Friday, 30 January 2009

Shell shock

When I go shopping with Betty I normally keep her safely strapped in the pushchair for the duration. If she accompanies me by foot she is wayward and self-propelling, and it takes an age to get anything done. The last time I allowed her out of her pushchair she became obsessed with Abbey building society. It took several minutes to remove Betty from the queue for the mortgage adviser.

Yesterday afternoon we all went into town together. Tom announced that it wasn’t fair to keep Betty restrained in her pushchair when all she wanted to do was walk around with us. I tried to warn Tom but his mind was made up, and so I told him that if Betty was on the loose then she was his sole responsibility. Tom mumbled something about freedom and justice, unleashed our growling daughter, and then ran after her as she headed in the direction of the cathedral. I shouted down the street at a rapidly-disappearing Tom to let him know that I would be checking out the maternity range in Hennes and he should come and find me in an hour or so.

Twenty-two minutes later, from somewhere near the scarves and handbags, there was a very familiar-sounding commotion. ‘I said an hour,’ I told Tom. ‘Go and have another look around.’ In no mood for my excellent sense of humour, Tom quickly tried to give me an overview of what had happened while rummaging desperately in my bag for some snacks. Betty was being far too loud for Tom to make himself understood but the gist of it was, Tom was not going to be able to spend the next thirty-eight minutes with Betty at large.

I then announced that we must all go to the Early Learning Centre. So off we went, albeit slowly, and on arrival Betty was over the moon to find a toy shopping trolley. She spent 15 minutes pushing it around the shop and collecting everything off the shelves and placing it in the trolley. When it was time to leave I jokingly said to the shop assistant: ‘Expect a tantrum from my daughter when we try to leave the shop’. We both laughed light-heartedly, me because by ‘tantrum’ I meant a few crocodile tears which would quickly be forgotten once outside the shop and out of view of the trolley.

We left the shop and Betty had the MOTHER OF ALL TANTRUMS. I had never seen my sweet daughter behave in such a way. Tom picked her up around the ribs like she was some kind of giant insect, her arms and legs scrabbling wildly. But Betty was not to be so easily removed from her beloved trolley. Every few minutes she wriggled free of Tom’s grip and headed in a straight line back to the Early Learning Centre. Even at a distance of a couple of hundred metres, and around several bends, our homing pigeon Betty still headed back in the right direction. Then she started sitting down. That may not sound so bad but she sat with unbelievable determination. She is barely two stone in weight, but she somehow made herself as dense as a neutron star. Tom tried to move her along but nothing would shift her. He just had to wait for her to change position long enough to be able to grab her, then she would wrench herself free from his grip and the whole thing would start over again.

All the while, I was walking safely on the other side of the street, smiling sweetly and pretending that I wasn’t with them. Eventually I did go to Tom’s rescue and together we crammed our 45-degree-angle ramrod of a two-year-old girl back into her pushchair, threw her some snacks and jogged back to the car, trying to ignore the shouts of protest from below.

Poor Tom is still in shock. At supper-time last night he even announced that he wasn’t hungry. Betty’s first proper, full-on strop: I thanked god that it hadn’t happened without Tom being there, as I genuinely don’t think I would have had the physical or mental strength to deal with it.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Daddy Button

Betty is absolutely obsessed with Peppa Pig. The last thing she says as she is dropping off to sleep is ‘E’pig E’pig pleeeeeeease’ and that’s the first thing we hear when she wakes up.

Young Betty is heavily influenced by Peppa, which sometimes works to our advantage and sometimes not. Where Betty is now happy to clean her teeth and go skipping and dancing to the dentist, she has also started throwing cups of water over Tom, blowing bubbles into her drink instead of drinking it, demanding chocolate cake, jumping in muddy puddles on the way to nursery and lying on the ground (often in mud) laughing and kicking, and patting the spot next to her urging us to do the same. Those pigs have a lot to answer for.

I think I know one of the reasons why Betty is so keen on the Pig family. Daddy Pig bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom. Tom is a highly intelligent, gifted and wonderful man, but like Daddy Pig, lacks any kind of commonsense or practical skills. Quite often, sharp little Betty will react in much the same way when Daddy Pig does something daft as she does when Tom is about to do something equally as daft, with her concerned: ‘Ut-Ooohhh’. Maybe it is a dad thing.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Betty was here

Sometimes when Betty is playing downstairs with her granny or her dad, I sneak into her bedroom and sit in the silence for a while.

Betty’s room is full of her personality. Her sweet, unique scent drifts up from her clothes and toys, better than any perfume, the most reassuring smell I’ve ever known.

Everything around me is proof of her perfect existence, and it all tells a little story that only she can understand. The five blocks neatly piled on top of one another underneath her cot. Her toy bus with two half-eaten biscuits, a clothes peg and some tomatoes as passengers. A little collection of stones and berries, carefully placed in a small tin bucket on the radiator. The drawings on the wall which she has somehow managed to create using coloured wooden blocks. Her beloved duck, wrapped in a nappy and lying on her changing mat.

All these things that say: ‘Betty was here’ make the top of my chest pull and tighten, and the blood rush to my head. I could never have imagined a love this overpowering and intense before her arrival in the Button household.

I wonder how I could possibly love another child as much as I love Betty. Even though I know that of course the new baby Button will be equally adored, I find it hard to imagine right now.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Country girl

I took Betty for a walk down to the river by our house yesterday afternoon. I have never done this before without Tom, because I am terrified of any cow or sheep that might be in the field which leads to the river. The sound of rustling in the hedgerow gives me palpitations.

As Betty strode on ahead of me down the lane, happily wading through brambles and sheep shit like a trooper, I pathetically dodged all obstacles and kept a fearful watch out for the next door neighbour's dog, who has scared the life out of me on numerous occasions by barking and running around a few fields away.

Betty charged off down the steep hill towards the river and I tried to keep up with her with my heavy six-month-pregnant waddle, and called after her: 'Please don't tread in any more poo my darling'. All the time I kept thinking: 'Please please don't let that dog clock us, and please please don't let Betty ask me to carry her back up the hill'. I was a bag of nerves. The things I selflessly put myself through for my daughter’s enjoyment…

Sure enough, we reached the river and after Betty had pointed and said 'sea' a few times, she held her arms out for me to pick her up and said: 'Home. Home'. My heart sank. I realised it was going to be a long and tiring journey home. Perhaps we would never make it. I couldn't possibly have carried her for more than a few metres up a near vertical hill, in my wellies (which aren’t actually mine and are two sizes too big), with her balancing off my bump. Tom would have to come and rescue us.

I tried to distract her from wanting to be carried by pointing out some swans and taking a few faux-joyous photos of ourselves, before challenging her to a race up to the gate halfway up the hill. Thankfully, despite her little legs obviously being very tired, she rose to the challenge, and off she charged. She reached the gate a good thirty seconds before me and when she turned to see where on earth I was, she gave me a concerned, pitiful look, as I puffed and panted my way towards her.

After a few more race challenges and some serious chocolate bribery (I promised her my entire secret stash) we finally made it home again. I recounted our nerve-jangling expedition to Tom who was totally unsympathetic and seriously questioned my claim to have been brought up in the countryside. I had a strop and told him we were moving back to London. Tom gently suggested that I go and have a lie down with a bar of chocolate.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Sunday roast

Our friends Stuart, Charlotte and their toddler Bernie came round on Sunday for lunch. While Tom and Stuart were outside being all manly in sub-zero temperatures, chopping wood and digging up frozen parsnips, I cooked the roast. I tried to really go to town on it and whip up a feast à la Jamie Oliver. This was to make up for the last time they came over for a roast, when it took us two hours to serve up a watery chilli con carne with half the ingredients omitted and partially cooked rice.

I was busy making the mint sauce and swooning over Jamie’s alluring terminology when Tom entered the kitchen, chest puffed out, and proudly wielding some outsized parsnips caked in mud. ‘I think I can safely say that with that crop I have out there, I have managed to completely slash our parsnip bill this year my darling’ he said, before placing them on my clean work surface and practically skipping out of the kitchen.

After a few last minute tantrums over the gravy and undercooked parsnips, we eventually all sat down to eat. Betty spent the entire lunch being very loyal and saying ‘yum yum’ after every mouthful. She was being such a little treasure that I even managed to put on a brave face when she swiped the last piece of Yorkshire pudding from my plate (the bit that I was saving til last), and before eating it she held it up, looked at me and forcefully said ‘Betty’s? Betty’s?’ Once she had finished theatrically devouring it she then looked for other forms of entertainment. She began taking the peas, one by one, from my plate and dropping them onto the floor and every so often would hold up her little forefinger and say: ‘One more?’ After the fifth ‘one more’ I told her not to put anymore of my lunch in her mouth or on the floor and that it was very naughty. To which she promptly said ‘one more?’ picked up a pea and dropped it onto the floor. She then smirked at little Bernie and they both had hysterics. This was new. I was the butt of their joke. She was laughing at me with her little friend.

Some time after lunch Tom announced that he was going to make some flapjacks (his latest fad) for pudding, and although our guests were trying to leave at this point he assured them that they would be ready in 30 minutes and that they really would be worth staying for. They politely obliged, and while Tom got baking and I washed up, Betty saw it as her responsibility to keep our guests entertained. She began singing with impressive vigour and expression, using a tool from her doctor’s kit as a microphone, whilst swirling dramatically round the room. I had never seen such a performance from Betty and could only attribute it to her watching too much of The X Factor. She then disappeared for a few minutes and came back dragging Tom’s two guitars behind her. She handed one to Stuart and one to Charlotte before resuming her performance and urging them to join in with her.

One hour and 40 minutes later, Tom appeared with his flapjacks, and Betty, who hadn’t stopped for the duration, looked visibly relieved, as did everyone else. ‘Sorry they took so long’ he said nervously, ‘I ran out of oats and so had to use Ready Brek instead, and then they wouldn’t set, and then I put them outside in the garden for half an hour to harden…’

Monday, 12 January 2009

A french affair

Betty has been a slower than average talker but while we were on holiday in France during late summer, the French accent/language must have ignited something inside her because she finally began showing an interest in speaking – albeit French words. However once back on British soil she lost her enthusiasm once more and stopped trying to speak.

Just after Betty’s second birthday two months ago, we received an appointment card from the NHS stating that her two-year check-up with the health visitor was the following week. Knowing that they would want to know about her speech development, and not wanting her to be branded a dunce by the health authorities, I went armed with a list of all the words that Betty has ever said, French and English. Tom accused me of adding extra words to the list just to pad it out. I accused Tom of being a neglectful father and not listening to his daughter properly.

The appointment went well and the health visitor told me nothing that I didn’t already know – that Betty was obviously a very bright (I, of course, secretly think genius) child with an ‘intriguing’ multilingual interest (which I think she said just to humour me), and that there were no concerns with her speech development. While we were there she also measured Betty’s height and weight and told me that she was going to be a very tall and slim young lady. With a dead-straight expression I replied: ‘Just like her mother then’. Of course I was joking (I am very short with legs like a traffic warden’s). I was just trying to make the health visitor laugh but she didn’t know how to react and looked highly embarrassed and started speaking quickly and loudly about the bookstart club.

Betty is now repeating absolutely everything we say. It seems though, that being in France really did do something to her because even now she speaks with a distinct French accent (often dropping her ‘H’s’ for words such as house, hands, and hot), and has a real weakness for pain au chocolats.

Friday, 9 January 2009


I have been a pregnant hormonal and irrational cow with a serious chocolate addiction for the last couple of days, and poor Tom has been bearing the brunt.

Yesterday Tom popped into town at lunchtime to have a break from work and more importantly to buy me a Crunchie (having cruelly refused to buy me a Chocolate Orange because he is worried about my abnormal and vast consumption of them lately, where to his horror, I practically swallow them whole). He returned 10 minutes later empty handed, having gone into town and realised on arrival that he had forgotten his wallet. He said it wouldn’t be good for the environment to drive back into town again, which is a 10 mile round trip, just for a Crunchie, and offered me a chocolate coin instead. I was mildly insulted by this gesture but managed to comfort myself with a Snickers that I had hidden in the cupboard.

Later that evening Tom went back into town to buy us some fish and chips for dinner and to buy me a Chocolate Orange to make up for him not buying me a Crunchie earlier in the day. He returned with the fish and chips, and he also managed to remember to go to the pub for a quick pint, BUT FORGOT MY CHOCOLATE - AGAIN. I had a massive strop, told him that he was unsympathetic to my needs, and selfish, and stormed off to bed with just a bag of chocolate coins and a hot chocolate to pacify myself.

When Tom came to bed he told me that I had over-reacted about the Chocolate Orange and that I needed to calm down. I sulkily told him to be quiet because I was trying to watch Big Brother.

At 11.30pm, Betty, somehow sensing an atmosphere between us from her nursery, decided to wake up and come to the aid of her poor daddy and rescue him from her horrible mummy. She came into our bedroom and merrily bounced around on our bed, singing and laughing, and demanding that we kiss her soggy smelly duck at regular intervals. This charade went on til 4am, during which time she refused to be put back in her own bed and refused to go to sleep in our bed.

This morning I am absolutely shattered, but have managed to forgive Tom for forgetting the Chocolate Orange, and have apologised profusely. After her surge of energy during the night, I thought Betty seemed remarkably chirpy this morning. However it has just become abundantly clear that she has rapidly deteriorated in the last 10 minutes and is very on edge and tired – she has just burst into floods of tears because she tried to bite into a wooden fried egg at the same time as In The Night Garden finished – all too much for the little lady, so I am carting her off to bed so that we can both have a nap.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Betty ahoy

At the weekend, Betty and I were having a look around the Farmer's market in the middle of town whilst Tom scuttled off to some pretentious bookshop he loves. I was feeling proud to be with my daughter, walking around hand in hand in a relaxed manner, with none of the usual forceful ushering into Abbey Building Society or the cathedral.

Betty was doing some olive tasting at a stall when she clocked a merry-go-round and dragged me towards it squealing ‘Boat Boat Betty’. She has never been on one of these children’s rides before and I was nervous about letting her go on, for fear that she would get bored half way round and carry out some precarious acrobatics to launch herself off the ride. However, she was so eager, I decided to give it a go, so I paid the money and placed her in the boat. She confidently took the wheel and then patted the seat next to her and said ‘Mummy’. I loved her for thinking that I could feasibly fit into the miniature seat, and before I had a chance to try to explain to her that I was probably 25 times too big, the ride started and she was off. And it was a moment I would’ve frozen forever if I could have. I have never ever seen such a look of absolute euphoria on Betty’s little face. Judging by her expression it was the best thing that had ever happened to her by far. I only wished Tom would hurry up in his musty bookshop and come and witness it too.

The ride stopped and the look of disappointment on Betty’s face was almost unbearable. I tried to lift her out of the boat but she clung onto the steering wheel with her vice-like grip. Using the same tactic I employ when I am trying to get her to leave nursery, I discreetly whispered into her ear that if she came with me I would give her a treat. The talk of treats distracted her long enough for me to get her out of the boat and into the Woolworths across the road, for me (I am ashamed to admit) to say one final goodbye. Once safely inside the shop, I produced a chocolate coin - something I have in infinite supply - and handed it to Betty. But Betty refused the chocolate and looked me straight in the eyes with real sincerity, trying to bravely fight back the tears, and said ‘Boat. Pleeeeeeeeeeeease. Pleeeeeease.’ (very clever persuasive tactics she has learnt from the Little Princess cartoon).

Knowing that he would probably find me mournfully lurking in Woolies somewhere, Tom appeared at this point, sheepishly clutching some dull new book. Betty promptly began directing her pleading at him instead, while I went off to have one last go on the pick ‘n’ mix.