I’m not good at much. I can poach an egg free-style without breaking sweat. I’m always telling the little ones I teach how to swim that my breast stroke is perfect and they don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of being better than me but they can try (works every time, though in truth my breast stroke is pretty average so I guess I’m merely good at kidding kids). I’m not bad at reading so long as I can find my glasses and I’m absolutely fabulous at watching repeats of Mad Men on a Friday night with a scotch when everyone else has gone to bed. Oh, and that roundabout at the top of the Parade in the rush hour? I’m good at that too, suckers.
But having babies and, eek, parenting? I was never going to be a natural. During my first pregnancy I was in awe of a fellow mum-to-be friend who boasted that she hadn’t read a single word on labour and babies and motherhood throughout her entire pregnancy.
But like a chef who thinks he’s above tasting the stuff he’s cooking, it all went terribly wrong when the timer went off. She freaked out completely, also became dehydrated and ended up putting her and her newborn’s health at considerable risk. After that, I was so wary of my potential for ignorance, I ended up overdosing on Doc Stoppard and Penelope Leach – or Pleach as she was known in the trade. I never got good at it but I did get informed.
Pregnancy, the Beginner’s Guide
This guide uses the speak-slowly-and-enunciate approach, with lots of big writing, colour-coded pages and columns so that the hormone fuddled concentration can’t stray too far, and comes with extras such as jolly tips for dads like ‘don’t make silly jokes in ante-natal classes’, it’s not big or clever.
by Denyse Kirkby
The method here is all starched pinny and strictly no euphemisms. Our waters don’t break, our “membranes rupture”. And she’s polite but firm: “Please remember that natural vaginal births are the normal way to have a baby” and afterwards, “Please make sure you try to relax,” once the baby is born. As I recall, relaxing once the beggar is out isn’t the problem. It’s trying to pee a couple of hours later when the stress really sets in.
And you’ll find on that inaugural drive home from the hospital with the newborn nailed to the Britax, the last time you drove this slowly was with a plastic BSM pyramid on the roof. And that’s just the start of the anguish. You wait until you encounter the first massive poo in that tiny, tiny nappy, that first raging temperature, a belly button that won’t heal.
Keep Calm, the New Mum’s Manual
by Ellie Cannon
The point of this manual is to engender confidence. There’s no mystery about winding babies for instance, we are told to enjoy our offspring’s belches. She’s obviously no fan of dummies and warns against reaching for a plug at the first sign of trouble but in general we are advised to trust our instincts. Apparently we are the expert.
The Blissful Baby Expert
by Lisa Clegg
So that’s us then, the blissful etc etc? Ah. Or is it the babe that will be blissful? Arggh. Either way, the modus here is detail. Tons. And quite prescriptive detail at that. If you like your manual to be in charge, follow the ‘ recommended weaning order’ for dropping feeds; if your baby is inclined to nap during the day, try the ‘sleep routine’ menu.
Dummies aren’t quite the devil that our previous author claims but the ‘timed comforting method’ can be used to settle the child without one. And if you need something to suck yourself and find the fags/Pinot/fist ain’t doing it, peruse the checklist for depression. Feel like running away? Healthy and normal. Want to murder your husband (no, really)? Best get yourself down the surgery.
Humpty Dumpty & Other Rhymes
by David Melling
I started teaching parent & baby classes in the pool recently and was shocked by how tongue-tied I’d become when it came to the nursery ditties that accompany the action as we splash. Once upon I time, I knew ‘em all inside out but thanks to lack of use thesedays I find myself humming the gaps. “Our previous instructor knew the second AND third verse to The Grand Old Duke of York,” one mum said airily after my pathetic rendition. Hmm, the previous one just had two babies in four years, I replied through a gritted smile, and I’m not ruddy doing that again (whilst making a mental note to bone up). The creator of Hugless Douglas has gathered all the useful ones here, thank goodness, with pictures. My teaching can only improve.
Les Misérables, Cozy Classics
Ooh, this is from a series of truly gorgeous board books that take the classics and render them accessible using felt and stitches, and effective single words. Here we have Jean Valjean rescuing the sweetest little fabric Cosette from her miserable existence – HAPPY – but will woolly browed Javert spoil their happiness? – DARK… From Moby Dick to Jane Eyre, impress your friends with these plotlines in a needle-worked nut-shell. And the little ‘uns can read ‘em when you’ve finished.
No text here but some wonderfully succinct retro pictures to help chivvy along the narrative. With a hood-winked zoo-keeper in pursuit, it seems whatever our be-whiskered marine mammal turns his flippers to he’s good at, whether portrait painting, brick-laying or competition diving off the high-board.
In this ingenious push, pull and slide big chunky book for toddlers – the London Eye goes round, Tower Bridge goes up and down and, cue rising hysteria, the tube train doors open and close SIDEWAYS! Just like in real life. I know this because I was on one last week. But this book is much more fun than the Central Line on a Saturday.
My Pop-Up City Atlas
Bringing Venice to life in a chapter called Extreme Cities (well, it is isn’t it!) and with the Eiffel Tower literally popping-up in your face in the Scenic Cities section, and with tabs and facts on Religious Cities, Historic Cities (give us a wave London! No, not the wet kind), Ancient Cities and Coastal Cities, by the time you’ve popped-up that Manhattan sky line you’ll feel like you’ve been right round the world on the cheap. Who needs Ryanair with paper engineering like this?
Another series of potted classics, this time for readers who are ready, thanks to that controversial concept called ‘Popular Culture,’ for the intricacy of stories but not quite up to the actual multi-volume blood spattered revolutionary tragedy. Also in the series, The Great Gatsby re-told by Sean Connolly & Sam Kalda, Real Reads rrp 4.99. Indeed, it is never too soon to learn that money can’t buy you happiness (though a iTunes gift card will buy you the soundtrack).
One for the teenager in your life, or in my case, er, me, by the same ‘bandes dessineés’ (known to those of you who are not well-versed Europeans as the ‘graphic novel’) artist that brought me, us, A Taste of Chlorine about finding solace in the rhythm of swimming, comes the tale of a young ballerina whose talents take her to the very top of her profession only to discover that maybe a future in ballet isn’t what she was meant to follow afterall.
I know, though I still hope for a turn on the stage with Carlos and keep that tutu pressed and my toes pointy just incase that call comes, I may soon have to accept that perhaps the Royal Ballet was never really ready for me. In the meantime, as a result of all those pregnancy & childbirth manuals I scrutinized in the past, I’ve realized there is something else I’m really good at – pelvic floor exercises. Very helpful with all the ballet jumps and lifts, believe me.
This article was originally published in the March issue of Families magazine