'All I Want For Christmas' was playing in the kitchen. The 20 month old girl that I am currently Nannying for, Boo, was in my arms, beaming as we spun around to the music until the room became a colourful blur. Unable to spin anymore, I lifted Boo high in the air then dropped her back down again. She presented me with a huge smile, showing me all of her tiny white teeth, and let out an adorable giggle.
At that moment it took everything I had not to grab my phone from the sideboard and speed dial the Irish Prince- telling him that Florida was off, my plans to live in Chile were off, and that instead I was going to spend the next year planning our wedding and decorating our house in gender neutral colours.
Luckily I was immediately flanked with images of the Irish Prince hopping on the next flight back to Dublin, my phone going crazy with lectures from my best friends and my parents generally losing it.
Between them they managed to stop me.
But as the week went on and I was being mistaken for Boo's mum more and more often (sometimes in quite awkward situations: one woman went on and on and on about how alike we looked and then asked which hospital I gave birth in: St. Barnabas if anyone asks), it dawned on me that it would be perfectly acceptable for me to have a baby.
I am not fourteen anymore. Plenty of my friends have children. Granted they have husbands and mortgages as well....
But the point is that it blows my mind that people look at me and don't think twice about me being Boo's mum. Or even about me owning the beautiful house that her parents have. This is an adult's house. I couldn't live here as a parent.
Yet I haven't met one person that doubts it.
So I spent the week daydreaming about where I'd like to live, what my children will look like and what they'll be called (actually those of you who know me well will know that I picked out names for my children when I was seven and they are yet to change).
Then the weekend came.
I was sitting in Cafe Nero when a family of five came in; noisily interrupting me as I read my book, drank my coffee and ate my mince pie (all right Scrooges that's enough- I heard your minds ticking when I mentioned Mariah Carey at the beginning. Harrods have turned their Christmas lights on, shops have transformed into red and gold sparkles: t'is the season- accept it.).
My first, stupid, thought was- but it's Saturday.
It's my day off, children should be non-existent.
Then it dawned on me: mums have their children every day of the week.
Obviously I'm not stupid. I have always been aware that as a mother of young children you seldom get a break. I have heard all the jokes about it being nice to have them but nicer to hand them back.
But until now I had never really registered that they are always there.
If I had a baby now I would no longer be able to eat properly, sleep properly, write for long periods of the day, dance six times a week or even check Facebook at regular intervals.
I shared this thought with Abigail Gabble, one of the mothers at the local toddler group, who replied:' Ooh yes, you have to be ready.'
I do understand her point. I would imagine that most people would like to be in a certain place in their lives before they have a baby.
But I also think that there is nothing that can totally prepare you.
Through my work I have seen plenty of wonderful parents, and through my Nanny positions I have got to know those parents well. Parents who are fantastic with their children and have taught me a lot about the kind of parent that I would like to be.
Parents who planned their babies, and chose to have them in their thirties and forties. Parents who have happily admitted to me that their lives, and even their own perspectives and priorities, have changed in a way that they could never have predicted.
Which begs the question...is anyone ever ready for a baby?
This got me thinking, and has so far led me to two revelations:
1. I am definitely not ready, and will probably not be ready for at least ten years.
2. Parents are amazing.
Obviously I have always thought that my parents are wonderful. But I have never previously registered how much my arrival will have changed their lives.
Have you ever really thought about it?
If, unlike me, you are not the oldest child in your family, perhaps the change wouldn't have been quite so prominent. But it certainly still would have been there.
I don't know what your thoughts are on parents.
Maybe you admire those women who manage to open shop doors and manoeuvre a double pushchair inside whilst chatting on the phone and grinning at the same time. Perhaps you've smiled at the sight of a father throwing his baby in the air and catching her as she giggles. Maybe you've seen a parent manage to calm their baby down, make them smile or eat their apple and thought: amazing. Maybe you never even think about parents or parenting. Perhaps when you're out you don't even notice the buggies
Whatever your thoughts are, I'd guess that it is probably quite rare that you look at the parent of a 23 year old and think: what a fantastic mother you are.
Once you pass the age of five it's hard to imagine that you were ever a baby. That your mum was ever the mum struggling with the buggy, calming you down, making you smile and force feeding you apple. That your dad ever threw you in the air and caught you to make you laugh (imagine him doing that right now, with you as you are: still makes you laugh doesn't it?), that he worked to make you sit down and eat your dinner in a civilised manner.
I don't know about you but I very rarely equate those parents with my own.
But once upon a time you kicked up a fuss about bedtime even though your mum had been caring for you since six and was exhausted. Not so long ago, you cried like the world was ending because there were carrots on your plate. Then you put them in your mouth and spat them on the floor. When you were younger, you insisted on watching television even though your mum was trying desperately to interest you in something more creative.
It's a mad thought: one that's hard to get your head around, I think.
These realisations then started me thinking about the ways that the arrival of children changes people, in particular women, forever...
1. Loss of bladder control. There was a time when your mum could manage a whole afternoon without a mad dash to find a toilet. Now she can barely manage the drive to Asda.
2. The new ability to discuss toilet habits with other women: including those never met before. Attending mother and toddler groups with Boo has been a learning curve for me: most people assume that Boo is mine and that I, therefore, have gone through The Changes listed here. The fact that I haven't leaves me feeling a bit like the only sober person at 3am on New Year's Day: as far as I'm concerned it's obvious that I'm the only sane one. But to everyone else, the exact reverse is true.
On my first ever trip to one of these groups I smiled at a lady as I walked in, and approached her, ready to introduce myself. Before I could produce my opening line, she produced hers: 'My eldest has got terrible constipation.' Nice to meet you too.
3. The diary: it's just as busy and just as necessary. But it moves from Monday lunches, Orange Wednesdays, Friday night dinners and Saturday night raves to toddler groups, playdates, after school clubs and Saturday afternoon parties. After that it's school discos and ferrying between friends and sports, until eventually the highlighted dates mean Home From Uni.
4. Loss of ability to sleep. My mum was up at 4am on Sunday morning, checking that my baby brother was tucked up and sleeping soundly. My baby brother is eighteen years old. She wanted to check he had got home from Southend safely. Seriously: once you have a baby, normal sleep is over.
5. Exceptionally high expectations when it comes to manners. I once lived with a mum who worked in an office and had, embarrassingly, told a forty year old colleague to 'say thank you!' when given a chocolate.
6. The ability to just know. You've lost your headphones. You've looked everywhere. Yes, where you last had them. Yes, where you normally keep them. Yes where they might have fallen. In fact, you've got to that ridiculous point now where you're looking under the bath even though you've never taken them in the bathroom and never would. You call your mum, she walks in, lifts one jumper and finds them there.
How does she do that?
It works with bigger things too. Before the Irish Prince, I had an Essex Knight. Well that's what I thought at the time anyway....
When we broke up, the Essex Knight and I were both devastated and fairly surprised that this is what it had come to. Only weeks before I had been telling Dory and Jasmine that I was sure we would get married. When I told my mum, I expected the shocked and appalled reaction of my best friends and brothers. Instead, she gave me a hug and told me that she had really liked my Essex Knight, but that she always knew that he wasn't The One.
The only other person to have that reaction was my Grandma.
They just know.
7. General knowledge about everything.
I don't know what to wear to the interview for a deliberately vague job description in a secret location with an unknown person. My mum does.
I don't know how to work the washing machine in the new house I'm working in. I stare at it. I play with it. I Google it. All to no avail. I call my mum: she knows. Over the phone.
I don't know what to buy as a house warming gift for the couple that I've already bought three presents for in celebration of the engagement, wedding and baby. My mum comes up with the perfect gift: and the shop to buy it in.
Sometimes I call my mum because I can't decide which country to move to next. Other times I call her because I'm getting myself in a state deciding which ice cream flavour to go for.
She always has the answer.
8. Random and precise knowledge about the costs and deals in each individual supermarket.
As I was leaving last Tuesday's Mother and Toddler Group, I spotted a sign requesting that we bring in our own fruit for snack time. Unsure whether it applied to our group, I asked the nearest mother to me.
'Ooh yes,' she replied. 'I normally bring satsumas, because you know Sainsbury's have the cheapest satsumas, far cheaper than Asda or Tesco, and Sainsbury's is our nearest shop you see, so we always have hundreds of satsumas in our house! And of course at the minute there's that deal going on so we've got even more than usual! Satsumas coming out our ears at the minute, can't move for satsumas in our house...'
I won't lie. At this point I zoned out. The word 'satsuma' had begun to lose all meaning. But what I did notice while I was listening was that she seemed to presume that, as a fellow 'mum', I would know that Sainsbury's have the cheapest satsumas, and would know all about the current 'deal'. I don't. And I imagine that there is a far larger percentage of adults without children that are coping just fine without this information than those with.
My Nanny was almost world famous for this knowledge. You may even have heard of her. She could tell you within seconds the exact price of any product you named in any supermarket. The closest I've come to a talent like it in an individual without children is Alex the Pirate. But more about him another time.
9. The ability to multi-task to a ridiculous degree. On Sunday morning I lay on my mum's bed chatting to her for a while. I then returned to my bedroom to dry my hair and get dressed- that's all- and in that time she had hung up one load of washing and put the next on, cleaned the kitchen, emptied the dishwasher and washed the floors.
10. The ability to make everything better.
Last week I took Boo to the park. Whilst we were there she climbed to the top of a climbing frame that she then decided she could not get down from. Just before she became hysterical, I promptly lifted her from the climbing frame, spinning her around as I brought her to the floor, so that by the time her feet were on the ground she had totally forgotten what she had been upset about.
At that moment I wished that I had someone to do that for me when I make mistakes.
Then I realised: I do.
A couple of days before Boo's trauma I had got myself into my own pickle. Unable to call my mum, I had text her. We were texting for around forty minutes, during which time my mum managed to convince me that everyone around me is lucky to have me- in fact- everyone who has ever met me should be honoured that they were ever graced with my presence. At the end of that conversation I not only had a ridiculously inflated ego and cheesy grin, but I had also totally forgotten about the reason I had text her in the first place.
It was only as Boo raced to the bottom of the climbing frame to start again that I realised exactly what my mother had done: and that it wasn't the first, nor the last time, that I would rely on her to do it.
Having summed up the changes that a woman has to go through to become a mother I have come to the conclusion, you will be happy to know, that I am not quite ready for motherhood yet. I have no desire to gain further knowledge about washing machines or satsuma prices, nor am I willing to give up my writing, dancing, sleeping or ability to pee at regular intervals.
I can't imagine that Disney World allow employees to bring their babies to live in shared accommodation, or that teaching English in Chile would be as fun with a baby strapped to my back.
But what I do know is that when the time does come, I will have had some wonderful role models around me in the form of my own parents, grandparents and the amazing parents that I get to work with through my various job roles.
Until then, I will be continuing to trek to the top of climbing frames that I am unable to come down from: safe in the knowledge that each time I do this I will learn something new from my wonderful mum about being a wonderful parent; and will be one step closer to that grown up castle with my very own Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.