I’m an Englishman in New York

I’m in the doghouse this week. It isn’t strictly speaking my fault, because I didn’t put it in the washing pile, but a bright red muslin cloth ended up in the washing machine and as I put the washing in the machine, I have been found guilty by a jury of my peers. Or Mrs Aitchworld as she is also known. There is a setting for baby clothes on our washing machine that defaults to 90°, which I neglected to change. I am sure I don’t have to tell you that everything in the wash ended up pink, which is something of an issue when we have two boys. As well as the “Are they twins” and “are they identical” questions, we have a new one – “Are they both boys”. Needless to say, a pink baby-grow is only going to invite this question a lot more.  The fact that it happened two weeks ago with a wash turning the beautiful bright blue cellular blankets I had treated the boys to (£2.99 for two in the Aldi specials – no expense spared here! That’s not the point though – they were in the specials and once they’re gone, they’re gone) into a dull shade of mauve while I was at work and in no way in charge of the washing machine or its controls, is totally irrelevant and inadmissible as any line of defence.

The other thing I discovered this week is that you don’t get time off for illness when you are a parent. I came home from work on Wednesday dying. I knew it was something serious when I failed to eat all of my chicken and chips at lunchtime (if you are ever in Huddersfield check out Marston’s Chicken Shop on the Leeds Road – the finest chicken and chips in the land! If my boss ever changes the region I cover and it suddenly excludes Huddersfield that would be grounds for constructive dismissal) and when I got home Mrs Aitchworld and the boys were out, so I went to bed at just after 5pm. I woke up and helped as best I could with the late evening feed and night feeds, but I couldn’t face food.

At some point in the night my stomach started cramping, then doing cartwheels and somersaults and generally feeling like the washing machine, eventually culminating with a dash to the toilet that Hussein Bolt wouldn’t have been able to keep up with. I won’t go into any precise detail of what followed, but suffice to say I could have shat through the narrow end of a traffic cone. This repeated several times through the night and by the time morning came I felt like I had done several rounds with a very proficient kick boxer, taking many hits to the tummy and having run around the ring constantly at the speed of Mo Farrah for several hours, trying to avoid them. I was shattered. No, actually, it was far worse than that; technically, I was dead.

As I was supposed to have been going to the office that day, Mrs Aitchworld had asked her mother to come round that morning to help out entertaining the boys and giving her time to jump in the shower and just get ready, because she had made several plans for going out for the day for doctors’ appointments and the like, without feeling guilt for leaving a child crying. Henry and Arthur of course didn’t get the memo about what time Grandma was coming round and woke up earlier than normal and wanted entertaining. I’d emailed the office telling them of my death in the night and had fully expected to sleep off the illness without interruption. I don’t know why I thought that – the covers were ripped from me and I was frogmarched to the nursery for parental duties, while Mrs Aitchworld got ready for her day, until such time as Grandma arrived. Mrs Aitchworld wasn’t totally devoid of understanding – she made me a nice cup of Earl Grey (I don’t take coffee) and instead of my usual milk sneaked in some breast milk; that much lauded universal medicine that cures everything.

The boys were put on their play-mat on the floor and they duly began kicking and punching away at their hookah-pipe shop wind chimes and generally enjoying themselves amongst much noise. They also engaged in a trump off that I was gutted I couldn’t join in with. I gathered as many foam building blocks as I could find littered around the nursery and fashioned them into a pillow, resting my weary head on them while trying not to fall asleep.  Occasional words of encouragement were proffered to the twins, all the while praying to the traffic gods to let Grandma arrive sooner, hoping that she had a bout of insomnia so bad that it encouraged her to get up extra early to relieve me from my abject misery. Whether that meant killing me more than I already had been by illness, or just allowing me back to bed, I didn’t really care at that point. I also noted that Aldi in their Thursday Specials were selling a self-inflating camping mattress and vowed that if I felt I could leave the proximity of a comforting toilet for more than the half hour it would take me to get there and back, I would go and buy one so that the next time I had to be at floor level with the boys, it would at least be in comfort.

The upside to all of this illness is that I didn’t eat properly for about 72 hours, so it has counteracted the dream-feeding! It has also made me realise that I am very reluctant to wet the babies’ heads, as it were. A few friends have asked when I am likely to go out for a pint or five to celebrate and the answer is going to have to be when the boys are old enough to sleep right through the night and into the following afternoon, so in approximately 13 years I reckon. I simply cannot face getting up after just a few hours to feed a screaming baby after having a skin-full. It never used to bother me and I used to go to work in some right old states, so I am either growing up or old. The other reticence I have is that I haven’t had a drink since February and it is now nearly June, so I reckon after about the third pint of Guinness I will be snoring in the corner of the pub.

The boys were ten weeks old this week and are growing fast. We held up a new-born baby-grow against them that they wore when they first came home, to compare and they were at least twice the size of this now. They aren’t quite at double their birth weight, but they aren’t far off it.  They are getting so big that we can’t continue to lay them across the cot to sleep because they will be hitting either their heads or their feet against the bars of it, and if we laid them lengthways they would either head-butt or kick each other in the night. Henry tends to stay where he is all night, but a couple of times we have woken up to find Arthur turned through 90° during the night. They are wriggling a lot in general now – sometimes during changes I ponder whether it would be easier to put the nappy on a spider.

There had been consternation amongst some people, old wives who liked telling stories mainly, that we had two black cats, Charlie and Dave, brothers from the same litter who we took in from an animal shelter about five years ago. “Ooh”, they would say, “you want to be careful the cats don’t suffocate the babies”. Of course we had concerns, but of the opposite nature – we were worried that they would run off after we brought two “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” machines home with us from the hospital. The reality is that Dave is incredibly interested in both the boys, but especially Arthur. I think he identifies with him as like Arthur, Dave is the smaller of the two brothers. Charlie is a little less intrigued by the babies, but he is far from packing up his belongings in a muslin cloth, tying it to a stick and heading off to London. When a boy is sat with me, Dave will come right up to it, sniff his head and sit next to him. Charlie, will do the same, only he will sniff the baby from the other end of the room and curl up and sleep at the other end of the bed.

Far from wanting to jump in the cot when the boys are in it though, the furry boys won’t go near it. The spare cot in the other room is a different matter entirely. We had a few stuffed toys in it already for decoration and a number of times we have found Dave curled up asleep amongst them, scattering them around the cot. And only the other day I walked into the room to use the changing table to put a nappy on an octopus and I found Charlie staring out a two inch tall stuffed Andrex puppy. The fact that we are continually washing the cot sheets of a bed that hadn’t even had a baby sleep in it also made us want to have a proper point to all the laundry, so yet more reason to get the boys in their own room. If there was a boy in the other cot, the cats will stay out of it.

So, with much reluctance, we decided the boys should have their own cots in their own room, instead of being with us, together in the same cot. We had already been lent a second cot, but the mattress we bought didn’t quite fit it, so for this reason, and because I had OCD about matching cots, I found myself with the boys on our way to IKEA on a Bank Holiday Sunday to buy a second cot. Whether this was bravery or foolhardiness is still open to debate. It also gave Mrs Aitchworld a much needed break. Her nose had started dripping like a fucked fridge, so a cold was on its way and she had tried to help me when I was ill. I can’t give her the same medication as I had with my illness because she takes her tea black.

I don’t usually consciously think about stuff to write, but I did think before we went that a trip to IKEA might be a rich seam of stories from which to regale anyone still reading my posts and that it would be more eventful than it was. In the event, the boys and I were like the SAS of IKEA shoppers – we went in, we got the job done, we got out again. I was even thinking like an SAS soldier by the end though, wanting to kill the slow movers with my bare hands, twisting their necks until they broke, leaving their bodies in a crumpled heap on the floor as I drove the double buggy over them. (It is amazing just how slow some people can move around an IKEA while still moving in a forwardly direction – if they went any slower they would be in reverse). The only thing that stopped me, and I do mean the sole reason, is that I wasn’t in the off-road buggy we bought and it would have hampered progress even more, getting round the cadavers we’d created with a pushchair that clearly wasn’t designed to go over obstacles. Next time we go, and there will be a next time, because I won a free hot-dog at the tills and I’d already eaten meatballs, I am taking the off-roader with me. That thing will go anywhere. It might be an impractical trip, involving the purchase of a roof-rack to get our purchases home because it is so big it fills the boot of a 5-series touring even when folded up, but it will be worth every penny.

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