The Displaced Nation

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LIBBY’S LIFE #40 – R & R: ABBA style

As a surprise Valentine’s gift, Oliver has arranged a babysitter (and dogsitter) for a few days while he takes Libby for a well-earned rest at The Health Grange Spa and Resort in New Hampshire. After less than twenty-four hours there, though, Libby is discovering that you can have too much of a good thing…especially when you have other things on your mind.

Frederika adjusted the the towel over me and started to knead the muscles at the back of my neck.

“There. Does that feel good? You relaxed now?

“Mmm-hmm,” I murmured.

Inside my head, a little shopping list began its loop again. Two cots, double pushchair, six sets of sheets, two car seats, two bouncy chairs…

“You’re tensing again.” Frederika gave an extra little push at a muscle, and I winced. Her own arm muscles would rival Arnie’s


“Sorry,” she said. “I try to be gentle with you pregnant ladies, but you know, I was professional sports masseuse in Sweden for a long time. Sometimes I forget.”

“I should send my husband to you.” He’d enjoy it as long as he kept his eyes shut. Well — I wouldn’t be recommending her services to him otherwise, would I?

“You do that. If he’s as tense as you, he needs it.”

She continued to rub at my neck, and my shopping list commenced again.

…four packs of vests, babygrows; socks. Nappies! Oh my God, how many nappies do two babies get through?  Shampoo, baby wipes…

*  *  *

“…And Frederika — that’s the masseuse, she’s Swedish — she said her sister-in-law had twins six weeks early, and they weighed five pounds each and were perfectly fine. Six weeks early — can you imagine? It’s only five or six weeks away from where I am now. And I haven’t done a thing with the nursery yet, not even bought a second cot. If these babies were born tomorrow, they’d have to share a bed, or one would have to sleep in a drawer like my granny did when she was born. Although I’m thinking we should buy two new matching cots, because Jack’s old Mothercare cot is much smaller than the standard ones over here and I won’t be able to find fitted sheets that actually fit or — Oliver? Are you feeling all right?”

Oliver put his knife and fork down, his plate of low-fat grilled chicken unfinished, and leaned back in his padded dining chair with his eyes closed.

“Libs. Please stop talking and let us both enjoy our dinner. I brought you here to the Health Grange so you could relax, not so some Scandinavian blonde Amazon could send you into premature labour by worrying over cots and stuff. Do me a favour and request a different massage person tomorrow. Preferably someone who doesn’t speak English.”

A waiter sidled up to our table, eyeing Oliver’s inactive knife and fork.

“Are you still working on that, sir?” he asked, stretching his hand out to take Oliver’s plate.

I held my breath and waited for the inevitable explosion.

“NO!” Oliver sat up in his chair, banged his hand on the table, and sent a butter knife spinning greasily to the floor. The waiter took a couple of steps back in alarm. “Leave it alone. I’m trying to enjoy it, not ‘working on it.’ It’s a plate of poultry, not a bloody PhD thesis.”

Current pet hate of ours — going out to dinner, taking our time over a meal (in my condition, I have no choice but to take my time) and having a waiter hurry us by asking if we are “still working on” our food. As if eating is a chore and not a pleasurable pastime. This particular waiter had already asked me the question twice this evening, and now had just blown his chance of a tip by asking it a third time of Oliver.

“Bring us a bottle of the Chianti,” Oliver ordered, “and don’t come back after that until I ask you to.”

The waiter hovered uncertainly. “The wine…is it for the lady?” He swivelled his gaze at my extended stomach. “Because the Health Grange’s policy regarding serving alcohol to ladies who are—”

“The only policy that concerns you right now, mate,” Oliver said, barely holding on to his temper, “is keeping the customer happy. Either bring me what I ask for, or you explain later to the manager why, rather than adding a tip to the check, I deducted the amount instead.”

Slightly embarrassed by the scene — if anyone needed to relax round here, it wasn’t me — I lowered my head and looked down at my lap.Tried to look at my lap, that is, but I can’t see it any more.

At 29 weeks pregnant with twins, I am as big now as I was at full term with Jack. How I’m going to last another eleven weeks, I can’t imagine — except it won’t be eleven. At my last visit Doctor Gallagher told me, “You can knock off two or three weeks with twins. You won’t want to go the full nine months.”

Too right; although I have a suspicion achieving this will involve elective C-sections and things that would once have appalled me. Now, all I’m bothered about is getting rid of this enormous protuberance. Plus the realisation that we haven’t set foot in a baby shop yet, have nowhere for the twins to sleep, no car seats, no double pushchair — not even enough clothes for them. Those things are starting to bother me a lot.

All this was circling round my mind as the waiter came back with the bottle of wine and nervously set it down on the table.

“Anything else?” he asked Oliver. “Can I take your plate, or are you still work—”

Oliver fixed him with a hard stare, and the waiter blanched. “Don’t even think about saying it again,” he said. “Just bring us the check. We’ll take the wine back to our room.”

*  *  *

Back in our room, I lay on the bed on my side, surrounded by pillows, and tried to get comfortable.

I’m trying to relax during this weekend away. I swear I am, really.

Oliver swims in the resort pool and goes to the weight room and sauna, and keeps himself busy while I “relax.”

I’m dutifully having massages — Oliver made sure we were staying at a place with a specialist in prenatal massage — and herbal facials, and pedicures (although as I can’t bear my feet being touched, these aren’t very relaxing to be honest, but Oliver has already paid for them.)

Am I feeling relaxed as a result?

Despite Oliver’s best intentions, the answer is No. I am not. It all seems a bit forced — “You’re going to relax whether you like it or not” kind of thing — and while the white-coated Frederika is rubbing my back with oil, I’m not so much thinking “Ooh, that’s good” as “You know, we could be spending this time in BabiesRUs.”

Now that I have time away from Jack, the nursery school politics, man-eating landladies, and all the other things that have occupied my mind for the last few months, I can see just how unprepared we are for our imminent arrivals, and it horrifies me.

When I was expecting Jack, I had my hospital bag packed by this stage, my birth plan written, the nursery decorated…

How times and circumstances change.

The birth plan, for example — what a joke that is. As if babies ever read them. My intention, four years ago, was to give birth surrounded by scented candles, essential oils, Vivaldi CDs, and all while floating peacefully in a birthing pool. These fond plans went west when Jack refused to get out of his nice, cosy womb and had to be kick-started with artificial hormones that, after two hours, had me screaming for an epidural while hurling the candles and CDs at Oliver.

So have I bothered writing a birth plan for the twins’ arrival? Of course not. Duh.This is America; I am a “high risk”; the birth will be high-tech; in fact, I get the feeling the people at the hospital would rather I was totally anaesthetised, like they used to do to labouring women in the 1960s.

No wonder I’m tense.

“Libs.” Oliver’s voice cut into my thoughts. “Do you want to risk some wine?”

I shook my head. “Ask me again in three months or so.”

Life was so unfair. The one thing that probably would relax me, and it was forbidden.

*  *  *

“So on the agenda today,” Oliver said next morning, over our room-service breakfast, “you have a facial in the morning, then an hour’s downtime, then lunch, and then another massage in the afternoon.”

I slathered butter on a croissant, and said nothing. When your instinctive reaction at a schedule of massages and facials is “Oh God, not again,” you know the aim of “relaxation” isn’t going to be achieved.

“Do I have to?” I asked.

Oliver looked hurt. “Why? Don’t you like all this pampering?”

“Of course,” I said. “But…you can have too much of a good thing.”

“It seems an awful waste. I’ve paid for it all up front.”

“Well —” Oliver’s feelings were easily hurt, so I had to tread carefully “—why don’t I go this morning, and you see Frederika this afternoon instead? She does guys as well as women.”

A pause, while Oliver tried not to seem too enthusiastic.

“You say she’s Swedish?” he said at last.

I tried not to laugh.Oliver was so transparent sometimes. His view of the world was made up of little stereotypes; it would be good to prove at least one of them wrong.

“That’s right.”

He pretended to consider this option.

“OK then. It would be a shame to waste the appointment.”

*  *  *

“You could have warned me.”

Oliver stood over me, arms akimbo, his face very red.

I looked up innocently from the lounging chair by the swimming pool. So pleasant to be sitting reading by the hotel pool, with the palm trees growing inside, and steel drum music playing on the loudspeakers. If I squinted a bit, I could make believe I was in Barbados instead of New Hampshire.

“Warned you about what?” I asked.

“This Frederika person! She’s brutal! Look —” Oliver turned round and lifted up his T-shirt at the back.

“It looks a bit sore, certainly.” I picked up my magazine again. “Still, no pain, no gain. That’s what you always say.”

“I don’t know where she learnt her massage techniques, but the way she kept pummelling me, I thought she was waiting for the ref to ring the bell while I went down for the count.”

He sat down on the lounger next to me, wincing. “You said she was Swedish.”

“Not all Swedish women look like the blond from ABBA.” I couldn’t contain the giggles any longer. “It’s unfortunate that this one looks more like one of the blokes in the band, though. The one with the beard, at that.”

Oliver sat down on the lounger next to me and winced.

“No wonder you didn’t want to go again,” he said.

“Oh, she’s fine with me. But I’ve had enough of people getting inside my personal space…masseuses, doctors, midwives. At this stage, I think I’d de-stress more by getting stuff ready at home. Nesting instinct setting in, I guess.”

“But we’ve got another full day here. What would you like to do instead?”

I adjusted my sunglasses. I didn’t need them. It just added to the illusion we were in the Caribbean.

“How about a little light shopping this evening?” I suggested. “There’s a BabiesRUs just down the highway.”

Oliver pursed his lips, weighing up the idea of  shopping with another assault by Frederika. “It’s got possibilities. Fancy a steak somewhere while we’re at it?”

“Tell you what,” I told him. “Let’s be entirely bad, go against the philosophy of a health spa, and have dinner in McDonald’s.”

“They won’t torment you with wine, at least.”

“And they will never,” I said, “ask you if you’re still working on that burger.”


Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #41 – Pick & Mix at the Baby Shop

Previous post:LIBBY’S LIFE #39 – Sugar and spice, and all things lice

Click here to read Libby’s Life from the first episode

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Image: Travel – Map of the World by Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigit

4 responses to “LIBBY’S LIFE #40 – R & R: ABBA style

  1. Marion March 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Great writing Kate — I am so in sympathy with Libby — and she’s not even a real person. Still chuckling over the “head lice” revelation. You have a wonderfully fertile imagination. Keep up the good work.

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