Thursday, 19 October 2017

We Don't Keep Secrets

Many years ago, long before I had kids, I went to some child safeguarding training for my voluntary work as a youth leader. I remember very little of what was said now, but one thing stuck with me - a snippet of a conversation about secrets. The woman running the session said, "We don't keep secrets in our house. We have surprises, but not secrets."

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
Now I have children, I try to live by that rule. Whenever the subject comes up, I remind Eleanor that we don't keep secrets from each other in this family. Surprises, yes - like a present - but no secrets.

Why? For two reasons.

Firstly, for safeguarding. By telling my children we don't keep secrets from each other, they will hopefully know to be suspicious of anyone who asks them not to tell us about something. And should anything happen that they are uncomfortable with, hopefully they will come to us before it gets out of hand. I'm not particularly paranoid about this issue, I know that child abuse is thankfully rare, but I also know that nobody is immune to it. By establishing from the start that we have no secrets in our family, I hope that should the unthinkable happen my children would be confident in telling us.

Secondly, and less scarily, because one day they will have big stuff going on in their lives. Friendships, fallouts, relationships, break-ups, peer pressure, school stress - as much as it worries me to think of, they're going to have to deal with it all one day. And I want them to feel they can come to me with any problems they have. I also hope that, knowing we don't keep secrets, they might think twice about getting into any dodgy behaviour, although perhaps that's wishful thinking on my part!! I know that my job isn't to be their friend, but I hope they will see me as a confidant and a support.

It is surprisingly tricky to avoid talk of secrets though. From fleeting mentions in books and TV, to whispers between friends, the idea catches on that we need to keep some things secret. There have even been times when adults have reinforced this idea. So we keep having to patiently repeat the message that we don't do secrets. Nobody should ever ask you to keep a secret from your mummy and daddy.

Eleanor has actually caught onto it quite well. She has a little pocket in her book bag that she calls her 'secret pocket' and nobody is allowed to look there except for her, me and daddy. When she got up to a bit of harmless mischief with her friends and they'd said it was a secret she queried this until they said she could tell me - and she did. There are times when something's gone wrong at school and she hasn't wanted to talk about it, but I will just say, "OK, well when you're ready to tell me I'm here, because we don't keep secrets." And she will eventually tell me.

I'm sure as she grows up this will become trickier to navigate. I know there will be things she (and Ezra) wants to keep private and I haven't quite worked out how to handle that sensitively yet. But hopefully when it comes to that point they'll be so used to being open that the things they want to keep private won't be anything to worry about.

So that's why we don't keep secrets. What's your approach to secrets? Have you found this issue challenging as your children have grown up?

Linking up with Day 19 of #Blogtober17 - Secrets.


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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Five Parenting Quotes From Children's Books

I'm not really an inspirational quotes kind of person. I think as I get older I'm becoming more of a cynic - motivational posters and feel-good memes give my ocular muscles a good workout from all the eye-rolling.

But one thing I'm still not cynical about - and perhaps never will be - is children's literature. There's a lot of wisdom in there that can be discounted by people thinking it's just for kids. In fact, there are some lines from children's books that have encouraged and challenged me in my parenting. Here are five quotes that speak to me, and I hope to other mums and dads too.


"A person's a person, no matter how small." - Dr Seuss, 'Horton Hears A Who'

This is the stand-out children's book quote for me. When I'm feeling frustrated by my own small people, I find myself going back to this line. It reminds me that they are people in their own right - they're not here to do my bidding, or follow a set pattern. They are individuals, with their own minds, own strengths and own weaknesses and I need to respect that rather than just try to control them.

"You've got to be strong to be different." - Giles Andreae, 'The Lion Who Wanted To Love'

Often, the way I parent sets me apart a little. That's not a conscious choice - I don't actually like feeling different, but doing what feels right for me and my family tends to put me on a slightly different track. Equally, Eleanor is growing up to be a true individual in many senses of the word and it can be discomfiting seeing her stand out from her peers. But this little line reminds me that not only is it OK to be different, it takes strength and courage.

"And that's what they did - because that's what you do when your kid has a passion and heart that is true. They remade their world - now they're all in the act of helping young Ada sort fiction from fact." - Andrea Beaty, 'Ada Twist, Scientist'

I love this story (in fact I really should review it sometime!) - at the start, Ada's parents try to control and contain her curiosity, but by the end they accept it as a strength and change their own response. It helps me to remember that sometimes, if my child is doing the same 'bad behaviour' over and over, it's not them that need to change - it's me and my response to the behaviour. Is it really bad, or is it just inconvenient or annoying to me? I love the phrase, "they remade their world," because parenting is all about adjusting to the fact you've got a whole other human being in your life now.

"You must never feel badly about making mistakes ... as long as you take the trouble to learn from them." - Norton Juster, 'The Phantom Tollbooth'

OK, I confess - I've never read this book, I just came across this quote while researching for this post! But it sums up an important part of parenting for me. I make mistakes all the time - we all do, right? Right? But luckily children don't need perfect parents who never put a foot wrong, they need parents who try their best, get it wrong sometimes but are big enough to put it right and do better next time. Or maybe the time after that. I think I need to read this book.

"Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day." - A A Milne, 'Winnie The Pooh'

Parenting, like life, is full of pressure isn't it? From 'are they sleeping through' to 'are they walking/talking/jumping/making marks/reading etc etc' there is always a new milestone to chase. 'Winnie The Pooh' is a lovely, gentle book containing this lovely, gentle quote reminding me that everything comes in time and there's no point in trying to rush things. It's also a useful reminder for me as I wait to get a bit of 'me' back, socially and professionally. It will happen, I just need to trust that the river will take me where I need to.

What quotes give you reassurance or inspiration, either as a parent or generally?

Linking up with Day 17 of #Blogtober17 - Quotes.

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Monday, 16 October 2017

Fighting Fears And Building Bravery

So, funny story. A couple of years ago, a lovely relative bought Eleanor some clothes from Joules. She gave us them in the bag which was so nice I let Eleanor keep it to play with. A few weeks later, she was in her room and I heard her say, "Mummy, there's a spider in the flowery bag!" I went in, and she was right - it was a whopper too.

 Now, I'm arachnophobic. Very, very arachnophobic. Up until that day, I'd hidden this fact from Eleanor. But faced with a massive spider in a bag, I froze. And I had to say to her, "I'm actually quite scared of spiders." But still I managed to bring myself to pick up the bag, get to an open window and lob Sid the Spider out. (As far as I'm concerned, this is humane. I'm not killing the spider. Whether or not it lands safely is it's problem, not mine.)

I put the bag back in Eleanor's room and tried to stop myself imagining spiders crawling on me. A few days later, I was tidying her room and saw the bag. My blood ran cold. I got that fluttery feeling. And every time I've seen that bag since, I've had the same feeling.

Tl;dr - I'm now afraid of a Joules clothes bag.



But this incident actually taught me something. I'd always thought that not showing fear was important, that if I hid my fear then my children wouldn't develop that phobia themselves. The trouble is, fear is human. Yes, Eleanor isn't scared of spiders. But she did go through a phase of being scared of slugs and snails - something I've never had an issue with - and she's currently quite nervous around dogs after a bad encounter with one. You can't avoid your children developing any fears just by pretending you don't have any yourself.

What you can do, though, is show them fear is surmountable. That it's OK to be scared, but you don't have to let it stop you getting on with life. That true bravery is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Hopefully, telling Eleanor I was scared before plucking up the courage to get rid of Sid showed her that fear doesn't have to stop you, that you can face your fears.

And I see Eleanor trying to deal with her fears. She has now started approaching dogs again, albeit gingerly and always with the owner's agreement. She's still not keen on slugs but will happily pick up snails by their shell. And for many little occasions when she feels nervous, I remind her that she's a brave mighty girl and she can do it even if she's scared. Most of the time, this works.

So maybe I shouldn't worry too much about hiding my fears. Maybe instead I should take the opportunity to model bravery.

Linking up with Day 16 of #Blogtober17 - Phobias.

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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sibling Resemblances

A few days ago I bumped into a friend at Ezra's baby signing group. "He really looks like Eleanor, doesn't he?" she said. Now, personally, I don't see it. As newborns they were practically identical despite Ezra being almost a pound heavier, but now I think they look very different.

But then I saw an old photo of Eleanor when she was a little younger than Ezra is now. This photo, to be precise.


And suddenly I saw the resemblance. Not because Ezra would also nick my ice cream given half a chance (although he totally would) but there's something about that little sideways glance that reminds me of him.


In lots of ways, they are very different. Ezra has brown eyes whereas Eleanor's have always been a piercing blue. Ezra was a super chilled baby whereas Eleanor spent most of her early months crying. At 19 months, Ezra only has about 15 words and most of those are animal noises, whereas Eleanor had almost 200 words by this age (yes, I counted - she was the Precious First Born!!) and was starting to talk in sentences. Ezra's first word was 'mama' whereas Eleanor didn't get to that until she had around 20 other words - including 'dada'. Thanks for that, Eleanor.

But then in other ways they are very alike. Despite Ezra crawling much earlier, they both walked at 13 months. They are both clamberers, Ezra more so but I think that's mainly because he has a 5 year old to try and emulate. Both love cuddles. Both love books - Ezra will carry books over and demand a reading much like Eleanor used to. Interestingly, Ezra recently acquired a word for dog - a whispered "ferfer" like the quietest woofing in the world - which is exactly the sound Eleanor used for dog too.

Ezra adores Eleanor and wants to be just like her. If we're at a playground he will try to do what she's doing, much to my distress at times. He loves to dress up like she does, with fairy wings and wands. He flicks through her books, even the ones with hardly any pictures. When I used to take him along to her football classes he would gaze at her through the door, and now will kick a ball around like her. It's lovely to see him trying to keep up with her!

I think it's natural to compare siblings - not only looking at old photos, but thinking about when they hit milestones, how they behave and so on. I try to remind myself not to compare them, but actually, I think it's fairly normal to use your older child as a kind of reference point. Yes, sometimes it causes anxiety, but a lot of the time I'm reassured that actually Ezra is doing pretty well. I'm sure as they get older they will become more individual, but for now, I'm enjoying the resemblances and trying not to worry about the differences.

Linking up with Day 15 of #Blogtober17 - Old Photos.

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Saturday, 14 October 2017

Five Novels I Can't Wait For My Kids To Read

I love books. Specifically, I love children's books. And while picture books and early chapter books are fab, I'm really looking forward to when my children are old enough to discover some longer novels. Here are five that I adore, and really look forward to seeing how my children enjoy them:


'The Borrowers' by Mary Norton

I think all children are intrigued by the idea of tiny people. Eleanor has a huge fascination with fairies, as did I. I also loved reading Norton's novel about tiny people living in our houses, 'borrowing' items for their own little homes. Well, it explains why so much stuff goes missing, doesn't it?!

The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis

OK, this isn't just one book, it's a whole set. But, like most children born in the 80's, I grew up on Narnia and loved the novels. The magical world Lewis created is so powerful and fascinating, and I love that it's Lucy who leads the way to Narnia.

'Swallows and Amazons' by Arthur Ransome

I didn't actually read this as a child, but discovered it when I studied Children's Literature with the Open University a few years ago. I wasn't expecting to enjoy it but really did. It's such an evocation of a more innocent time when children were free to roam - although hopefully my two won't get any ideas about being allowed to camp on an island alone!

'Tom's Midnight Garden' by Philippa Pearce

Another one I discovered through my Children's Literature course, I found this story of a time travelling boy - or is it the girl who's travelling? - so fascinating and poignant. It really evokes that other-worldly feeling of being awake late at night as a child.

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

No, this isn't a children's novel. But eventually (though I don't like to admit it) my children will be reading 'grown up' books, and as this one is one of my very favourites I hope they read it too! I can't wait to find out what they make of it, and see them form their own opinions of this and so many other novels.

What books are you looking forward to your children discovering? Or if you have older children, which ones have they loved the most?

Linking up with Day 14 of #Blogtober17 - Novels and #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Read With Me

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Review: 'The Lion Who Wanted To Love'

I'm often on the lookout for children's books featuring strong, brave girls and thankfully these are getting much easier to find. But now that Ezra is getting older, I've noticed it's much harder to find books featuring caring, gentle, sensitive boys. I'm of the opinion that not only do we need to give our girls strong role models, we also need role models that will encourage boys to show their loving, nurturing and emotional sides.

Our latest trip to the library unearthed a book I've heard of before but  hadn't thought to read until now: 'The Lion Who Wanted To Love' by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz.


This is the story of Leo, a lion cub who would much rather hug than hunt. But his mother isn't happy about this and forces him to leave the pride.


In the jungle, Leo helps the other animals and they repay him by bringing him food (let's not think too hard about the logistics of that, shall we?) until one day Leo finds himself in danger and needs the help of his new friends. In the end, he is accepted not only back into his pride, but becomes the King.


I really love the message of this book - that it's OK to be different, it's good to show your loving side and that will encourage others to love and support you. It's great to find a book with a male character who wants to be kind and gentle - and shows great bravery too.

The book is a big hit with Ezra. He's probably a little too young to understand the story but he loves rhyming text (of which Andreae, aka Purple Ronnie, is a master) and Wojtowycz's vibrant and whimsical pictures are just right for him too. He'll often carry the book over and demand a reading - the classic Ezra seal of approval! I'm definitely going to get a copy of this one to keep, and hopefully as he gets older he'll absorb the message that it's good to have a softer side.

If you've come across stories of loving, caring boys please let me know, I'd love to get hold of a few!

Linking up with Day 12 of #Blogtober17 - Love; #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.


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Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Five Easy Ways To Be Greener In Your Kitchen

It's a while since I've done a green-ish post, and today's Blogtober prompt is Kitchen, so I thought I'd share some tips I've found about being more eco-friendly in what is often the busiest room in the family home!

Before I start, I will point out that I'm in no way a green guru when it comes to cleaning. Nor am I much of a domestic goddess either. But these are tips I've found that, even if I don't stick to them rigidly, at least encourage me to try. I'm definitely in the 'every little helps' camp when it comes to being green - doing something, however small, is always better than doing nothing.



So here are five ways to make your kitchen more environmentally friendly ...

1. Ditch the wipes

Cleaning wipes are just so easy, aren't they? Ready to use, in a neat little pack, and you can just chuck them away when you're done. The trouble is, you chuck them away when you're done. So to save space in your bin (and reduce the amount of waste going landfill) just swap your wipes for cloths. Better still, you could reuse unwearable clothes as rags. We all have a weaning-stained babygro or torn T-shirt lurking somewhere, rather than bin it just cut it into squares and you have cleaning cloths for free!

2. Choose eco-friendly cleaning products

Of course, if you're using cloths and rags, you'll need a cleaning product. Often I find that just water will do the job if it's a small spill, but if you need some heavy duty cleaning, try to choose products that are better for the environment. We use Method all-purpose spray which uses plant-based ingredients and smells lovely. Or if you've got a bit of time, you could make your own cleaning products - there's a great, straightforward post about this over at Wood For The Trees.

3. Get a plant!

I'm a notorious plant-killer. Which is a shame as house plants are fab for making your house greener, literally and metaphorically! They reduce levels of carbon dioxide, humidity and dust and some even eliminate toxins in the air too. Better still, by keeping one in your kitchen it's near a water source so you might even remember to water it! Choose plants such as peace lilies, spider plants and English ivy - or get an aloe vera plant so you've got an instant soother next time you burn yourself cooking! (Just me? I did say I'm not a domestic goddess!)

4. Get reusable straws

This is something I was discussing just this morning. Eleanor is obsessed with straws. And as she sometimes doesn't drink as much as she should, I'm pretty slack at letting her have what she wants just to get her drinking. But the piles of straws we get through makes my heart ache knowing how un-green they are. So I'm going to get hold of some reusable straws, like these funky stainless steel ones or these lovely candy stripe ones.

5. Compost your cuttings

This is such a simple one you're probably all doing it already, but just so there's one I actually manage to do reliably I thought I'd include it anyway! Rather than filling your bin with potato peel and apple cores, just chuck them in the compost - keeps them out of landfill and supplies you with lovely compost for your garden. I'm finding composting especially useful now Ezra is in the 'chuck it on the floor' stage - any salady bits or fruit can just go in the tub and I don't feel so bad about the waste!

What are your top tips for being greener in the kitchen?

Linking up with Day 11 of #Blogtober17 - Kitchen.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

When Your Kid Starts Telling Jokes

When we got Eleanor's Reception profile at the end of last term, there was a rather sweet observation. It went something like this:

"Eleanor: Mrs X, I've got a joke to tell you. Why did the horse cross the road? Because it wanted to see it's NEIGHbours! Do you get it? Because horses say neigh so when you say neighbours you sound like a horse!"

Teaching how jokes work is actually a topic in the early years curriculum, and part of me feels rather sorry for the reception teachers having to endure not only terrible jokes, but also the explanations that are destined to kill any shred of humour left in the joke!


But for me it's been lovely seeing Eleanor start to understand how jokes work. I remember years ago telling her my favourite joke - "What's orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!" - and she laughed but it was months later that she revealed she didn't actually get it. This simple joke which I thought was obvious was totally baffling to her. She invented her own versions, mainly with weird nonsense words as the punchline which were only funny insofar as they sounded odd. I laughed dutifully but wondered when she'd actually understand real jokes.

I suspect it took her longer than other children because she has a very literal mindset. She doesn't do well with turns of phrase or puns - although now she has got the hang of jokes, she's starting to enjoy a good pun. Chip off the old block, she is. But at first some of her jokes were toe-curlingly bad, and at times a little disturbing. I have a vivid memory I'll probably never erase of her trying out jokes in the bath and saying, "Why are the walls red? Because there's blood all over them!" (There wasn't. And the walls weren't red.) So I'm quite glad she's starting to understand the mechanisms of a funny joke.

Weirdly enough, she understood sarcasm before she understood jokes. She got it even before she started school, which is apparently quite rare. A few weeks into school her reception teacher told me how another child had knocked over some crayons and she'd said, "Oh thank you very much!" to which Eleanor had responded, "Is that sarcasm? I'm good at spotting sarcasm!" But she understands it in the very black-and-white sense of saying something you don't really mean, so sometimes she does miss the mark. And to be fair, learning to spot sarcasm is necessary for a child of mine as it's basically my second language.

Along with the jokes and the sarcasm there's the toilet humour which, honestly, I could live without. But I know it's just a phase, and hopefully one she'll grow out of. Seriously, where do they learn that the word 'poo' is funny? I certainly didn't teach her that!!

All in all, it's rather entertaining to watch your child learn humour. Even if it involves a lot of bad jokes. And worse explanations.

When did your child first 'get' jokes?

Linking up with Day 10 of #Blogtober17 - Jokes.

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Monday, 9 October 2017

Why I'm Sick Of Ice Cream

It's Day 9 of Blogtober and the prompt is Ice Cream. I was a bit stumped about what to write for this - I'm not a foodie blogger in the slightest. Plus, at the moment, I'm sick of ice cream.



And soup. And biscuits dunked in tea. And mushed up Weetabix.

Why? Let me explain. Warning: if you don't like the dentist, you should probably read a different post!

I have an impacted wisdom tooth. Which means that instead of growing up, it grew diagonally into the molar next to it. It hurt a bit while it was growing but I've lived with it fairly peaceably for around a decade. Until this July.

I went for a check up. All looked fine, dentist seemed very happy, it even looked like I wasn't going to have to see the hygienist. Win! Let's just look at these X-rays ... Ah. There's a dark patch on the molar that's being squished by my wisdom tooth. A dark patch probably means a hole. One that can't be filled without removing the wonky wisdom tooth.

Yikes.

So I booked an appointment for the extraction in mid-August.

Now, I've been dreading this for years. I've heard horror stories about having wisdom teeth out, and this is no ordinary wisdom tooth. I knew it'd be unpleasant. But I steeled myself for the inevitable, reminding myself that once it was done this tooth would give me no more trouble.

The day came. I was nervous, but kept myself calm with the breathing and distraction techniques I'd learnt in my last pregnancy.  (Honestly, decent antenatal classes are well worth it!!) I was breathing as calmly as I could with someone's hand stuffed in my mouth. Then after a fair bit of tugging, the dentist stopped.

"Your tooth is quite firmly attached," he said, "and you've got quite a thin jawbone. I need to put more pressure on the tooth but there's a chance that that might break your jawbone."

Oh no oh no oh no ...

"So if you feel any discomfort at all in your jaw just put your hand up."

Wait, what? No, no. Surely this is the bit where you stop? But he continued. Now I couldn't distract myself, I had to focus to make sure there was no pain. The first twinge I felt my hand shot up. He stopped pulling, and after a bit more prodding, announced I would have to go to hospital to have it removed.

That was about six weeks ago. Today I had my first hospital appointment, a consultation, and have now booked for the tooth to come out in just over two weeks. In all the time I've been waiting, the slightly dislodged wisdom tooth has been putting pressure on the teeth next to it, meaning that it hurts to chew. Hence living on soup, mashed cereal, soggy biscuits and, yes, ice cream.

I reckon that in three weeks I'll be healed up enough to eat normally again. Then I will be taking a long break from ice cream. Then I'll be eating apples. And pizza. And nuts. Lovely, crunchy food.

So yeah, it turns out you have to go to pretty extreme lengths to put me off ice cream!!

Linking up with Day 9 of #Blogtober17 - Ice Cream.

#Blogtober17

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Why We Love The Yorkshire Coast

Today's Blogtober prompt is holidays. There's only one thing I can write about really as we've visited the same location every year since Eleanor was two - the Yorkshire coast! Here's why we love it and keep going back:

The Beaches

I'm a firm believer that when the sun's shining, all kids really need is the beach. Why shell out on fancy holidays when we have great beaches in this country? Our favourite beach is North Bay in Scarborough, but there are so many different beaches to try in Yorkshire. Yes, the sea might nip your toes a bit but that just adds to the fun!

The Attractions

OK, I'll admit it - the sun doesn't always shine in Yorkshire. In fact a lot of the time it doesn't. I remember one summer we went to Scarborough and the weather was a bit miserable. But there is so much to do and see - the Sea Life Sanctuary, the museum and art gallery, the arcades - that you can't get bored. We haven't even visited half the attractions in the area yet, but no doubt we will in years to come!

The Food

Of course, if you like fish and chips you'll be in your element. I'm vegetarian so it can be harder to find suitable food but the bigger towns like Scarborough and Bridlington have a good range of restaurants. And then of course there's icecream, rock and warm donuts too! Yum!

The Accommodation

There's something for everyone. The first time we went to the coast for a family holiday we stayed in a cottage in a holiday park. Next time we stayed in a flat just minutes from the beach in Scarborough. Then we stayed at a wild west themed glamping park! I often look wistfully at the hotels with sea views and imagine coming back when the kids are older, or even without the kids, and staying in one.


Next year we're planning to go abroad for the first time as a family but I'm sure we'll squeeze in a visit to the Yorkshire coast at some point too - it's tradition now! Which places do you go back to over and over?

Linking up with Day 8 of #Blogtober17 - Holidays.

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Saturday, 7 October 2017

My Goals For Raising My Children

Now that Ezra is truly a toddler (as hard as that is to admit) I've started rereading my copy of 'ToddlerCalm' by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. As I read the first chapter I found a Post-It note with a list of qualities I hoped Eleanor would develop.


It's strange to look back on the note and remember my goals for my then-nearly-two-year-old daughter. I think she was probably starting to show some of these qualities already, but almost four years on, how are we doing?

Well, she's certainly confident. A born extrovert, happy to chat to everyone. I have noticed the occasional waver recently though - it was the school Harvest Festival this week and she had the task of being first to speak in her year's section. There was a painful silence as she plucked up the courage, but she got there eventually. I suppose she's at the age where she's becoming more self-conscious, so hopefully she'll be back to her confident self soon.

Integrity is a harder one. I want her to do the right thing, not because she's told to or to get something for herself, but because it's right. This is a tricky concept for young children, and the use of rewards from preschool onwards has muddied the waters a bit. The other day when I asked her what she'd got her Dojo points for (if you don't know, Google it, your kids will probably come across them at some point) she said, "it doesn't really matter what I got them for, it just matters that I got them!" Um, no Eleanor, it does matter why you got them because that's the bit you should be focussing on, not the points! I'm hoping that asking her why will eventually tell her that actually these points don't really mean anything, but doing the right thing does.

Determination? Yep, she's definitely got that - especially when she wants something and we're saying no! She does try really hard at most things, which makes me very proud. We've had a few "I can't do it" moments recently but I'm teaching her to add "yet" to that and to believe that with practice she can do most things.

Resilience is one area she struggles with. She hates not winning things, gets extremely upset when she makes a mistake in her work and lets little things get to her. In fact, she's a lot like me - which is why I hoped she would be more resilient!!

She is a bit inconsistent when it comes to kindness - that's not to say she's unkind, but sometimes she can be a bit brusque with other children, or ignore them completely, and she can make tactless comments. I don't think she does it deliberately though, she's just a bit behind with her social development. She can be incredibly kind at times - recently she made plaster models with some craft kits she was given and insisted on giving away all but one of them to her friends. And she'll often draw pictures for her close friends saying she loves them too!

She has sense of humour in spades - she finds lots of things funny and is great at making her friends laugh. One big source of pride for me is that she has understood sarcasm since she was just 4 - to be fair, in our house, you wouldn't last long without understanding it!! She's just starting to really understand how jokes work too, although she hasn't yet learned not to explain her joke afterwards!

She's a very independent girl. Despite having been with me almost constantly for three years she breezed into preschool without any trouble, and did the same with school. In fact on her second day of school I tried to hang around for a couple of minutes but she told me to go! She loves to learn how to do things herself, and if we get her in the right mood we can get her chopping vegetables, washing up and doing little chores pretty well.

Like kindness, she hasn't quite 'got' compassion yet. At times she can be very compassionate. Once when we were out there was a family walking behind us and the little boy with them was crying - Eleanor turned around and gave the boy a hug. I'm not sure he wanted it but the fact she recognised he was sad and wanted to help made me proud! She tries to cheer her friends up when they're sad too. But with her close family she can be oblivious to our feelings and needs - she'll often keep talking to me about something unrelated while I'm trying to stop Ezra from crying.

When she wants to be, she's very enthusiastic. She loves taking things into school for show and tell, gets really excited about special events and parties, and she will tell you everything about her special interests if you let her. (Tip: Never ever mention Minecraft to her. You'll be there for ages.) Her enthusiasm for school is waning a bit at the moment as she adjusts to the more formal education in Year 1, I'm hoping she'll recover her love of learning once she's got used to it.

Emotional maturity is the big sticking point at the moment. She is very much a feeler and wears her heart on her sleeve, which means when she's upset or angry everyone in a half-mile radius knows about it! But she can name her feelings which is great, and when she remembers she does try to calm herself. It's just not easy for her to remember in the heat of the moment, and sometimes she feels so justified in her emotions that she doesn't understand why she should calm down. I can see her being a good protestor in future years, she has righteous anger nailed, as long as she learns to channel it properly!

Overall, I think my goals for her are progressing quite well. She's still only small, and there are things I undoubtedly could have done better to teach her these qualities, but I feel like we're mostly on the right track. Would I change any of these goals? I don't think so. I think those ten qualities are very important and will enable her to achieve many things in life. I wouldn't change them for Ezra either, and can see him already starting to develop some - he's a determined little thing and finds lots to laugh about, especially when Eleanor's near!

What are your goals for your children?

Linking up with Day 7 of #Blogtober17 - Goals.

#Blogtober17

Friday, 6 October 2017

Why Are Flowers 'Just For Girls'?

"I saw a boy the other day," the woman said, "only I thought he was a girl because his parents had put him in a flowery top. I mean," she wrinkled her nose for effect, "flowers? On a boy?"

It's a few years now since I laughed awkwardly at that statement, and here I am with a son who happily wears his sister's cast offs - yes, even flowery things. And I ask myself, why are flowers seen as just a girl thing?


It doesn't make much sense to me. Switch on 'Gardener's World' or leaf through a gardening magazine and you're bound to come across male gardeners. Men can be passionate about plants, yes, even flowers. I used to work in the same department as landscape architects and there were a fair few men, who could probably tell you all you need to know about flowers and more. Even in terms of clothing, you see men wearing floral ties or shirts and nobody seems to bat an eyelid.

And yet as a child, flowers are seen as exclusively for girls. Well, they're pretty, aren't they? Decorative. Just as we perceive girls to be. Boys can't be pretty, they're not for decoration, they're for noise and action. Mud, yes. Flowers, no.

Increasingly, girls can cross over into 'boys' domains. Liking cars, dinosaurs, sport and so on is becoming more acceptable, although these girls can still be marginalised and labelled as 'tomboys'. But there is a sense that it's OK for a girl to be like a boy but not OK for a boy to be like a girl.

Madonna hit the nail on the head in the introduction to 'What It Feels Like For A Girl': "Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short/ Wear shirts and boots 'cause it's OK to be a boy/ But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading/ 'Cause you think being a girl is degrading." Boys not being 'allowed' to wear flowers or pink or butterflies is part of patriarchal thinking - it's not OK to emulate girls because girls are seen as inferior. So if you're a boy who likes 'girl things' you're inferior. It's rubbish.

So I will still dress my son in his sister's old clothes from time to time. Until he's old enough to choose his own clothes, and even after if he still wants to. Because I want to show him and his sister that it's OK to like whatever colour you want, flowers and butterflies are cool (hello, pollination is kind of a big deal) and there are no clothes or interests that are just for girls or boys. I've no doubt it will get hard to continue with this message as they get older - it's already hard with my 5 year old - but hopefully they'll keep the message in the back of their minds through the tricky times of childhood and adolescence and grow up to be themselves.

Linking up with Day 6 of #Blogtober17 - Flowers.


#Blogtober17



Thursday, 5 October 2017

Why I DON'T Home Educate



I think for most people, sending your child to school is a given - the alternatives aren't really considered unless it's exceptional circumstances. But for me the decision to send my daughter to a mainstream school was a conscious one, for a number of reasons.

Being an attachment/gentle/hippy parent (delete as per your perspective), most of the online parenting communities I'm part of have a number of home educating families. Sometimes when concerns were raised about school issues there would be the odd comment of, "this is why we home educate," or similar. So from quite early on I started to consider home education as an option.

The way I parent is sometimes at odds with how things are done in most schools - mainly because I try my best to avoid rewards and punishments - so I was worried that this would cause problems. And with Eleanor being, ahem, on the spirited side, I did (and still do) worry about how she'd get on at school. I also think there is a lot of pressure on kids these days which has nothing to do with the teachers (who I truly believe are wonderful human beings who should be treasured far more than they are) and everything to do with the constant top-down shifting of goalposts. I'm looking at you, Gove, Greening et al.

But ultimately I decided that home education wasn't for us. Why?

Lack of car

I heard lots about home ed groups, special events at museums and so on, but my first thought would always be, "how would I get there?" Without access to a car on weekdays, I'd have to battle with public transport. Which would not only be stressful and time-consuming, but also an extra expense. Which leads me to ...

Cost

I know a lot of educational activities can be done free or very cheaply, but I can imagine that the costs would gradually mount up. It sounds really stingy, but the cost of home educating was a factor in my decision.

Eleanor's need to socialise

Early on, Eleanor showed she loved being around other children. She was always restless at home. While being with 29 other children every week day does causes a few problems sometimes as she's still developing socially, I knew that she would miss regular interaction with children if we home educated. Especially as it would be hard to get to home ed groups (see above).

The arrival of Ezra

I planned a bigger age gap in part so that I would have time alone with my second child just as I had with my first. (And in the vain hope that I'd get a few full nights' sleep in between. I didn't.) And to be honest, I'm a bit rubbish at keeping two kids entertained without significant recourse to screens. I'm in awe of parents who are able to look after younger children whilst also giving their older ones a quality education. You are amazing. I'm 99% sure I couldn't do it.

Me!

Ultimately one of the biggest reasons for not home educating was that I knew I didn't have the right temperament. I'm not a patient person and have been blessed with a very strong-minded, bright but exhausting daughter. By the time she was around two and a half I already felt like I couldn't cope much longer with looking after her full-time and was counting down the months until she could start preschool. Plus, I know that eventually I'm going to want a job outside of the home. I'm getting a little antsy about that already but I don't know what I want to do as a job so will stay at home at least until Ezra is in preschool.

So all in all, school was the right choice for us. I think. I did toy with one of the 'alternative' schools like Steiner-Waldorf or Montessori but geographically (and probably financially) it was even less of an option. Luckily Eleanor is at a school she loves, with great teachers and a fab group of friends. It's not without it's hiccups - nothing ever is - but it's working out fairly well.

I hope no home educating parents feel criticised by anything I say, because I do think you are wonderful people who are doing the best by your children. I couldn't do what you do. No really, I couldn't. You deserve far better support and recognition.

Did you consider home education? What decision did you come to, and why?

Linking up with Day 5 of #Blogtober17 - Education.

#Blogtober17

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

We Don't Go On Dates. But It's Fine.

Today's Blogtober prompt is 'Date'. I've been wracking my brains about what to write - what kind of 'date' do I go for? Calendar? Fruit? Romantic? I opted for the last one which is a bit odd because ... well ... my husband and I don't really go on dates these days.



First of all, as I've said before, we're not dating. We're married. To me, dating is about getting to know someone to see if you're compatible enough to settle down together. We're very much settled. Over 11 years of settled. And that's just counting since we got married - we've been a couple for close to 14 years now.

Secondly, we don't go out very much just the two of us. Since having Eleanor I think we've been out in the evening together three times - once just to have a quick drink (the pubs were packed, we were home in about an hour), once for a friend's birthday meal and once for a meal just the two of us. That's three potential 'dates' in almost six years.

But do you know what? We're OK with it. We're happy, we know we love each other, it's all good. So why do I feel a bit embarrassed about this?

There's a lot of pressure to get back out on 'date nights' after having kids. I get it, for some people it's important. They feel it gives them a chance to relax, to have quality time together, to get away from being parents. And it's fine to feel like that. But it's also fine to not want to go through all the hassle of finding a babysitter, getting your kids primed to accept a babysitter and so on.

For us, going out together right now would be a logistical nightmare. Ezra goes to bed between 6.30 and 7pm, then we have to try and keep Eleanor quiet until she goes up at around 7.30pm. She reads until 8pm then it's lights out. Sometimes she falls asleep quickly. Usually there's another 30-60 minutes of, "mummyyyy, daddyyy," followed by suddenly important questions and things she urgently needs to tell us that she had forgotten about up until now. Then, when she's finally asleep, Ezra will often wake up at around 9.30pm wanting milk. How exactly would we fit a 'date' in there? And if we could, how would we have the energy to move off the sofa?!

Some people will say this is a problem of our own making. Because we don't sleep train, because Ezra is 'still' breastfeeding. But actually, it's not a problem to us. We've accepted that for this relatively short period in our marriage, we have small children who need us in the evening. In two or three years time, chances are things will have changed and we'll be happier leaving them with a babysitter. That hope is enough for now.

I'd love to say we have 'dates' at home - candlelit dinners, movie night etc - but we eat with the kids and I don't think we could stay awake through a movie at the moment! But for me, romantic nights (whether out or at home) aren't they way I feel loved. It's little things like my husband buying cake on a midweek trip to the shops, or making me a cup of tea every morning, or showing appreciation for something I've done. That's what's more important to me.

Anyone else out there who will admit to not going on 'dates' and being fine with that?!

#Blogtober17

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The First World Problem Of Not Having a Second Car

OK, before I get started, I want to point that I do know this isn't unusual. I know lots of families only have one car. I know some don't have a car at all and get along OK. But most of the mums I know have access to a car regularly, whether that's a car of their own or a shared car which their other half doesn't need for the commute. I don't.

And most of the time this is fine. I don't actually like driving (granted, that's because I do it so rarely that it's a Scary Thing when I do) and I don't mind walking. Most of the time. Eleanor has been pretty good on her pins since she was three, and Ezra just goes in the carrier which, even at nearly 19 months, is still not too much strain as long as it's less than an hour's carrying.

But there are times I think a second car would be handy. Such as ...

Whenever it rains


I live in Yorkshire. It's rainy here. I can cope with a bit of drizzle but when it's pouring it down it's  horrible. Before Eleanor started school we would just hide on rainy days, but now we have to get out of the house five days a week, come rain or shine. And rainy school runs always take longer, not only in terms of preparation (wellies, raincoats etc) but also because Eleanor walks like a snail when carrying an umbrella. And she hates getting wet so often cries all the way which slows things down further. So all in all, rainy school runs are rubbish. And don't get me started on ice and snow.

When there's a fun thing 'far away'

I generally stick to places within walking distance. When Eleanor was little we had a bit more freedom to hop on a bus or train because we didn't have to be back at a certain time. Now going anywhere in the afternoon is risky because I might not get back in time to pick her up from school. And mornings are tight because of Ezra's nap. Even if we were to go somewhere on public transport it probably wouldn't be far. Having to change trains or buses with a small person in tow is a battle, and what if we miss the connection?

That's not considering the places which are hard to reach on public transport. Or the places that are just too far for me to walk but not worth the cost of a bus. And I haven't mentioned the extra expense that getting public transport adds to the activity. All in all, if it's not in my town, I'm not going.

When someone's ill

Despite registering with a GP surgery in my town, most of the appointments and all of the emergency walk-ins are in the partner surgery in the next town. When I'm ill, or my child is, I really don't fancy having to get a bus. I especially don't fancy getting a bus to get there before 8am so I have even a faint hope of being seen in less than an hour. And that's not usually possible anyway because, y'know, SCHOOL RUN.


Apart from those times (and probably others I'm not thinking of right now) it's not really a problem. I'm lucky that there's a fair bit to do with a toddler in our town. It's only ever rained heavily a few times on the school run (so far). And we don't get ill often. So it wouldn't be worth getting a second car really, especially if we then had to get spare car seats. But still. Next time it's raining at 8.30am I'll forget that completely!


#Blogtober17


Monday, 2 October 2017

When Is A Baby Not A Baby?

Ezra is decidedly not a baby anymore. He can walk. He can talk (a bit). He's well on his way to figuring out the TV remote. Objectively speaking, he is very much a toddler. I wrote a whole blog post about this, months ago.

So why do I still call him 'baby' all the time?


As he gets older and acquires new skills, I keep mentally shifting the goalposts of when a baby stops being a baby. So here are my ways of deciding whether your baby is, in fact, a toddler.


1. They've taken their first steps

Ah yes, such a milestone. Except it doesn't feel like it, does it? The first steps are often a bit stumbly, and could easily be baby just stopping themselves falling over. No, that doesn't work as a definition of toddler. How about ...

2. They can do 10 steps in a row

This is more like it. Anything less than that is basically falling forwards with style. Yep, 10 steps is the mark of the toddler. But wait, how do you decide that they really can do 10 steps? What if they're actually doing two sets of 5? Too vague.

3. They can walk across a room

OK, this is really starting to look not-babyish now. But still, define a room. Some rooms are pretty small, what size room counts? I'm beginning to think using walking to define a toddler is just too problematic. (Yes I know that's the literal definition of 'toddler', ssshhhh, stay with me.)

So maybe it's talking instead?

4. They say their first word

No, no, that won't work. Because, really, how can you tell if their 'mama' actually means 'mummy' or whether it's just a noise? Really most first words are us deciding they sound like a word. We need something more concrete.

5. They can talk in sentences

This is my current definition, because Ezra's speech is developing so slowly that it buys me at least another six months of babyhood, I reckon. But what shall I say is the definition of a toddler when he does start talking in sentences?

6. They tell you they're not a baby

This really is the final straw. When your kid is old enough to say, "I'm not a baby, I'm a toddler," you really have to let go. Or at least stop calling them 'baby' in earshot.

This is my #Blogtober17 post for Day 2 - Babies.

#Blogtober17


Sunday, 1 October 2017

Who Am I? (Apart from Mum.)

This month I'm taking part in #Blogtober17 organised by HexMum. It's a month of blogging (or linking up old posts) with daily prompts. I may not post daily, but I thought it'd be a good chance to get back into the routine of blogging as I've struggled since the summer holidays!

The first prompt is 'All About You'. I've been mulling over what to write about myself and it's hard to know what's important, or even interesting!

Me, being crowded out by my kids. It's like a metaphor.

To most people, I'm a mum. 'Just' a mum even. I don't go out to work so a lot of my identity is tied up in being a mum. I've written before about how awkward I feel about being a stay at home mum and to be honest, three years later I still feel that way. Even though I love being able to look after Ezra full-time and be there for Eleanor before and after school every day, I do miss having something else to say about myself.

So what else can I say?

I'm a Christian. Not a very good one, admittedly, but I go to church and try to live a Christian life - which to me means trying to do good, help others and generally spread love. I don't always get it right, but I try.

I'm a volunteer. I help out at a music group for under 5s once a week, which is tiring but great fun and I quite enjoy being able to use my more 'stagey' side for short bursts. I've also started helping out at a breastfeeding peer support group and hope to train as a peer supporter myself. And when we remember, Eleanor and I do litter picking on our way home from school.

I'm a theatre graduate. This often surprises people as I'm quite quiet and unassuming in real life, but I used to love treading the boards and having that release of being someone else for a bit. I miss it but life with small children is hard enough without having to fit around a rehearsal schedule. Hopefully I'll get back on the stage one day. I used to sing quite a bit too but I'm out of practice now (which unfortunately shows in my tuning!).

I love to craft. Again, I'm not much good at it, but it's fun to have a go. I'm currently finishing a crochet project and then need to knit a dress for Eleanor's teddy bear - not entirely sure how I ended up agreeing to that. Knitting and crochet are my main go-to crafts but I'll try most things. Except sewing. I'm rubbish at sewing.

I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Before kids I worked in admin but I know I don't want to go back to that. I'd love to work with kids and/or families, but in what capacity, I don't know yet. I also love to write so maybe that's an option. I've got a few more years to figure it out though, so hopefully my calling will become clear!!

Hopefully you know me a bit better now as a person rather than a mum!

#Blogtober17