Thursday, 27 April 2017

YES YOU CAN! A book to fight gender stereotypes

"The boys don't let me play football because I'm a girl."

My heart sank when Eleanor told me that. She loves playing football. She's been going to a football class since January, and long before then would beg available adults to have a kickabout in the garden with her. She's pretty nifty with a ball. But, whatever had been said to her, she was getting the idea that the game wasn't for her.

Encouraging children to find their own interests is relatively easy in the early years, when they're oblivious to stereotypes around them, but as they get older they start to become more aware. I remember her coming home from nursery school saying that, "blue is for boys," despite it being her favourite colour. Luckily she doesn't seem too deterred yet, but I know as she gets older she'll feel the need to conform more and more.

I try to tell her that colours are for everyone, and boys and girls can be interested in whatever they want, but it sometimes feels like I'm swimming upstream.

I recently saw a tweet about a Kickstarter campaign for a new book called 'Yes You Can' by Cheryl Rickman and it sounds like just the book I need to show Eleanor that she really can be interested in whatever she wants. It features three girls, one who plays football, one who climbs trees and one who skateboards and loves to be creative. (There are also boys who love dolls and diggers.) They are transported to a world where interests and hobbies are separated by hair colour - an indirect nod to the absurdity of gender stereotypes.


Cheryl was inspired to write the book after hearing all sorts of gender stereotypes aimed at young children, including her own daughter:

“Football? You should've been a boy!”… “Why do you play with boys' stuff?”… “You don’t want Spiderman painted on your face, that’s for boys…  how about a lovely butterfly?!”… “Boys don’t wear pink! That’s for girls!”… “Boys don’t cry!”… “His hair’s a bit long for a boy!"

This video tells more about the project:




Cheryl explains, “The aim of this project is to show children how silly gender stereotypes are, and equip them with tools to enable resilience, self-compassion, self-awareness and self-belief to let any gender-specific teasing wash right over them. To tell kids they don’t have to change who they are to fit out-dated expectations.”

Sounds great, doesn't it? The only catch is that money needs to be raised through the Kickstarter campaign in order for the book to be published. So if you can help, and think this is a project worth supporting, you can donate to the campaign here. Rewards for donating range from a free eBook aimed at parents to a school workshop.

I really hope the campaign is a success, I think Eleanor would love this book and it would be great to see lots of other children feel empowered to make their own choices about their interests and hobbies.

Happily the boys now let Eleanor play football with them. But she is still in a minority and very conscious of that. Armed with this book, I think she would feel proud to be herself and follow her own interests.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Six things I love about cloth nappies ... and one thing I don't!

A mini Eleanor stomps beneath a line of her nappies!
This week is Real Nappy Week 2017 and as I've now been using cloth nappies for a total of three years I thought I should mark the occasion! Eleanor was in cloth nappies from 4 months until around two and a half ( when we rather disastrously started potty training) and Ezra has been in cloth to some degree since he was about 4 weeks old.

But why do I do it? Isn't it a faff? Anyone who knows me will know that I rarely do things that make life hard for myself, so there must be some good reasons for using cloth! Here are the reasons I love reusable nappies ...

1. There are loads to choose from

Seriously, loads. When you're first dipping your toe into the world of reusables it can be dizzying. Luckily there are now lots of nappy libraries dotted around the country so you can try different types. I didn't know of any when Eleanor was born but Bingley Nappy Library has since opened up for West Yorkshire people and I got some great advice from there when I was struggling to make cloth work with Ezra. I'd really recommend looking up your local nappy library if you're considering switching to cloth.

The great thing about the variety of options is that there is something for everyone. Babies come in different shapes and sizes (I should know, I make them big) so not all nappies will fit every baby, but you're bound to find some that'll work. And you can use different nappies for different needs: I use a combination of Bumgenius Freetimes for a smaller fit but shorter periods, some very old-school Totsbots cotton nappies with a wrap for longer stints and used to use Totsbots Bamboozles as a night nappy (more on the 'used to' in a bit). I also have a few others if I fancy a change! Here's a picture of most of my stash on a rare day when Ezra hadn't pulled them all down off the shelves:

You can see I use washable liners and wipes too (bottom shelf) - this is in part due to the sensitivity of both my children's skin but also it's just easier to chuck the lot in the wash!

2. It saves you money

Yes, the initial outlay might make you gulp. But then you're pretty much set up for the next two years - more if you use the nappies again with another child. Think about how much you'd spend on disposables in that time! Depending on what type of nappies you buy, you could easily save over £1000 by using cloth. And the variety of options means you can go for what your budget can manage - you can even get traditional terries for a couple of pounds a pop, which are surprisingly versatile if you're good at folding! (I'm not, as I discovered.)

3. They look cute

Forgive me for this, but here's where I admit to being a tiny bit of a nappy snob - I just don't like how disposables look. It's not a big factor for me, but I do think cloth nappies are tons cuter. I mean just look at the wrap on this one!


If you've got money to spare you can really go nuts on the cute patterned nappies as there are loads to choose from. I never did but I do have a few exceedingly cute nappies and wraps that I'm rather attached to!!

4. It's not all or nothing

Remember I said I used to use Bamboozles as a night nappy? Well I don't now. They were great for Eleanor when she was little, but Ezra is the very definition of a heavy wetter. Even with three boosters his Bamboozle was still leaking by the wee small hours (no pun intended). So we've switched to disposables at night.

And that's the great thing about cloth - you don't have to use them all the time. Just using one cloth nappy a day could save you 365 disposables over the course of the year. I also use disposables if we're going out just because they take up less space in the change bag and are a bit easier to change on those scary changing tables. 

And even if you do manage 100% cloth (hats off to you) you can use disposable liners and wipes, or use washable ones. It's up to you. You can decide how brave you feel. But you might just find that actually it's not as hard or scary as you thought so then you can do a bit more. And if it all goes wrong, you can sell on your cloth stash - there's a huge market for second-hand nappies.

5. You can't run out of them

I'm chronically disorganised. If I had to remember to get enough disposables in then Ezra would spend an awful lot of time bare-bottomed while I waited for my husband to pick up some more on his way home. But with cloth you can't run out. Well, you can if you forget a wash, but even then, just bung them in and if they're OK to tumble you can have some ready in a few hours. And actually once you're in a washing routine it's fairly easy to keep on top of them.

6. It's good for the planet

I try my best to be a hippy type, but I'm not very good at it. I use surface wipes instead of cloths. I forget we've got food and end up throwing it away. I have the heating on too much. So with cloth I kind of feel like I'm making up for that.

There are debates around whether the carbon emissions caused by washing cloth nappies are comparable to the emissions created when making disposables, but even assuming they're similar, at least you're sending less to landfill. We tend to use disposables when a stomach bug strikes and I'm always shocked at how quickly the bin fills up. That's an awful lot of waste to stick in the ground, and I'm bad enough about chucking things away without adding disposables to the pile!!


Of course, everything has its downsides, and there is one thing I really, really don't love about cloth nappies ...

POO!

There's no skirting around it - poo is horrible. It's not so bad with an exclusively breastfed baby because you can normally chuck the nappy straight in the wash. It's not so bad with a toddler on plenty of solids as it's normally hard enough to just drop in the toilet. But the in-between stage (which is taking a while to get through with Ezra) - well, that's just grim. Sorry. But you're wiping it off their bums anyway, so poo is inescapable with small children!


What do you love about cloth nappies? If you're thinking about using them, what puts you off or makes you worry? 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

We tried Love Bombing and this is what we learnt ...


Eleanor is quite a challenging child. She has many amazing qualities - she is confident, determined, energetic, funny, articulate, bright and has the capacity for great kindness. She is also defiant, stubborn, giddy and hot-tempered. And as much as I love every part of her, the latter qualities often make home life difficult and cause issues at school.

I'd heard of Love Bombing years ago, but at the time, with me at home and only one child to focus on, I didn't think it'd be much different to daily life. Then of course Ezra came along and I couldn't really see how love bombing would work with an infant who also needed attention. But we were running out of ideas, so decided to give it a try.

The idea is that for a set period of time (usually a day or two) you let your child choose what you do together and focus your attention on them. I haven't read the book about it, but here's a good article that explains it more. It is said to have positive effects on children with challenging behaviours, so we thought it was worth a shot.

We chose a day when we had nothing planned and my husband was also around so we could tag team the two of them. If we were doing it to the letter, we should really have sent Ezra off with relatives for the day, but he is very sensitive to separation and still feeds to sleep so it wasn't practical. We did suggest that we could take it in turns staying home with Ezra so the other parent could go out with Eleanor but she was adamant she wanted us all to stay together. We called the day 'Eleanor Day' and in the run-up made plans for what she wanted to do.

So what did we do? What happens when you put a 5 year old in charge for the day?

We started the day with croissants and jam for breakfast, then headed to a climbing centre. She got ready surprisingly efficiently but I think knowing she was going climbing motivated her. We went on the train (her choice) and she had a great time, although she soon realised her choice of outfit wasn't ideal as a climbing harness and shorts don't go well together! She was also over-excited which made her clumsy. She got upset a few times when she had accidents or the harness was rubbing but overall she had a good time.


After climbing we went home. I took Ezra upstairs for his nap and Eleanor ate some Easter chocolates she'd been given the day before. A few minutes later I heard Eleanor crying and screaming. She'd wanted to save enough chocolates for us to have one each after lunch but she'd eaten too many. We eventually worked out a plan to carve another piece of chocolate into the same shape (yes, really) and I went back up to try and settle Ezra. But she kept coming up to tell me about the chocolates so I gave up on the nap and came back down to make lunch - sandwiches and crisps, with Easter nests and chocolate for pudding. Then while Ezra finally napped, Eleanor played Minecraft - except that went wrong too and she got upset again.


Next we went to a park about half an hours' drive away. Eleanor spotted an ice cream van and, of course, wanted one. She had a bit of it before realising how cold she was so I ended up carrying it around most of the time. She had a good play at the park, but then she got stuck up a climbing frame and had a massive meltdown. At this point I decided to step in and announce it was time to go. Maybe not in the spirit of love bombing, but we were all cold, she was in a state, and it was getting very stressful.

On the way home we got fish and chips for tea (and Eleanor had a tantrum because we didn't have enough money for a Slushy by this point) then we went home, ate our tea with lemonade and even more chocolate afterwards. Then came bedtime, and Eleanor wouldn't get ready for bed. She read and read and read. Even when she openly admitted she was tired she wouldn't make any moves towards getting ready. We eventually got her up to her room at around 9, and she read until 10 when we gave up and went to bed, telling her 'Eleanor Day' was over so she needed to go to sleep.

So what did we learn from Love Bombing?

Firstly, it's easy to over-hype it - both for the child and the parent. Eleanor was so excited about 'her day' that if anything went wrong she couldn't handle it. And I got over-anxious about how we would get all the practical stuff done like Ezra's nap, bedtime etc. If it had been more spur-of-the-moment then perhaps we'd have all been calmer and it would have gone more smoothly.

Secondly, it's very challenging to suspend all normal rules. I particularly felt uncomfortable letting her eat what she wanted (which was almost entirely junk food) and stay up so late - even for just one day it seemed counter-productive. Although actually it had little impact on her the next day, and we got back to a more normal eating and sleeping routine quickly.

Thirdly, it is inherently unfair on any siblings. As I said, we probably should have sent Ezra off, but that would have neglecting his need for attachment at a time when separation anxiety is a major issue. As it was he ended up getting passed between us like a parcel, his routine went awry and he got cold and grumpy at the park.

Fourthly, trying to do Love Bombing without limits is nigh-on impossible. We literally ran out of money because she kept wanting treats so we should have set a spending limit. We should have agreed how long we were staying at the park. And we also should have said that 'Eleanor Day' finished at 7pm, when she normally goes to bed. That would have stopped us getting so frustrated with the process.

And did it have an impact on her behaviour? Well, yes. A bit. It's tricky to gauge as we'd chosen Maundy Thursday to do it so Easter madness kicked in shortly after, but we had a day of her behaving really quite well before things began to slide again. Similarly, back at school she had a couple of good days before going back to struggling. So it's not the magic cure-all I'd hoped for. But it was a good opportunity to reconnect and make her feel that she's special to us.

Would I do it again? Yes, but not in the same form. There would have to be time restraints in place, and it wouldn't be quite as 'anything goes' as this first attempt. I also wouldn't build it up in my head quite as much, now I know that it doesn't have the huge effect it's purported to have. But I do think she enjoyed being able to make all the choices, so I am making more of a conscious effort to allow her to make day-to-day decisions where possible.

All in all, it wasn't a total waste of time, but Love Bombing hasn't been a wholly positive experience for us, and it definitely isn't a panacea for all parenting challenges. Kids will be kids, and spirited kids will be spirited kids whatever you do. But it did show me that I can allow Eleanor more control in her life without everything falling to pieces - I just need to think carefully about how far that control extends!!

Have you ever tried Love Bombing? Would you consider it?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Bye Bye Baby Stage


I've been clinging onto the baby stage for a while now, but last week I had to admit defeat.

First of all, I switched from carrying on my front to carrying on my back. A small thing to some, but to me it was an admission that Ezra is really quite big now. Too big to fit on my front any more.

Then we moved him to a bigger car seat. We'd held off as long as we could but it was getting harder and harder to squeeze his broad shoulders into the Stage 0+ seat, so we switched to an extended rear-facing one that will hopefully last him until he's 4 or 5.

Then his faltering steps, which for two months had been stuck at a maximum of six in a row, became suddenly more confident. He managed 11 steps. My arbitrary baby-to-toddler threshold is 10 steps. Then a day later he walked across the room. I couldn't deny it any longer. My lovely baby is now a toddler.

I feel very wobbly about it all. Firstly there's the fact that Ezra has just been a wonderful baby. Yes, he's a rubbish sleeper. Yes, he would regularly puke up all his milk for the first eight months of his life. But he was so darn calm. He barely cried and was easily consoled. As soon as he knew what his hands were for he'd happily entertain himself for a few minutes. He learned how to hug - and I mean proper arms-round-your-neck HUG - when he was three months old. He was snuggly and affectionate and laidback. After dealing with a high-needs, often-crying and attention-hungry baby first time around, it was bliss. (I do, of course, love them both equally. But there's no skirting around it - Eleanor was a HARD baby.)

And of course he still is most of those things by and large, but toddler-ness is creeping in. He prostrates himself on the ground crying if you take anything off him. He won't stay still. If you leave him for half a minute he will likely have climbed onto something, or wrecked something, or chewed on something he shouldn't. He's still a fairly easy toddler but, let's face it, all toddlers are exhausting.

Then there's the fact that I know he's my last. I'll never do the baby stage again. I've always wanted more than two, but realistically I know my body can't take another pregnancy. And our finances probably wouldn't stretch to a third child either, especially if I continue to stay at home. I know that this is the right, the practical decision for us. But at the same time I can't quite believe I'll never give birth again, never hold a seconds-old baby, never spend hours just snuggling with a little person.

Eleanor, knowing I'm struggling with this change, has helpfully reminded me I can look at photos of Ezra as a baby, and has said I can play with her baby doll any time. She's said she'll have a baby one day and then I'll be a Grandma. She's even suggested we could keep calling him a baby until he's two. Bless her heart, she wants so much to make it right for me.

But for now I'll just have to console myself with the things that haven't changed. He still gives amazing hugs. He still wants my milk (he's even learning to sign for it now). He still sleeps in a cot adjoining our bed so I often wake up to find he's snuggled up to me. And he's still my baby really. Always will be.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Why I Hate Doing Kids' Crafts

Before I had kids, I loved crafts. Knitting and crochet were my favourites, but I would happily have a bash at other crafts. So I naturally assumed that I'd be one of those crafty mums, always happily creating beautiful artwork with my little ones.

No.

Turns out there's a reason I liked knitting and crochet. They are, in essence, tidying. You start with a big ball of yarn and you make it neatly into something pretty and functional. Kids' crafts are the exact opposite. You take a nice pile of paper, glue and paints safely in their bottles and sequins neatly in a little pot, and you make a horrendous mess in order to be left with a product that has no discernible use and, let's face it, often looks a state.

I know, I know, it's about the process, not the product. Except the process doesn't exactly feel enriching either. Not when I'm getting so stressed out I end up yelling.


Take the above, ahem, creations. These are, apparently, Easter Bunny eggs. They were completed today, but were started a whole nine days ago. That day, that fateful day, the Friday of the first week of the holidays and my last day of solo parenting before the husband went on holiday, we had nothing to do and Eleanor insisted on crafting. Specifically, she insisted on decorating eggs, an activity she'd found in an arts and crafts book. Here is a brief breakdown of the process:

1. Crack the eggs and empty the contents into a bowl. (To make scrambled eggs, literally the most enjoyable part of the endeavour.)

2. Attempt to remember which shells went together and glue them back, which is every bit as fiddly as it sounds and results in wonky, gappy eggs.

3. When the glue has dried, start layering on watered-down PVA glue and pink tissue paper. You'd think this would be easy - they're only eggs, not exactly big. But attempt to papier-mache an egg and you'll realise it's actually quite tricky. Try to show a five year old how to do it, it's a headache. Get a five year old with a short attention span to do it whilst you attempt to calm a very grumpy toddler who is trying to escape out of the ring sling, it's suddenly the most stressful thing in the world and you end up barking at your five year old to DO IT FASTER BUT NOT SO MUCH GLUE CAN YOU NOT SEE IT'S DRIPPING IN IT OH LET ME DO IT OH I CAN'T BECAUSE THE TODDLER IS TRYING TO GRAB IT AND IT'S TAKEN HALF AN HOUR TO DO A SINGLE EGG AND ... ahem. Sorry.

4. Leave eggs to dry,

5. Ask the five year old if she wants to finish off the eggs. Repeat daily only to be met with refusal, presumably because she's mentally scarred from step 3.

6. Manage to persuade the five year old that, as it's Easter Day, it's a good day to finish those Easter Bunnies. Let her paint the faces while you cut out the ears, only to realise that her paintbrush skills are such that the poor bunnies have ended up looking like something from Watership Down.

And this is just one example of what happens when we attempt to craft together. It almost always ends up with me getting frustrated and turning into a shouty mess, grumbling that this is why I never do crafts. Is it really worth it?

Maybe it is. Maybe Eleanor really does forget the shouting and just remembers the joy of creating something. But I can't help but think that the stress it causes both of us is counter-productive.

Even as I type this I can imagine the wonderful crafty mummies out there preparing to advise me on how to Do Kids' Crafts Better, how to make it an enriching and enjoyable experience. But the truth is, I can't do it. Surely everyone is allowed a couple of areas of parenting where they just suck, right? Well, this is one of mine. Just let me be.

From now on, I will select only craft activities that require minimal input from me. Ones that I can more or less leave her to do herself. She does crafts at school anyway, surely that'll be enough, right?

Tell me I'm not alone here - surely there are other uncrafty parents out there who turn into balls of rage over papier mache?!

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Smarty Pants Baby Leggings Review


We've bought very few clothes for Ezra so far - he generally wears a combination of hand-me-downs from his sister or a friend's son and gifts from relatives - so we haven't really had chance to inject any individuality into his wardrobe yet. So when I was offered the opportunity to review a pair of leggings from Smarty Pants, I jumped at the chance!

It was a real challenge choosing just one pair of leggings because I loved them all. The concept of Smarty Pants is great - bringing a bit of culture to our little ones' wardrobes with super funky photographic or artistic prints. There's something for everyone: literary figures, high art, feminist icons, even science-themed leggings. In the end I settled for 'Buzz Aldrin On The Moon'. I chose them with Eleanor in mind a little bit - she wants to be an astronaut so I thought she'd like to see her little bro with an astronaut on his leg - but I figured there's no harm in encouraging Ezra to reach for the stars too.

*fights back daydream of the pair of them becoming the first brother-sister team in space*

Anyway, back to the leggings. I was very impressed at how quickly they arrived - it took just five days for them to get here all the way from Canada. They felt lovely and silky and looked even better in real life than they do in the photos online. But were they any good on? I decided to road test them on a trip to playgroup - if anywhere will test the flexibility of a pair of leggings, playgroup is the place!


One thing that really struck me was the length - I'd opted for the 1yr size and was a little anxious as Ezra is 13 months now and not exactly small for his age, but there is still some length in the leg so I think he'll get a few more months wear out of them.



As you can see, he certainly bent and wriggled a fair amount in the leggings and they moved with him really well! They are made of a polyester/spandex mix which I've not come across before in baby clothes. I was a little concerned they would bunch up but they stayed nice and smooth despite rigorous testing.

I was also very happy with the size around the bottom - I tested them to the limit with Ezra's biggest cloth nappy but they held their own! They are not specifically 'cut to cloth' but the stretch in the fabric means they would probably be able to fit around pretty much anything.

Overall I'm really happy with the quality and flexibility of the leggings and absolutely in love with the print too! These are seriously cool leggings. You can buy them directly from the Smarty Pants website or from the Etsy store.

DISCLAIMER: I received these leggings free for the purposes of this review, however all words, opinions and images are my own.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Why Take A Positive Discipline Course?


As a lifelong bookworm, I tend to think that the answer to every problem is in a book. From quite early on in my life as a mother, I've turned to parenting books to try and solve the challenges we've faced. I'm quite picky in what I read - I'll happily admit that I only read books that align with my gentle parenting style - but I've lost count of how many I've read over the last five years. And if it's not books, it's articles, websites, blog posts ...

So if I've done all this reading, why did I sign up to an online parenting course? Surely I've come across all the answers already?

Well, yes and no. When I heard about the Attachment Parenting UK Positive Discipline course, I was interested to see how it differed from the many, many books and articles I'd already read. Because, of course, I don't have all the answers, so I'm always on the lookout for new ways of learning more.

The course is broken down into ten modules, each starting with an introductory video from APUK founder Michelle McHale, and including written information and reflection questions for the participant to answer for their own personal use. There is then a quiz to test understanding at the end of each module.

The main difference I found between taking the course and reading a book was the mindset it got me into - the video, reflection questions and interactive quiz led me to actively engage as a 'student' rather than just a reader. I could copy and paste useful quotes into a separate document for future reference, and the reflections got me thinking much more consciously about how I parent, and even how my childhood affects my parenting. I've written before about the parenting style questionnaire which is part of the second module - for me this set the tone of the course, encouraging me to look at my situation rather than passively reading other people's views and experiences.

As for the content, even a parenting book junkie like me could learn something new, and it would be a great starting point for someone who hasn't read half a library's worth already. The course combines information from many different sources, making it a 'one-stop shop' for getting you going with Positive Discipline.

Has it changed me as a parent? That remains to be seen. I'm certainly more consciously committed to making my actions match my beliefs, and I have used some techniques discussed in the course in the few weeks since I started it. And I'm not alone to figure it all out myself - the course includes access to a Facebook support group and a session with APUK's in-house parenting coach. This means that if I come up against challenges I can't figure out, I know I have options for further support that a book on a shelf doesn't necessarily offer.

If you like the sound of this course, you can get 50% off the usual price with the code theishmother50 (I'm not on commission, but if you do use this code I'll get the rosy glow of knowing that I've helped someone else to learn about Positive Discipline!)

Disclaimer: I was offered free access to the course for the purposes of writing this review, however all words and opinions expressed are my own.