Saturday, 31 December 2016

Five Years Of Motherhood

One day old

This week my lovely daughter turned 5, which of course means I have now been a mother for 5 years.

I find it strange that, on children's birthdays, all the focus is on them, and there is no celebration of the parents who are having their own little anniversary of their lives changing forever. Let's face it, we should be able to mark our surviving of another year of parenthood!

One year old
But anyway. What have the past five years taught me?

Well, they've taught me a lot about my daughter. In some ways, she astounds me. She's such a bright spark, teaching herself to read when she was 3 and continuing to learn and work things out that I couldn't expect of a child her age.

Two years old
In other ways she exhausts me. She is energetic, loud, intensely curious, demanding and highly strung. I keep telling myself she'll grow out of it but it hasn't happened so far. In fact, I often think dealing with a 4 year old was the hardest stage yet - but then maybe I'm mis-remembering the previous years!

But she also melts my heart. She has the capacity to be so kind and loving. She's an incredible big sister, even if she still struggles to see that sometimes baby brother needs more attention than she does. She's funny, and zany, and confident. I'm so proud of her.

Three years old

Being a mother for 5 years has also taught me a lot about myself. I've always been an impatient person but I assumed motherhood would teach me patience. No. I still battle with my temper on a daily basis, and lose that battle more than I'd like to. But I've learnt that I can try, more than I ever thought I could. I can empathise far more than I used to, really putting myself in my daughter's shoes to try and understand her perspective.

Four years old
Motherhood has expanded my horizons in some ways. Trying to understand all the phases of childhood has got me interested in psychology and the workings of the brain in a way I never was before. And Girl Child's natural curiosity about science has pushed me to learn about an area I'd always dismissed as 'not for me'.

All in all, the last five years have changed me more than I imagined possible. As my daughter has grown and developed, so have I. It's not been easy for either of us. But it's been worth it.

Five years old

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Christmas Gift Ideas for Babies

Wilfred was bemused by his latest hat but excited about chewing the pom-pom off later
DISCLAIMER: There are probably numerous blog posts out there with normal, sensible suggestions of actual baby gifts. This isn't one of them. Or maybe it is, I don't know. Just don't expect a serious product guide, OK? Oh and always supervise your baby, but you know that, right?

It's getting to that time of year when people start to ask what they can get Baby for Christmas. I struggle to find an answer because (a) he's a baby so won't have a clue what's going on anyway, and (b) we still have all of Girl Child's old toys so he doesn't really need any more.

So while I've been racking my brains for suggestions, I started to think about what Baby would really like for Christmas. Here are a few ideas which I'm sure many babies would also appreciate:

1. Shoes

No, not for wearing. Don't be ridiculous. For playing with and licking, of course. Bonus points for fun dangly laces or lovely noisy velcro. Mud and general street dirt optional but, let's face it, that'll make them far more appealing, right?

2. A hairbrush

Again, not for it's actual purpose. As Baby's hair is roughly a centimetre long, that seems excessive. But bristles are apparently very satisfying to run over the tongue, and the handles double up as teethers. Brushes are apparently best enjoyed with a generous amount of hair already entangled in the bristles. Yuck.

3. A box of tissues

Now this is a less universal one, I concede. Some babies would prefer a packet of wipes. It's all down to personal preference. My boy, though, loves a box of tissues. So satisfying to pull them all out! So tasty to chew! So funny when Mummy accidentally steps on the soggy lump he spits out! What's not to love?

4. Stuff on shelves

Again, this is one where you have to take into account personal preference. Girl Child, for instance, loved books on shelves, whereas Baby has a clear preference for cloth nappies and all their accessories. Both are excellent options for pulling down and creating a huge mess, but the nappies have the advantage of creating a soft bed to cushion their fall when they lose hold of the shelf.

5. Laundry baskets

These are great for babies who are starting to pull themselves up. I say great, they're highly unstable and probably dangerous but that doesn't stop my baby. Where's the fun in pulling yourself up on something that won't threaten to overturn? Plus if you get a curved one they're great to roll around. Of course, getting one full of neatly folded clothes and tipping it over is THE MOST fun!

Hmm, not sure I'll be suggesting these to the relatives! What weird and wonderful things would your baby want for Christmas?

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Gentleness in a Harsh World

Baby turned 8 months on Friday, and there have already been two occasions when I have looked at his sleeping face and whispered, "What kind of world have I brought you into?"

The first was the evening of the day Jo Cox was murdered. When the politics of hate which we had all seen simmering in the UK claimed the life of a politician who, had she lived, I strongly believe would have been an incredible force for good in our government.

The second time was this morning.

I have been mostly awake since before 2am but held off from looking at my phone until around 4.45am. Trump had just taken Florida. While nothing was confirmed, it was pretty obvious he'd won.

Now the politics of hate is moving into the White House.

Buzzing around my head is a quote which often gets shared around gentle parenting circles:

"It's not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It's our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless." - L.R. Knost

It's a great quote and, while in theory that's what I'm trying to do, in practice I wonder how much good it will do. In a world where good people who have dedicated their lives to charitable work and public service are shot in the street. In a world where arguably the most powerful country elects a racist, ableist misogynist with two court cases pending as President. 

What difference can my two children make? And how do I keep that spark of goodness and love alive in them as they are surrounded with hate? How can my efforts as a mother even begin to make a dent in the cruel and heartless world around me?

I know all I can do is continue to raise my children with all the love and gentleness I have. I only hope that when they're old enough to make a difference there will be enough people raised the same way to help them make this world a kinder place.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Remembrance Day, Refugees and Other Awkward Subjects

Girl Child bought a poppy at school yesterday.

She'd been told on Monday that Year 6 children would be coming round that week selling poppies and was desperate to buy one, and crestfallen when her class missed out on Tuesday. So yesterday she was pleased as punch to be wearing one when I picked her up.

I don't really know how much she understands, or how much her desire for a poppy was driven by that understanding rather than just wanting to have a Thing. But it's a subject that has cropped up a lot recently.

Our route to school takes us past a big stone cross, which up until a couple of weeks ago still had poppy wreaths laid on it from the Somme centenary. So that introduced the subject of why we use poppies as a symbol of remembrance, and what it is we're remembering.

We also walk past the Anglican church, and sometimes cut through the churchyard to avoid the noise of the rush hour traffic. There is a stone porch at the entrance to the churchyard, with the names of local fallen soldiers engraved inside. As Girl Child is a compulsive reader she started reading the names and asked who they were. This was a bit harder than abstract talk about poppies in battlefields - now it wasn't just 'lots of people' who died, those people had names.

I cannot begin to fathom how to explain to my daughter why, for centuries, leaders have thought the best way to solve differences is with killing. How do you tell your 4 year old, who you tell again and again to be kind and gentle, who you tell that hurting others is bad even if it's an accident, that this is how the world works?

It was hard enough talking about wars that happened a long time ago, But she has long been aware of the refugee crisis. She's heard talk of it, and last weekend our church collected items to send to the local refugee centre. She knows that these are people who have had to leave their country because there is a war. I wonder whether she has joined the dots yet between the names of the dead engraved on a wall and the fact that war is still happening.

Because I so desperately want to tell her that this proliferation of poppies is not in vain. That we remember so we learn the lesson, that war is bad, that killing is not the best way to solve problems. But it hasn't worked. There are still wars happening. Not only that, but our country has just decided that cooperation with our neighbours is not what we want, and we are cutting ourselves adrift from a Union that has maintained peace for decades.

She's at school right now, her poppy on her tie, learning to get along with her classmates, to show kindness, to work together. And yet all around us is fighting and intolerance and hard-heartedness. What changes in us as we grow?

When I first told her about all the people without homes because they've had to run away from war, she said they could all come and live with us. When do we lose that sense of compassion and hospitality? Why are there still children (and yes, they are children, no matter how old they look) stuck in Calais with nowhere to go?

And if I don't understand the answers to all these questions, how on earth do I explain them to a 4 year old?

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The REAL reasons why I breastfeed

Apparently it's World Breastfeeding Week this week. I'm usually a bit rubbish at writing posts that are vaguely topical (on account of being a bit rubbish at blogging regularly generally) but now I'm onto my second breastfeeding journey I thought I should mark the occasion.

I love breastfeeding. Getting started first time round was the hardest and most stressful thing I've ever done, but also the most rewarding. I love knowing that I'm giving my baby all the right nutrients, antibodies and other wonderful stuff for his development, and I love the bond breastfeeding gives me with my children.

But there are some less altruistic reasons why I breastfeed. Here's a few:

1. I'm lazy

I hate washing up. When we chose our house the real clincher was the fact that this one has a dishwasher. So the thought of washing bottles every day fills me with dread. Plus I couldn't be bothered getting up to make up bottles in the middle of the night. Nah, that's all too much effort for me.

2. I'm disorganised

Tied to the above is the fact that I actually don't think I'd ever be organised enough to have enough bottles clean for any given day, I'd probably run out of formula pretty regularly and I'd almost certainly forget to bring some essential piece of kit when out and about. Breastfeeding: great for flaky mums.

3. I'm a cheapskate

I've seen formula in the supermarket. Blimey, that stuff is expensive. Plus I'm the girl who used to attempt to make anything I needed before resorting to the shops. At least my milk is actually fit for purpose, unlike the awful handbag I made out of a pair of cords.

4. I'm a bit soft

I love cuddles. I love babies. And I really love cuddling babies. Breastfeeding gives me the perfect excuse to cuddle my baby at regular intervals. Heck, sometimes I pretend he needs feeding just to get another cuddle in. (If my husband reads this: I don't really. Honest.)

5. I like cake

And chocolate. And biscuits. Luckily breastfeeding burns loads of extra calories so I can claim that the mountain of sugary produce I currently consume is essential. And flapjack is made of oats which is good for milk production, so really I should just live on that, right?

What are your selfish reasons for breastfeeding?

Monday, 18 July 2016

They Don't Warn You About 4

They warn you about babies. The sleepless nights, the feeding problems, the developmental leaps and teething troubles.

They warn you about toddlers. The terrible twos (they may neglect to mention that these actually start at about 15 months), the tantrums, the wobbles and falls, Teething Troubles 2: The Nightmare Continues. The fresh hell of potty training.

They warn you about 3. The emergence of the threenager, the relentless questions, the meltdowns, the power struggles. The continued hell of potty training.

They don't warn you about 4.

And actually, they really should.

4 is a sneaky little age. It seems so grown up. 4 year olds are articulate, curious, physically capable. Heck, they're on the cusp of starting school. That all seems pretty mature, right? So this should be a doddle, right?


What you actually have with a 4 year old is a child who can talk far better than they can listen. Who is curious but doesn't know how to reign in their curiosity within acceptable boundaries. Who is physically capable - of pushing away your efforts to hold them, of out-running you, of climbing anywhere thus making it impossible to put anything out of reach.

You have a child who has the outward appearance of being quite big, but the brain of someone still quite little. Their logical brains are still not fully formed but, because they look and sound like rational human beings, we treat them like that - then get frustrated when they act irrationally.

You have a child who, because they can express themselves so well, get cross when their ever-so-articulate expression of what they want is met with refusal, no matter how gently that refusal is phrased. Who is developing their sense of self, meaning they will disagree with you just for the fun of it, or ignore requests and rules, because they want to see what they can get away with. You have a child who can veer from loving and thoughtful to rude and inconsiderate - sometimes in the space of 10 minutes.

You have a child who is probably in some sort of educational setting - 'the big room' at nursery, preschool or even school - where they have to behave in a way they're not really capable of doing consistently yet. They have to sit still, listen, not shout out, not grab that interesting toy - but not keep it for too long when it's their turn either. They're surrounded by other kids and noise and it can all get a bit overwhelming but there's nowhere to break away to. It must be exhausting.

Speaking of exhausted - they're a bit too old for a nap but a bit too young to get all the way through the day, so by bedtime they're getting silly and easily distracted. And it just happens to coincide with the time of day when you're looking longingly at the clock hoping for some peace and quiet and adult conversation once they're asleep, so their dithering and silliness is met with frustration.

And we're not warned of this. This tricky limbo stage between preschooler and 'big kid'. And because we're not warned of it, we worry that it's just our kid, that we've done something wrong. But we haven't. They're fine. They're just 4.

Well if you have a child under 4 I'm warning you now. 4 is hard. But it's also funny and lovely and exciting.

And if your 4 year old can't sit still, or share, or go to bed without a fight - if they still have tantrums, or toilet accidents - if they're loud, argumentative, and pushing all the boundaries - don't worry, they're normal. They're just 4.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Gender Stereotypes - They Start in the Womb

Knowing I'm having a boy this time has been quite interesting. When I tell people, the first reaction is invariably, "ooh one of each!" I never quite know how to respond to this because I wasn't really bothered whether it's a boy or a girl. I found out because a) I don't like surprises, and b) I feel weird referring to my child as 'it'. I kind of wish I could have another baby just to show that 'one of each' wasn't my sole aim. (More on why that's not going to happen here.)

I've also heard some interesting comments about what to expect from having a boy. I've been told that boys are more confident and boisterous than girls - a 'fact' which, seeing as I already have possibly the most confident and boisterous child ever (and guess what, she's female), strikes utter terror into my heart. Don't get me wrong, I love that Preschooler is brave, tough, extroverted and almost fearless - but it's exhausting to parent and I don't think I could handle a child that's more so!!

I find it fascinating and, if I'm honest, frustrating how babies are attributed certain qualities before they've even exited their mother's body, purely on the basis of their gender. I had a Twitter conversation about this a few months back where someone said that reporting of foetal movements changes once mothers know the gender. But interestingly this can go either way - a lively male foetus will be described as 'rough' or 'boisterous', but a quieter one will be 'lazy'. When pregnant with Preschooler she was VERY lively, painfully so, and when I mentioned this to someone they said she must be a can-can dancer rather than a footballer. Eh?

Much as I love our modern ability to find out the gender before birth, it does seem to have created a culture where we are ready with the gender labels before we're even halfway through pregnancy. There's talk about 'pink bumps' and 'blue bumps', and expectant parents create gender reveal videos themed in pink and blue. My daughter's favourite colour is blue. So's mine. Weird, considering we're both female.

So please, next time someone tells you what they're having, don't rush in with stereotypes. The kid isn't even born yet, give it chance to have its own personality. The only definite difference between boy and girl babies is their relative ability to pee in your face. Fact.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Accidental Literacy Teacher

It's not what you expect, your 3 year old suddenly starting to read.

But it's what happened to us last year. At first it was the odd word on signs - mainly the word 'no'. She started tracing the letters on street signs and taking interest in text around us.

Then one of her preschool teachers mentioned she was pointing to words and reading them in books. At the time I didn't realise that was unusual, but the teacher's reaction told me that it was a bit out of the ordinary.

One day I went into a charity shop, I went browsing around and found some Level 1 and 2 Biff, Chip and Kipper Books. (Actually under the new grading they were Level 2 and 3 but I didn't know that.) I got them, thinking they'd come in handy when she was closer to 4. She found them and read the lot. She wasn't even 3 and a half at this stage.

We set about finding more Biff, Chip and Kipper books and managed to get a box set of the new levels 4 to 6. We thought that would keep us going until she was at least 5 or 6. By the end of the summer holidays she'd finished the lot. She was still only 3 years 8 months.

From there she just started reading everything. She would happily read her picture books to herself, and would often correct me if I went wrong when I read them to her. She would read text on boxes, packets, the blurb on the back of books, signs in shops. When we went out to eat she could pick her own food from the menu. All the while I was reeling in shock at this bizarre child who was still only semi-toilet trained yet seemed to be able to read almost anything.

She moved to a school nursery in January and they tested her reading. She now has a reading age of 8.9.

She was 4 in December. She has a reading age of more than twice her actual age.


By now you're probably thinking I'm boasting. But I'm not. Because boasting would imply I've had any sort of control over the process, and I truly, honestly haven't. She's done it all herself. Yes, I've read to her since an early age, but she was the one demanding stories as soon as she was able to grab her own book and bring it over to me. To be honest, there have been times when, having read about 20 books (or occasionally one book 20 times), I wished she wasn't so bothered! But apart from reading with her I've done nothing special. No Baby Einstein, no reading programmes, no second language, nada. 

So here I am, suddenly 'teaching' a literate child when I never expected to do that. I figured that she would learn when she started school, that the teachers would take care of most of it and I'd just have to read whatever came home in her book bag. Now I have a preschooler who already has a book bag - and is complaining the stories they give her are too easy!!

It has its annoying downsides. For instance, she has a thing for Pom Bears. (Show me a preschooler who doesn't.) We'd told her that they were to have with lunch only, but then she read that it says 'Potato Snacks' on the bag so wants then as a snack. Yeah, thanks for that. There was also the time she freaked out when I had a satsuma because the packaging said 'Just for Kids'. And she often reads the bizarre self-aggrandising slogans on packaging and asks why it says that, to which I reply, "It's marketing."

It's also a challenge finding suitable reading material for her. She is very sensitive to anything scary, and it's hard finding books intended for 7 or 8 year olds with a subject matter that's appropriate for a 4 year old. 

But at the moment it's not too bad. She's mostly happy to just read her old picturebooks with the occasional chapter book from the library thrown in. At home she's still quite happy to be read to, and that's fine. I don't want to push her. No, really! As someone who passionately believes in the importance of children just playing and delaying formal education, the fact my daughter took it upon herself to learn to read while still a preschooler is actually quite irritating!

So for now, I'm trying to play it cool. At one point I was worried that, having learnt to read by sight, she'd struggle with phonics and was desperately scrabbling round for phonics resources to help her 'catch up' and then I realised how utterly ridiculous that was! She will learn in her own time, as she has with sight reading.

Just turns out her own time was rather earlier than we were expecting!

Did you have a very early reader? How did you find it? What surprises are in store for us?!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Sticking at Two (but wanting more)

I’ve had a Rolling Stones song stuck in my head for the past few weeks. Now obviously that is an awesome state of affairs. But the reason it’s in my head is perhaps not so awesome.

This could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time, I don’t know.

I’ve always been drawn to big families. I’m the youngest of three, my Mum is the youngest of five, and I have an impressive array of cousins and second cousins. I love it. I love it to the point where, when I was dating my now-husband, I told him I wanted five kids.

Ever the pragmatist, he managed to talk me down to four. Then to three.

And I was still quite keen on the idea of three until I got pregnant with number two. But this pregnancy has made me realise I can’t do it again.

I know that many women would be aghast at me for saying this but my body is not really made for pregnancy. I have low blood pressure, meaning a first trimester plagued by dizzy spells and fainting. I have always been easily fatigued, meaning I currently struggle to get through a day without a nap. And, probably most importantly, I have a pelvis that just doesn’t behave itself.

In my first pregnancy, I developed Pelvic Girdle Pain (also known as SPD) at around 30 weeks. That was bad enough as by the end I was pretty much housebound. This time I started getting symptoms at 6 weeks. That means I’ve now been in near-constant pain for 6 months. And I’ve around 2 months to go.

Not only is this pretty miserable for me, I feel awful about the effect it’s having on Preschooler. My energetic girl who loves to run, climb and roughhouse is being seriously limited by the fact that Mummy can’t run or even walk fast, can’t bend down, can’t sit on the floor, can’t even have her sitting on her knee some days. Mummy’s too tired in the afternoon to go for a walk or do crafts. Mummy’s grumpy because of the pain and sleep deprivation, so gets irritated by repeated requests to play babies, or school, or Christmas. I feel like I’m letting her down. And I know that I’m doing this to give her the sibling she’s longed for, but I can’t help feeling like it’s not fair on her that she should be so limited because of my rubbish body. If I’m struggling to look after one child whilst pregnant, how much harder would it be with two?

There’s also the fact that I’ve now been a stay-at-home mum for four years. Yes, I work from home, but I don’t feel I can really take off with that until I’m done spending most of my waking hours looking after my children. I want to be able to stay at home with the next child as I have with Preschooler, but I’m not sure I can manage more than five years of trying to fit the other bits of me around that. I feel like my professional life is on hold.

So it looks like we’re sticking at two. This could be the last time I’m pregnant. Part of me feels relieved at that – no more pregnancy sickness, horrendous dizziness, mobility problems etc – but mostly I feel angry at my body for letting me down. And scared that I will forever feel like our family is not quite complete. Of course I love my two children, and I know they will always fill my heart, but I never thought I’d end up with a small family. I feel unbelievably blessed with the family I have, but I’m worried that I’ll always miss the child I didn’t have.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

5 Things I've Learnt About Being Pregnant at Christmas

I know, it's 3rd January now and the Christmas season is nearly over, so I'm a bit behind on this post, but hey, I've been busy! Christmas is swiftly followed by Preschooler's birthday, and the exhaustion of having all that to deal with made a blogging break necessary. But it's not Twelfth Night yet, so there's still time to squeeze in a festive post!

Technically speaking, this isn't the first time I've been pregnant at Christmas, but as last time I was actually contracting throughout Christmas Day (and Boxing Day ... and most of the day after) it didn't really feel like Christmas. So this Christmas really opened my eyes to how different it all feels when you're carting a tiny human around inside you. Here are five things I've noticed:

1. Chocolate is everywhere.

This wasn't such a problem first time round, as then I craved chocolate. (Although Preschooler did turn out to be almost 10lb, so maybe it was a problem!!) This time, however, I have produced a child who hates chocolate. I long for it, but at the same time the very thought of putting chocolate in my mouth makes me queasy.

The trouble is, there's a lot of chocolate hanging around at Christmastime. Especially if you don't manage to spread news of your chocolate aversion to everyone and so end up getting boxes of the brown stuff as presents. Sigh. Time to hide away that Chocolate Orange so it doesn't taunt me from now until March.

2. Alcohol is harder to avoid than you'd think.

I don't drink. I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm completely teetotal, but I can't remember the last time I had an alcoholic drink. So I thought that aspect of a pregnant Christmas wouldn't be an issue. Until of course I got a whiff of the Christmas pudding my mum had bought. Blimey. That stuff was 20% proof, I swear. Which meant I had to pass on seconds, which I NEVER do. Sob. Mind you, that may have been a blessing in disguise because ...

3. My stomach is much smaller right now.

As far as I'm concerned, if you don't have seconds of every course of Christmas dinner, you're doing it wrong. Same goes for the Boxing Day buffet. In fact, most Christmasses I've quite happily had thirds. But with a foetus restricting my stomach capacity, that second plateful of food quickly looked rather foolish. No wonder the poor kid was wriggling so much, can't be easy to get comfy with 2lb of sprouts and roast potatoes squashing your toes.

4. I'm lucky my husband has school holidays off.

Fatigue has been a huge problem for me this pregnancy, and doesn't mix well with looking after a preschooler. It really doesn't mix well with looking after a preschooler who is high as a kite with festive excitement and only actually went to preschool for one day in the last fortnight of term due to a string of stomach bugs and a school closure. Being able to have an afternoon nap most days has been the only thing that got me through the Christmas holidays, so thank goodness my husband is a teacher!!

5. It's all very exciting.

There have been times in this Christmas season when I've felt like me being pregnant has hindered Preschooler's opportunities to enjoy it all. Having SPD meant that I couldn't take her to lots of fun festive events, and when I did I'd be laid up the next day. When I've felt guilty about this, I've reminded myself that next year there'll be someone else celebrating Christmas with us, a lovely 9 month old (ish) baby, and we'll be able to do lots of fun stuff as a family of four. Celebrating the birth of a baby is bound to make pregnant mums reflect on the new life they'll be welcoming into the world shortly, and all the gestational grumps have been balanced out by the excitement of thinking about the new baby we'll be saying hello to in around two months!

I'm linking up this post to #BlogBumpClub over on the Budding Smiles website. If you find me through this, hello! How was your Christmas?