New term

After four-and-a-half years of near constant cacophony my house is quiet. Silent, in fact. I know I should be listening to Radio 4 and reading something meaningful, but I am slumped on the sofa digesting the fact that all three of my boys are now at school.

And just as my twins, Alec and Kit, four, knocked us sideways with their chaotic arrival, so their double departure this week has packed a similarly painful punch.

No sign of first day nerves

No sign of first day nerves

“Yay! Freedom!” I warbled unconvincingly as they trooped into their classrooms for the first time, weighed down by lunchboxes the size of suitcases. I watched proudly (darting from window to window) as they took their seats on the carpet, looked up expectantly at their teachers and moved seamlessly into their new roles as schoolboys.

We parents gawped through the panes and, after being ignored for a few minutes, drifted off feeling redundant and, in my case, inexplicably disappointed. After a leisurely coffee and lots of jolly comments about how I ‘won’t know what to do with my time,’ I return home and, guess what, I don’t. Not for a day or two anyway.

I start scrolling through my mental list of things to do. It is so long and dates so far back that even getting to the top feels like too much to think about. Somewhere on that list contains the ambition of having an uninterrupted cup of tea. As a life goal I admit I may be setting the bar a little low.

Even though the boys have been at school for less than three hours I am already feeling unaccountably nostalgic about all those playgroups, music classes and mid-week park café lunches that we’ll never have again. Of course, I never actually took the twins to a music class (too stressful/expensive) and we last attended a playgroup more than a year ago. But the point is, we could have. And now we can’t.

With the start of term comes another realisation: I am no longer the mother of very young children. I admit that having three children under three is not something I could wholeheartedly recommend, but it did provide an identity of sorts. My harassed demeanour and double pram with buggy board set me apart from other parents. Now my children are just like anyone else’s – no cause for admiration, pity or any other form of attention. I shall miss not being able to get cross about it.

So now that the two main excuses for my general inaction and, ahem, undercleaned house, have left the building, it is probably time to smarten up my act a bit.

I have to confront the fact that I do now have time to look in the mirror so probably can spare a minute to drag a comb through my hair and, regrettably, may now be able to tackle the health hazards that are our toilets. I probably could sort through the jumble of summer clothes on the spare bed too.

But just as seven years ago, I never imagined being a stay at home mum, today I don’t really hanker after being a mum-who-lunches either. Not every day, anyway, although no doubt it is a role I could quickly warm to. So the question of What Are You Going To Do Now looms constantly, if not in my own head, then on the lips of others.

In the meantime, though, I have accrued a lot of unpaid leave in my extended role of childcare-provider-in-chief and refuse to spend it soul searching. Instead, I shall pine.

I wander into Alec and Kit’s bedroom and fluff up their pillows (I know they will appreciate this later when they hit each other with them). I imagine them having lunch and hope they can get their yogurts open. I am the first parent pacing outside the classroom at 3.15pm.

Kit bursts through the door, smiling, clutching at least five drawings of monsters. “They’ve got lots of books!” he shouts. Alec emerges, looking dazed but pleased with himself, happy because he had lunch with big brother Harry in the canteen.

And we totter home, all talking at once, pausing only to run into people’s driveways, snatch a school bag and chuck it into the road and climb any unstable-looking walls.

I am back on familiar territory. It feels good.


Bye Bye Buggy

A few minutes after my husband and I emerged from the sonographer’s room holding the twins’ first scan picture in our shaking hands, the full implications of what lay before us hit me.

“Oh my god!” I said as we waited for the lift. “We’ll have to get a double buggy.”

It was a sobering moment. Or at least it seemed like one – we hadn’t yet twigged that we’d also need a new car and a new house.

Until this point, my attitude to parents wielding double buggies had been an unattractive mix of smug revulsion. I admit it, I pitied them. Running over peoples’ feet, jamming themselves in supermarket aisles; frankly, taking up too much space. The possibility that I would one day join their harassed ranks had never crossed my mind.

For about four minutes we toyed with a single buggy plus sling scenario, but even in our shocked state we were forced to face up to the fact that with a toddler to contain as well as the twins, this was simply not an option. Worse, we realized that once we’d secured our whopper we’d have to add a buggy board for said toddler. A traveling circus would get around less conspicuously.

That was October. In February we were standing in a hangar containing our pushchair of choice – the Mountain Buggy Double Urban. We gingerly pushed it around, sending display items crashing in all directions, although pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to manoeuvre, albeit into other things.

The sales lady “collapsed” it and stood back triumphantly. The buggy was approximately two centimetres lower, but apparently no smaller. Compact it was not.

Half an hour later, pockets lighter, boot considerably lower, the buggy was ours. Life with twins had begun.

twins in buggy

Babies in the buggy

It is fair to say that over the intervening four years, the buggy has attracted almost as much attention as the twins.

“Stand back!” people yell, flattening themselves against walls or stepping into the path of buses to let us through – even though the buggy is narrow enough to fit through pretty much any normal door and certainly along a pavement. “Blimey – have you got a license for that?” has been heard. More than once.  “Bet that keeps you fit!”, people comment. (It doesn’t by the way – my upper arms still resemble blancmange despite propelling the damn thing up a 1: 2 hill for years.)

I have, of course, come to love our buggy and bridle on its behalf when people carp on about its size or shove their feet under its wheels. It is loads easier to push than the Maclaren I used for our first son, and having surrendered our house to a mountain of toys, highchairs and plastic feeding bowls some years ago, what difference did a buggy blocking the front hall for three years really make?

The last six months have seen the buggy and I gradually separate. Nervously, I left it at home for the school run. My twins, Alec and Kit, are not known for their co-operation on this hellish journey. Prizing a stubborn Alec off the pavement while Kit sprints into the distance is not an uncommon occurrence. Without the buggy to threaten them with, how would I manhandle two three-year-olds to the school gate? In short, slowly and with much whining and cajoling from all sides.

However, as much as the double buggy enhanced our lives when Alec and Kit were smaller, I cannot describe the joy at finally being liberated from it. Suddenly, interest in us was reduced by about 90 per cent. Nobody noticed us, or felt the need to comment on us, to us or about us. At last, Alec and Kit were just like any other little boys.

So, with Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday over, it was time to make our separation permanent. The buggy was brought out from the garage one last time. It emerged gleaming and pretty much unrecognizable from the only deep clean it has ever had  – my children had been happily nestling in filth for years, I discovered.

double buggy farewell

Farewell to double buggies

The boys and I looked at all the old photos of them as babies in the buggy before they clambered, giggling,  into it again for a final picture.

They stood waving as I drove it off to my local twins club sale. The end of an era.

Four hours later I was home. With the unsold buggy.

Double buggy anyone?

Birthday Cake

Rainbow cake

Rainbow cake

As Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday party approached, two issues loomed. Could I get away with a single birthday cake between them for another year and could I pull off a successful celebration with – deep breath – no party bags?
The answers, thankfully, were yes and yes. As ever, there was the complication of themes: Peter Pan v Ben 10 one day, Ice Age v Cars 2 the next. The ideas changed so frequently that they were eventually abandoned in the certain knowledge that they would have veered off course before the ink was dry on the invitations.
Most importantly, the cake. Last year I attempted Spiderman. It took me almost five hours to transform a perfectly good sponge cake into a mangled blue and red monstrosity. My cake appeared to depict the nightmare scenario of Spiderman’s headfirst plunge from tall building to pavement. Even our group of three-year-old party goers gasped when it was wheeled out.
This year I vowed there would be no midnight sobbing over another birthday cake.
The boys were non-committal in their demands which made it easier to not only impose my own ideas but to postpone for another year having to make a separate cake for each of them. Until it is explicitly demanded, I am ignoring one of the cornerstone suggestions for maintaining a twin’s identity. I’m already saving for the cost of righting the psychological repercussions. Obviously we have separate renditions of Happy Birthday and each boy blows out his own set of candles, which at the moment seems to make them both happy.

Meanwhile, Alec liked every cake I showed him and Kit only wanted a Halloween-style orange pumpkin cake which I ruled out ostensibly because it is March not October but in reality because it looked downright difficult.
On the quiet, I searched for something eye catching, yet relatively simple and finally stumbled upon a rainbow cake. The picture looked amazing. A deceptively simple white-iced exterior which, once cut, revealed a cake of six brilliantly colored layers, held together with plain white frosting. Genius.
I showed the picture to the boys. “Pretty!” said Alec. “Ugh!”, said Kit.
Following the lead of generations of politicians, I completely ignored the dissenting opinion and pressed on regardless, assuring myself that he didn’t fully grasp the concept.Balloons
My recipe, from Edd Kimber’s “Say It With Cake” (, was slightly fiddly and required buying a third 20cm baking tin and considerable quantities of gel food colourings, but following it to the letter, my six garish cakes looked not only edible, but quite professional. I abandoned the white chocolate icing suggested in the recipe on the grounds that it required a sugar thermometer so was guaranteed to exceed my technical capabilities and opted instead for Hummingbird Bakery’s failsafe Vanilla Frosting ( A mere hour later, my cake was iced. I wasn’t crying. In short, a miracle had occurred.
For some time before the big day, I had been gradually easing in the idea that there would be no party bags, but I admit I was not brave enough to go completely cold turkey. Instead of the usual bag full of plastic rubbish, I opted for a single bit of rubbish. Let’s face it, you’ve got to give the children some incentive to leave. I bought gifts priced between £2-£3 for each child and put them in a box which acted as a lucky dip – accessed only once each child had their coat on and was ready to go. The only condition was that they had to open it when they got home – to avoid comparisons with what anyone else had got. (Inevitably someone flouted the rules and was apprehended trying to shove a half-wrapped parcel back into the lucky dip in the hope of getting something better the next time).
For the most part, each child got one reasonable toy to leave with and, while still expensive for the 17 kids we had at the party, was on balance a better and easier alternative to the annual tedium of compiling party bags.
But back to the rainbow cake. Once the double Happy Birthdays were out of the way, my husband dramatically sliced open the cake. This year, instead of the odd stifled sob and embarrassed intake of breath, there were cries of delight and a clamor of small hands for a piece of their own. Parents asked in disbelief whether I had made it myself (come to think of it, that did happen last year), and were genuinely impressed by the results.
Triumphant, I looked over at Alec and Kit, proudly heading the birthday table.
“Ugh!” said Kit, helping himself to his third slice.