Pressure Cooker

How to spend your bank holiday weekend in a fairly mixed fashion, including hysterics, cooking a 4 course meal for twelve, and the whirling pit.

Friday: Poach pears, make cinnamon ice-cream, make creme brulees and slow-cook beef for several hours. Shriek witchily at anyone who steps inside the kitchen. Go to bed at midnight, worn out.

6am: Suffer acute tummy cramps. (Not the uterine kind. I know this because I’ve already had that kind for 10 days. AND spotting. Bastard things.) Sit huddled miserably in bathroom awaiting diarrhoea that does not arrive. Cramps subside. Crawl back to bed and groan pitifully at Hubby. Child kicks me in face. Curse and groan some more. Hubby leaves to farm. Ignore gestured pleas from child for Downstairs! and remain resolutely under the covers.

9am: Arrive downstairs and eat a white chocolate creme brulee for breakfast. Discover to mild horror and zero surprise (a new recipe and I experienced… problems) that they have not miraculously improved overnight. Flavour good but texture gone awfully, horribly wrong. Eat another in case the first one was a fluke – it wasn’t – and now feel sick. Offer taste to husband, who justly critiques texture, and to child, who recoils immediately with an expressive ‘Tssicckk!’

9.30am: Clear dining room table, which was made to my size specifications in order to seat 14. I curse my inability to perform mathematics – not for the first time – as the 12 chairs still manage to look cramped. 

10am: Despatch grumpy teething child and husband to town. They load into the car and disappear, with John’s frustrated cries of ‘You silly little boy!’ echoing down the drive. Harry’s tantrums have turned… quantum… lately. He has nearly knocked himself out twice already this morning with his own thrashing.

10.10am: Try to persuade myself that the tablecloth – a behemothic thing hunted down by my mother amongst the Cypriot linen shops, and selflessly hauled back home in defiance of excess baggage charges – does not require ironing.

 tablecloth

10:20am: Fetch iron from upstairs, come to look at blogs, curse self for wasting TIME, godamnit.

10.30am: Iron tablecloth in situ. Tablecloth sticks unpleasantly to nameless gunk smeared on table that I was too lazy to scrub off as HEY! I’m only going to cover it up wth a tablecloth! 

tablecloth2

11am: The After photo looks identical to the Before photo. Wasted hour. Go me! Start on ratatouille veg chopping.

11.30am: John returns with only half his To Do list done, and a sleeping child. He deposits sleeping child in cot, and settles down to enjoy a nice cup of tea. 

11.40am: Finish chopping. Hand throbs.

ratatouille

11.55am: Two large pans of ratatouille are bubbling nicely. John’s tea break ends when the diarrhoea that threatened me earlier finally makes its unwelcome appearance, and he is required to take over stirring. I emerge staggering, and proceed to clean hands obsessively. 

12.10pm: Hurry back to the bog for another go. 

12.15pm: Start to hum a Johnny Cash song.

12.20pm: Finally make escape from loo. Rigorously sanitise all areas of self. John disappears to complete his to-do list. Wonder why he is so cheerful about being sent into the town centre on a Saturday to shop. Realise that he has got his MGB out and is now driving away from the kitchen – with the top down, in the warm sunshine. 

12.30pm: Begin to work like buggery fuck. Pan fry chicken and cool. Make chicken casserole sauce and cool. Chop french beans. Chop runner beans.

1.15pm: My mother arrives to mind Harry. John returns from town and goes to wake Harry up. Lets Harry play with purchased top hat.

hat

Continue to work. Make a rhubarb crumble. Make ANOTHER lot of Creme Brulee to tried-and-tested recipe which also, inexplicably, goes yukky-textured. Womanfully resist urge to cry. Make salmon parcels with cream cheese, soured cream and dill filling. Make beef bourguignon, experience a slight setback adding red wine to pan,

wine-spill

 and cool. Make butter curls. Attempt to chop butternut squash and remember I am allergic to the sap. Summon Hubby to chop instead. Start to arrange crocks on table, aesthetically cringing at the necessity to use soup bowls that Do Not Match my dinner service. Bloody Wedgwood. Receivership is No Excuse. 

 

Assess fridge and consider how to fit a quart into a pint pot.

fridge2

 5.30pm: Make fishfinger dinner for Harry, who has been playing on the tussocky grass with Mum, and has fallen and hurt his leg. Is crying and struggling to walk. By now, I want to sit and cry too. Prepare bowl of watercress and rocket instead.

6pm: Mum goes home, frazzled by Harry. Put large tray of butternut squash cubes on to roast. Put 3 saucepans of new potatoes on to boil. Fold napkins into uncomplicated shapes. Arrange bread rolls in a bowl. Put new potatoes into heated hostess trolley. Cook beans and peas: into trolley. Arrange watercress and rocket onto plates. Open the carCOUGH!tons of soup and pour into saucepan. Discuss Who Should Not Be Sat Near Whom with John, while Harry watches Night Garden. We allocate the laminated place-cards I photoshopped for our 2007 party.

white-ann-baylis1  mustard-john-baylis2

If you think I’ve made our faces look bad, you should really see what I did to our friends’.

7pm: Under the impression I have 45 minutes until guests appear, I sit down for the first time since I emerged from the bog this morning, to blog speed read. Ain’t no-one getting comments today.

7.10pm: Turn squash in oven right down. Attempt to go upstairs to bath and change, but Hubby is reading a story to Harry with the bedroom door open and I dare not be seen. Print ‘Do Not Ring Doorbell On Pain Of Pain’, etc, sign and affix to front door.

7.15pm: Hubby creeps downstairs, shutting Harry’s bedroom door and I creep up, treading on our absurdly creaky floorboards as I go. Harry whinges. I rootle hurriedly in wardrobe to sort out vaguely cowboy-ish clothes.

7.25pm: Hear first guest knocking quietly at door. Remember I have actually told everyone 7.30pm for 7.45. Sound of new voice downstairs sends Harry into full-scale roars. Guest is unceremoniously left to entertain herself whilst John and I attempt to sort out costumes in total silence. Abandon all thought of bath, and Hubby is now hogging shower. Apply facial cleansing wipes rapidly around sweatiest sections, liberally apply bodyspray and perfume, and scramble into clothes.

7.35pm: Rip label off pink cowboy hat, don cowboy boots (which between the ages of 14 and 16 never left my feet) and creep downstairs past intermittently-grumbling child. Laugh at guest’s costume, ruthlessly delegate clue envelope handing-out, and scurry off to unwrap salmon parcels and place on salad, which has gone limp. Camera flash turns salmon an extremely unappealing colour. Add purchCOUGH!ased sauce.

salmon2

7.45pm: Put soup on stove to heat. Apply chicken to casserole sauce, beef to bourguignon sauce, and place on stove to re-heat. Stop to pour glass of wine and swig deeply while guest number 1 spots cars and races out onto the drive in order to organise and pre-shush (predictably and thankfully late) arriving guests.

8pm: Relax somewhat and decide cannot be bothered to decant food into Wedgwood serving bowls and will serve it in pans instead. Pour self a larger drink in celebration of acquiring this new wisdom.

8.10pm: Warm tureen, empty soup into it. Tell guests to get out of the bloody kitchen and sit down. Soup is served; I do last visual sweep of the kitchen. See huge pot of ratatouille, gasp, put hastily on searing stove setting to heat up. Go into dining room and read scene-setter out loud. Start the round off. Return to kitchen every 2 minutes during soup to frantically stir ratatouille.

8.25pm: Serve fish. Only one Fish?! refusal and one played-with plate. Relieved.

8.35pm Serve main meal.

dinner-party-food1

Peas have turned hideous colour in trolley, but everything else as planned. Spy forgotten and uncooked rhubarb crumble on worksurface and quickly turn the oven back on. Pour self another large refill.

9pm – 2am: Hazy.

horsey

2am: Final guest leaves and I take stock of surroundings.

detritus

2.15am: Find hubby asleep in the office and gently usher him towards stairs. Has a few false starts and is obliged to tackle the stairs at a crawl, but rolls into bed intact. At no point notices I am filming him.

2.30am: Snores.

5.10am: Child screams loudly. I awake to discover I now have the whirling pit. Nudge Hubby with foot and ask him to pat child back to sleep. Repeat several times, getting jabbier with foot. Hubby, entirely drunk, blunders next door and starts talking chirpily to child. I vaguely think this is odd. Hubby appears with Happy! child in doorway, whereupon I inform him it’s only 5am. He attempts to return Unhappy! child to bed. Experiences failure. Re-appears with Happy! child. Child makes determined lunge for boobs and is firmly rebuffed. Roars.

5.15 – 5.25am: Excessive rampaging over parents. Repeated attempts to access boobs.

5.25am: I leave in drunken stupor, taking my alcoholic boobs with me, and retreat to the spare room. Sleep for further 2 hours.

7.30am: Hubby appears with child. Announces that he ‘may have nodded off for a while’ and that Harry has trashed the bedroom, broken his specs and emptied his wallet. He cannot find two of his credit cards. He is feeling too ill to cope and retreats to the sofa downstairs.

john-asleep

8am – 1pm: I give Harry two scrambled eggs and blearily watch him happily play with the dogs. John eventually returns to bed whilst I start to clear up. His hangover appears unaccountably bad, until he tells me that the first bottle of Port he rootled out of the drinks cupboard at midnight was already open, sedimented and tasted odd… but they drank it anyway.

1pm: Next Door Neighbours appear for lunch of leftovers. I have cleared the table, cooked some fresh chicken, and heated leftover potatoes and veg. Am beginning to think I am wonder woman.

Afternoon and evening spent quietly playing and TV-watching with intermittent wearing tantrums from child. 

Bank Holiday Monday, 6.30am: Child kicks me in the head, headbutts me in the mouth, and finds it funny. I leave for the spare room again in a strop.

11am: Go to local retail park in order to purchase gift for Father’s birthday tomorrow. Retail park is extremely busy. Cannot find suitable gift. Go to town centre instead. Get mildly stressed but also finally buy David Attenborough’s autobiography for self. This takes away much of the pain.

12.15pm: Child falls asleep in car and is left to doze in peace.

1.30pm: Harry wakes without us noticing and works self into proper state before he is heard. There is much screaming and complaint.

2.15pm: I drive him to my friend’s house.

2.50pm: The bank holiday traffic is heavy and I arrive annoyed. Harry immediately has another meltdown the moment he walks through the door. He does this nearly everywhere we go. He Does Not Transition Well. I am becoming extremely exasperated, all the more so because I realise he cannot be blamed.

3pm: I am struck dumb with surprise when I hear my friend’s daughter ask her Mummy for ‘more juice, please.’ Harry has no exact contemporary among the children we see often, hence I have always managed to avoid comparing his speech. I become increasingly upset and aghast as I hear the little girl carry on basic conversations with everyone there and realise to what an advanced degree she can understand sentences and instructions. She has begun to inform her mother of impending bowel movements. (Her own, naturally. Anyone else’s would be even more impressive.) She is apparently not considered a big talker by her parents or nursery, but Harry still has no real words that we can clearly recognise and to me, she is Cicero. I start to want to cry.

3pm – 5.30pm: Harry kicks off again. And again. And again. Pushing. Hitting. Screaming. Grabbing. Kicking. Roaring. There were 3 other toddlers all having the odd strop because of various minor combinations of all those behaviours, particularly THEY-TOOK-MY-TOY-WAAAH! sad and teary red-faced episodes, but Harry… Harry is simply in a different league altogether: frequently catching himself violent wallops on hard surfaces as he throws himself about. I suddenly become aware of my own body language: I have retreated to a corner seat, I have unconsciously picked up a cushion and am holding it across my tummy. I emerge only to re-site Harry’s tantrums into more padded areas.

5.30pm: I leave, managing to hold back my tears until the car is moving.

6pm: I arrive back home, worn out and distressed. John greets me on the doorstep and tells me regretfully that Mrs Brahma has been eaten by the fox. I sit and cry. He takes Harry out from underfoot to ride in his trike in the garden.

6.10pm. I chop an onion and put rice on to cook. I am chopping mushrooms when Harry and John return. Harry is hungry and tired, and has always been tricky to handle at this time of day. He runs up to me and violently pushes my legs. I take a deep breath. He does it again. I burst into tears, which almost immediately turn into proper I-can’t-actually-fucking-breathe hysterics. John removes Harry, plonks him in front of the tv – always a winner to calm him down – and returns to attempt to calm me down. Today, because I am tired, worried and upset, Harry has – to borrow a clever phrase that struck a chord – become reduced to the sum of his quirks.

Harry, at 21 months, has no real intelligible speech yet. His sense of balance isn’t all there by a long stretch. He has, as they told me when he was born, possibly suffered some mild brain damage. His behaviour is most likely due to communication frustration.

It’s hard for both him and us. It’ll probably get worse. But I’m so indescribably sad that my son, my beautiful and precious son, still can’t talk to me.

 harry-hat-2  harry-hat

And the one hen I was genuinely attached to, who was old and tired and wise, has been ripped apart by the fucking fox.

mrs-brahma-rip1

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28 Responses

  1. Well, sheeeeee-it. I’m sure you’ll look lovely in a fresh fox stole (with matching kit mittens) next winter, though. I haven’t got anything consolatory for the rest, either. Sounds like a rough patch that’s turned into rather more than a patch.

  2. Ann, I love you and I’m sorry. I’m crying with you. I can’t think of anything else to say.

  3. Ohhh Sweetie. How can you write something that makes me piss my pants laughing and then weep? Harry, wherever he is, whatever is happening, is still and always will be your beautiful boy. And I know you get told over and over about how so and so’s baby did not start to speak until after they were 2 so I won’t add my story of my best friend’s little boy here…
    You are one hell of a chick Ann, creative and funny and talented, and one hell of a mother too.
    And that fox needs a tractor up the arse.

  4. I’m sorry your weekend was so rough. I’m hoping that you’re going to have a better week this week.

  5. I think you are, in fact, Wonder Woman. Sorry it ended so rough and so sad for you. I know its hard to believe but he will speak and his behavior will change.

  6. Oh, my dear girl. What a weekend.

    Your gorgeous boy will make leaps and bounds in communicating right when you least expect it. All fingers crossed that this was the low point.

    Onward and upward.

    Also, I’m always available for creme brûlée testing…

  7. Dearest Ann, LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO MAKE BUTTER CURLS. This is the one thing I can tell you with certainty from my lofty position (much) further along the Wonder Woman parenting track.

    You brought back many vivid memories of parenting a tantrum thrower extraordinaire. The misery. The sheer embarrassing-ness of it all. The overwhelming feeling of just wanting to turn around and leave him there in the shopping centre, screeching like a demented banshee and frothing at the mouth.

    Standing in the main street of Major Australian Country Town while my child is attacking his older and younger cousin simultaneously and a Hairy Farmer (Australian Born and Bred Version) is poking at my first born child with his RM Williams boot and growling in manly Australian voice “Gerrof ’em ya little bastard.” The massive feeling of failing Simple Parenting for Dummies.

    It does pass. All is well. He is now a responsible, kind-hearted and charming adult who holds down a job, plays cricket and football with no sign of bad sportsmanship or clue that he may once have had anger management issues.

    Harry will come good when he is ready and able to, whenever and with whatever help you and John can give him. You ARE Wonder Woman.

    And RIP Mrs Brahma. Hope that fox meets a very ugly end. Soonest.

    xx

  8. Ah! This is the post that made me “come out” (and stop lurking, I mean). What a weekend! I mean, not without its good points, (pink cowboy hat!) but so tiring and emotional and so sad at the end. I am so sorry. You poor crater, as they say over here.

    But better times are coming, you’ll see!

  9. What a torrid end to the weekend. I am so sorry about Mrs Brahma – it just adds insult to injury. I have to agree with Korechronicles about the butter curls – the menu alone proves your Wonder woman status. Try and take no notice of those other toddlers – Harry is a such a delicious little boy.

  10. I first laughed at that Johnny Cash mention.

    Then I felt like crying with you, too. If it helps, my 19 month-olds constantly get me told by the nursery that they have bitten/hit/pushed some poor unsuspecting child as my 19 month olds cannot communicate, either. And my daughter has taken to hitting herself in the head when you don’t understand what she wants. You’re not alone, babe.

    Although butter curls…seriously, you have me impressed.

  11. Playgroups have a way of bringing a mother to tears. Honestly, any and every mother at some time. That said, my heart aches for you. Harry is so beautiful (those pictures YANK at my heartstrings, my god) and your stories about him make it clear he has a great sense of humor, an independent and dogged character, and will have so many interesting things to tell you. I believe it will happen, sooner than you think even (GEESE!), but I know it must be very hard right now. I hope you have another meeting with the speech therapist soon since she sounds very helpful and listens to your concerns.

    Also, you ARE Wonder Woman. And don’t discount the mood crash that comes with an exhausting weekend of cooking stress, gastrointestinal distress, and a wicked hangover. I hope you are feeling better.

    Finally, my condolences for poor Mrs. Brahma. I suspect that fox will soon get what’s coming to it.

  12. Oh Anne,if my arms could reach over the ocean I would give you a big hug and not let go.

  13. I would so much like to be able to say something to make you feel better. I am not a big hugger, but would hug you if nearby, and say tomorrow will be another day, and it is likely to have better moments. You already know that the bad days are pretty much met with one-foot-in-front-of-the-other until they are over.
    I would say that play groups and meetings of toddlers are almost always dreadful unless the children see one another so frequently as to be comfortable and the parents are comfortable with the inevitable melt-downs. There is always one child who can do a million things your child cannot and there are frequently several children who appear to do any number of things your child cannot or will not do. I like to think that in the privacy of their homes they drink out of the toilet or something.
    I would also say that even a child with no problems of prematurity or a tough time in babyhood can be horrible in the toddler stages and be perfectly delightful as a 5-year-old. Only you need to live that long.
    Your dinner looked lovely and you should at least congratulate yourself on providing a great evening for your friends. If I had been invited to something like that, it would have made my social season — my social year, even decade.
    And, although this is of small importance in the big picture, your refrigerator looked astonishing well organized and clean considering the big project.
    I have nothing cheering to say about your chicken, though. I hope the sun is shining on you again today.

  14. What a parade of trials! I’m so sorry (how is it that you’re able to be so hilarious in the midst of chaos, though?). Tantrums terrify and sadden me and basically flip me out….mine too is going through a “can’t communicate except through screams” stage, and I will be so happy when more language arrives. I’m glad the party itself seems to have been a blur of goodness (?).

    On the bright side your fridge is stunningly tidy. My own fridge is now slinking away in stinky shame.

  15. Oh honey I’m so sorry for such a rollercoaster weekend. You may be wonderwoman but I have it on good authority that she was a raging alcoholic that people never really liked! Just sayin… its not all reflective bracelet cuffs and capes!

    The butter curls have confirmed your madness and the tears confirm your humanity. Hang in there…

    Big hugs… xoxo

  16. I’m so sorry. Keep breathing. Sending you love and light.

  17. You are a brave and noble soldier. Very brave, and very noble. Sympathy on the exploding belly thing. Oy vey.

    All, that, ALL THAT, and the BASTARD fox came back for Mrs Brahma? Last straw.

    Harry’s kicking thrashing flailing self-whacking tantrums are not abnormal, though they must be unbearable as they happen. I know they are. My sister Diva used to do that. I was only her big sister, baby-sitting from time to time, and having her hit me, hit the floor, hit herself, and shriek like a wounded vulture, for HOURS, hell, I sat down and cried myself more times than I can count and I WAS ONLY BABY-SITTING. How you must feel parenting 24-7, ohhh, my dearest Ann, *hugs*, and lots of them.

    Harry is a beautiful, engaging, engaged, lively person. He always will be. And one day he will talk to you. And that day will be precious beyond all gems. But until then, my dear, my heart goes out to you and I will think of you all every day. I’m sorry. It sucks.

  18. Oh crickey. Oh my.

    Your Harry is such a beautiful boy, Ann.

    xx

    g

  19. Sorry you’re having a tough time. (((hugs))). However, I never fail to be amazed at your domestic goddessess.

  20. Wow, so many highs and lows in one weekend! Sleep deprivation and entertaining and tantrums and losing a beloved fowl…you earned that good cry, and you have another one when you need it. You ARE Wonder Woman, and that precious boy will have lots of stories to tell soon.

  21. I think you may well be wonder woman. Concentrate on Harry helping you out in the kitchen, without the back chat.

  22. The whirling pit alone would have driven me over the edge. Ye gods. I am exhausted just reading all that. Take heart that you are not the only one collapsing in a whimpering heap after that bank holiday weekend (as my recent post testifies).

    I am however slightly in the humpf with you because now I am the ONLY woman in the British Isles STILL breastfeeding at 21 months- how could you abandon me?! I AM NOW THE ONLY FREAK IN THE VILLAGE. I’ve broached weaning- it’s not going over well. At all. Oh, that it were habit rather than need here…

    Hang in there, my dear- I have utter faith in Harry, the dark horse of the baby orators.

  23. I would have cancelled that dinner – Wonder Woman, indeed. I can barely get dinner on the table for the 2 of us and the Kitten.

    So sorry about Mrs. Brahma – she was really quite lovely to behold.

    And Harry is still your little miracle boy. He will blossom in his own sweet time – there is just no use in comparison to others. To play on a platitude often used in these situations, Mrs. Einstein’s kid wouldn’t have measured up in that playgroup either.

    Sending hugs to tide you over in the meantime.

  24. Damn, damn, damn. Poor Mrs Brahma – I grieve w/you. I certainly wept buckets when it was clear the coyotes had gotten our intrepid lil’ Redtail… I haven’t had the heart to refit the chicken coop & try, try again.

  25. Well, it looks as though your dinner was a success. The girls’ day? Maybe not so much. I’m soo sorry, sweet pea. I urge you to get Harry to a specialist to calm your fears. I agree about Mrs. E’s Kids. They wouldn’t have stood up to that, and Harry is brilliant. In my opinion. Boys are slow talkers like that, in my experience. Hugs. Lots of them.

  26. Hello, I am a lurker, I hope you dont mind me posting. (Im usually too busy to comment, Im sorry.. I read with my morning cuppa then Im off for the day!)
    Your little Harry is such a beautiful boy, and he does remind me so much of my eldest, Edward, at that age. Edward has a Twin sister, and from toddler age, dispite their being equal in development up until toddler age, she advanced upon him in every area. Ned couldnt speak well even at 4, and up until that age his speech was very slow to develop. Like Harry, he would just resort to frustrated tantrums. He screamed all the time and his behaviour was very trying, because he couldn’t communicate. But Cecilia, his siter, was having conversations with me at 18 months. It truly was one of the darkest times in my life, I just didnt know what was wrong with my little boy.

    Now Edward and Cecilia are 8, and are both equal in every way. Edward still has a lisp, but his language skills are now perfect.

    The difference in boys and girls’ development at toddler age is huge, well, the development of individual children shouldn’t be compared, even though its hard not to. I just remember that at 18 months Cecilia acted like a 3 year old, and Edward acted like a 12 month old! It stayed that way for a long time.

    You seem like a Wonder Mum/Domestic Goddess to me. 🙂 Your gorgeous Harry, like my Edward did, will find his voice one day. He is such a baby still.

  27. […] role of vermin. Foxes – who predate our fluffy baby lambs like anything, not to mention my poor hens – are controlled on our land (rather a royal ‘we’ there: it ain’t […]

  28. What a shitty day! I am reading two years later, hope you are over it. So sad for Mrs Brahma, I was really impressed by her survival skills. Love your writing, you are very, very funny and very, very touching. Ix

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