Thursday, 28 July 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We are counting our blessings as per some old bit of Lutheran wisdom I just made up.

Our blessings are as numerous as stars in the sky or flowers in the urban field.

Especially this week, as we wait for three of our beloved ones to land.

They are crossing a cold sea and braving the perils of Heathrow as I type.

Without our beloved ones, we would only be wandering stars or flowers lost in the urban field. 

As any sufficiently lapsed Lutheran will tell you, it pays to count your blessings. 

We welcome them in out of the cold swim with open arms: Grandma, Uncle Rice, and Auntie A. 

Monday, 25 July 2011


My daughters are gobsmacked by new discoveries every day. Their gobsmackery is manifested on a sliding scale between pure delight and abject terror.

Grown-ups encounter new things far less frequently than children. But occasional moments of gobsmackery permeate the adult defences too.

Today I discovered these beauties at the farmer's market.

Aren't they gorgeous? Like constellations of stars marauding as berries.

I've been staring at them all afternoon with a childish grin. They taste good - about how you would expect Cassiopeia to taste if Cassiopeia were made of albino currants and not stars.

Greengages, a fruit I only had the pleasure of meeting in recent years, had a similar initial effect on me. Greengages are such a counter-intuitive plum - they look for all the world like unripe apricots and taste like heaven.

Even more wonderful than greengages is Kid, Ana's imaginary friend who lives in her hand. As with so many wonderful characters in this world, I met Kid on a bus. Not a Greyhound on smoke break in Kansas City at 4am, but rather Ana's first red double-decker through the big smoke.

As we sat at the very top by the window and she told me repeatedly that we were going to London on the bus (we were in fact in London already, but she was impervious to this suggestion). Then, beaming delightedly, she extended her hand out to the window, shaped like a shadow puppet.

A kid's Kid. 
'Look Kid,' she said. 'Look at that! We're going to London, Kid!'

I love Kid. I ask to talk to him all the time, and if Ana is in a good mood she indulges me. She understands that one should respect the hand that feeds. You see, while Kid inhabits her right hand, Kid's Mama inhabits her left.

Today's currants made me recall two of my own favourite moments of adult wonder.

Ana, an abstract free-form scribbler of the Jackson Pollock school, recently sat down of her own accord and - with grown-up-like concentration - drew a discernible person on paper for the first time. 'Look Mama,' she said with authority, 'it's WALL-E.'

And indeed, there was no mistaking WALL-E. I was gobsmacked with delight.

WALL-E (and EVE).
Around the same time, Ali toddled over to the sliding glass door of our old house. She gazed up at the sky and pointed.

'Moon!' she whispered in pure delighted wonder. She'd never said the word before, identified any celestial bodies, or frankly appeared to have much interest in them.

Then she toddled off and began shouting at her blocks in spite of my best efforts to prologue the magic by sitting at the window and shouting 'MOON!' in that silly undignified fashion that only gobsmacked parent would do.

Both moments passed in a blink. The girls have forgotten. Till the currants today, I had forgotten too.

In fact, at this juncture any sensible reader might bang her head against the wall and demand to know why these mundane moments are worth remembering at all.

And my response to all this imaginary head-banging is this: because these were not isolated moments at all. Instead they were ripples from two monumentally wondrous moments. Twice in my life I have hovered over a newborn daughter, gazing in wonder at her perfect sleeping face for the first time.

It doesn't get more wonderful than that.

Of course birth is followed by years in the wilderness. No sooner does the midwife say 'Congratulations, it's a girl!' then you are rushed onto a waiting boat in the Thames and shipped off to years of hard labour with added ketchup in a Tasmanian penal colony.

Which is why savouring these moments of wonder is so important.

Parenthood is the act of jumping from sweet moment to sweet moment like a game of hop-scotch played over a lava field.

In fact life in general is a confusing cocktail of tragedy and wonder. Which is easy to remember on grim news weeks like this one. All that matters is loving the people we love. And making valiant efforts to love everybody else too.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

We are cooking up mischief.

Sugar, spice, dynamite. 
And poking penguins in the eye.

Take that, smug chick.
Babyzilla and Kid Kong are preying on London.

All your museums are belong to us.
 And pushing all of Mama's buttons.

Where is the 'eject to outer space' button, boss?
This week, last week, next week, and onwards, we find ourselves deeply lost in the belly of the summer holidays. And we are feeling rather less optimistic about the prognosis than Jonah did. All bets are off.

Stay tuned for more civilised weeks to come. In the meantime, duck and cover.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Visit from the Bronchiolitis Fairy

Ali had a visit from her old friend the Bronchiolitis Fairy recently. The Bronchiolitis Fairy is the mean old cow of the fairy world - much nastier than the Tooth Fairy with her pliers; much more motivated than that lazy recluse Big Foot.

Ali first met the Bronchiolitis Fairy, a year and a half ago when she was six weeks old. She caught a winter bug, coughed her little heart out and stopped feeding. An hour's visit to A&E turned into a week in the pediatric ward.
Bronchiolitis Fairy sited near Euston station.
Ali was such a tiny thing that the nurses had to make a nest of towels for her in the hospital bed. She was so pale that she camouflaged with the white sheets. She looked more like a perfect, porceline doll than a baby. Her little rib cage sucked in and out like a miniature bellows on overdrive.

For days she dreamed, coughed, dreamed, and coughed in her towel nest, like some delicate flightless little sparrow. Her tiny arms remained flung over her head in a halo, fists clenched tightly.

I hovered over her as if in a fever dream, unable to sleep, and in increasingly smelly socks (I hadn't come to the hospital prepared for a week's stay).*

I subsisted on Weetabix in styrofoam cups and a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that I found around the ward. Between bowls of soggy cereal and to the drumbeat of rain against the hospital window, I read about a healthy, precocious little girl exploring the wonder of the world and the beauty of her own mind.
'Ceiling wax? Bah.' 
I prayed that my girl would grow strong, that she'd spend a vigorous girlhood chasing rabbits and talking a load of nonsense with dodos. I promised to always hover by her side, to keep her safe and warm. I suspect most parents of ill children make similar silent promises.

I didn't sleep for a week. I lost track of time. I think I lost a few of my marbles too, which may still be under the cot in that bleach-scented room. But one sunny morning we were finally able to make our way home, and this song was playing in the car.

A week of bronculitis is nothing - many parents contend with far worse. Some unlucky ones with unspeakable suffering. I know that we are lucky. I know that we've had it easy.

The Bronchiolitis Fairy has been less nasty on subsequent visits. On her recent visit, poor Ali had to endure some very insulting poking from the doctor and a few puffs of an inhaler. Calpol reserves have been depleted. But that's the worst of it this time round.

I don't know where she picked this up, but Ali now wails 'poor mama!' when she is feeling particularly miserable. Of course this causes her poor mama's heart to crack in two every time.

Buttheaditis, a chronic inherited condition. 
It was while Ali sat on my knee at the GP's crying out 'poor mama!' that I was struck by the thought that maybe I need to relax and let go of my children a little more. The doctor listened to Ali's breathing through a stethoscope, frowned and leaned back. 'Can you stop patting her on the back and saying 'It's okay baby' into her cheek?'' she said. 'It's all I can hear'.

Poor Ali. When she gets tired and ill, she just gets more stubborn. She works harder when she most needs to take it easy. She gets mad at anyone who tries to help her.

Poor Ali: in this way she is just like her mama.

After the GP's, she yelled 'POOR MAMA' at her blocks all afternoon when they wouldn't stack up just so. But she refused to stop playing. Finally, finally, she flopped over and allowed me to cuddle her.

Someday, she will grow up and fly the nest. Even in adulthood there will be times when her stubbornness cannot overpower what ails her. For those times, I hope she is able to rest, to put down her defenses, to ask for help.

Perhaps in these moments she will feel the ghost of a hand patting her gently on the back, and hear a voice whispering in her ear that everything is going to be okay.

I will get better at letting go with my hands and my eyes as she gets older. But I will always keep her safe and warm in my heart.

*That is until our lovely friend P delivered a bag. Siblings weren't allowed in the ward so Papa and Ana had to stay home and keep a waffle and nutella vigil all week. Brave souls, they seemed in extremely high spirits at the end of it.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Blog and butter in the gutter

Chaos HQ was born into the virtual world a year ago today. This involved much swearing and plenty of ineffective pain relief. I'm pleased to report that life at Chaos HQ has brightened considerably since those dark sleepless days in the trenches of shape sorter land.

Thanks to all who have tirelessly read and suffered through the monthly milestones. Your Mañana Points, redeemable precisely nowhere, are in the post.

Over the past twelve months, Chaos HQ has learned to spatter-paint in sweet potato, cram utensils into light sockets, and perform numerous complex maneuvers out of 'The Exorcist.' Which is to say, Choas HQ was born into futillity and remains fully useless.

What to expect when you're past expecting?
Blogging has been great preventative medicine: I have completely failed to engage in more productive work. But I've managed to keep a few of my marbles, which was more than I expected. And it has been fun, if fraught with translation hazards and avoidable dangers.

I've re-connected with beloved friends and relatives an ocean away. I've met a handful of wonderful virtual people. I've learned to hate sort of tolerate only mildly hate Twitter.

In spite of slack editorial standards here at Chaos HQ, and out of the kindness of your hearts (or your concerns for my delicate mental state), you lovely people leave wonderful comments all the time. Thank you from the bottom of my grinchy heart: you make my day.

In the beginning, when the cursor first moved over the face of the blank page, I had such a strong grasp on good taste and privacy that I password-protected my blog and blocked it from search engines.

I was literally writing for no one. Lame, yes?

I soon realized that blogging for no one is like the sound of a typewriter falling over in a forest where no one can hear it BEING REALLY LAME. So I slowly I baby-stepped into the stream, out into the harsh glare of the interwebs. I learned to ride without midnight training wheels. I became audibly lame, which is far more rewarding.

Naval browsing.
Of course the best part of growing older is birthday cake and adult beverages. The next best part is that wise realisation that you haven't grown any wiser and likely never will. And the next-next best thing is the birthday blues: that period of reflection that accompanies the act of counting down our finite days on the ceaseless conveyor belt towards the great end. Similar to to New Year's resolutions, but without the excess hope and faith in one's ability to crash diet.

Now that I am toddling wide-eyed around this wide world, eating worms and smacking my head on trees, I find I've run out of steam a bit. What's it all for? Where's it going? Why is my child on fire? Why am I on fire?

Readers, robots, friends - I'd love to hear your thoughts. Failing thoughts, please send LULAS, whiskey and fruit shoots. Prioritise the whiskey. Stocks are running low.

As a side-note, I was pleased to discover that Chaos HQ and Woody Guthrie share the same birthday. My musically gifted other half introduced me to this wonderful Woody song, and I've adopted it as the new Chaos National Anthem to help me power through another year of blogging nonsense. God save us.

Now if you'll excuse me, my blog has just lit itself on fire and is throwing pasta again.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Counting hatchlings

Legend has it that a fanged superwoman roams these parts under a full moon. She is an ambition android; the svelte owner of a gazillion complicated handbags and as many snowflake children as she desires. She eats competition cereal (fat-free) for breakfast, and her life motive is simply to make other women feel inferior.

Actually, superwomen don't exist. Even Big Foot and the Loch Ness Beastie know that.

Which is a good thing really, because superhumans of any sort are a drag at dinner parties. I reckon it's our warts that make us interesting.

All this is to say that I am taking up the lovely Mila of Here Under the Rainbow on her challenge to say: I am good enough. My efforts count. My quirks are the best part of me.

I like this linky in particular because it focuses on the best bits about blogging - expression, enjoyment and sharing.

To get into the habit of self-appreciation, I am patting my own back with one hand while flipping the bird in the general direction of over-achievement with the other. This complicates typing, so I will instead direct you towards the following three warty posts that I am rather proud of.

My best humour post
My taste is pretty low-brow, so I've naturally opted for toilet humour.

My best how-to post
I rarely dispense advice because I hate colouring inside the lines myself. However in a rare display of helpfulness, I strongly recommend that you toddle off to the kitchen right now and make fruity moonshine.

My best Charlie Brown post
That is, a much beloved but somewhat overlooked post. This one is very close to my heart. It's about a whole lotta nothin' - just love and the light returning after many days out in the wilderness - my main preoccupation in writing, and indeed in living.

Here is a no-obligation invitation to three wonderful bloggers to highlight their three favourite posts in the above categories as per Mila's wise example.

Frankie Parker

Multum in Parvo

SAHM Loving It

Guys, you may do this while patting your own backs, drinking fruity moonshine, and flipping overachievers the bird in a distinctly un-super fashion if you wish.

This week at Chaos HQ

We have been seeking out sources of splash.

Flying fish. 
This being England, splash has consisted of two parts paddling pool to five parts mud puddle. 

This being two under-fives we're talking about, all parts have been taken in leaping stride with purest joy.  

Monday, 11 July 2011

Summer is a comin' in

Summer is a golden-haired girl dragging a favourite muddy stick across the Heath. 

The entire Heath.

Summer is a pixie in a polka dot dress with fete glitter on her cheeks. 

Her sister dreams peacefully under the protective embrace of last season's tree,

as she stirs mud puddles with purpose.

Summer is a lot like that opening scene in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, except without any boring history books.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

Spoon full of sugar for the medicine. 
We've been dreaming in bi-cultural cupcakes and munching on Transatlantic flags. I've been humming one of my favourite American tunes

As the founding mama of this great modest house, I have been stubbornly clinging to the self-evident truth that all humans are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Be they young or old. Unlucky or lucky in the lottery of life. 

Woody Guthrie, one of my favourite patriots, says it best

The Dust Bowl Troubadour spent his strange and fascinating life showing fascists what hillbillies can do. This July marks the centenary of his birth. 

The timing is fitting: where their parents had job and housing opportunities, young people now have ample time to cultivate their folk music skills in the great outdoors. Fortunately, a folk music kit is pretty cheap and folds up easily for storage in a leaky bedsit, or under a park bench.

Happy birthday Woody - you are still the man for your time and place. 

Monday, 4 July 2011


Someone has been wiretapping my bathroom. And they've made a million bucks out of it.

The loo is my swearing refuge. It's where I run to when my nocturnally expressive child won't be pacified for the fiftieth time. Here no one judges me. Here no one picks up verbal weaponry for strategic deployment at effing playgroup.

I don't know who dunnit. It may have been Nixon's ghost attempting revenge, but acting on bad intelligence. It may have been the out of warranty gremlin in league with the crap evil spy agency.

However it happened, a transcript landed on a printing press and ventured onto the interwebs where it met with a shi*tstorm of approval.*

'Go the F**k to Sleep', written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, is a bastardized version of 'Goodnight Moon'. It has topped the Amazon bestseller list, converting the previously pro bono medium of midnight bathroom effing and blinding into a fat golden goose.

The title is certainly more memorable than 'Mummy is crying in the loo again', which would have been my best shot. The illustrations are lovely, and the tone of wits end soothery is perfect:
The cubs and the lions are snoring, wrapped in a big snugly heap. How come you can do all this other great shit, but you can't lie the fuck down and sleep?

Friday, 1 July 2011

This week at Chaos HQ

Two years ago the world's cutest little boy was born and I became an auntie. I've always wanted to be one of those.
Chain gang. 
Now when I see my girls play with their cousin I remember that old line from Ecclesiastes: "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." 

I love to watch them grow up together. 

Happy birthday, mi hijito