Saturday, 20 January 2018

Sick Days - Then And Now

I've not been keeping up well with blogging recently. This is because I've been ill since before New Year so when I do get a bit of child-free time I just want to veg out and try to get over this seemingly never-ending bug.

But it seems like it's here to stay for a bit longer so I may as well use it as material for a post, eh?

Remember staying in bed when you were ill? Those were the days! Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

Something I often think about when I'm ill is how different it is now to when I was at work. For the record, I did my fair share of dragging myself in when ill - but now I wonder why? Yes there's the guilt of letting colleagues down, and the worry about who's going to do all the stuff you need to get sorted, but really, I wish I'd taken a few more sick days before I had kids. Because, seriously, in hindsight they were BLISS!

Here's how my sick day routines compare from then and now.

Waking Up

Then: Alarm goes off at 7am. Realise within five minutes I'm too ill to go in to work. Reset alarm for 8.55am so I can phone in sick. Go back to sleep.
Now: Ezra wakes up at 4am. Try to feed him back to sleep then when that inevitably fails start making little whimpering noises in the hope my husband will take pity on me and get up with him. (To give my husband credit, he usually does.) If this is successful, sleep until 6am when husband needs to get ready for work and I need to take over toddler watch.


Then: After phoning in, sleep for as long as humanly possible before shuffling through to the kitchen, grabbing as much food as I can carry and plonking myself on the sofa.
Now: The school run waits for no mum. I still have to get both kids fed, dressed and out of the house for 8.30am, unless one of my wonderful friends is able to take Eleanor to school, in which case I at least don't have to dress Ezra. Otherwise, wrap myself up as warm as possible and walk to school regardless.


Then: Daytime TV. DVDs. 'Friends' boxset. Sleep.
Now: CBeebies in an effort to keep Ezra relatively subdued while I flop on the sofa and make sad noises. Occasionally interrupted by dealing with chores that won't wait (laundry, dishwasher, nappy changes) or collecting Ezra from upstairs after he's managed to wriggle under the stairgate while I was dozing. 


Then: Whatever's easy. Crisp sandwiches. Chocolate. Maybe a satsuma in a vague gesture towards trying to be healthy and get some vitamins. Cup-a-soup. Basically junk food until my husband got home and made tea.
Now: Still a fair amount of junk food but as I still have to provide healthy food for the kids I may actually make the effort to get myself something decent. Oh and I make tea now. Which, in all honesty, when I'm feeling rubbish probably won't be that healthy, but, y'know, I still have to get off my bum and sort it.


Then: Attempt regular conversation with the husband after tea before giving up, changing into fresh pyjamas (oh yeah I forgot that - remember not actually having to get dressed on a sick day?) and going to bed at 7.30pm.
Now: Attempt to help with the kids' bedtime routine as much as possible, desperately trying to persuade Eleanor she wants an early night when what she actually wants is to ask me suddenly-urgent questions arising from today's Geography lesson and bounce on the armchair. Finally get her to bed, flop on the sofa to wait until she's properly asleep before risking going back upstairs myself, only to find myself too exhausted to move and ending up playing on my phone until 10pm.

Starting to see why I've been ill for three weeks ...

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Review: 'Words And Your Heart' by Kate Jane Neal

You know when you read a book and you get that feeling that it's really important? Well, that's the feeling I got when I read my latest Toppsta win, 'Words And Your Heart'.

'Words And Your Heart' by Kate Jane Neal
(Firstly I'd like to apologise for the quality of the photos in this post - I have an ear infection so can't lean over to take photos of a flat surface so had to improvise!)

This is an absolutely gorgeous little book addressing a really big issue for young children - the power of their words. It talks through how words can hurt, but also how they can make people feel better, and what a great feeling that is. It uses a repeated refrain describing the heart as 'the little bit inside of you that makes you, you' which helps reinforce the message for younger readers.

'Words And Your Heart' - how words affect your heart
The illustrations are just adorable - really simple with a very limited palette, but to me that give them more power. They keep the message clear and powerful without distracting the reader with extra details. I think the illustration style would also make it more palatable to slightly older readers, so they feel more like they're reading a cartoon rather than a picture book.

'Words And Your Heart' - Your words have power!
I could see this book being used really effectively in early years settings and schools to teach children about the power of words. It surprised me how early on children start to use words as weapons against each other so I think it's really important to get this message right from the start.

'Words And Your Heart' - looking after each other's hearts
I have to admit, when Eleanor (6) read the book she wasn't impressed. She's going through a 'picture books are for babies' stage and thought the repeated phrase was 'silly'. Pfft, six year olds. Having said that, I've spotted her sneaking a read of it a few times since so I suspect it was all show! I really hope she comes round to it, she's at a really tricky stage where words are often very hurtful and I think this message would really help her.

As for Ezra (1), he's a little young for it but I definitely plan to keep rereading it so it becomes ingrained in his mind to use words for good. (His main use of words right now is to demand things in single words, to be fair.)

I really recommend this book for anyone with children of preschool/early school age, and anyone working with those children. It's a beautiful book that you'll appreciate as an adult, and it's message is so key it needs to be spread.

Linking up with 'Read With Me' hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Monday, 8 January 2018

Review and GIVEAWAY: 3 New Picture Books From Maverick

So, it's 2 weeks since Christmas - have your kids read through all their new books already?! If so, I have some fab new books to share with you.

November 2017 releases from Maverick
Back in November, before Christmas took over my reading life, Maverick Children's Books sent me their latest picture books to review. These three books are a lot of fun to read aloud with little ones! 

Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches by Julie Fulton and Rachel Suzanne

Bears Don't Eat Egg Sandwiches

In this clever little story, Jack is just settling down to a lunch of egg sandwiches when a very hungry bear comes to visit. But bears don't eat egg sandwiches - and this bear has his eye on a rather larger lunch! This is a really fun one to read, as the bear gets increasingly annoyed with Jack's offer of egg sandwiches so you can really go to town with your angry bear voice! It could be a bit frightening for more sensitive children, but it's great to see how Jack outsmarts the bear in the end. The illustrations are very charming and will make you crave egg sandwiches!!

Game Of Stones by Rebecca Lisle and Richard Watson

Game Of Stones

Pod and his brother Hinge are bored of the Stone Age, so Pod decides to invent a new game to entertain them both. But each one ends in disaster until he creates his biggest invention yet. This is a good book for lovers of word play, not only because of the tongue-in-cheek TV reference in the title, but because of the puntastic names that Pod comes up with for his games! It's also a good book for encouraging children to make things for themselves and find their own remedies for boredom. Watson's illustrations are very entertaining too!

Beware The Mighty Bitey by Heather Pindar and Susan Batori

The Mighty Bitey Piranhas are feeling hungry! They lie in wait under a rickety bridge while a string of musical animals pass over on their way to Cougar's party. Can they persuade enough animals to stop and play their instruments and make the bridge break? This is another fantastic one for reading aloud, as you can really enjoy mimicking the animals and their instruments! It's another slightly perilous one but don't worry - the piranhas get their comeuppance!! Again, the illustrations are full of fun  with plenty for little ones to spot.

Do you like the sound of these? I have a copy of each book to give away to one lucky winner! To be in with a chance of winning just enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below. Don't forget to comment on this post - why not tell me about the best book you or your children received over the holidays?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Open to UK residents only. Please see the giveaway for full Terms and Conditions.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the above books for the purpose of this review.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit

Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Friday, 5 January 2018

Awaiting Assessment

There's been an elephant on my blog for the past few months. You may not have noticed it, but I certainly have. With every parenting post I've written it's been there, silently watching as I type, willing me to acknowledge it's existence. But I wasn't quite ready. Until now.

You see, Eleanor, my wonderful, funny, bright, confident, exhausting 6 year old daughter, is now on the waiting list to be assessed for autism.

I've said it. Deep breath. OK, elephant, you can come out now.

I won't go into a long run down of all the steps it's taken to get this far, but I will say it's been happening a while. It was picked up in preschool that she was struggling with the social and emotional side of her development  but we assumed that, as she was so advanced 'academically', she simply needed time to catch up.  When she moved onto a school nursery they hinted at the possibility of autism, but never actually said the word, and various other things going on meant I didn't pick up on it. Then in February last year her teacher at her new school suggested we refer her for an assessment. And it took from then to December to be accepted onto the waiting list, via various appointments and paperwork.

Don't let anyone tell you that they give out autism diagnoses easily!

I'll write about all this in time, but right now I just want to get it out there. I had debated waiting until we had an official diagnosis but as the wait could be up to a year for that (yes, really) I didn't feel I could carry on writing about parenting without acknowledging the elephant.

While going through all this I've drawn strength from reading blogs by other autism parents, and I can really see how this is an instance where the blogging community can bring much needed reassurance. If you're interested in checking out other blogs on this topic, the ones I've found helpful are Mummy Tries, Someone's Mum, And Next Comes L, Steph's Two Girls, Faith Mummy, Wee Ohana and It's A Tink Thing. If any of you read this, thank you.

So there we are. The elephant is out. Phew. Now for the long wait for assessment.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Do We Need To 'Make' Christmas Magical?

I'm feeling a bit guilty at the moment. I keep seeing families taking their children on all sorts of fancy Christmas experiences, that they've booked well in advance ... and what have I done with my kids? Taken them to the local lights switch on at the end of November and the local lantern parade last weekend. That's it. Apart from a quick trip to the German Market in Leeds we have no other plans.

We had talked about doing something more this year, but we just didn't get anything organised. And it's not just lack of organisation - finding something that fits around school and weekend clubs, that's suitable for both kids, and that won't be too busy and overwhelming for Eleanor (who can be quite sensitive to new experiences and busy environments) has been nigh-on impossible. And there's always the risk of forking out and travelling miles for an experience that one or all of us will hate.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

But then part of me thinks, how necessary are these experiences anyway? My best Christmas memories are of singing around the village Christmas tree, going to the school fair and so on. I don't know if these big Christmas events just didn't exist thirty years ago or whether it just wasn't practical for us to go, but I certainly don't feel like I missed out. I remember feeling that Christmas was magical without going on any day trips.

It's not just the events. Social media is awash with elves on shelves, recommendations for where to get a personalised letter from Santa and Christmas Eve box 'must-haves'. Again, if you want to do these things and you're happy to put in the effort and/or money then great! But it does feel like there is an element of pressure, especially as children hear their friends talking and come home wanting to do the same things. And again, none of these things existed when I was a child.

It feels like there is a pressure to 'make' Christmas magical for our children, and at a time of year when there is enough stress going on, do we really need it? When there are cards to write, presents to buy, endless school events to remember - do we need the added strain of a family day out, or positioning an elf in a funny scenario every night? If you enjoy it, great, but how many parents actually dread trying to find the energy to TP their living room and suspend the elf from the ceiling once the kids are in bed?

And I know I'm not immune to this. A comment on my Book Advent post got me thinking about whether this would be too much pressure for some families. I did collect the books over three years rather than having to get all 24 in one go, and the books just appear one at a time in a Christmas gift bag hung on a hook on the kitchen door. As we have bedtime stories anyway it's very little extra hassle for me, but perhaps for other families it would be too much?

Then there's the Advent Acts Of Kindness too, which were fun last year but this year have been more of a chore, for me and for Eleanor. It's made me question whether I'm buying into this sense that I have to do something to make the run-up to Christmas more exciting, when as a child a chocolate before breakfast every morning was excitement enough! (Actually I remember having picture advent calendars when I was very young, and I still felt excited by them!!)

I sometimes think social media has turned parenting into a performance. We see other people sharing photos of their kids doing exciting, magical stuff and feel that what we're doing isn't enough. Events pop into our Facebook feed, with a message about how many of our friends are going to them, and we feel we should go too. But is it about what our children want or need? Is it about what we as parents can handle on top of everything else? Or is it about being seen doing Christmas 'right'?

This post is not for the people who enjoy Christmas events, or Elf On The Shelf, or any of the other modern 'traditions' that have sprung up in recent years. This post is for the people who feel they have to do all this even though it adds to the stress of the season. This post is for the people who haven't done anything more than buying Advent calendars and putting up the tree.

Christmas is magical enough as it is. Just do what you can do, what you want to do. The kids will be happy with whatever it is.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Bear-y Christmas! Four Festive Picture Books Featuring Bears

We're coming towards the end of Book Advent now and as we've worked through the big pile of wintery, Christmassy books I'd amassed I've noticed a little sub-theme emerging - bears! There seem to be quite a few festive books featuring bears (teddy or actual) as their protagonists. I've written before about 'A Letter For Bear' (have I mentioned I love that book?) but as there are quite a few beary books in my collection, I thought I'd talk about four others we've read this month.

'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown

Not technically a Christmas book, but it has a strong seasonal feel to it. This is the story of a little bear who can't find shelter on a snowy night - until he finds a little house, where a girl lives alone. It's a really simple but beautiful story of friendship which will give you a warm glow inside. The illustrations are just lovely too - the snow bear is so endearing and the little house is so inviting. This is a perfect story for snuggling up together on a chilly evening.

'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington

This book belonged to my husband when he was little. To be honest, there isn't much to it - it's a very basic story of a bear postman delivering gifts and cards on Christmas Eve. It also stops quite abruptly with him hanging up his stocking. It does have an old-fashioned charm to it, though, and the illustrations are detailed but child-friendly. It's an interesting book to compare against modern picture books, and actually my daughter used to really like it when she was around 3, so maybe I'm missing something!

'Sam's Snowflake' by Gillian Shields and Rosie Reeve

In this sweet story, Sam's father goes out to fetch a Christmas surprise while he helps his mother with all the preparations for the day. But Dad is out for longer than they expect and Sam begins to worry. He makes a snowflake to hang in his window in the hope it will bring his Dad home. It's quite an emotional little story, perhaps not best suited to some families, but it does have a happy ending thankfully! I half suspect Dad nipped off to the pub to avoid all the other Christmas jobs though ...

'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Maggie Kneen

This is a real charmer of the book. Mr Grizzly, the bookshop owner, hates Christmas - especially now a sweet shop has opened up next door and there are sticky cubs everywhere. But one day an encounter with a not-sticky cubs starts to melt his heart and he learns to embrace the joy not only of Christmas, but of children too. As well as having a very sweet, Christmas-Carol-esque story, the illustration in this book are just exquisite and so detailed. Also, every page has pop-up parts or flaps to peek under, making it a really good book to read with children of different ages. Eleanor (5) can appreciate the message of the story while Ezra (1) enjoys lifting the flaps!

Do you know of any other bear-y Christmas books? I'd love to hear any recommendations!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit. If you love books, do check out these linkies to find more posts like this one!

Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher

Two years ago, I saw a few tweets about a new Christmas book that was something very special. Published on a very tight turnaround, it was a retelling of the Nativity with the focus on the vulnerability of Jesus and his family and how they effectively became refugees after his birth. It came at a time when the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe was becoming desperate, and was sold to raise money for War Child, a charity working with displaced children. That book was 'Refuge'.

I bought the book that year and I absolutely love it. It's such a simple retelling of a very familiar story but each word is so carefully chosen, so thought-provoking. Sam Usher's illustrations are similarly simple yet striking, really evoking both the joy of the new arrival and the fear of Herod's reaction to the news of a new King.

Interestingly the simplicity of the illustrations sparked a conversation with Eleanor (5) about the origins of the book. Throughout, Usher mostly uses monochrome with golden tones, and Eleanor asked me why all the pictures were 'black and white'. I explained to her that the book was written very quickly to raise money for refugees, so using mainly black and white meant that it could be illustrated and printed more quickly. This led to us talking about how Jesus was a refugee like the people escaping war now. 

I really love this book and everything it stands for. The concise text means that it is a great book to read with children of different ages - it's short enough for toddlers not to get bored, but there is enough in it to talk to older children about. It's not clear whether proceeds still go to War Child two years on, but nonetheless this is a useful book for starting conversations about the (sadly ongoing) refugee crisis.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me