Friday, 30 June 2017

Mudpies and Minibeasts: What We Did For #30DaysWild

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (if you don't, it'd be lovely if you would!) you'll know that this month we've been completing the Wildlife Trusts' '30 Days Wild' challenge - making time each day for a Random Act of Wildness. This could be an outdoor activity, something inspired by nature like a craft activity or an environmentally friendly act.

I decided to take the challenge because I felt like Eleanor and I needed to re-engage with nature a bit. Eleanor was such a nature girl as a toddler, loving playing in the garden and even helping out, but when she started preschool all that seemed to change and she was more reluctant to get outdoors. I really believe in the importance of getting out in the fresh air and appreciating nature, and I thought this challenge would be a great way to kickstart that.

Day 1: Cloudspotting - seal or teddy bear?
At first I found it hard to think of ideas. The month started in the middle of half term so should have been a good time to do some more inventive activities but actually we were flagging by that point in the week and it was a bit too warm to go trekking about, especially with Ezra in tow. So we started out simple.

Day 3: Releasing what turned out to be a larder beetle. Glad it's not in the house any more!
In the end, I found that not overthinking it and letting Wild Things just 'happen' worked quite well. Rather than planning wild activities we just opened our eyes to the nature around us and took time to appreciate it. Eleanor rediscovered her love of minibeasts and I learned loads - I can now identify each stage of the ladybird life cycle which I couldn't before!

Day 5: "Look Mummy, it's like confetti!"

Day 7: Minibeast hunting
Day 12: Eleanor likes butter!
Day 21: A blurry red kite circling above our house
Day 17: Walking barefoot in the grass (yes I have weird feet)

We spend more time in the garden than usual too, finding new ways to enjoy nature. Eleanor developed a penchant for making mudpies - she made them on three different occasions in the month!

Day 4: Ezra loving the mud!
Day 16: Making a mud pie
Day 19: First fruit picking of the year
Day 22: Garden yoga!
We did do some more organised activities like rose perfume making and leaf pressing, but in retrospect I'm glad we didn't do more actually, crafts can be quite stressful for us so I much preferred our 'go with the flow' approach!

Day 8: Leaves and flowers ready for pressing
Day 11: Mashing rose petals to make perfume
Day 29: Making dubious nature 'art' with the pressed leaves and flowers
We only had one nature outing, which was a shame. I'd have liked to do at least one more but our weekends filled up fast and the weather kept swinging from blazing hot to pouring with rain! We actually chose a blazing hot day for seeking shade in our local forest which cooled us down a bit.

Day 18: A Father's Day walk/bike ride in the forest
We didn't always manage to put a lot of effort into our Random Acts Of Wildness. On busy days, or when I got ill and it was raining, we 'cheated' a little with nature webcams, bug drawing and even a game of Beetle. I felt weirdly guilty about this but we were still thinking about nature, however tenuously!

The thing I'll take away most from the month is that just slowing down a bit lets us notice and enjoy nature so much more. Yes, checking out that ladybird pupa may add 30 seconds to the school run but it's a small price to pay! And playing with nature doesn't have to be a well-planned mission, it doesn't even have to involve leaving the garden - I just need to be creative (or let the kids be creative) while we're there!

I'm not sure I'll keep up the daily Random Acts Of Wildness long-term, but I'm definitely hoping to keep finding regular moments to enjoy nature with the kids.

Day 30: This is NOT a mud pie apparently - it's a mud cake!!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

To A Friend, Who Unwittingly Helped Me To Breastfeed

This week is National Breastfeeding Celebration Week in England, this year the week has the theme of breastfeeding support. Unicef are encouraging mothers to share stories of our breastfeeding friends, the people who supported us with our breastfeeding journey.

It's got me thinking about the people who supported me when I first started breastfeeding five and a half years ago. My husband, my mum, midwives, health visitors, strangers on online advice forums all played their part. But there was someone else, someone who may not have directly helped me, but whose example gave me the determination to keep going. This post is to her.

We were in each others' day to day lives for just a few months. We worked together, but by the time I started working with you, you might already have been pregnant with your second child. I was childless but hopeful for the future. You talked to me about motherhood, my first real 'mum friend'. You shared your pregnancy woes with me, but talked about the joys of being a mum too.

You talked about breastfeeding. You didn't preach about it, just casually dropped it into our conversations. It was something normal, run-of-the-mill, alongside talk of nappies and toddler tantrums. No big deal.

You went on maternity leave and we stayed in touch via Facebook. And that's how I heard about what happened after your beautiful baby was born. You were ill. Very ill. Scary, hospitalised kind of ill. Then you posted thanking your friends for helping you to continue breastfeeding your child. A few months later you called into work and talked about how you'd had to argue with medics to be able to keep breastfeeding. It stuck with me.

Fast forward two and a half years and I had a newborn baby of my own. I'd always assumed I'd breastfeed, but then I'd always assumed it was easy. How wrong I was. Eleanor had a habit of flat refusing to latch on, and would go from asleep to screaming with what we thought was hunger (actually it was reflux) in seconds. I didn't know how I could keep feeding her, it felt impossible.

But I remembered you. And how you'd continued to breastfeed despite being so very ill. And I kept telling myself, "If she could do it, so can I." You were my proof that it could be done, no matter what the circumstances. And that thought kept me going and helped me to fight for support until, at eight weeks, it finally started to get easier.

You did actually visit me in those early weeks but I didn't talk much about how I was struggling with breastfeeding at the time. You told me your two had both had reflux and we exchanged a couple of texts about it after Eleanor had been diagnosed, but other than that you weren't really directly involved in my breastfeeding journey. And yet you were crucial to it. You were my model of a normal, regular, breastfeeding mum, carrying on despite adversity. Simply by doing what you felt was right by your children, you inspired me to keep doing what I felt was right for my child.

Now Eleanor is five and a half it seems bizarre to me to think how close I came to giving up. Breastfeeding is just part of family life now. It's normal, run-of-the-mill, just like nappies and toddler tantrums. And I have you to thank for that.

Thank you, my unknowing breastfeeding friend.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Review: 'Daisy And The Trouble With Chocolate' by Kes Gray

I haven't written about what Eleanor's reading in a while. This is mostly because, actually, I don't get to read with her very much any more. She's been able to read pretty much fluently for two years now but her growing attention span means she can happily sit with a chapter book and read to herself, rather than wanting to be read to. I still get to read bedtime stories every other day (husband and I alternate) but those are short stories from a Disney book and, to be frank, there isn't much to write about.

So with her reading independently most of the time, I don't often know what she's reading. I don't have time to sit and read a chapter book like I did with picture books. But last week I found a book in the library I thought she might enjoy, and it made her laugh so hard I had to read it myself!


Eleanor loved the Daisy picture books when she was younger. Daisy is a really fun character - witty, a bit rebellious, smart and curious. She doesn't scream 'girlie' at you either, which is refreshing. I thought the chapter books might be a bit too much for Eleanor at first - she tends to read shorter ones still - but she sat and read the whole thing cover to cover in about an hour! I'm not sure she took everything in the first time, but she's since reread it about five times so must have covered the whole story by now!

So what do I think to the book? It's good fun and I can see how it would appeal to kids. It combines two storylines - Daisy looking after the pet hamsters over the Easter holiday, and going to Chocolate Land, a chocolate theme park. The part that had Eleanor properly belly laughing was the hamster storyline and I could see why, there is lots of talk about hamster poo which is of course hilarious to a 5 year old! The Chocolate Land part is more far-fetched, but would be really exciting to a child: chocolate face painting, a rock band with chocolate guitars, chocolate magic shows etc. The whole thing made me feel a bit queasy but to a child it sounds like heaven! It's a very easy read - the text is broken up with lots of fun illustrations, and the repetition of 'the trouble with' throughout the story will help to keep children engaged.

More importantly,Eleanor thinks it's hilarious and says it's her favourite book ever! This week anyway ...
c Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Like to Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Things a Teetotal Mum Will Recognise

Just lemonade for me, ta
For all my talk about being this hippyish alternative mum, I generally blend in fairly easily with other mums. After all, we're all in the same boat and need to help each other out. But there is one area where I still feel like the odd one out. Drinking.

I don't drink.

To me it's not a big deal. I've never been massively into alcohol. I experimented with it a bit in uni but never got properly drunk. And as I got older I just, well, grew out of it. I was mostly teetotal when trying for my first baby then stopped altogether for pregnancy and ... never really started again. I think I could count the drinks I've had in the last six years on one hand.

People have always been a bit surprised and baffled by my lack of interest in alcohol, but I'm more aware of it now I'm a mum. It's hard to pinpoint why, but there are a few things I've noticed - things that I'm sure other teetotal/occasional drinking mums will relate to!

The Questions

So, I go on a night out (pahaha, yeah, when my kids will let me which is once a year at best) and I'll get a lemonade or something. And there'll often be a conversation like this.

"Oh, not drinking tonight?"
"No, I don't drink."
"Oh! Why's that?"

I'm still slightly flummoxed by this question. I mean, if we were out for a meal and everyone else was eating steak but I ordered the vegetarian, it's unlikely I'd be asked why I don't eat meat. People just seem to accept that I don't, and carry on as normal. But not drinking will often raise a question.

It's not that I mind the question, I just don't know how to answer it. There's no one reason why I don't drink. There are lots of little reasons, the main one being that I just don't like it. But if I answer with that, people are really confused. So I often say something vaguely related to health issues, because I've learnt that's more acceptable than just thinking alcohol tastes nasty!

Gin O'Clock

Social media is great, isn't it? When I've had a rough day with the kids, or when bedtime has been going on for three hours and I'm about to scream, I will often take to Twitter for a moan, where I am met with solidarity and gifs. And occasionally the suggestion of gin.

It seems that after 6pm, the answer to a mum's problems is in the bottom of a glass. I'm sure it's in jest - at least I hope so, you don't really all drink that much, do you??! But I never know how to respond. Do I pretend to agree? Do I say I don't drink and risk The Questions (see above)? Do I just click 'like' and hope that's a friendly enough way of dodging the conversation?

The Alternative Vice

Of course, I'm no angel. When situations like the one above arise, I don't get through them by deep breathing and mindful housework, or whatever a clean-living alpha mum would do. So how do I cope when the kids are driving me up the wall and I don't want to hit the bottle?

Chocolate. That's how. Lots and lots of chocolate. In various forms - bars, biscuits, cakes. I live on the stuff. And the advantage is you can eat it All Day Long. And, believe me, I do. If it weren't for breastfeeding and babywearing I'd be the size of a house by now. In fact I don't quite know how I'll cope when I'm no longer able to consume my own body weight in chocolate on a daily basis. But that's a problem for another day!

The Second Guessing

I think more difficult to deal with than people's reactions is wondering what the reaction will be. Or what people will think of me. Will they be shocked? Aghast? Suspicious? Will they think I'm judging them? Will they worry that I'm going to remember the daft things they do or say under the influence and hold it over them? Will they think I'm odd, boring, sanctimonious?

The truth is, I'm not judging. Some people drink, some don't. It doesn't bother me. I'm not teetotal through some high-minded moral choice. I'm not making a point. I just don't like the stuff. I can still go out and have a laugh with other mums, kids and energy permitting. And as for what happens on the night out, that stays on the night out. I've got enough to try and remember in my sleep-deprived state without filing away your tipsy antics to tease you with another day.


If you're a fellow non-drinking mum, can you relate to these? And if you're not, go on - what do you really think of the mum in the corner nursing an orange juice?!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Musings on Gender Stereotypes and Children

We're at a playgroup. Eleanor is 3. She is wearing a typically colourful outfit - blues, greens, reds. I look around and become aware that every other girl in the room is wearing pink. I wonder how long it'll be before Eleanor starts to notice these things too.

While being supremely confident in some ways, I've noticed that Eleanor is becoming more and more concerned about 'fitting in'. She's still a bit quirky, but while before she didn't notice her quirkiness, now she seems to be more conscious of it, and is trying to assimilate with her peers. Particularly her female peers.

I'm tucking Eleanor into bed. She's 4. She starts to talk about something that happened at nursery. There were bunny masks to wear. She wanted a blue one - her favourite colour. She says she was told she couldn't have one. Because, "blue is for boys and pink is for girls."

I tried to avoid gender stereotypes with her. And for three years, maybe longer, I succeeded. Then over time she started to notice. To hear things. To absorb things. And I wonder whether I took entirely the wrong approach. Because now I have a girl who knows deeply what she likes - the colour blue, football, fairies, dinosaurs, dressing up and space. But she's now learning that not all of those things are generally considered 'girls' things. And in her black-and-white view of the world, she doesn't quite know where she fits.

Eleanor is playing with baby Ezra. She is 4. She puts a hairclip on his head. "Ezra, this is what you would look like as a girl." She removes the hairclip. "Ezra, this is what you look like as a boy." The hairclip is replaced - "girl" - and removed - "boy."

I try to point towards examples of women who share her not-typically-feminine interests. "My favourite colour is blue too," I say. "Rachel Yankey is a footballer. Look, Maddie's wearing a dinosaur top! There's an astronaut on the International Space Station who's a lady." But she's unimpressed. They're not little girls like her. She doesn't need common ground with them, she needs common ground with the other little girls she sees.

Eleanor's scooter breaks. She is 5. It was second hand and free. It also happened to be blue. When we're looking for a replacement Eleanor says, "I want to get a pink scooter." I'm surprised - blue is still her favourite colour, and she generally ranks pink as her "20th favourite". (Goodness knows what the 18 colours in between are.) "If I get a blue scooter, people will say it's a boy's scooter." I ask her if that matters. "Yes." I ask why. "Because I'm a girl." We get her a pink scooter. She points out the little bit of blue on it, as if to reassure herself.

Often conversations around gender stereotyping in children's toys and clothes elicit the argument, "well just buy what you want. Does it matter if it says it's for girls or boys?" And to me it doesn't. If I see a top or toy I think one of my kids would like I get it, regardless of which section it's in. But while it doesn't matter to me, an adult with a clear understanding of stereotypes, it does matter to my 5 year old daughter. She's not old enough to understand that gender is a nuanced thing, that women (and men) can have widely different tastes and interests. She just wants to be like the other girls around her. And when we go shopping and she sees girls' clothes in one area, boys' in another, princesses, fairies and Lego Friends down one aisle and dinosaurs, superheroes and regular Lego down another, what's she supposed to think?

Eleanor decides to stop going to her football class. There are various sensible reasons for this - she's one of the youngest and the smallest so it's hard for her to keep up, plus the class is on Thursday when she's already pretty tired from four days at school. But if you ask her why she doesn't want to go any more, her response is that she's the only girl. We talk about how she could join again when she's older. "Yes," she says, "because then I'll be as big as the others. And some more girls might have joined too."

I realise that this is a battle I can't fight alone. No parent can. We might be able to for a while but once childcare and school kicks in, once our kids are old enough to spot the norms, we're on the losing side. And of course, we want our kids to be happy, to not feel like the odd one out, so we go with the flow and hope that when they're older they'll have the resilience to do what they like and be who they want to be. Yet we know that by going with the flow we're reinforcing the norms. Making it harder for the next round of quirky kids. But what can we do?

We can keep buying things we know our kids will like regardless of where in the shop they came from. We can keep talking about the stereotypes and why they don't make sense. We can slowly start to talk to our kids about the roots of those stereotypes. We can hold retailers to account for perpetuating the Great Pink/Blue Divide. (Let Toys Be Toys and Let Clothes Be Clothes are doing a great job there.) And we can wait for the years to pass and for our kids to get a broader perspective, hoping that those years won't ingrain the norms too much.