My Brain Right Now

My Brain Right Now

*N.B. To clarify, I have not won the Lotto, or even bought a ticket yet. This did not stop me from having a good long daydream about what we would buy with the money and then being overcome with a sense of immense guilt that top of my list would be a nice big house in the country – or to build a house Grand Designs-style. This was followed by a further sense of panic and unease about the fact that I would have to give at least half to charity, but which charity? Would it be ethical to bypass the big ones in favour of smaller local charities? I would have to set up a think tank to see how the money could do the most good. Then further sense of overwhelming despair at the thought that £15 million (ish – after tax) would do practically nothing to solve the world’s problems anyway but then you really couldn’t keep the whole lot as that would make you a selfish arse.*

Needless to say, practically all of my day’s allotment of brain space was taken up by absolute shite. Notwithstanding my very valiant attempts to be in the moment and play with baby L (who now is toddling like crazy, into everything, and screams at the precise moment when things stop being to his liking. Things today he has taken offense to are: being in the car seat; not being allowed chocolate-covered Brazil nuts; not being allowed to maul the dog; being left in his cot while I take a wee (so he is safe and doesn’t fall down the stairs!); me having a biscuit without allowing him one (I was not in the mood to forgo biscuits today so unfortunately I now have a biscuit-addicted baby and M and I sat on the stairs eating chocolate-covered Brazil nuts in secret when we got back from drama club). I do remember the smile on L’s face as he toddled maniacally towards me at the indoor play centre, absolutely certain that I would catch him as he launched himself towards me (there comes a point where he just gives up on walking and falls forward for me to catch him). The other night he was standing at his play table and launched himself backwards in a perfect arc, without even looking to see if I was behind him. He giggled when I caught him – now that’s trust for you. (Incidentally, this is the same exact arc he makes with his body to avoid being strapped into the car seat).

I will now try to finish the evening by winding down somewhat and remembering the real moments of the day (not the houses we are not buying and hypothetical discussions about the ethics of winning the lottery!)

Now for that glass of wine (come on, it is practically still Christmas, and those bottles of wine we got as Christmas presents aren’t going to drink themselves…)



Happy Halloween


Sometimes you read something that stops you in your tracks and makes you feel like you are wasting your life/not noticing the wood for the trees. I feel like this most of the time as on one level I know I should chill out more and just enjoy life and on another level I have literally no idea how to do this. The other day I read on Facebook a post that basically guilt-tripped the reader into feeling bad about not being happy in the present moment (because, you know, we always want something else to happen for us to be happy and then when that happens there is always something else, etc etc…. yes I know but…)

Today was Halloween (hence the title of this post). I suppose today is still technically Halloween. I bought a bucket of candy sweets but we have had no trick-or-treaters (not suprising really considering our location and the general hysteria of many British people towards the concept, but I have to admit I expected at least one group of half-heartedly costumed teenagers angling for a cheeky pound coin).

Having organised the obligatory Halloween party (which consisted of my stepdad and brothers watching the rugby World Cup in costume, my mum and I talking about houses me going on to my mum about a house we went and looked at this morning whilst maintaining a wide-berth from my youngest son whom I am attempting to wean off of the breastmilk, and my zombie-first-born eating more sweets than is good for him) and got the kids to bed, I sit down and read this article about how the “early years” are crap but the rest is even worse.

Yeah. Thanks. Seriously made me laugh though. Why can’t I appreciate what I have, which is a helluva lot?

I was going to be happy when we had new carpet and lino. That time has been and gone. Now I am obsessed about getting on the property ladder, having some storage/outside space, possibly going on holiday sometime, and being able to sleep through the night without being used as a human pacifier.

Every night I say “goodnight baby” to my eldest son and kiss him. I have been doing this since we moved to this house from America. That was three years ago. He is no longer strictly-speaking, a baby. He is a wiry bundle of attitude who alternately amazes me and tests my patience. He is 5 going on 15 and I know I will miss this. I say goodnight to him and I have already seen his face change from the chubby (sort of) toddler face to the leaner and more learned school-kid face he has now. I picture saying goonight to him when he is 15. I can almost see it. Me sneaking into his room like a crazy person, whispering goodnight to my “baby” who is anything but.

But for today, the “hell of the early years” is this:

  • hearing “but what is there to do?” “what can I do?” “so what are we going to do now?” ad nauseum whenever the TV/Wii is turned off.
  • Having a baby all but surgically attached to my nipple every night and waking up feeling like Dracula himself had been visiting me in my sleep (so hungry/thirsty/grumpy!)
  • My husband making me an omelette and sending M upstairs while L fussed in his play pen and I stood and cried by the kitchen sink because… Dracula baby.  So hungry/grumpy (thank goodness my husband knows how to deal with my hangry side).
  • Making a Halloween party and zombie costume for M and then hearing the following:

“I wanted the party to be at Grandma’s.”

“These pockets feel weird.” [Me: they’re just pockets. Either you wear the costume or you don’t. It is just a regular pair of trousers] “But they feel WEIRD. Can’t someone cut them out?” *daddy cuts the pockets out of the trousers* “These trousers are too loose!” *daddy tightens the waist elastic* “These trousers are too tight!” *Fights urge to band head against wall. Possibly threatens cancellation of party if whining about trousers does not cease immediately*

And obsessing about the house we saw this morning. How all our problems will be solved once we have storage/outside space/a foot on the property “ladder.”

But then we don’t have any problems. We have two beautiful, if demanding in the way that all children are, little boys and the rest is just so much stuff. But then it is hard to remember that when, as happened yesterday, you start the day with:

“Ah… something is wet, can you look ’cause I don’t have my glasses on… is it wee or poo?”

“It’s poo… all over!”

“Aaargh! You take him and put him in the bath and I’ll strip the bed. Oh no it’s all up by the pillows and all on my trousers *fumble for glasses, glance at alarm… 6am… wash sheets/bath baby before even a cup of tea let alone food*


Row-Row-Rollercoaster of Parenthood

My littlest L (nearly eleven months) and I were just sitting on the bed. I was singing some rhymes and making him laugh when he very deliberately took one of my hands and then the other. I thought he was going to clap my hands together as he often does, but instead he rocked back and forth and looked at me and said very deliberately “R.” I took this to mean he wanted to do Row Row Your Boat, which we did and he laughed. I know it is probably just because I am his mummy, but I think this is tremendously clever and more than makes up for the fact that he started the day by headbutting me in the nose.

I suppose that sums up the rollercoaster of parenthood pretty succinctly. Just when you are on your last nerve and thinking “you know, I could be on holiday somewhere right now” or “I could be actually looking for a book in this bookshop and then have the chance to read it rather than having to abandon the whole endeavour in the face of a crying baby and whiney five year old,” your kids do something that melts your heart and you are back to the stoic who needs holidays/books/personal space/alone time? that characterises parenthood everywhere.

My rollercoaster of parenthood for today went a bit like this:

Starting on a down: Woken up by being head-butted in the nose by rambunctious baby.

Up: Rambunctious baby giggling and smiling at me.

Down: Having to scoop baby poo out of a nappy into a test-tube before I had even had breakfast (I am a beast before breakfast) because the doctor ordered a stool sample for something he now seems to be on the mend from. Gagging and throwing up a little in the sink.

Up: Long-suffering and amazing husband takes over poop-scooping and agrees to take sample to the doctor’s on his way to the train station.

Down: Baby won’t eat his yogurt for breakfast. Kicks, arches, spits, won’t go in high chair, etc.

Up: I eat his yogurt.

Continuing on an up: I play M’s new Sonic Colours game with him and head off a meltdown over there only being one working Wii remote by pointing out that we can take turns. He tries to make me take my turn with the Wii remote still strapped to his wrist.

Down: Vague memories of playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog when I was a kid and sense of longing for a time when someone else did All The Things (thanks Mum!)

Up: Reading M’s new lift-the-flap science book with him (and I am ashamed to say, learning a thing or two from just the first few flaps!)

Down: Home visit from M’s new teacher, during which: the dog presented himself at her feet like some sort of sacrificial offering; L tried to grab the dog so that I had to keep batting him away with one hand while trying to sign the school-parent contract with the other; M ran at me and punched me like in Wii Boxing (not hard but still!) and then lay on the floor and rolled around a lot.

Up: Doing a Lego Mixel with M while L took his nap.

Down: M arguing about letting me be on a private phone call and having to play in his room for a bit.

Up: Went on a long walk via two playgrounds and M helped push the buggy up a mahoosive hill (yay exercise!)

Down: M running back to play as we were leaving the playground. Me leaving the playground anyway and watching from a distance then going back to retrieve him when he showed no signs of coming and giving him a massive “stranger danger/what to do if you are lost/how to behave on school trips/mummy paranoia” lecture.

Up: Giving M a random gingerbread man as he watched TV (they love it when you do that).

Down: Me trying to be fun and spontaneous to make up for the earlier safety lecture and briefly spraying M with shower hose while turning on the shower. I forgot he “hates jokes and teases.” He burst into hysterics and told his dad on me.  Fail.

Up: L and the Row Row Your Boat incident (clever sausage!)

Down: M arguing with his dad about putting his PJs on.

Up: Reading stories and snuggles.

Down: L up until 11pm, distinctly negatively impacting on my enjoyment of both the lovely curry my husband had cooked and watching the last in the series of The Last Leg (which, after a lot of pausing and rewinding we never did actually finish).

Up: Nice warm bed… Sigh.

And we start the ride all over again tomorrow.

Posted by © A L Roark

It’s The Thought That Counts: A Galleria of Failed Cakes

The fact that I was relatively pleased with my “pile of gold poo” pyramid cake attempt says a lot about my past track-record in cake baking. My husband’s barely-concealed glee and snarky comment says a lot about the birthday cakes he has suffered through in the 12 years we have been together.

To let you in on the inside joke before I post the final version of the pyramid cake in a couple of weeks time, here is my galleria of failed cakes past. [I might add that generally speaking, the cakes got eaten, so they did at least pass my “basic edibility” test].

2007 – birthday cake for husband

This effort from 2007 was perhaps the first cake I baked for my husband (at least it is the first in our photo collection – and no, I don’t know why I have taken photos of all of my crap cakes, it surely can’t be because I was proud of my efforts but rather in an attempt to document the past – I was after all, a Historian at the time of many of these). If memory serves, I did it because at the time I was working at a health-food store in the USA and I was obsessively vehemently opposed to hydrogenated fats and high-fructose corn-syrup. As it was impossible to find any ready-made cakes sans those ingredients in the States, I made my own “healthy” cake (sans icing). Needless to say this is the saddest birthday cake I think I have ever seen and I am not even sure if my husband appreciated the effort. And look how young he was – 25 seems like forever ago now.


Chris shop bought cake 2010

This shop-bought cake from 2010 is probably testimant to the fact that I was pregnant at the time and feverishly revising for my comprehensive exams. It probably tasted a lot better than the 2007 one too.



Chris birthday 2011
2011 – ghoulish effort

No, it wasn’t Halloween; it was February. The cake reads: Happy Birthday 29. It was a German-chocolate cake (my husband’s expressed favourite). I am not sure why the icing looks like a pile of cat vomit. Or why the only food colouring I had to hand was bright green. Or why it is so badly written (though I think it might be because I didn’t have an icing bag and used a plastic bag with the corner cut off). I think it tasted okay and I may have tidied it up a bit  put it on a plate before giving it to him.

Malachy Elmo cookies 2012
2012 – Elmo Cookies

I have never attempted to make a cake for M’s birthday (except for this year), mainly because I didn’t want to make him cry, and because in the States you can get awesome personalised and themed cakes from any good grocery store (not like here in the UK where overpriced and vaguely-stale marzipan-iced character cakes are all you can find all the rage in the supermarkets). I did however, make Elmo cookies for his Elmo-themed second birthday party. I think he may have helped (though not enough to explain the rather crap end product – again with the Halloween, what is with those bat-mouths?)

Chris gingerbread birthday cake 2013
2014 – M’s inspired gingerbread man cake

When M was three, I let him choose a theme for my husband’s birthday cake. He chose “chocolate-gingerbread-men-marshmallows” so that is what we made. A chocolate cake with gingerbread men and marshmallows on it. M actually helped this time (mainly by eating gingerbread men and marshmallows) and I must say that it looks a lot better than the ghoulish German-chocolate one I made all by myself.

Kim birthday January 2015
2015 – Grandma’s Phone Cake

This year, M wanted to make Grandma a cake too. His idea was for a “phone cake” (presumably because Grandma loves her phone so much) and this was the result. You can’t really tell but the little smartie-type things are in the shape of numbers. This is cake decorating at its finest.




February 2015 (81)
2015 – A “Road Cake”

Also this year, M wanted to make Daddy a “Road Cake.” Like a black tarmac road with Hotwheels cars on it. We didn’t have a rectangular cake tin. The idea was to do a bit of black icing across the top for the road. I added the whole tube of black food colouring to the icing but it only turned a murky brown, so we shoved some chocolate smartie-type things left over from Grandma’s phone cake and a Hotwheels car on top and called it good. M still speaks of the “road cake” to this day.



I don’t have a photo of it, but I think the prize for the worst cake I ever made goes to the cake I made for a summer fete during the university holidays when I was about 19. I worked as a cleaner at a local nursing home and took my whole family to the fete to be supportive. I am not sure if they were originally planning to attend or not, but I do remember having a rather frantic conversation with my mum and instructing her to make sure she bought my cake from the cake stall because (for some reason that is still unknown to me to this day) it had grains of uncooked rice in it. I am not clear as to how I discovered this, seeing as I didn’t eat the cake before giving it to the fete. Perhaps I sampled an offcut? Either way, my poor mum dutifully bought the cake back from the cake stall and over the course of eating it we found that it was indeed full of little grains of uncooked rice (though my family being who we are, that didn’t dampen the enjoyment of the eating).

So there we have it, a long list of sub-par cakes. Not much for my pyramid cake to live up to now is it? I am going to go out on a limb and say that I reckon this pyramid birthday cake will be the best cake I have ever made.

Test Cake

M wants an Ancient Egypt themed birthday party so I have been planning and getting things together (including costumes!) I found this link for a pyramid cake and thought I had better test it out before the big day.

I got a cake mix, some white chocolate buttons for the “treasure,” some gold cake spray paint (which didn’t really work on the buttons), some ready-made buttercream icing and some white roll-out icing.

This was the result:








I thought the buttercream icing smelled like feet. I may make my own next time! I was quite pleased with the overall result, it was after all only a test-run. (Though I didn’t quite read the directions on the gold spray paint which said to let each layer dry in between sprays and just went to town on it, with the result that it was still sticky the next morning!)

M saw the cake sitting in the kitchen and guessed its purpose. He said: “Is this a test cake? Try to make the top straight next time as it’s a little wonky.”

At least with some prompting he guessed that it was a pyramid. My husband helpfully commented that “it looks like a pile of gold poo,” while grinning broadly at both the cake, and my panic when I thought I had gassed the baby by not opening the window when using the gold spray paint.

For the real cake I am going to ditch the gold and get some yellow roll-out icing.

And try to get it less wonky. One more for the sub-par cakes hall of fame (watch this space for a post on that) but points for effort I reckon.

Posted by © A L Roark

Maternity Leave (Poem)

I have recently started to write poetry again as well as writing this blog. I used to write poetry as a teenager and wrote a few poems in the intervening years but now I am trying to write more. The following is a stream-of-consciousness poem about our day today that I thought I would share. It is entitled:

Maternity Leave

My vest top is soaked
with milk I must have
fed him on the wrong
side I did have a breast
pad in he is grumping
now in his cot his
brother watching Wylie
Coyote on the TV there
are no less than five
empty cups in the
lounge and a bag of
nappies in the bathroom that
need to go round to the
bin and the washing
up that my husband
did last night has grown
again as if by magic
spreading from the
sink like a disease.

There is a pile of
clothes on the bed as
if we never do laundry
when it seems like all
we do is laundry and
washing up and every
time you feed the baby
there is laundry (wash-
cloths, bibs, clean clothes)
and washing-up (bowl,
several spoons, high-chair
tray) I just ate
three chocolate bars by
mistake (it may have
been four) only one was
a mistake really – it was my
son’s; I couldn’t
remember if I had eaten
my one (though I ate four
it seems) there are two
left: one for him one
for his dad.

The fridge needs cleaning
and the bags packing for
the holiday I did book the
travel insurance and wipe
down the toilet seat lid with
the antibacterial wipes that
were the wrong ones for
the baby’s toys on
the plane and we did
buy a (secondhand) bookcase
for the DVDs and a
ride-on suitcase my
son is now sitting on to
watch TV. We returned
books to the library and
bought toys for the plane
and bought stuff for dinner
(and the right sort of anti-bac
wipes) then I dropped
the (other) DVD rack on my
foot and got the frozen
beans and the baby was grumpy
and the lounge still a mess
and my husband walks
in the door and I remember
when he stayed home with
the (one) kid for a while
while he was waiting for his
visa and I was mildly
irritated that I had been
at work all day and
the house was not spotless.

Now it is not just not spotless
it has grown new spots as I
play whack-a-mole with
the tidying and it all seems
a bit silly like there really
aren’t enough hours in the
day and I even got up early
this morning and made eggs
and didn’t even go on my
smartphone to read the news
(except for about five minutes).


“Maternity Leave” © Alexandra Roark 2015

We Are All Human

I just saw a story on BBC news about “migrants” (a term that I can’t be alone in finding hideously inaccurate and offensive). They talked to a girl from Myanmar who had been held in a migrant camp and raped by so many men that she didn’t know who her baby’s father was. She is now in Thailand and is being given no assistance from any government or organisation. She was sitting with her 6-month old baby girl on a bridge begging for money.

I am sitting at home with my 7-month old baby boy, amazed at my good fortune to have been born in the UK. My little boys are some of the luckiest kids in the world, because they have food, and shelter, and love, and family, and safety, and a future. Because they too had the good fortune to have been born in the UK. To all those who think that the UK is something special and that its borders should be protected against anyone seeking a better life, please don’t forget your incredible good fortune to have been born with a claim to a country that for all its faults is lawful, and in peacetime, and free. Please don’t have the complacency to think that all that could not change; have the empathy to imagine how you would feel and what you would do if you woke up one day and the UK was none of those things and you had a family and children to protect.

We are all human. I read the news and watch the news with disbelief. Do we really think we are so far removed from these so-called “migrants” (a term I object to because it implies agency and choice and while leaving their homelands is a choice and they have shown agency in leaving, surely they are refugees and should be treated as such?) that we don’t need to help?

I don’t know how to help, but I do know that the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon unless we all start thinking globally and realise that we cannot continue to ignore the most impoverished, war-torn, and corrupt societies among us. We cannot continue to dehumanise our human brethren who flee from the desperate situations in these countries. We need to speak out in any way we can. So I am speaking out to whoever is reading.

I have no answers, but I just think about how I would feel sitting on that bridge and find that I cannot even imagine being in a place with no hope and no way to provide for my precious child. It makes my heart hurt: woman to woman; mother to mother; human to human.

We are all human. We would do well to remember that.