Monday, 28 September 2009

One place to call home

My darling Doodlebug

One of the things I find odd is that you and I will have such vastly different upbringings. Because your grandfather was in the Army and then the Foreign office, I spent the vast part of my childhood overseas, moving from place to place every few years. One of my earliest memories involved sitting on top of the wooden packing crates (which I want to call UFOs though I'm sure they had some other acronym. You'll have to ask Granny M.) Mum and Dad would slowly pack them up in the weeks and months before our next move, so that gradually things would disappear from view until we were pretty much left with our favourite toys and some throwaway knickers. Then they'd plonk Uncle 1 and I on the lid to weight it down whilst Dad hammered in the nailsin much the same way as you would if you had too much stuff to fit in your suitcase. Then one day I'd get home from school and it would all be gone and the countdown would really be on to move day. That changed with the Foreign Office as we had the great luxury of others packing for us, but we still had to manage with the bare minimum toys and underwear (and a 'float' set of kitchen equipment on loan from the Office.)

Things were always the same when you got to your new post though: living in temporary accommodation until yours was ready; waiting for your packing to arrive (and hoping none had gone overboard/astray en route); meeting all the people at post who would become your friends (whether you liked them or not) for the duration of your/their stay; getting to know your way around a new place; enrolling in a new school/doctor's surgery etc. The first few weeks were an odd blend of interest and excitement at being somewhere new and the tedium of not really being able to make it home. Of course everyone was friendly and invariably we got invited to lots of parties and lunches and so on, which was nice when you were little but got to be irritating by the time you were a teenager and didn't want to have to follow your parents around ALL the time. I think that's one of the reasons I was so glad to go to boarding school, where I could keep the same friends from term to term. It's not that I didn't mind the change, but there was something reassuring about having a solid base, even if it turned out to be school. I aways envied those I met who had lived in the same house since they were little, and whose parents had an attic filled with their report cards and school projects, ther costumes and toys from when they were little. It's one of the things I envy Daddy. I loved going to the GPs and seeing some of his school work and learning a bit more about what he was like before I knew him. There were massive advantages to growing up in the way that I did though. I got to live in countries other people only usually visit for two weeks' holiday, if at all. I got to see behind the scenes of countries like Egypt and Albania, find out of the way places to visit far from the tourist track in Cyprus and Belgium and the Caribbean, get a truer sense of what made the country special or interesting. I got to meet a lot of really interesting people, locals and ex pats, and attend events that I would never have had the opportunity to had I grown up in the UK. I got to go to boarding school and really make the most of my brains. I have some really interesting and unusual photos and memories. I think I was incredibly lucky to have been exposed to such an interesting peripatetic lifestyle, for all that I envy the filled attic of friends' parents.

One of the greatest gifts your daddy gave me was the chance to live in one place for the rest of my life (although we have moved once already, he is confidence that this is the house you will be married from), the chance to stuff the loft full of the things that you will make at school. I'm excited too that you get to grow up so close to London. Some people think that it is too big and a terrible place to raise children. And, strictly speaking, we live in Kent rather than London (although I figure that we are in Zone 5 as assigned by the London Transport System thereby making us 'in London'.) But I met your Daddy in London- we went on dates in London and we got married in London. Whenever I take the train into London a small smile creeps over my face as we creep over Blackfriars Bridge. It's the best view of St Paul's Cathedral that there is. And it's where I married your Daddy. Crossing the bridge in the other direction, you can see the lights of the Oxo Tower, scene of the second date (featuring the first kiss.) Wander around the A-Z and you will find places we have eaten at, museums we have visited together, places where we partied with friends, the shop where Daddy bought my engagement ring and a whole host of nooks and crannies, landmarks and shops which hold special memories for us. I love the idea that you will see all of these places and know all of these stories. I imagine you will come to loathe it, and move overseas at the earliest opportunity to explore all the places you never got to see when you were growing up. The grass is always greener after all!

All my love

Monday, 21 September 2009


My darling Doodlebug,

I met your Daddy 'on the line' as Granny M would say. We chatted on email for a few weeks then went on a date for lunch at Benihanas in Picadilly, followed by a visit to the Royal Academy for their Maya exhibition. Daddy told me he'd be easy to spot because he had a backpack that made him look like French exchange student. I'd have known him any where though! I remember very little about the date: I remember Daddy bought me a book as a gift; I remember running into a uni friend of Daddy's and his pregnant girlfriend and having a very awkward conversation with them before they left us to it; I remember heading to the bar in Waterstone's afterwards because we didn't stop talking; I remember being a little bit gutted when it was over (Daddy had to go to a concert and I had arranged a meal with my best friend so I had an excuse to leave if it turned out to be awful. Note to self: always have a back-up plan.) I remember not being sure whether he liked me or not because Daddy, then as now, is quite a hard man to read. Julia and Granny M will tell you, as they did on our wedding day, that I did nothing but talk about him. They will tell you I was sure that he was 'The One'. I don't remember. What I remember is the sick feeling in my tummy waiting for him to call or email; the not knowing whether I would ever hear from him again.

Fortunately Daddy is not a typical man: Granny and Grandpa bought him up to have excellent manners, and he called me the very next morning. Phew! I was heading to France to work for the Christmas period, but we kept in touch via text the whole time. In fact, when I fell very ill, it was daddy who helped keep up my spirits. The job took an odd detour via San Francisco, so that I ended up being on my own on New Year's Eve thousands of miles from home, but it didn't matter. Because when I got back to the UK, I was going to see him again. It snowed on our second date, at the Oxo tower, but I don't remember being cold, because daddy held my hand all the way back to Waterloo station. And, whilst we were sitting having a drink in the Hole In The Wall pub opposite (again, we didn't want the date to end) he kissed me. And that was that. It's not the most glamorous or romantic setting for a first kiss, but I guarantee that it didn't make it any less special.

I got to see him lots after that- we went for dinners and friend's parties. And I never came across anyone who had a bad word to say about the man I had fallen in love with. He's very special. He's thoughful and caring and compassionate. He does his very best to understand me though I suspect he's fighting a losing battle. He's my best friend and I love him with all my heart. And he's your daddy.

All my love,


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

How we chose your name

My darling Doodlebug,

I imagine that in the years ahead you will curse our names for giving you yours.It's a beautiful name, but it does seem to throw people a bit. IN fact when I called the Yorkshire contingent, the conversation went as follows:

YC "So can we finally know the name?"
Mamma [taking a moment to smile at her newborn baby] "It's Cecily?"
YC "Eh?"
Mamma "Cecily."
YC "Stephanie? But we've already got one of those!"
Mamma "No, Cecily. C-e-c-i-l-y. Cecil, with a Y."
YC [silently contemplates the news] [for a long time] "Thats......nice. I'll let everyone know."

Thus since you were born, I have had to repeat the process every time I have had to give your name over the phone. I don't think that Daddy and I really factored that in to our choice. Of course, if we had, I am very likely to have dismissed the spelling issue summarily, pointing out that our surname requires similar treatment. As you grow you will get used to nobody being able to pronounce it, or spell it, even when you pronounce/spell it for them first. I'm sorry about that. I should have married Mr Smith. But I'd probably still have called you Cecily, and Cecily Smith doesn't sound as nice as your name.

Anyway, on our first wedding anniversary, Daddy and I went to Copenhagen for a long weekend. We had a wonderfully wintery time, got a bit drunk at the Carlsberg factory, and went out for some fabulous meals. On the night of our anniversary we ate at Sankt Gertrude's Kloster which I thoroughly recommend incidentally. Over dinner the talk drifted to babies (we had been hoping to have a baby for a while) and to what we would call them when they finally arrived. The boys name proved surprisingly easy. The girl's name was a little tricky. The added issue with our surname is that some letters of the alphabet, when combined with the surname, make up words to do with genitals, which is not something you really want to do to your child. In Daddy's usual way, when he hits a stumbling block, he looks at things from a different angle. He suggested that we give you the nickname CJ and I had been thinking a lot about Cecily, Romilly and Orelie that week/month/year. So Cecily it was. For the 'J' name, I knew I didn't want Jane, so you got Jean instead. The Olivia I added for fun, and because the boy's name had two middle names. (I can't tell you what it was in case we use it for your new sibling!)

The day before I went into hospital to have you, Daddy and I went for a last supper. He announced that he wasn't sure about Olivia. We spent the whole evening trying to come up with something he liked more. I couldn't, so I went to hospital and left him with it. I told him that if you arrived and he hadn't got something he liked, we'd stick with Olivia. 5 days later you arrived. I suspect he forgot to think about it anymore; between the hospital visits, the dog walking and the looking after Granny M, he was a bit tied up.

But on the day you were Christened, he declared it to be the most perfect name ever. And it is, because it's yours.

All my love,


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The steps to bedtime

My darling Doodlebug,
every evening after tea and some playtime, you and I climb the stairs. We play splashing-in-the-bathtub and hair-washing and teeth-cleaning. We play wrestle-the-baby whilst I try to put your nappy and PJs on. You play on the rocking chair whilst I play try-and-brush –the-baby’s-hair. And once we are done, I give you your dummy and your Blankie and pull you onto my lap for my favourite part of the day.
At the last count, you had over 200 books in your bedroom, so it’s jolly hard to chose which two to read to you. We read the books and look at the pictures and I ask you to find the doggy or the birdie or the flower in the picture. Then the books are finished and I dim the lights. You cuddle in to my chest and I sing the song that I have sung to you since you were born:
Baby mine, don't you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart
Never to part, baby of mine

Little one when you play
Don't you mind what you say
Let those eyes sparkle and shine
Never a tear, baby of mine

If they knew sweet little you
They'd end up loving you too
All those same people who scold you
What they'd give just for
The right to hold you

From your head to your toes
You're not much, goodness knows
But you're so precious to me
Cute as can be, baby of mine.
By this point, you are usually very mellow- you know the routine so well by now, but I can’t let you go to bed without telling you how much you are loved. It’s always the same thing:
Are you sleepy my baby, my special baby? Do you know what makes you so special? They took all the love that Daddy has for Mamma, and all the love that Mamma has for Daddy, and they mixed it up, and they made you my darling baby. That’s what makes you so special. You are made with love. Daddy loves you, and Mamma loves you [any overnight guests are also inserted at this point!] and Nuggety-noodles [your precious dog] loves you. We all love you so much Doodlebug. So you go to sleep and have lovely dreams [at this point I offer a silent prayer that you will last until 7am] and your Mamma and Daddy will see their special baby in the morning.

And I kiss you and put you in bed with your teddies and cover you with the duvet.

And sometimes you even sleep until 7am!

All my love,

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mamma = bad guy

My darling Doodlebug
Your Granny arrives in the morning. I know she’s very excited about seeing you- I doubt she’ll have slept at all on the flight over. She is an extraordinary woman, who has been through a lot in the last ten years. Everything I know about being a mum, about raising a family and running a home, I learned from her. But I never knew it until I had to do it for myself.
My memory of her as a mother, when I was a child living in Cyprus, was of a formidable person. She had these staring eyes that flickered back and forth whilst she was telling you off. She was always the one who told you off, and the one who said no. The very threat of having our trousers taken down and being smacked in public was enough to make us all behave. Written down here it makes her even more intimidating. I don’t suppose I realised until long after I’d left home that the reason she seemed so fearsome was because she was the only one with us for most of the day. She had to be all things and, as I am rapidly learning, a lot of childcare is related to discipline. My mum was the one who taught me the rules: of the house, of life, of law.

When I imagined being a mum, I never thought about the tough stuff. I don’t think you do. I imagined the choosing your little outfits, the teaching you to wave goodbye to Daddy, the singing to you before you go to sleep, the pulling the duvet back over your little body whilst you sleep. I never imagined that I’d have to be the bad guy: telling you not to touch the TV, the oven, the knives; telling you not to draw on furniture, not to shout, not to pull hair or bite; the enforcing bedtimes, good behaviour, manners. I never imagined that I would have to become the image of my mother! It saddens me to think that this is the image you will have of me in years to come.
The thing is, Granny was also a wonderful mum. She taught me to read, to bake, to tidy the Tupperware cupboard (which doesn’t sound like much, but which was the beginning of my career as an organiser.) Granny knitted us cardigans and made us endless costumes with her sewing machine. She baked amazing cakes and organised fabulous birthday parties. She packed us up and took us across the world, then unpacked us all and made a home wherever we settled. She always put us first. There was nothing more important to her than her children. Even when things got really difficult after her marriage ended, she would give us what little she had, would drive through the night to get us, whatever we needed. It’s taken me until now, until I had you, to really see how much my mum did for me. To see how much I will do for you; to see how important my job as a mum is.  I know that you won’t see any of this in me for a very long time (assuming I do a reasonable job), that I might be that formidable woman to you in the future, but that’s OK, because I can see it in my mum.
And in the mean time, I get to be the person who sings you to sleep and covers you with the duvet.
All my love, 

The First Post

My darling Doodlebug,

I checked on you as I went to bed last night, pulled the duvet back over you and kissed you on the head. It still astonishes me to think that you are ours. Daddy and I were so thrilled when we found out we were having you. Even more thrilled when our precious baby girl finally arrived. And now you are 15 months old and going to be a big sister. The older you get, the more I worry about the world around us. How can I protect you from the bad bits? How can I help you avoid the bitchiness that comes with teenage girls, the awkwardness? How do I counsel you against bad boyfriends? How can I encourage you without being pushy? How can I prepare you for life when I am only really living it now, aged 32?

We are so very lucky to have all that we have, and we are very lucky to have such a funny clever little curly-haired Doodlebug. Perhaps I'll just watch you sleep a little longer before I send you off to a convent.

With all my love,

Mamma xxx