I know a woman from the playground whose husband has just lost his job. It’s not a big deal, he’ll get another one. But for the moment he is unemployed, getting under my friend’s feet in the house, driving her nuts.
“He just hangs about,” she hissed hysterically to me at Babygym the other day. “He doesn’t DO anything all day. I mean, I don’t really fucking do anything all day either, but I know how to do nothing. Do you know what I mean? That’s what kids teach you, how to do nothing and make it look like something.”
Oh yes. Yes I know what she means alright. I have been thinking a lot recently about why baby no.2 (unless it does some awful screaming/no-sleeping/reflux thing) is so much easier than no.1 – it’s because you know how to do nothing.
When no.1 comes along, you’ve probably just come off some job, or at the very least, come out of a place when you could do what you liked and basically kept yourself quite occupied, doing meaningful things out of duty, or fun things at the drop of a hat. Then a baby arrives and you are required to be in its constant attendance, but you don’t really have to do anything. Feed it occasionally, change it. Some laundry maybe, get an Ocado order in. But you don’t seem to be actually doing anything. It’s just baffling. You cannot get your head round the idea that you don’t actually need to do anything, except sit there. And wait for it to start talking.
I dealt with this doublethink by inventing all sorts of utterly bizarre rituals, mostly based around things being incredibly neat and tidy and a light obsession with germs, which then descended into a full-on neurotic breakdown when Kitty was 10 months old. Doing everything and nothing, holding something faceless, nameless and unidentifiable at bay… sitting around making sure the sky didn’t fall in, or warding off some other potent disaster I couldn’t describe, sent me crazy.
But slowly, gradually, I learnt that that is not what you are doing. You are just doing nothing. No wait, you are not doing nothing, you are bringing up a child – but it feels an awful lot like nothing most of the time. And now I am an expert at getting busy killing time. I potter like a pro. We go to the bank, we pick up some groceries, we are the go-to people if anything needs to be taken to the dry-cleaners or posted in complicated way. We rule the high street with our Maclaren and jute shopping bags. We are always busy, busy, busy – but busy doing nothing.
As Kitty has become gradually more and more genuinely demanding as she reaches the peak of what she can do at home and at playgroup and starts needing, desperately, to go to nursery five mornings a week, I have learnt how to absolutely 100% savour actual quiet, downtime, relaxed time. I sink into it like a £500 Hungarian goosedown duvet. I do not fidget and twitch and feel like I ought to be doing something. I drink in the quiet like a massive gin and tonic and feel as at peace as a master yogi.
And the acres of downtime with a newborn, (when you manage to palm off your toddler onto someone else), is unbelievably luxurious compared with the 8 second interludes you get with a screeching toddler.
Newborns are just SO undemanding! They don’t fucking ask you for things all the time; sometimes a series of bizarre requests in a row you can have no hope of fulfilling. Newborns don’t want to do fingerpainting, or want to have a long rambling chat with “Rabbit” (i.e. me holding Rabbit) about whether or not he wants a biscuit, or watch Peppa Pig at 400 db, or flood the downstairs loo. Newborns just sit there and let you get on with gazing at them, or poking about on your iPad, without saying the dreaded: “Can I play Happy Mrs Chicken?” in a shrill little voice and then drinking all your caramel frappucino.
Sam just lies about with his lips in a little “O” of wonder, gazing peacefully around, weeing gently into his nappy, occasionally screwing up his face bravely at a particularly troublesome fart – or he is sound asleep with his mouth hanging open.
And now I am not only used to being confined to the house, I am used to being confined with a fractious toddler, which is only slightly less nice than being in one of those POW bamboo cages where you can’t stand up or sit down. So being confined to the house with nothing more tricky than a sleeping newborn is just bliss. And, unless I experience serious rush of blood to the head Sam will be my last child, so in the moments when I am alone with my youngest child, I open my arms wide and embrace the nothing. Then I lean over and give my sleeping son a little lick.
As it happens, I have elected not to do much cooking recently with my downtime, even though I could have done while my husband was on paternity leave looking after Kitty. But the other day someone brought round for me something called Rocky Road, which I have heard many things about, but have never been that interested in.
It’s just sugar, isn’t it? Put together in a slightly different way and thus not interesting. But I ate some, because I like this woman who brought it round for me. (If I didn’t know she was nice, I would have labelled this Rocky Road a hostile gift – i.e. “Eat this, stay fat and I hope all your teeth fall out”.)
Anyway it was just mind-blowing. I couldn’t really believe what I was eating. It was like sweeties from OUTER SPACE and I ate the entire bag and wanted more. MORE!
I imagine I’m the last person in the world to discover Rocky Road, which is basically broken up biscuit and marshmallows held together with chocolate, but I am including a recipe for it here anyway because I’ve got some time on my hands at the moment – and the Lord knows I am an expert on finding things to do.
Makes about 20 bits depending on how small you cut them up
300g milk cooking chocolate – I use the Menier stuff from Waitrose, but their own-brand milk cooking chocolate is really good, too.
2 full-size Crunchie bars
5 plain digestive biscuits
a handful of full-size marshmallows
3 tbs golden syrup
Line a small square or rectangular tin (the actual dimensions don’t matter – I’d say roughly 7in by 7in) with a triple layer of clingfilm to make it possible to lift the Rocky Road out later.
1 break up the chocolate into a heatproof bowl (i.e. not metal) and add the golden syrup. If you dabble the spoon in a mug of hot water for a few seconds, it makes getting the syrup out of the tin much easier.
Set this bowl over a pan of cold water, about 2 in deep.The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Set the pan and bowl over your smallest burner on the lowest available heat and wait for it to melt – it might take about 20 mins.
A direction in a lot of recipes for melting chocolate that irritates me is “set the bowl of a pan of barely simmering water”. This is an insane thing to say as any rational person will then fret and fret about keeping the water “barely simmering”. Don’t worry about it. The water doesn’t need to be “barely simmering” it just needs to be hot so just dump the bowl over the hot water and forget about whether or not it is simmering. The chocolate will probably have melted by the time the water gets to simmering point.
2 Into another bowl break or smash up the Crunchie and digestive biscuits into small pieces.
3 Tip the biscuit pieces into the chocolate and mix to combine. You will worry here that there is not enough chocolate to go round everything, but there is. At the last moment, tip in the marshamallow and give a brief stir. What marshmallows like to do on contact with warm chocolate is melt, which although still gives the Rocky Road a lovely chewy texture, what you’re after is actual bits of marshmallow whole.
4 Spoon your unwieldy mixture into your tin and smooth the top with a spatula – it’s easiest to do this if the spatula is wet. Chill for 2 hours and then cut into bits.
Toddlers like this.