheeked brood. The stark reality was arguing in stage whispers at 3am over whether the first born was being rocked back to sleep too furiously and who had stepped on the creaky floorboard to wake them in the first place.

But still two was never really an option. It was too ‘not really us’. We both silently looked on at the four of us and thought ‘Is that it?’

I had heard women say “no, that’s it, i’m done, no more kids for me” and I could hear the certainty in their voice. But I yearned the weight of a new born in my arms again, to experience that slow contented first breastfeed of the night when baby is still dreaming. We wanted the cuteness again, we longed to hear more mispronounced words, we wanted to hear them saying they couldn’t get in the bath because they weren’t ‘make-ed’ yet. We craved the little sticky hands cusped around our chin, breathless husky requests for ‘space boots that fly’ whispered in our ear. Because for all the messy inconvenient crazy chaos children bring, they completely take your heart hostage with their unconditional love. They are forgiving of your downfalls and inabilities to hold your shit together. They make you realise that you can always be a better version of yourself. Because they remind us how to have fun and live in the moment. “Play with me mummy” as I tear my agitated gaze away from the decomposing courgette at the bottom of the salad tray and lay myself out on the floor with my four year old.

But beneath all of that it was always going to be three. I collected 5 perfectly white smooth stones from the beach and laid them on the window sill years ago and I knew we were not yet complete as a family.

I also knew when we three siblings rallied around my mum the weeks after the sudden death of my dad, each playing out our roles, that there was something special about 3 children. There was always one of us there to help her make an awkward phone call, walk with her to the shop or make sure she ate something that day. I wanted that for us as we got older. I wanted to know that if one of them was off trekking the Andes and fulfilling my neglected role of intrepid explorer, that I had another two to cook a Sunday roast for.

Now he’s here, and a whopping 20 months old already. Finally I can see through all our years of winging it, for once we got it right. We had a blurry vision of something and we made it happen. But I also know I am now that woman who can say with conviction, that I’m done.  We are a family of 5, we have three kids and it feels right.

 

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Parenting the sh*t out of life.

It's a bitter sweet day as I turn over the final page of this new book by Mother Pukka and Papa Pukka. I was so desperate to finish so I could write about it, yet feeling like my hedonistic 19 year old self in a new relationship, never wanting the time spent with my new beau to end. 
Yet if this book were a boyfriend it would be peered upon inquisitively by a concerned parent wondering what the garish orange and geometrical abstract exterior was concealing. But they needn't fear, for once inside you realise this book has a huge heart, would save you their last rolo and would probably offer you a foot rub whilst you scoffed it. 

Parenting the shit of our life is the brain child of the animated and frolicsome and very beautiful Instagram queen, Anna Whitehouse and handsome hubby Matt Farquarson. The couple have two daughters, Mae and Eve who are the same ages as my 2nd and 3rd children, so the content and themes in the book resonate deeply with me. 
Think sleepless nights, baby blues, leaky mammoaries, domestic gripes and full on gastric show stoppers on public transport. But you don't have to have children the same age, or indeed any kids to appreciate their witty outlook on life. This book is written for parents or those who might become parents. But if you have no kids in tow and the idea of two sticky hands cusping your cheeks and stuttering a breathy request for a "magical pair of boots that have space rockets" in your ear doesn't float your boat, but you can read, pick it up anyway. 
Because regardless of who you are or your life choices, it's hard not to feel the maternal bosomy hug that Anna (Mother Pukka) refers to throughout. And quite frankly who doesn't want a bosom for a pillow? Although a parenting book, Patenting the shit out of life never wavers to preach a particular style to pregnancy or birth or indeed child rearing. But it's got facts, and a few stats to enrich your flagging grey matter. 

Matt (Pappa pukka) has a way of tugging at your heart strings with his intimitent poignancy over issues close to his heart. Equally he can dumbfound you with his eloquence, his droll approach to recounting parenting blunders and his weakness for a graph to illustrate the parenting process (male lateral thinking at its finest here). His "behavioural influence stairway model" - for hostage (toddler) negotiations is one of the best parody's I've read. 

Anna paints a very vivid picture of the realities of parenthood. She does this seamlessly through her Instagram posts and stories on a daily basis, yet in the book we get to feel it for a little longer and linger over the inconvenience and the ridiculousness that is modern day parenting. It's the stuff a 'proper' parenting book doesn't prepare you for and the antithesis of that Instagram feed of uniform white photography with just the right amount of Rose tint framing, pristinely turned out family and mother at the centre looking every bit as though she's just stepped out of a salon. 
Anna left that salon, fell into a bush and was assaulted by a rogue squirrel as she squashed his stash of nuts. But she got up, brushed the squirrel shit off and went about her day. 

For the book epitomises those moments when you can't haul yourself off the sofa to attend a step class but you can drag a three way travel system up a station stairway with a rucksack and a preschooler mounted on your back.
Life as a mother or father to one two three or more kids is basically like living as a one man/woman band half your waking life until said urchins gain enough stamina and strength and nous to fend a little for themselves.

It candidly points out that our relationship little by little may be wilting away until you're a shipwrecked Tom Hanks clinging to a ramshackle raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean watching a ruined volleyball ball float out to sea. (I'm Sorry Wilson), but all it takes is to catch one another off guard and the memories of who you were ( still are somewhere ), come flooding back. 

I know Anna and Matt were nervous about the publication of this book. Trying to put into words something that even I thought was nigh on impossible to explain - this strange alternate world which we are thrust into once a miniature us emerges from ones nether regions, is something that they have nailed in there own weird and wonderful way. 
This book gets you dancing to the beat of the Pukkas song, then you suddenly recognise the song and realise you bloody love this track and you weep big euphoric tears. 

Yes parenting is shit at times, but it gets better and there's definitely rainbows amongst the storms clouds. So to read this book felt like the Pukkas putting a Matthew Kelly Stars in their Eyes arm around you whilst saying "Come 'ere you" after you've flounced through that dry ice entrance announcing "Tonight Mathew, I'm going into be... A parent".

To quote the words from Jerry McGuire in one of the penultimate scenes: "We live in a cynical world - a cynical world. And work in a business with tough competitors" Motherhood and fatherhood has never been tougher 

But Anna, Matt, honestly? you had me at mother. 

From its hilarious unrestrained outset to its heartwarming crescendo , this book packs a lot of punches, each one relevant and worthy. 

"As long as you come through that door at the end of the day with everyone vaguely alive, you've won" - this is the epitome of the book - the line that sums it all up for me. Each day is an adventure and if you survived this one, you'll do it again tomorrow. 

 

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The Top 5 Books That have changed my life, so far..

There comes a time in a girls life when she's approaching another age milestone and she's just gotta look back and reflect on some of the books that have impacted her life. 

I did this recently with one of my book clubs, because...well I could. But completing this small and seemingly nonsensical project ( to the untrained eye) brought about a whole host of emotions and feelings. Reminiscing about books read over 30 years ago was truly a satisfying activity. It reminded me of the days when books began to take over my life; when immersing myself in an alternative world was sometimes the preferred option. And of course why I still make the time to read and always will encourage my three young children to. 

The books I've chosen are in chronological order.

The battle of bubble and squeak by Phillipa Pearce. 

I must have been about 9 or 10 and This is the first book I remember being read to me in class by my teacher, Mrs Randall. She was so animated when she read it out loud that I just couldn't wait for the next instalment . It made me feel warm and fuzzy and is definitely THE book that got me hooked. I read it again recently with my then 7 year old daughter and I realised that even at such a tender age, I had understood some of the fairly mature themes of the book the first time round. 

Just as long as we're together
by Judy Blume.

Like many 11 year old girls, I loved Judy Blume books for her ability to resonate deeply with those of us who were approaching an age where we were experiencing unfamiliar sensations around our bodies yet at the same time presenting an air of indifference to our somewhat perplexed parents. It was the first time I read something and thought 'I'm not the only one who feels/thinks that' And of course there were plenty of rude parts to snigger about. I also remember being lent a copy of 'Forever' by Judy Blume ( Judy herself didn't lend it to me - I think it was one of those school friends who was always that little bit further on in the adolescent leader board). I was reading it in bed one night and my dad came to say goodnight. He looked at the cover and made some reference to the genre of the book. I remember feeling mortified for a split second. Before i carried on sniggering to myself about 'Ralph' 

The Curious Incident of the dog in the night time by Mark Haddon.

This book was recommended to me by a dear friend. It was the first time I'd read a book on recommendation. Up until that point I'd rather ashamedly neglected reading for a while. Instead, as was the motto for the 1990's, I was in the words of Renton from Train Spotting, choosing life.  I instantly fell in love with the protagonist Christopher and I was in awe of the quirky unique ( at the time) style of narrative spoken from the perspective of a 15 year old boy with Aspergers Syndrome. It also fueled my fascination with the human brain and I then went on to study and gain my degree in Psychology. 

We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I chose this book as the first book for a book club I founded in 2006. We started off as about 10, but the wheat was soon separated  from the chaff and we found ourselves as the fabulous 4 we still are 12 years later. No one actually read the book at the time except for me ( my fab 3 had yet to join and thankfully sought out my group 2 months later saving me from a motley collection of social misfits) and instead it was mocked by one particular loon. 

It provoked my thoughts about nature and nurture ( as was the sub genre of the book) as I was just beginning my studies in psychology. This was also the book that put me on the path to exploring other deeper genres which weren't the usual Marian Keyes chic lit I'd so often turn to. 

It also opened up a whole new world of literature to me, as Shriver is renowned for her perspicacious and eloquent prose,often choosing unfamiliar words which tested my knowledge and seemingly limited vocabulary. 

And of course the ending to this book is so shocking and unexpected that it has stayed with me still. 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

This book did actually change my overall perspective on my working life and career. I was working for an affluent yet particularly disagreeable family ( ok let's cut the crap, she was the wicked witch and he was the devil incarnate) after reading how the protagonists ( I think Minny and Aibileen share centre stage in this novel) stand up for their rights and disgrace their employers. I too stood up for myself after reading this having been treated despicably by a family who felt their wealth dictated their status above me. 

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The Keeper Of Lost Things

It starts with a biscuit tin. A biscuit tin full of cremated remains that is travelling alone on a train from London to Brighton. A captivating introduction to some of the lost items which play centre stage in this gently moving debut novel by Ruth Hogan 

Entrusted with her employers, Anthony Peardrews incidental finds after his death, recently divorced Laura is embarking on the next chapter of her life. It is now full of some fairly manageable challenges involving a gifted mansion and a new love conquest. Anthony’s lost objects collection became about as a result of a gift given to his wife, which was lost before her passing, but his hoarded collection hidden behind a locked study is left to Laura to track down the original owners. 

The novel time slips between the present day with Laura and her new life and 1974 onwards where we are introduced to the amiable Eunice and gregarious Bomber. In amongst this is Hogans best prose, the vignettes surrounding each lost item, each one a pictorial and poetic delve into a moment of a life, belongings forever lost in a moments haste or mishap. 

The story of Eunice and Bomber is a rare treat. A beautiful portrait of unrequited love and a blossoming friendship that is nurtured until the final promise is delivered. Although throughout their story One May feel a sense of urgency to leap forward for the big reveal; the raison d’être. 

The story of Laura is less appealing and rarely satisfying. It reads more like a seperate novel; a flimsy melancholic beach read at times with a tedious female protagonist not really overcoming any hurdles, not even her lack of self esteem. The relationship with generic hunky gardener unfolds with only a couple of hurdles and the spooky element which arrived a little late, didn’t sit comfortably within the rom com serving. The aptly named Sunshine  is the only character that adds a glimmer of originality to an otherwise colourless cast. 

Essentially the purpose and main theme  of the novel was to to explore the notion of the value of objects and the story something inanimate can tell. Clearly not a a theme that could fill a whole novel. 

Anthony Peardrew spent his life collecting and Laura was left with the not so arduous task of reuniting the lost things with their original owners. A website was set up somewhere between Laura flitting over her frothy feelings for hunky gardener and ending up in bed with him. The owners of the lost items seemed to arrive quite easily and with no explanations of why one might be performing a google search for a child’s green hair bobble misplaced many years before. 

However, if unlike me you can look past the incidentals that raise a few narrative concerns and one or two insipid characters and you’re headed straight to escapism street. Aside from the clunky way the novel attempts to weave itself together, this book has a good heart, great intentions, some examples of some beautiful writing with a good attempt to create a unique genre; one that is a marvellous mix of magic and tenderness . Ultimately this book shows promise from a first time author and I’ll be watching out for her next book. 

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When Nina met Benedict Allen

Benedict Allen at WestBeach

Benedict Allen swoops into WestBeach; some might think, fashionably late, but my guess is Allen is trying to be anything but fashionable as he arrives, unfazed, casually dressed and ready to enlighten 30 or so diners with his tales of arduous journeys through some of the world’s most unfamiliar terrain. He is one of our country’s most intrepid explorers and along with being graced with his most awesome presence, diners are treated to a wine flight and a feast of five delectable courses; which bear a cheeky link to Allen’s past conquests.

Allen is articulate as he speaks and dances a graceful public speaker routine, using his whole body to engage his audience. As the diners begin to feel the effects of the wine flight, they find courage to thrust their hands into the air, like keen school children, needing to know every detail. Slowly they are coming to terms with his incredible bravery; although at first, feeling it implausible.

Why would a man willingly put himself through such torture, allowing himself so many times to reach deaths door?  Yet somehow with perseverance and endurance, a little bit of a luck, he escaped death many a time. The unlucky proverbial canine, who we now know surrendered his life in the name of exploration was mentioned within the first three minutes of Allen taking the stage; something for which Allen has become synonymous which needed to be addressed immediately as it seems the ghost of his somewhat unsavoury meal follows him wherever he goes- yet without it he would not have be here to tell the tale.

Allen takes his time telling his stories and pauses graciously to attend to those waving hands. He dines with the guests and speaks in-between courses and even sits happily with one guest and long time fan who has travelled from Scotland to hear him speak.

Allen sets the precedence with his unhurried arrival, so that the rest of the evening follows suit. Courses arrive nonchalantly and I find space at the bar; my aim to sink into the surroundings and listen in unnoticed is immediately foiled by the welcoming demeanour of the WestBeach staff.  Instead I find myself cradling a large glass of something red and warming whilst exclaiming ‘It tastes like velvet’. The barman congratulates me on my amateur observation of one of their Italian wines and then I find myself looking down at the first of the five courses: the ever so chic Barbequed Pulled Pork salad. I appreciate the humble appearance of sticky sweet shredded meat enveloped inside a crispy leaf before discovering its moreish textures of soft pork against crispy lettuce and cashew nuts. I turn down the glass of Rose Champagne I am offered which will no doubt accompany the textures and flavours of the pork and instead invest some more time with my new burgundy buddy, still reeling in smugness from my correct description of its silky palate.

The next course somehow by passes me, but as someone who seems to have inadvertently followed the rule of dining like a pauper in the evening, I am thankful for the break. I’m back in there though with course number three and now I have company at the bar: a fellow creative, who is also there to ‘work’ yet somehow seems to be enjoying the perks of the job as well. So we joyfully tuck into the beef stew and sweet potatoes and tick off a few arty topics whilst we are at it.

I leave just after the third course – overcome by tiredness. But before I go, I bag a photo with Benedict Allen just before he takes the stage for his third stint of the evening. He is happy to quickly become acquainted with me so we can stand hip to hip for our pose and I find him to be enchantingly delightful in that awkward English manner and I wish I could have stayed longer to see the evening through, as by the time I left, it seemed things were only just getting going…

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The Woman In The Window. Book review.

Thrusting you straight into the action from the outset,  A.J Finns early 2018 debut novel is set in the haunting claustrophobic lofty New York Home of Dr. Anna Fox.

Living alone and trapped in her own memories and despair, Anna hasn’t left her home in 10 months. With only her Pinot noir and her faithful cat Punch to keep her company, Anna becomes entranced by the Russell Family who have recently moved to the building opposite her.

She speaks daily to her estranged husband and daughter and logs onto the forum she hosts to help other agoraphobics on their journey to recovery . When she’s not doing this she is watching old movies and falling asleep with a concoction of pain killers and sleeping tablets, all washed down with a few tumblers of vino.

So when she witnesses an incident through the view finder of her Nikon camera whilst perusing the goings on of the surrounding buildings, Anna is forced outside to confront what she believes she saw. But when she is found outside her home by the police, so her problems ensue.

Now an unreliable witness to a crime that may or may not have happened Anna questions her own sanity and the motives of her neighbours; people she thought she knew and understood having being studying them from afar.

Many a thriller claims to keep you turning every page until the last breathless crusendo but rarely delivers. This book boasts very little but delivers on ever level.

Rarely do I pick up a book and not put it down until I have turned the final page but this psychological  spine tingling thriller had me gripped.

Each fully rounded character comes alive and the sense of place is palpable, albeit it mainly the 4 story town house, surrounding greens and buildings.

The narrative flashes back and fourth in time so we come to understand the devestation that has become Anna’s life and Finn writes tenderly from the perspective of a wife and a mother drawing the reader under the spell that they are reading the words of a female writer.

For film buffs this novel boasts references to classic movies and pays homage to the authors love of film. It’s no wonder it’s already been snapped up by film producers and will soon be made into a Hollywood blockbuster.

I was speaking to a male journalist recently who said he was reading this book, thouroughly enjoying it and that it was obviously written by a woman. This book is written by a man and one who works in publishing and had studied the market closely before submitting under an alias.

It’s a sad fact that the thriller market is saturated by  novels featuring vulnerable women with brains addled by amnesia, drugs or booze, ( S.J Watson, Before I Go To Sleep and Paula Hawkins, Girl on the train – to name a few) falling victim to crimes.  This novel perpetuates that cycle of abuse which we know to be inflicted upon women on a daily basis all across the globe.

Thankfully organisations such as the newly formed Staunch Book Prize, offering publication to a thriller writer where no woman is directly harmed in a way so that particular crime carries the entire story, is a welcome relief to what has become the norm in modern writing.

Althoigh A.J Finn has done what many have done before him and cast cliche vulnerable, endangered and undermined females, he has woven a sleek and intricate plot that keeps you gripped until the final reveal.

This book has a twist that sends you scurrying to past chapters to see where you missed the clues.

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