Dear Dave

Monday 17 September 2007

I'm sure my underwear is around here somewhere

Dear Dave,

Glad to hear you've finally started getting stuff out the loft. Hey, no rush - it's not like the baby's due today or anything...

Have you remembered everything? I was trying to think of what you'll need but the whole experience of dealing with a newborn is beginning to blur. Let's see: pram, carseat, biohazard suit, cottonwool, baby bath, crib (good luck putting that back together again, by the way), more cottonwool, baby clothes, steriliser, industrial-sized tin of coffee, yet more cottonwool, playpen, little blankets, even more cottonwool than that, mittens, buckets, large vat of disinfectant... The list goes on. There's probably a stack of stuff I've forgotten. (Did I mention cottonwool?) I have the full list here, somewhere, but I think I'm too scared of flashbacks to take a proper look.

I saw a small baby at parent and toddler the other day being wrapped up for going outside and it took me back. It was sunny but the kid was being kitted out with a padded coat, mittens and the cutest little pink hat ever. I'd forgotten about the little hats. It was so sweet.

Then again, I was a good ten feet from the little slug and reasonably safe from any stray bodily fluids. At that range, there wasn't even an odour. Just the thought of going back to nappies and middle-of-the-night feeds and regularly wearing banana porridge makes me feel... tired. In some ways, another child or two would be nice, but I just don't have the mental or physical energy for it. I'm looking forward to the point where I can sit reading a book while the kids run around outside entertaining themselves. (Well, I can dream. At the very least, it will be nice to interact with Fraser without having to constantly deal with/fight off a toddler). Relatively soon, Marie will start nursery and I'll have a couple of hours a day to myself. Some semblance of freedom approaches. I'll be able to...

Oh, hang on... Maybe you're not really the one I should be telling this too.

Yes, erm, stuff. I was talking about stuff. Our house is still a tip at the moment because of the repair work that's going on. We've had to empty out a couple of rooms and stash the contents in other parts of the house. Actually, 'stash' is a little optimistic. All the cupboards were already full beforehand. The beds are jacked up so we can fit more stuff underneath. Even the loft is full. We would have piled all the refugee stuff in the middle of the lounge carpet but what would we have done with the the big pile of stuff which normally lives in the middle of the lounge carpet?

We're having to pick our way through teetering stacks of printers and books and towels just to find clean clothes. I've given the kids each a hat with a flag on the top so I don't lose them amidst the clutter. It's kind of like living in the version of the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts where everybody hides junk. You just never know what you'll find if you go poking around. What will it be? The other shoe you're looking for? Fresh underwear? One end of a cable which could be attached to almost anything? Lord Lucan? Or Scabbers the rat?

It's always worth keeping something blunt and heavy handy just in case.

This chaos is a bit of a shame because I had been hoping we'd reached the high-tide mark of stuff a few months ago. Marie is at the stage where we don't need much of the specialised baby equipment any more and she has even out-grown plenty of toys. We've finally been able to off-load boxes and boxes of baby gear. Before, whenever one child was done with something, we had to put it in storage for the next one. More often than not, we just left the thing out - the minimal time before we needed it again meant it wasn't worth searching for a space in the loft. Meanwhile, as Fraser got older, we had to buy more stuff. Pokemon got mixed in with shape-sorters; a beanbag got plopped beside the bouncy chair. Cupboards overflowed, the carpet disappeared and I had to build a bigger shed. We began to sink beneath a sea of toddler artwork and strange constructions made from cereal cartons and yogurt pots.

I remember, when Fraser was on the way, being offered all kinds of useful second-hand items by various total strangers. At first, I tended to find their generosity heart-warming. Then I'd become disturbed by their manic insistence that I take some bulky item of well-worn and smelly baby paraphernalia. By the time they'd dragged me into their home and started piling my arms with junk, I was usually pretty scared. Fortunately, it was always fairly easy to sneak away as they ran round the house opening drawers and tipping the contents into black bin-liners for me.

Now I'm one of those people.

We packaged up lots of baby stuff recently, hired a van and drove it to relatives. With hindsight, maybe we should have asked if they wanted it before popping round while they were on holiday and dumping it all in their front room. But, hey, at least we watered their plants - they can't complain too much. We were just desperate to clear some space in our house.

The initial results were disappointing. There was still no room in our cupboards - it was merely possible to open them without being deluged in bibs and mitts and babygros. We had to do a second trip. Sarah's cousin was apparently very surprised when he got back from Tenerife, opened his garage door and nearly drowned in babywear.

We had slightly more space after that, though. We even revealed patches of floor that I'd forgotten we had.

When Fraser was small, I used to pack away his toys neatly at night, sorting them into the correct boxes and tubs. When Lewis was young, I got the boys to help me tidy the stuff into a corner and I checked that favourite toys still had all their pieces. When Marie was tiny, I bought a spade and just shoveled the stuff into the corner. Once she was a little older and never went to sleep, I even gave up on that. I simply cleared narrow paths between the door, the sofa and the telly and left the rest to geology. Over time, erosion and sedimentation from a steady flow of children caused interesting toy formations to take shape. The Teletubbies fossilised.

It was nice to finally clear some of the stuff out and have a little room to breathe again. Maybe soon, things will be that way again. The decorators are supposed to be coming this week and, once they're finished, we can set the house to rights. We could even take the opportunity to sift some of our belongings and fill a few bags for the charity shop. More likely, we'll just bung everything back where it came from as quickly as possible and leave the sifting until next decade but it's worth a thought. You never know, we might have the time, energy and inclination all at once...

That's still something to look forward to, however - we can't do much until the house is fixed. In the meantime, I'm reduced to smuggling small piles of toddler artwork out of the house in my trousers while whistling the theme tune to The Great Escape. If I can dispose of enough without the kids catching me and throwing a tantrum, I should have tunnelled my way to the biscuit tin in another couple of days.

It better not be empty.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Good luck. Hope it all goes relatively smoothly. Don't forget to pack your sandwiches.

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