I think, therefore iPad

I’ve just discovered that the WordPress app I have on my newly-acquired iPad is actually iPad-optimised, which means it will be a lot nicer to use than the iPhone version, which you can’t really use to type anything meaningful. I’m typing this on the on-screen keyboard and I’m amazed how much it is like typing on a real keyboard.

The upshot of all this is that it marginally increases the chances of me reviving this blog, which it seems I have not updated for six months. Only marginally, mind you. I’m not going to write anything of interest now as it’s getting late. We’ll just have to see if I come back in the next few days. I know, I know you can barely contain yourselves.

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Wreck

I don’t know if it’s down to the stress of having four children or whether it’s just because I’m getting old, but I have become a total physical wreck in recent weeks.

As I have posted (probably at great length) previously, I have developed a most upsetting tendency towards coming down with tonsillitis at the drop of a hat. It seems not a sniffle or bug can pass through my house without the bacteria who inhabit my throat thinking this signals party time. I have had confirmed cases at least five times in the last couple of years, three of which have been in the past few months, and two since the twins were born. The last time was particularly horrendous, to the point where I decided it was time to visit an Ear, Nose &  Throat specialist to get something done about it. Not surprisingly, his recommendation was to get a tonsillectomy. As he put it, “No tonsils, no tonsillitis.” So I’m booked in for the big op in about 3 weeks time, and it sounds absolutely horrific. Recovery takes two weeks, which as I’m sure you can imagine MrsH is totally delighted about, as the sous-parent will be out of commission for much longer than is acceptable. I’m lead to believe that the pain will be severe, and if you look at the list of medication I will be receiving post-op, you’d think I was opening my own pharmacy. When my throat isn’t hurting, I often wonder why on earth am I putting myself through this. But within the last few hours my throat has started to twinge again (two days after my last course of antibiotics finished), reminding me that I am living my entire life in fear of the symptoms returning and knocking me out from both my work and parenting duties for days at a time with worrying frequency.

As if this wasn’t enough, I have developed the mother of all bad backs in the last week or two. It started as a little twinge in my lower back, which I put down to the unusual position I keep sitting in, on our increasingly knackered sofa, to feed the babies. But as the days have gone by it has got worse and worse, to the point where I sound (and feel) like an old man every time I sit down, get up, bend over or roll over in bed. I’ve never before experienced so much difficulty at putting on my socks, not to mention the constant desire of at least three of my four children to be carried everywhere (the two smallest ones often need to be carried simultaneously).

MrsH has pointed out that I’ve started to remind her of a certain chronic hypochondriac member of my family (who will remain nameless – we’ll refer to him/her as Relative A). The rest of the family long ago gave up starting conversations with this particular person in the generally accepted, polite way – “How are you?” – for fear of being regaled with hour-long stories about the latest stomach bug, ingrowing toenail or worse. It feels pretty awkward greeting someone with a “Hello” and then launching into the rest of the conversation with the requisite “How are you?”, but needs must…As far as I’m concerned, the principal difference between me and Relative A is that I am actually suffering these problems, whereas Relative A is usually just ill because they believe themselves to be. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe Relative A really does have a genetic propensity to suffer from every imaginable condition under the sun, and my own genes that I share with Relative A are starting to exhibit their phenotype as my defenses are weakened by the continual influx of children into my life. I bloody hope not.

To top it all, my smugness about having twin babies under three months old capable of sleeping through the night came back to slap me in the face last night. Because when you have four children, it doesn’t matter if they’re all good sleepers. On any given night, there is a pretty good chance that at least one of them will be ill/have had a big nap in the afternoon meaning they’re not tired/have bad dreams – delete as appropriate. In the early hours of this morning – at about 12:30 in fact – it was son number two’s turn. He woke up screaming, so I rushed downstairs to find he’d had a nightmare, and refused to go back to his own bed. In my semi-comatose state, I was defenseless against his demands to come into our bed. Cue virtually no sleep for the rest of the night as he wriggled, rolled over, continually whacked me in the face with an errant arm, and kneed me in the back. And just as I was thinking that I might get a couple of hours of peace at around half past five, who should awaken but baby number 2/son number 4, the model baby who never wakes up before 7am, who had taken it upon himself to choose this morning from hell to get the munchies an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Incidentally, upon further quizzing this morning, it turns out that the nightmare had involved Elmo and a cat – hardly the most threatening of protagonists, you’d have thought.

If I didn’t have enough excuses to feel like wreck before, I certainly bloody do now. I need a break, which in other circumstances would be an example of extremely fortuitous timing, given that a three-day weekend will be upon us in a matter of hours. But in the chaotic world that is a house with four small children, something tells me this particular May Day break is not going to be all that restful.

12 Hours

12 hours. That’s how long the babies slept last night. And I thought last week’s jump up to 6 hours was impressive. 

Their ability to sleep quite so long was discovered rather by accident. The night before last, we were exhausted so went to bed early and I set the alarm to wake me up for their bedtime feed at 11pm. Only, in my hazy brain state, I actually set the alarm for 11am. So I woke up at around 1 in the morning wondering (a) why the alarm hadn’t gone off; and (b) why the babies hadn’t woken me up anyway. Never mind, I thought. I’ll just wait for them to wake me whenever they’re ready. I then proceeded to have a horribly disturbed night, waking up by myself about once an hour, wondering what on earth had happened to my babies. They eventually decided to make their presence felt at 5am, not the nicest time of day to have to get up, but considering their last feed had been at 5 the previous afternoon, this got us to thinking.

So yesterday evening we fed them at a more normal time of 6:30, and decided to test the theory of how long they would go after that. I was woken by a complaining Jonah at 6:30 on the dot this morning. 

This is huge. Assuming, of course, that this is a pattern they intend to continue, and not just a temporary blip for a few days. It means no more sleepless nights, no worrying about what time to go to bed. The ability to get consecutive, full, unbroken nights of sleep marks a return to normality that makes life with 4 children so much more bearable.

Of course, 4 children still take something like 3 hours to get up, fed and dressed in the morning, so even with a 6:30 start today I was still rushing to get Max to nursery at 9:15. But we’re making progress. In a few months’ time, we might even be able to be out of the house within two and a half hours.

P&Q

Have you missed me? It’s over a month since I last posted (sounds like a confession – forgive me father, it’s been five weeks since my last blog post). The reason I haven’t posted is because in between looking after four children, doing stupid amounts of household chores, getting very little sleep and trying to keep my business afloat in the middle of a recession, I haven’t exactly had much in the way of spare time. When you have two babies in the house who need to be fed every four hours, you find yourself living from one feed to the next, using the two-and-a-half to three hours between the end of one feed and the start of the next to wash and sterilise bottles, sort out vast piles of laundry, sneak a minute or two to play with the other children, or sleep. We always knew that the first couple of months with newborn twins was going to be a slog, and boy were we right.

But today, I am feeling more human than I have felt in a very long time. The reasons for this are twofold. The first, and most important is that the last few days have been momentous in the life of our newly expanded family: the babies seem finally to have cracked night time sleeping. They have been going at least 6 hours at night for about the last five days, and last night they managed a near miraculous 9 hours. I didn’t bother setting my alarm clock this morning (as I haven’t for many weeks) as I expected to get woken up at some point between 5 and 6am. When I was finally roused at 7:45 it was actually by Max, not one of the babies (although they did wake up a couple of minutes later). It’s incredible the difference it makes to your psyche, when you get to have a few unbroken nights’ sleep. And it’s not just because of saying goodbye to getting up at 3 in the morning night after night, which leaves you feeling like a zombie for the rest of the day, even if you get to go back to bed for a few hours afterwards. It’s the little details, like getting to go to bed at the same time as your wife, instead of creeping around in the darkness trying not to wake her after the late night feed, so that she can get enough sleep to deal with early morning feed and similarly creep around trying not to wake me. Of course this may not last, and I may be getting way ahead of myself here, but I have to work on the assumption that we are past the worst. And boy does it feel good.

The second reason is that I am all alone in the house tonight, for the first time in years. Ursula, in her misguided efforts to get through the school holidays in one piece, decided to take all four boys down to her parents for a couple of days. I say misguided because, if you’d seen the amount of stuff she had to pack in the car this morning for a two day trip to country, you’d think it would have been considerably easier to just cope on your own with four kids for a couple of days.

Now you may think being alone in a house that is normally residence to six people would be a lonely affair. But you’d be very, very wrong. If I stop tapping on this keyboard, the only sound I can hear is an occasional car passing by my living room window. I have not had to bath anyone tonight. I have not had to read any stories. I have not had to shout at anyone for eating their dinner too slowly. I have not had to tell anyone that no, tonight is not a special night so they have to go to bed now, not in two hours’ time. I can go to bed whenever I choose, without having to think about how it fits in with babies’ feeding time. I will sleep more peacefully than I have in years, knowing that the only sound that will wake me will be my alarm clock tomorrow morning – if I remember to set it when I go to bed. In the morning, I will have one person to wash, dress and feed, not five (no I haven’t taken to showering or clothing the wife yet, although I do sometimes make her breakfast). There will be no school run, no arguments over when was the last time they had coco pops and whether they’re allowed them again, no bottles to wash, no screaming babies. The P&Q in the title of this blog refers to pure, unadulterated peace and quiet. Sheer bliss.

Now there is a possibility that by this time tomorrow, the loneliness will have started to kick in. I might just miss the cuddles with the babies, listening to another one of Jacob’s flights of fantasy about aliens or spaceships or being a pilot or a scientist, trying to keep a straight face while failing to instill any discipline into the irrepressibly cheeky Max, snatching a rare moment to have a conversation with my wife in between putting the children to bed and the start of The Apprentice. But if I’m honest, probably not. I have a feeling I can probably cope with just one more day of solitude without too much pain. When I get home from work on Thursday, mayhem will have returned, and there won’t be another break from it for the foreseeable future. So I intend to make the most of this very rare opportunity.

For the record, much has happened in the last month, which, were I a more dedicated blogger, would have been reported in more detail. The key points are:

1. We finally took delivery of our new bus, aka the Renault Grand Espace. It’s absolutely, in fact slightly scarily, enormous, but so far I’ve been very impressed with it. It may not be much of a looker but it’s incredibly practical with room for all six of us and plenty of space to spare, very comfortable and pretty well equipped, and it’s much nippier than you’d expect for something that ought to have a big number 23 sign above the windscreen. Ursula has been reluctant to cede full use of her Nissan Qashqai to me, eager to feel as much as she can that she’s still a yummy mummy rather than a bus driver, but all in all the upgrade has been a success.

2. We had the week from hell as far as family health was concerned. Ursula started proceedings by spending the weekend laid up with a nasty virus involving a sore throat, aches and pains and unbearable fatigue. I promptly caught it off her just as she was recovering and spent a couple of days feeling pretty ropey myself. Just as I thought I was getting better, I realised that my sore throat was, if anything, getting worse. Within 24 hours it was apparent that my illness had mutated into my traditional tonsilitis, the worst bout I’ve had in a very long time. At one point I was in so much pain it actually made me cry, something I don’t think has happened for about 25 years. All in all I was out of commission for five days, not ideal during the busiest time of the year at work, or when you’ve got two 7 week old babies that need looking after. To top things off, on the Friday, which was my worst day, Jonah came down with a very high fever, something that is very rare, and very worrying in such a young baby. Ursula took him to A&E and he ended up getting admitted, and spending 48 hours in the hospital. After a barrage of tests, it turned out that it was just a viral infection, probably the same one we’d both had, and after plenty of calpol and TLC, he was well on the road to recovery. So all was well in the end, but it was a very scary and traumatic few days, and I don’t think we’d have got through them without the amazing help and support of both Ursula’s and my parents. We’re very lucky to have so many people around us who care so much about our family.

There’s plenty more I could talk about, but having now spent the majority of my night off in front of the keyboard, I feel I ought to go and do something more appropriate like crack open another beer and fire up Resident Evil on the Wii. The reality is, I’ll probably go to bed in a minute. Oh dear.

Monsters

It’s pretty unbelievable that Zach and Jonah are already a month old. You don’t notice the changes so much when you see them every day, but when you think back to a month ago, the most marked difference is in their size. When they were born, they seemed unimaginably tiny. I had to rush out to Mothercare on the day we got home from the hospital to get a load of tiny baby sized clothes and nappies because, being twins, and being born a couple of weeks before their due date, they were a fair bit smaller than average at first. They comfortably slept side by side in the hospital crib, and then in a moses basket when we got home.

The tiny baby vests and babygrows have long since been consigned to the top shelf of the wardrobe, never to be worn again. And no, this time they will not be heading into a box in the loft, because we will most definitely not be needing them again. And the babies are now comfortably filling out a moses basket each, and it seems absurd that they could have gone in one together so recently. At their most recent weigh-in, they were both hovering around the 8lb mark. For Jonah, that means a 33% increase in body weight. When you look at it like that, it’s no wonder they seem so big now.

The other thing that grows hand in hand with the babies is the amount of formula they get through. The stuff costs a bloody fortune, and between them they’re getting through one of those big tubs of powder about every three or four days. We’re thinking about moving them up to the next stage (level 2 “for hungrier babies”) as they’re frequently polishing off their bottles and I can’t imagine it would be good for them, or even feasible, to ingest any more fluid in a day. I am also living in the vain hope that this will encourage them to go longer between feeds, consequently allowing us to get more sleep at night. Well a man can dream, can’t he.

As I write this, the baby monitor is sitting across the table, flashing and squawking at me, the signal that it is once again time to go and attend to my fatherly duties. So I’d better cut this short…

Time flies…

…when you’re having babies. The little monsters are three and a half weeks old already, and as you may have noticed, I have very much struggled to find the time to sit in front of my computer and add anything to this blog.

I was at home on paternity leave until the end of last week, and as far as I recall, I spent pretty much every waking moment (and a large proportion of my non-waking moments!) either feeding or changing one or other baby, or washing bottles or doing laundry or some other delightful task. I have been back at work since Monday and in four days haven’t come within a country mile of clearing the backlog of stuff that was created while I was away.

To be fair, this week has been a heck of a lot easier than it should have been, thanks to my totally bonkers mother-in-law who has done the night feeds for the last 5 nights. I know exactly how awful she must be feeling by now, as I did a 7 day stretch the week before. It’s not the number of hours of sleep you get that does you in – it’s quite possible to get a total 6 or 7 hours a night in 1 and half to 2 hour chunks – it’s the lack of any long stretches of sleep. Five hours of unbroken sleep is an awful lot more restorative than 7 hours in bits and pieces. Tonight is the last night of the night-nanny service for a while, so I’d better make the most of it. Ursula and I are still working on the details of how the nights are going to work when we have to do them by ourselves and all get up and out for school and work in the morning. It’s not going to be fun.

So I’ve got a few minutes to kill before the bedtime feed (hence having time to write this) after which I will hand back over to the mother-in-law and not see any babies again until I get home from work tomorrow afternoon. I was planning to catch up on some of the contents of the Sky+ box while waiting to feed the boys, but that hasn’t been too successful, owing to the implementation of the famous Hirschkorn let-the-buggers-scream-themselves-to-sleep plan. This is a tried and tested childcare method which I’m convinced is the reason that both Jacob and Max are good sleepers, while so many of their friends and cousins are not. It’s also one of the hardest things you can do as a parent. The theory goes like this: if your baby is fed, winded, and clean of nappy, then they’ve got pretty much everything a baby could need to make them happy. If said happiness is not forthcoming, there is frankly buggerall you as a parent can do about it. Sure, you can pick them up and cuddle them, you can keep running up to their room every two minutes to stick a dummy in their mouth, only for them to start screaming again the second the dummy falls out, you can sing them a song, you can put them in a bouncy chair. But the second any of these activities stops, the baby will start crying again. And the more they associate this crying with all these forms of stimulation, the more reinforced these behaviour patterns will become, which is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve when you’re attempting to teach your baby that most useful of life lessons, that night time is for going to sleep.

So if your baby needs nothing but is still crying, let ’em cry. I know it sounds incredibly cruel and heartless, and you have no idea how close it brings a parent to tears of their own, listening to their newborn child screaming their poor little lungs out, but Jonah cried for about 20 minutes and is now as soundly asleep as you could possibly imagine. There are many caveats to this theory: I’m sure it wouldn’t work for everyone as all babies are different, but it sure as hell worked for our older two children and I’m determined it’s going to work for these two; I’m not under any illusions that this is any easy solution – Jonah will probably repeat exactly the same pattern tomorrow and the day after and the day after that, but give him a few weeks and he’ll have cracked it. The funny thing is that Zach has slept right through the whole thing, and that seems to have been the way with these babies so far. Either one or other of them will spend the evening fussing on, but rarely both. And while one is most selfishly disrupting his parents’ televisual viewing, the other sleeps on, totally oblivious to his brother’s bad behaviour.

The benefit of having done the baby thing twice before is that you know there is light at the end of the tunnel. This really hard part with sleep deprivation and all that only lasts a few months, and it won’t be long before life will return to some semblance of normality. A few things need to happen before that is the case though. Ursula needs to finish recovering from the c-section. She’s doing amazingly well, although has suffered all the way through from her typical inability to relax, and as a result has probably slowed the recovery somewhat. She’s pretty physically active now, although keeps overdoing it and finding herself completely knackered by the evening. Once she’s properly back up to speed, and also once she’s able to drive again, things will be more manageable.

Which brings to mind another that needs to happen before things go back to normal – the arrival of our new car. It was supposed to be here last week, but now every time I speak to the dealer, which is pretty much every day at the moment, there’s another delay. It’s now supposed to be here by the end of next week, or possibly early the week after. Until it arrives, we feel a bit like prisoners in our own house, as we can’t actually go anywhere with all six of us together, apart from to the park, which gets a bit boring after a while. If Ursula could drive, we could at least go out in convoy in two cars, but so far the only way we’ve been able to do that is to recruit an extra driver in the shape of my parents. So going out has been a bit of a drama, and will continue to be so until the car finally bloody well turns up.

Speaking of going out, Ursula and I actually managed to go out last night for our first night out since the babies were born, again thanks to night-nanny extraordinaire. It felt most odd, as if we were somehow breaking the rules by spending an evening on our own while our three week old twins were at home. It was great though, and for a moment we almost forgot about our millions of children. But not for long. Oh and Clint Eastwood’s low grumble from Gran Torino has now become a regular part of our family vocabulary.

One last thing: after months of coercion, Mrs H has finally succumbed and started her own blog, which will probably be much more interesting than mine as she’s going to have to figure out how to cope with four boys on a day-to-day basis while I get the easy option of going out and earning the money. I would thoroughly recommend you take a look.

I have now been typing for so long that I’m half an hour late for the bedtime feed. Oops. Still, the babies are both fast asleep still, so that’s another point for the leave-em-to-scream plan.

Hospital ship

It takes much more skill as  a husband/nurse than previously realised to look after a post-operative, post-natally-depressed mother of newborn twins. Poor Ursula has been struggling for the last few days, partly due to wildly fluctuating hormone levels, partly due to general exhaustion owing to the combination of getting over a major operation and dealing with two babies who require feeding every three hours, and partly due to the enormous shock of coming to terms with being the parents of four children. It turns out that the best treatment for her condition is sleep and lots of it, a treatment plan not entirely compatible with the aforementioned greedy little piggies otherwise known as Zach and Jonah. So it falls to the shared teamwork of saintly husband/nurse and saintly mother-in-law/nurse (that’s my m-i-l, Ursula’s mum) to take over night feed duties for the time being, allowing Ursula to get as many full nights’ sleep as possible and hopefully aiding in both the physical and emotional recovery process.

The night feeds are not too bad, provided you don’t care about not getting too much sleep. I’m trying to persuade the boys to be on a regular four-hourly feed schedule, which would make things relatively simple. And just as they make you think your masterplan is working, they mess up the whole thing by waking up two and a half hours after the last feed – and given that when you’re feeding them both, a feed takes roughly an hour, that leaves about an hour and a half between feeds to get some sleep.

To add insult to injury, the niggling sore throat I’d had for the last few days decided to turn into full-blown tonsilitis on Wednesday, which also happened to be the worst day so far in terms of Ursula’s emotional wellbeing. Thanks for that. I spent most of the day in denial, claiming that my throat was just hurting because of lack of sleep. But I’ve had tonsilitis a few times in the last few years and I know the warning signs only too well. It seems that flaring up throat so that it feels that I’ve swallowed a sharpened dagger is my body’s de facto response to high stress situations. Thanks for that, too. Ursula persuaded me to go to the local walk-in clinic in the late afternoon, at which I had to wait nearly two hours for someone to take only the briefest of glimpses down my throat before confirming my suspicions. So I commenced my night feed duty armed with a box of penicillin, another of nurofen, another of paracetamol, and another of codeine. I hope Ursula isn’t missing her post-op medication too much. I’m sure if you’d shaken me by the end of the night I’d have rattled more than one of the babies’ many new toys, but I got through it and thankfully Ursula felt a lot better the following morning. Sadly the same could not be said for me, and the tonsilitis took its usual course, which it to cause me to sleep for an entire day. Thank god the m-i-l was around to take over childcare/wifecare duties, or we may have had a bit of a disaster on our hands. 

Thanks, I believe, to Ursula’s foresight in sending me to get my antibiotics before the symptoms got really bad, my throat never got as painful as it usually does, and within 36 hours I was on the mend. I am still dosed up on painkillers tonight, and having rather a lot of difficult regulating my body temperature, but other than that I feel fine now. Or, you could say, foolishly complacent. It’s 1am. If things go to plan, the boys are due another feed at 3:30, and as you may have noticed by the fact that I’m sitting here typing this, I have yet to go to bed. I will surely regret this in the morning. But owing to another bit of grandparental wonder, we only have two small boys to deal with in the morning, since the two big boys are spending the night at my parents, and then going swimming with my dad in the morning. So once we have done the morning feed, we can, and indeed will, be going straight back to bed for a lie in, for as long as the babies will allow us.

As if two sick parents wasn’t enough, poor Zach, at just 11 days old, already has his first cold. The primary symptom is of course a terribly bunged up nose, something I wouldn’t imagine you’d have too much idea how to deal with if you’ve never suffered from it before. I’ll spare the details of all the other consequences of this condition, for anyone who’s reading this who isn’t yet a parent. I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. Suffice it to say that I was feeling a bit sorry for Jonah, tucked up in bed beside the copious body fluids of his brother. So I have put him to sleep in a separate bed for the first time. I hope they don’t miss each other too much.

I suppose I really ought to go and get some sleep, although knowing my luck, the second my head touches the pillow, I’ll hear the familiar wah wah wah through the baby monitor.