More life coaching with Hugh

Imaginary Hugh Jackman answers the questions that no one but me was asking. At 3am. In my head.

Dear Hugh,

I don’t really understand what Uber is. I thought it was… well, I told my husband what I thought it was, and he laughed at me for ages but then didn’t correct me. I think maybe it’s more of a London thing, but I haven’t lived there since bendy-buses and I’m woefully out of touch. 

Also, all my friends use Air B&B, but I feel this is surely the best way to wake up wrapped in tinfoil while someone lists your pancreas on eBay?

Please advise!

Mate, forget it. You know how I get around? I walk, like a man. Or prowl, like a grizzly. Or jack a motorcycle from a barn, ride it through a wall and bang it down a dirt track, raking the ground with my mighty claws any time I want to execute a parking manoeuvre. And no, none of that was meant to sound dirty, grow up.

What’s Uber? I dunno, Google it, get the app, get over it. But yeah, if someone says you can stay in their outhouse in Vanves for ten Euro and a Twix then they are definitely going to rob you blind, photograph your junk and send your thumbs back to your mother in a fur-lined matchbox. We all know that, come on.

Dear Hugh,

Is it acceptable to send my toddler to her new nursery with a glossary of all the mad shit she keeps repeating? For example, at the moment she walks up to me twice a day and insists “We don’t do magic, we’re elves! HADOO!” But because she’s two, it just sounds like she’s speaking in tongues through a malfunctioning Darth Vader mask. And what if the nursery people aren’t even aware of the complex socio-political themes of Ben & Holly’s Magic Kingdom? Should I propose a weekly vocabulary summit?

Yours helicopteringly,

Jenny

Yeah, go on, have a summit, and why not make it daily? Or better, just follow the kid around wearing an interpreter headset, like at the UN. Or, you know, you could actually take advantage of the wildly qualified daycare professionals and go home and do some work.

I’m gonna tell you what I told my arch-nemesis and noted Dundonian, William Stryker, when I was skewering him in X-Men 2: “How does it feel, Bub?” That might not mean anything to you, but frankly these movies ain’t Shakespeare and it was slim pickings, right? Right.

Hey Hugh,

Several younger friends are all over Instagram with photos of their pregnant bellies cradled in wildflower meadows, plus pristine nurseries, swaddles hand-knitted in musk ox, piles of tasteful paperbacks they’re planning to read and usually some kind of ambitious quilting project for when the baby’s napping. Am I duty-bound to tell them to cover everything in tarps, buy a shitload of frozen pizzas and mentally prepare some brutal late-night insults for their significant other? I feel bad for them.

Sure, if you want to send them into a goddamn meltdown. You want me to tell you that you’ve got perimenopause and Type 2 diabetes in your near-future? Or that one day you’re finally gonna grind your molars into dust and you’ll have to eat creamed corn for the rest of your life? No.

If someone had warned me, back in 1886, that I’d soon have terrifying retractable bone claws, become a fugitive murderer, fight in all of the 20th Century’s most attractively-uniformed wars, kill or maim pretty much every woman I’ve ever loved, be forcibly weaponised by a shady military organisation then press-ganged into a team of mutant do-gooders, you know what I’d’ve done? EXACTLY ALL OF THAT.

So shut your mouth and send them a sack of organic cashews or whatever in three months when the pictures get all blurry and insane.

Man, I feel like a WAHM-argh

We’re up all night to get mum. We’re up all night to kill mummy.

People often say to me ‘Jenny, how do you write words for money AND look after a toddler all day long?’ and ‘How do you come up with column ideas while sleep deprived?’ and ‘What’s that smell? I think it’s coming from the sink?’ So here are my top tips for being a work-at-home mum, huzzah!

Wear real clothes

Slobbing around in your pyjamas all day makes it really difficult to get into work mode; I find the most efficient way to maintain a srz bznz persona is to sleep fully dressed. Stick a discounted Joules blazer over that rumpled fine knit and you’ll look like a goddamn professor when the Tesco man arrives at half-past sadface.

Interstitial time

Use small idle moments to work on other tasks. Waiting for the bath to fill? Load the washing machine! Call centre keeping you on hold? Wipe down the kitchen surfaces! Toddler insisting you help her crawl up and down the stairs over and over again? Develop a complex imaginary relationship with your favourite X-Man! Awaiting the sweet release of death? Chop up some vegetables for dinner! Note that none of these tasks will ever be completed, leaving you feeling like Martha Stewart has attacked your home with a mallet.

Write anything, anywhere, whenever

It’s important to develop your own USP. Mine is ‘Scarecrow woman blindly pecks out acceptable copy on her phone at 3am. Sometimes in the car*.’

Let your toddler help

Ada loves to help out around the house! From inspecting the contents of the bin to sticking crayons up the hoover, it’s amazing how the most mundane tasks can become an enrichment opportunity. Or a trip to A+E.

Drink a lot of coffee

How much coffee do you currently drink? Double it. If it’s not yet dawn, add condensed milk.

Listen to Chris

Chris says I should conclude this post by pointing out how unsuccessful I am at sane WAHMing lest I come across as some kind of smugpants princess lazybones. Done. #coffeetime

*Parked. Safety first, insomniacs!

Back from the brink with an iPhone and debit card autofill

September

I have had a baby, it is not going well; sadly because she is sleeping through the night at a freakish 5 weeks old, no one takes any of my problems seriously. 

The baby is knackered but only naps if I rock her on my lap in a dark, silent room. I take to devouring eBooks on my iPhone, the first one I read is Room.

Room is incredible and, for a book set almost entirely in one room, unexpectedly thrilling. I read it during the hours and hours I am (at least voluntarily) trapped in a dark room with my child, not noticing the irony until it’s over and I start wondering if I could roll myself up in a rug and ask Chris to pop me outside on bin day.

December

I have been diagnosed with a post-natal hormone disorder and severe anxiety. Much of my hair has fallen out, I have awful skin and I sweat all the time. I am sent to a therapist who makes me download an app called iWorry Lite; I have to upgrade to the paid version after 24 hours because I have too many worries. Chris finds this darkly hilarious. The baby gets her first cold.

I watch a bit of Australia on my phone each night, then fall asleep listening to David Mitchell’s Back Story and Bill Bryson’s The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid on repeat.

I like memoir audiobooks, mainly because you don’t lose the plot when you fall asleep (although I have, arguably, lost the plot). These two are my favourites; I listen to them over and over, Chris eventually buying me fancy low-profile Bluetooth headphones so that the baby doesn’t develop some kind of Pavlovian narcolepsy every time she hears David Mitchell on a panel show.

March

I am a little better. The baby sits up. I resign from my job and become oddly unmoored. I do an online writing class and read Sarah Crossan’s amazing One, all on my phone. Jim recommends I listen to Hamilton and I buy that too, so the whole month is spent in verse, with weird couplets running around my head. 

I manage to make Hamilton’s massive political and ideological themes all about my ridiculous little life; I do need to rise up! I’m not stupid! I do think these pants look hot!

I fail to convince anyone else to get into Hamilton, so I rap Scottishly at the baby. My inner life has become strange but vast as my outer life has shrunk to mashing pears and inspecting poop.

May

We have moved to the motherland! On our first afternoon in our new town I run into an aunt, and the following day my dad visits and plays blocks with Ada. We put a tent in the garden and she laughs at the wind and pulls up fistfuls of grass. For the first time, I am parenting solo for most of the week; it’s not as bad as I expect. I get some writing work; Chris builds me a desk but I still do most of it one-thumbed on my phone.

I buy the new Star Wars film. I’ve been holding out for a quiet night to watch it on the big screen TV, but I’ve decided to watch it in snatches on my phone as the poorly baby clings to me in her sleep. It’s fine. It’s fun! Life is easier now I’ve accepted that Me Time comes in minutes and seconds rather than days and hours.

Now I’m watching Lady Dynamite, a hilarious Netflix show about Maria Bamford’s descent into and recovery from mental illness. I recognise her flashbacks like they are mine; the raggedy clothes, the exhaustion, the social awkwardness, the confused friends, the keen attempts to use therapy strategy in real life situations, the staring, the blue winter light. You must watch it! Except you, mum, it’s very rude.

I get a lot of flak, usually from older people, for always having my phone in my pocket or on the counter or in the baby’s drooling maw, but it has honestly saved my sanity many times over during this hardest of hard years. Get a good smartphone, pregnant ladies, you won’t regret it.

Lazy Fridays with a napless baby

I’m going to type something that will make you want to kick me square in the face, but it’s been six weeks now and it’s important to address it – our baby sleeps all night. Like, she sacks out between 8 and 9pm, and she gets up at 7am. To be honest, I can’t find much online about babies doing this at such a young age, and sometimes it worries me when she hasn’t eaten in 12 hours or she’s been lying in a wet nappy for 13 hours, but I’ve decided just to roll with it.

Before you kick me in the face, though, you should know that there’s a terrible downside to this, which is that by day she sleeps like a cracked-out meerkat, which is to say hardly at all. If I’m lucky she naps for 30 minutes at a time, getting cranky and overtired as the day goes on, culminating in a bedtime meltdown and all-night babycoma. What fun.

When Chris first started working out of the house on Fridays, I did a few Google searches for ‘home alone with a newborn’ and ‘daily baby routine’ and found heaps of stuff that included phrases like ‘Shower during her morning nap!’ Or ‘Take an hour during her lunchtime sleep to catch up on chores’, which made me tearfully hysterical. Her naps might be just long enough for me to run for a wee, and even then I’d better not flush or breathe or remove my underpants for fear of waking the kraken.

So, for anyone (anyone?) out there with a similarly sleepless-in-the-day baby, here’s how I do a low-effort Friday, including my ‘brilliant’ baby activity ‘ideas’. Please don’t call the baby police.

Nap cycle 1
Baby wakes! Make bottle, feed, change, burp. This is the easiest cycle of all as the baby is all dopey from her all night sleepathon.

Activity:
Fingers Lie down in bed together. Hold up one hand. Baby holds your fingers and waves them around. First to fall asleep is the winner.

Naptime chore: Get up slowly. Sloooowly. Shhh! Pull on any clothes you can find – it doesn’t matter if you look like Worzel Gummage, no one will see you. Creep to kitchen and make bottle and coffee. Don’t confuse the two. I make my coffee in an insulated lidded cup so it stays hot for a while and I’m less likely to spill it on her HEY-OH ACTUAL USEFUL TIP!

Don’t bother with: Shower. Leave it, mate, it’s not worth it.

Nap cycle 2
Baby wakes! Snuggle her as she struggles in your loving embrace, hahaha baby, there’s no escape! In theory she should now be fed, but our naps are so short that I often have to kill some time before a feed with some activities.

Activities:
Gym ‘n’ Gollum time! 
Ten minutes getting thoroughly worked-up in the musical baby gym. Everytime the music ends say ‘Let’s have another one, precious!’ like Gollum, until she kicks the music button again.

Parkinson Baby lies on Daddy’s footstool and gurgles like a loon. Act like a sycophantic interviewer and say encouraging things like ‘And then what happened?’ and ‘What would you say was the inspiration for your new album?’

Don’t tell Daddy! Baby throws up on a footstool. Wipe it up and say ‘Don’t tell Daddy!’ Then both laugh until someone throws up again. Usually the baby.

Changing table cereal bar Put the baby on her changing table with a stuffed monkey. Eat a cereal bar and make monkey noises.

Yawn? NAPTIME.

Naptime chore:
Lie down and surf the internet. You’re crushing this, soldier! Make next bottle VERY QUIETLY.

Nap cycle 3
Baby wakes! Say hello then run and stick a pan of soup on to heat before she notices you’ve disappeared. Return to bedroom and act casual. Now feed, burp and change.

Activity: Floor blanket! Plop baby on a blanket on the floor. Surround her with soft toys then go and put your soup in a mug. Now you can sit at arms reach and drink your soup with one hand while playing some fun games with the other like…

Soft toy Sophie’s Choice Present two toys and see which one baby likes best. Kill the other toy (not really).

Reality bites Make toy animals behave like real animals eg. bear tries to eat baby’s face, chicken pecks everything and gets attacked by fox toy. Etc.

When you’ve finished your soup you can play…

Mummy is big Stand over baby and, to her amazement, demonstrate that you have legs and a body and are not, in fact, a disembodied head.

Dance! Whistle a tune badly. Dance badly. Baby will either laugh and try to copy you or stare at you blankly. It’s 50/50 for me.

Mummy’s lie down Lie next to baby and let her punch you in the face. Surprisingly relaxing. Close your eyes or she will scratch your corneas.
Yawn? NAPTIME.

toys

Naptime chore: 
Take a laptop into the bedroom and check email or do an online grocery order. Ada’s naps are so short that I can now do a weekly shop in under three minutes. When it arrives, it looks like that bit in Trainspotting when Ewan McGregor buys all the soup and buckets.

Nap cycles 4-6
Baby wakes! If your baby is anything like mine she’ll have been asleep for about 8 minutes, entering you into a world of ever-decreasing wake/sleep periods in which baby gets more and more enraged at her continued existence.

Mix and match these activities as needed…

Pram around the block Our baby doesn’t sleep well in the pram any more but I pop her in anyway and show her the trees that are least likely to drop leaves or conkers in her eyes. Look! Trees! Pretty! Tip – this is a good opportunity to drink another travel flask coffee uninterrupted.

Through the keyhole Carry baby around the house and look at things like windows, pictures, bookshelves and the debris of your former life. Narrate like Loyd Grossman. If you’re lucky, she might fall asleep again (SPOILER, she won’t).

Baby beauty salon Put baby on the changing mat and wash her hands, face and neck. Ada loves to ‘dry’ her hands by waving paper towels in the air. You can also trim nails, brush hair and give her shoulders and tummy a relaxing massage, if you’re feeling enthusiastic.

Rattle! Baby rests on your knees and bats at a rattle. Optional: Baby kicks you in spleen.

Naptime chores:
Prepare for bedtime battle. Are bottles clean? Is crib bedding ready? Are pyjamas prepared? Good. In the minutes and seconds of unconsciousness your baby achieves, down a small alcoholic drink or large piece of chocolate.

Yawn? BEDTIME. Good luck, soldier. Good luck.

Notes:

  • Never drink hot beverages within flailing distance of a baby. Obviously.
  • Front-load the day with exciting activities and wind-down as the day goes on, otherwise your baby will get hugely overstimulated and want to stay up all night crying and laughing like a 90s acid casualty.
  • If your baby won’t sleep through a wee or shower, put a little chair in the bathroom and let her watch you. If you’re thinking ‘My bladder is too shy to wee while someone stares at me and smiles weirdly’, I can assure you this is less of a problem once you’ve given birth.
  • The Baby Whisperer has some good stuff on sleep that’s got Ada napping a little bit better. The EASY (eat, activity, sleep, your time) routine for us is more like EASASAEAAARGGGHWTF though.

Being Ada

A few people have asked if our baby is named after Ada Lovelace, so here’s a thing I wrote about her name. Wow, I am fascinating, I know…

Ada was meant to be called Edith, for years and years. We love lots of Ediths, from Piaf to Crawley, and I liked the look of it written down. But as my due date got closer, Chris started floating the name Ada and, slowly, it grew on me.

At first I thought it was too short, and I was weirded out by the two ‘A’ sounds in quick succession. I made the mistake of checking the threads on Mumsnet where mean commenters thought it looked like ‘Asda’ or said it was frumpy.

But when she was born, it was obvious that she was Ada. Chic and to the point. Unusual but not weird. Retro but modern. Little and big. A prime minister or a gardener or anything she likes. Ada Margaret Gray, like a time-travelling swashbuckling lady.

She’s not named after Lovelace, but we really like her as a namesake. She’s not named after anyone, really, she’s just herself. Of course she is.

autumn ada