These are my salad days….

Once upon a time there was a person called Mum. Mum originally had a name but Mum had ended up having so many children that she was now just known as Mum or for a spot of variety: G-Man’s Mum, Minx’s Mum, eldest teenager who must not be named’s Mum, Famalam (a whole new level of confusion brought about by the “yoof of today’s” obsession with roadman speak) and other variations on a similar theme.

Mum suspects that her local authority may also have some pretty choice names for Mum but they are unlikely to be printable (or provable!) here and that is a story for another day.

Before Mum actually had her own children, she was actually a very good mum even though strictly speaking she didn’t qualify for the title role. At that point in her life she only had 2 tri-coloured cats so unless you considered the phrase “who do you think you are, the cat’s mother?!” applicable, she was reaching somewhat.

It turns out it’s much easier to be a brilliant Mum when you have imaginary children (and real cats) and only occasionally baby-sit other people’s or smirk at other parents whose children are having a public meltdown, smug in the knowledge that you could do the job SOOOOO much better.

However, Mum knows that she was indeed a very good mother pre children because in those halcyon days she spouted such wisdom’s as “There’s no reason at all that ANY child should have a crusty/snotty note when its so easy to wipe with a tissue” or “my child will eat all the things we eat, just in smaller, less seasoned versions.” She also proclaimed  sagely to her fellow thinking- about-becoming- Mum friends that children wouldn’t really change her life as it was so important that children learnt to be adaptable and behave in all manner of situations, accompanied by a tinkly little laugh. Mummy was indeed the epitome of smug…

Then Mummy went ahead and had THE CHILDREN. Mummy wasn’t entirely daft/(un)lucky to have 4 little darlings all at once. No, she thought she would spread the misery joy over a period of years. And then they all lived happily ever after. 

So child number 1 was born and Mummy spent her days between feeding/crying/elation and exhaustion with her head buried in such bibles of wisdom as Annabel Karmel, Penelope Leach, What To Expect the 1st year, Toddler Taming and other such patronising fabulous tomes of parental guidance (no I don’t mean the film category) so that she could qualify as The BEST Mum EVER.

Since I don’t want this to be a bedtime story that bores you to sleep, I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow account of children 1 through 4’s every waking moment as it goes on for many (many, many, many) years but one skill that Mummy found accompanied her through the early childhood years and surprisingly still lingers today is something called THE GUILT.

Guilt was and is her ever-present ‘frenemy.’ It’s amazing just how guilt can raise it’s cocky little head at any given moment and Mummy feels sure that if universities offered degree courses in it, she would have more than qualified for not just a BA (hons) but probably an MA and possibly even a PHD too!

Mummy you see very early on discovered that guilt was there to keep her occupied in the small hours of the night (why does this child never stop crying/screaming…have I broken it?? Did I actually want a child/ren after all?? ) and was especially good at loudly shouting when she pontificated if her children had an off button once they had found their annoying dear little voices that she had waited so patiently for to utter their first babble.

Guilt was there when Mummy went back to work for the first time and everyone else she knew was a stay at home Mummy. Guilt joined her when she resorted to controlled crying. It sat heavily on her left shoulder (I’m pretty sure that’s the explanation for all the pain in her neck anyway) as she sat with her fingers in her ears when at her wit’s end she decided to try controlled crying in sheer, utter desperation. That didn’t go very well to start with as Mummy was unable to control HER crying and it very nearly became competition as to who would tire out first…..

Over the years Mummy learned that THE GUILT had an uncanny talent for sneaking up on her at times she would least expect it. Mummy thinks back and wonders if THE GUILT is what is responsible for driving her to wine every night…then she remembers an interview on early morning television that suggested that if you have a glass of wine every night – even if it is only the one – that you are actually an alcoholic and THE GUILT laps it up. It has a very good appetite does guilt and it isn’t picky what it feeds off.  Mummy tries not to let it be an appetite for destruction and I am pretty sure she isn’t referring to the Guns ‘N’ Roses album of the same name…..

One of the things THE GUILT has an extra special relationship with and most likes to taunt Mummy with is THE FOOD; specifically feeding THE CHILDREN.

Mum studied the various Anabel Karmel books from cover to cover and invested in more ice-cube trays that you can possibly imagine  – originally for the purposes of storing and freezing micro amounts of home-made, pureed baby food in but now mostly used for the ice in a gin and tonic.

Over the advancing years she resorted to google too. Technology being handily available at all hours meant she could consult this oracle getting tips on baby led weaning et al and make notes about delicious recipes even in the middle of the night!

Nonetheless, it appears that Mummy’s precious darlings weren’t reading the books and despite being capable of reprogramming the Sky box/DVD recorder etc (something Mummy still struggles with today) definitely didn’t seem to understand the guiding principles and ethos of those internet articles showing happy, smiley pictures of  babies/toddlers eagerly scoffing down quinoa and edamame dip, chia and lingonberry smoothies and that piled on the guilt still further.

Mum is pretty certain even over 10 years on G-Man still hasn’t forgiven her for the polenta/spinach loaf she lovingly created (what was she thinking?!) When served he deigned to take the teeniest of mouthfuls, then threw it disgustedly as the freshly painted wall. Mum watched in dismay as it “walked” itself over and over like a possessed rubber man toy down the wall to land with a splat forlornly on the wooden flooring. G clapped delightedly at the ensuing greasy slime mark.

You see, back in her earliest (judgemental) Mum days, Mummy made a solemn vow to promote healthy eating choices and to cook all organic, exciting, varied meals with plenty of vegetables from scratch! She thought that manufactured baby foods were the devil’s spawn.

Mummy didn’t quite think this through however with baby number 1 as she had gone back to work near enough full-time, was still having to get up for feeds in the small hours and was pretty much totally exhausted after a day at work away from her precious one (child, not wine for the avoidance of doubt).

Very quickly Mummy discovered that if she spent all her waking hours peeling/chopping/boiling/mashing and pureeing, it left very little time for doing anything else, especially playing/reading and interacting with her dearest first born…and that made Mummy feel MORE GUILTY than ever.

So Mummy got the stick out of her ass  relented and decided to buy some JAR FOOD thus freeing up some of her time and hoped that it would assuage some of THE GUILT. Surprisingly at times, this seemed to quite nicely pile on THE GUILT and Mummy may or may not have decanted jar food into baby bowls and sprinkled a few cubed bits of veg on to the top when she took it to nursery in keeping with the (myth) homemade baby food plan that she had…

Child number 2 helped Mummy on her journey with THE GUILT by being sensitized to dairy proteins once she had given up feeding herself  and put him on formula. This took the form of eczema so horrific that child 2’s back would weep open sores which made him very sad and cranky and the stealer of all the sleep for months at a time. He also started with asthma at the same time. Co-incidence? Possibly but it accompanied her special friend, guilt, very nicely.

Mummy subsequently found that an extraordinary number of every day items contain milk or dairy in some form or another and therefore spent a great deal of time of her time reading labels in supermarkets and working out how she could make alternative versions of favourite pasta sauces that Child 1 would also eat so that she wasn’t cooking herself into the ground and could at some point attempt the art of conversation with The Daddy. Mummy is pretty sure that at some point the art of conversation led to child number 3 but at that place in time she was so sleep deprived she can hardly recall.

Child number 3  – G-Man – had extremely horrible, painful reflux. Mummy knew this by the high-pitched screaming and the contorting and jerking of his back that exhausted his poor little body. He was also able to vomit at will, projectile and prolifically, even hours after a feed.

The Daddy didn’t really believe the Mummy at first when she insisted it was more than a bit of baby puke until he witnessed with his own eyes the baby upchucking so violently it hit 4 separate walls, the floor and the ceiling all in one go. Mummy was just waiting for his head to start spinning in the style of The Exorcist but at that point the Daddy had seen enough and agreed baby G should see the Doctor.

After several bumps in the road, poor baby G was hospitalised as his blood tests showed his chemical balances were completely out of whack and the medical bods suspected a condition called pyloric stenosis.

A few days of tests and investigations disproved this and thus began the ‘interesting’ journey of trying to get infant Gaviscon powder into a breast-fed baby.  This was not in reality a very fun game and by the time The Mummy and The Daddy had actually mixed it up, spooned it in, chased it back into the mouth from the drooly-chinned screaming baby, he had cried so much and gulped down so much wind, it all seemed pretty much pointless anyway.

Mum and Dad were assured he would grow out of it and that moving onto solid food would be the making of him. He didn’t and it wasn’t. There isn’t a single baby picture of him for the first 3 years of his life without a bib in situ.

Fast forward many years to present day, reflux is still hideous and painful and despite the maximum doses of antacid medications and motility speeding drugs, G Man has ended up being fed by a naso-gastric feeding tube since last October and no one is quite sure where this is going….Certainly the last 3 months of paediatrics appointments have shown he has lost weight, albeit very small amounts, and the medical bods are again scratching their heads as to the best way forward.

Child 4  – Minx – for a variety of reasons was born at a time that had been accompanied by much stress and worry. In her early weeks of life when her numerous difficulties and quite significant medical issues became apparent, Mummy was pretty sure that THE GUILT was responsible for what had happened and that made her feel it even more which was a bit counter productive in the end.

Minx’s first foray into actual food rather than breast-feeding definitely didn’t go to plan.  Frequent chest infections, coughing and choking during feeding, poor weight gain and a seeming inability to maintain a good suck reflex meant she had been assessed by a speech and language therapist (SALT) by the age of 4 months.

After listening to her feed via a stethoscope, the SALT was concerned enough to ask for a video fluoroscopy to be carried out. A video fluoroscopy is a form of x-ray imaging which examines the mechanism of chewing and swallowing using barium sulphate and this is  added to a variety of foods and drinks. Tasty… Whilst eating/drinking occurs, a series of images are taken at different stages and the barium makes it easy for the radiographer and SALT to view what is happening and pin point any areas of concern or difficulty.

Although the test is not in any way painful or invasive as such, since the body is exposed to radiation, it is not something that is undertaken lightly, especially in very young children.

Since Mum and Dad were very new to the world of special needs, they hadn’t really absorbed the ins and outs of it all and were most definitely in a haze of unaware, uninitiated denial. They certainly hadn’t thought through the why’s and wherefores of how this test would be carried out. In fact, since it was scheduled at short notice, they hadn’t even been given a leaflet or chance to look it up on-line.

On the day itself, it became apparent that getting barium liquid into a child who was solely breastfed, had never taken a bottle in her life and had no experience of “eating” not even a taste off a spoon was going to be interesting problematic.

Fortunately as both parents were present, The Dad was promptly dispatched to the nearby pharmacy to pick up a ready sterilised bottle, formula and jar of pureed baby food so that the procedure could get underway.

For many parents, no matter what number baby you are on, their first foray into tasting food off a spoon is a moment to be cherished, photographed and exclaimed over delightedly.  Watching a baby’s varying expressions of suspicion, doubt, grimace and/or delight is usually a fairly monumental occasion.

This first tasting experience in a freezing cold, sterile in more than one sense of the word, environment was somewhat marred; a most inauspicious start.  Suffice to say it didn’t go well on multiple levels; not the least of which were exacerbated by the SALT and locum radiographer having a bit of a barney difference of opinion about whether it was acceptable to expose such a small baby to radiation from the procedure.

I think I did promise further up that it wouldn’t be a blow-by-blow account of each child’s developmental journey…. I seem to have spectacularly failed on that front as this piece is already much longer than I had anticipated when the mood to put pen to paper or rather finger to keyboard originally struck me, so I’ll try to get to the point of why inspiration struck to write the dang thing anyway.

Mum remains nagged insistently by THE GUILT and despite all the reasons she should know better has endeavoured to continue making as many delicious,  varied home-cooked  meals as she can possibly muster….that of course is between the myriad of appointments/admin/general assorted crappery that comes from managing 4 children with additional needs and the day-to-day running of the house.

Contrary to at least half of the children’s falsely held beliefs that Mum spends ALL DAY every day on Facebook, Mum was inspired watching Gino D’Acampo on a well-known known morning TV show (whilst doing the ironing honestly and not at all checking out she of the Willoughboobby’s fame fabulous wardrobe – total lust envy ) talking about a family favourite meal from his childhood which was so easy and so delicious and could be made up from leftovers too AND incorporate all sorts of hidden veg! Genius!

Mum watched Gino and crew waxing lyrical over various stages of the preparation and thought to herself how quick and easy, cheap and HEALTHY it all looked.  Indeed her own mouth was watering and discovering that she had near enough all of the ingredient already in, save some courgettes and the conghiglione (that’s large pasta shells for the likes of you and I) Mum vowed to pick up the extra bits for dinner. *

Several shops later, Mum had scoured the local area for the blasted conchiglione without success. Waitrose had a blank space on the shelf as did M&S (although a price tag revealed that the shells were over £3 for a mere few hundred grams!!) and Ocado had plenty of alternative suggestions but nothing useful. If Mum had stopped to think for a moment, she should have realised that this was a SIGN and stopped right there and just served up some chicken nuggets goujons with nutritious vegetables chips.

Mum however was still lost in a thought- haze of smiling, pink-cheeked grateful children thanking her for such degustation and how the dinner time conversation would flow with abandon about all the new and varied food stuffs they would try together.

So Mum went to the overpriced deli and purchased the conghiglione then set about this veritable feast of gastronomy. About 2 hours into the process Mum reflected that the ba**arding recipe hadn’t looked nearly so time-consuming and complicated on the TV, forgetting of course that Gino had one of those handy “here’s one I made earlier” bods for at least 3 stages of the process that had been condensed down to a 10 min slot on TV.  Nor had Gino used every single item in the kitchen as she appeared to have done. Mum surveyed the unholy mess surrounding her with gritted teeth but glibly anticipated the raptures of delight from her children and knew it would all be worth the end result. She did however decide at that point if she was ever going to make this again she was bloody well going to buy béchamel sauce rather than make it from scratch!!

Fast-forward to dinner time, and the family gathered expectantly round the table, Mum anticipated their reactions excitedly. It certainly looked fantastic and smelled amazing! Plates were piled high and for good measure Mum had made a large salad and served some garlic dough balls on the side as an extra treat.

Child 1 promptly reminded Mum that he didn’t eat pasta (except on camping trips with friends as a “necessity”) and mooched off to make himself scrambled eggs. Child 2 wasn’t home and child 3 point-blank refused to eat anything. Sigh. All hopes pinned on child 4, she did at least raise a spoon to her mouth….then informed Mum that actually she “wasn’t a big fan of this muck” and would just stick to the dough balls, salad oh and the shop bought orzo pasta ready salad in the fridge

Mum could have just put her head in her hands and sobbed but she was far too busy shovelling in mouthfuls of the food to care at this point and The Dad seemed to be enjoying it anyway.

The dog put his paw lovingly on her knee with big, pleading mournful eyes and told her without the need of words that he would happily scarf down any portion she was willing to give him.

Although Mum has a STRICT(ish) ban on feeding the dog from the table, she did briefly contemplate putting something on his own special plate….and then she remembered it contained onions which are very BAAAADDD for doggies and cheese which was the equivalent of about 5 hamburgers or something  so she had read in the vet, so that was that.

Mum has learned many a valuable lesson from that last venture into making meals off the tele…..and she won’t attempt it again for a while….but she might just tell the guilt to do one…at least temporarily….

*in case like Mum you fancy trying the recipe it’s this one: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/food/conchiglioni-pasta-bake-gino-dacampo-recip

Mum made the largest quantity using the vegetarian option and also used up some smoked salmon & sauce in some of the other shells. Note if you are serving strict veggies or those with dietary restrictions eg Kosher/Halal, you will need to substitute the pecorino or find a vegetarian version.

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