Thursday, 21 December 2017

Do We Need To 'Make' Christmas Magical?

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

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

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 18 December 2017

Bear-y Christmas! Four Festive Picture Books Featuring Bears

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

'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown

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

'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington

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

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

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

'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Maggie Kneen

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

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

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

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Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Review: 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher

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

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

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

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

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 4 December 2017

Review: 'Oliver Elephant' by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens

We are now a few days into our Book Advent, and on Day 2 we read a new Christmas book for this year, 'Oliver Elephant'.

I won this book in a giveaway on Toppsta (if you love children's books I really recommend this website - nope, not a sponsored post, just love it!) and read it to myself straight away but decided to keep it for Advent. That was hard though, as it's such a lovely book!

Noah is on a shopping trip with his mum, little sister, and his favourite toy, Oliver Elephant. As mum buys Christmas presents in different shops, Noah plays with Oliver, but when it's time to go home he realises Oliver is missing! Did he leave him in one of the shops?

I adored this book. Something about it reminded me of the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes - it's such a gentle, human story, so easy to relate to and simple, and told with such warmth. It's told in rhyming text too, which Girl Child really enjoyed as she read it to Toddler.

As well as being a lovely story beautifully told, the illustrations are gorgeous and so very festive. Toddler is maybe a little young for the story but he loved pointing out the details in the illustrations, and making his elephant noise every time Oliver appeared!

I really think this book has the makings of a Christmas classic. It's rare to find a book about just the everyday preparations involved in the run-up to Christmas so this is perfect to read as part of Advent. The story is familiar and warm, the text is rhythmic and fun, and the illustrations really capture the excitement of walking into a beautifully decorated mall.

Although this book was our 'Day 2 of Advent' story I'm hoping to get plenty more reads in this month, and in years to come!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 30 November 2017

Advent Acts Of Kindness

On Monday I wrote about a new 'tradition' I'm starting this year with my kids - the Book Advent. But last year I started another Advent tradition, which was Advent Acts Of Kindness.

A few years back I bought a wooden Advent calendar from a local charity shop - I think it cost around £5 but I thought it would be good to save us buying overpriced calendars every year. Plus it meant that, as Girl Child was just a toddler at the time, I could put healthier treats in it instead of giving her a daily dose of chocolate.

Last year I thought she was old enough to add another level to the preparations. I'd seen about the idea of giving children activities to do every day through Advent, and more specific ones about 'Random Acts Of Kindness', and I thought this was a great way to encourage children to see Advent as a time of preparation and participation, not just eating sweets!

You can find all kinds of printables online with pre-written prompts, but I wanted to be able to tailor the activities to our situation so I quickly designed my own little slips to print off and fill in myself. Not the prettiest solution admittedly, but it gave me a little more control over what we did.

As Girl Child was at school during the week this limited our time a little so, for the most part, the actions were small things we could either fit around school (such as litter picking on the way home or phoning relatives in the evening) or she could do at school (like talking to someone new or hugging a friend). We saved more complicated things for weekends (e.g. baking for her teachers) or the school holiday (anything requiring a visit). We also used it to encourage her to help around the house and get her Christmas cards written!

Why did we choose Advent Acts Of Kindness? For me as a Christian, Christmas is all about love. And so taking time to think of others, to do something kind for someone else, even if it's just a case of saying hello or feeding the birds, can be a great reminder of what the season is all about, and of how we can express love for others in lots of different ways.

I think incorporating a bit of kindness and selflessness into children's daily lives is an important lesson whatever the time of year, but I certainly found the structure of Advent very helpful. I can't say with all honestly it started a lasting trend of daily do-gooding - the excesses of Christmas and birthday celebrations kind of detracted from it a bit - but hopefully if we do it every year it will plant a seed that will help both my children grow into kind, selfless and compassionate people.

So tomorrow I start it all again! What Advent Acts Of Kindness will we do this year? Comment below with your suggestions, I'll try to keep you updated on our progress via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Our Book Advent

I first heard of the idea of a Book Advent about three years ago, during my brief spell as a children's bookseller. I loved the idea, but couldn't afford to get 24 Christmas themed books (I know you can use any books, but I thought that Christmassy ones would feel more special). But over the last three years I've slowly stockpiled a collection of Christmas and winter-themed books so at last I think we can try for a Book Advent!

I still had three books to get at the start of Advent which means that I couldn't do an arty pile of wrapped books (you should check out BookBairn's, it's stunning!) but then I'm not keen on wrapping anyway! I'm going to opt for a Christmassy bag hung somewhere with a book appearing in it every day.

My collection is a hotch-potch of bought, given and acquired books, and I'll note where each comes from in the list. There are a couple of days where I've doubled up books - I'm hoping that for the most part both my children will enjoy the same book, but as Toddler is not even 2 and Girl Child is nearly 6 with a very high reading age, I've paired short books for the former with more challenging books for the latter.

So here's my current plan. It may change depending on which other books I get. I'll be reviewing a few of these over Advent and will link in any reviews I do (and one I did many years ago).

1st December - 'Stick Man' by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (bought - actually pinched out of our regular bookshelf but hey, it has Santa!)

2nd December - 'Oliver Elephant' by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens (Toppsta giveaway)

3rd December - 'The First Christmas' (given at playgroup)

4th December - 'Dear Santa' by Rod Campbell (charity shop buy)/ 'The Princess and the White Bear King' by Tanya Robin Batt and Nicoletta Ceccoli (bought)

5th December - 'Snow Bear' by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown (gift)

6th December - 'Refuge' by Anne Booth and Sam Usher (bought)

7th December - 'Sam's Snowflake' by Gillian Shields and Rosie Reeve (gift)

8th December - 'A Letter For Bear' by David Lucas (bought, after years of longing)

9th December - 'The Christmas Poem' by Bob Hartman and Honor Ayres (given at playgroup)

10th December - 'Teddy Bear Postman' by Phoebe and Selby Worthington (hand-me-down from my husband!)

11th December - 'Christmas Around The World' by Lesley Sims and Angelo Ruta (bought)

12th December - 'The Fox's Tale' by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen (gift)

13th December - 'Mr Grizzly's Christmas' by Libby Hamilton and Maggie Kneen (gift)

14th December - 'Thomas's Christmas Party' (hand-me-down from my husband)

15th December - 'The Christmas Star' (given at playgroup)

16th December - 'Busy Christmas' (bought)

17th December - 'Snowflakes' by Cerrie Burnell and Laura Ellen Anderson (bought)

18th December - 'Babushka' by Sandra Ann Horn and Sophie Fatus (bought)

19th December - 'Last Stop On The Reindeer Express' by Maudie Powell and Karl James Mountford (giveaway by Along Came Poppy - received after the above photo was taken)

20th December - 'Coming Home' by Michael Morpurgo (bought)

21st December - 'The Miracle Of The First Poinsettia' by Joanne Oppenheim and Fabian Negrin (bought)

22nd December - 'Maisy's Christmas Eve' by Lucy Cousins (charity shop buy)

23rd December - 'The Wise Men' (hand-me-down from friends)/ 'Christmas With Princess Mirror-Belle' by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (bought)

24th December - 'The Night Before Christmas' by Clement C Moore and Eric Puybaret (bought)

As you can see, it really doesn't have to be expensive to put together a book advent - at present, less than half of the books were bought new and a few of those were part of a deal - you just need to be good at hoarding and keeping your eyes open for good buys!

Are you doing a Book Advent? What are your favourite Christmas books?

 Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 20 November 2017

Review: 'I Want To Go First!' by Richard Byrne

In my relentless pursuit of books I've recently started entering pretty much every competition I come across to win children's books. Recently, this effort did pay off when I won a signed copy of Richard Byrne's latest picture book, 'I Want To Go First!'

I've been reading Byrne's books for a while now, picking them up at the library every time I spot a new one, so it's great to finally have one to call my own. Er, the kids' own, I mean. I really love the way he plays with the book format - many readers will be familiar with his brilliant use of the gutter in 'This Book Just Ate My Dog!' This new title is no exception - it is gleefully meta, drawing attention to the fact it is a book and encouraging the readers to join in the story.

On the first page we are welcomed to the 'Front-Of-The-Book Nature Reserve' and we are then introduced to a family of elephants on their way to the 'Back-Of-The-Book Watering Hole'. Elphie, the smallest elephant, wants to lead the way but the rules dictate that the biggest elephant goes first. So he cleverly enlists the help of the reader to get him to the front of the line.

This is a fantastic story for reading aloud, and for encouraging interaction. With every page, Elphie asks the readers to squeak, growl, wobble the book and so on to distract his brothers and sisters so that he can jump the queue. I was a little worried how Toddler would understand the concept of the story, but I enlisted the help of my 5-year-old who enthusiastically joined in with the noises and actions and he couldn't stop laughing at it! Hopefully the more familiar he gets with the story the more he'll understand it and start joining in.

Girl Child, as usual, read the book in her head first, and when I said it was more for reading aloud, said, "but it's funny in my head too!" She loved the fact that all the names began with E - she's very big on alliteration. I don't often get to read aloud to her now she's so confident at reading to herself, so this was a fantastic chance to have a family read-together!

Does Elphie make it to the front of the line? I'll leave you to find out for yourself!

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

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Monday, 13 November 2017

Review: 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans' by Jessie Miller and Barbara Bakos

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called on schools and nurseries to allow children to dress up how they choose, regardless of gender stereotypes. I'm really happy about this, and may write more about it later in the week. But it also reminded me of a picture book I had waiting to review.

When we received a copy of 'Pirates in Classroom 3' from Maverick Books, they also sent a copy of 'Rooster Wore Skinny Jeans'. Written by Jessie Miller and illustrated by Barbara Bakos, it is the story of a fashion-conscious rooster with a penchant for online shopping. When his new pair of skinny jeans arrives early, he can't wait to show them off to the other animals on the farm.

The other animals, however, are unimpressed and make fun of poor rooster. He hides away until he decides that he doesn't need their approval, he's happy wearing his new jeans and being himself.

I really love the message of this story. It champions the individual and encourages children to dress for themselves and find happiness within rather than looking to other people's opinions for validation. It's also a good reminder not to judge others and to accept, and even applaud, other people's differences - as the other farm animals eventually do.

It's also fantastic to read a story featuring a male character who loves fashion. While skinny jeans aren't necessarily 'girly' they are framed as a clear style choice, and the way the rooster admires them is out of the ordinary for the depiction of boys and men in books. He admires the colours and sparkly stitching, and proclaims, "my bum looks fantastic!" And at the end of the book he purchases a much more flamboyant item - I won't spoil the ending for you though! It's great to have a book celebrating a male character who steps outside the box and loves all things sartorial.

In terms of readability, the text is great - it's written in rhyming couplets which always goes down well with children. I like how there are a few little jokes in there about online shopping that no doubt will go over the kids' heads but will make the adult reader smile!

The illustrations are very bright, bold and cheerful. I particularly liked the little chicks that popped up throughout the book, adding another level of detail to spot as the book becomes more familiar. The farmyard setting is always a winner with children - I've mentioned before that Toddler loves animal-themed books and this one is no exception. He really enjoyed pointing out all the different animals and making their noises - and was very excited by the 'cock-a-doodle-doo' which he loves to emulate!

I really recommend this book. It would be great for a little boy with a sense of style, to affirm that that's OK and it's good to enjoy the clothes you wear. But really it's a story for everyone - a lesson in acceptance and in daring to be different. I don't think there's anyone who wouldn't benefit from that message!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Monday, 6 November 2017

Review: 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse

Toddler is rather fascinated with pirates at the moment. I think it's down to catching bits of 'Swashbuckle' on TV - if he so much as sees a picture or hears the word 'pirate' he'll swing his arm and say 'arrr!' It's rather cute!

The lovely people at Maverick Books sent me some lovely books recently and I was excited to see a pirate-themed one, 'Pirates in Classroom 3' by Alison Donald and Ben Whitehouse. I knew straight away Toddler would love it!

It's a really fun story - a class of young children are one day visited by a pirate searching for treasure and go off on a little adventure with him to find the loot he's after. I love how, although the main child character is a boy, the story shows both boys and girls enthusiastically joining in with the adventure.

Girl Child got to the book before me so was the first to test it out. She really enjoyed it, said it was very funny and that her favourite bit was, "the bad pirate who said really funny things!" Being set in a classroom, it's a really good story for older preschoolers and younger school-age children who could imagine themselves going on an adventure from their own classroom.

When I read it with Toddler there was a lot of enthusiastic arrr-ing going on! As he's still quite small the story went over his head, but he absolutely loved the pictures - once we had read it, he kept turning the pages over to look at the little details in each spread. I particularly liked how expressive the faces were - even though the illustration style is quite simple, you could still spot a range of different expressions. So as Toddler pointed at the different children I could talk about their emotions - "that girl looks excited! That boy looks a bit scared."

We really enjoyed 'Pirates in Classroom 3' and definitely think it's one we'll read over and over - so I'd better improve my dodgy pirate voice!!

DISCLAIMER: I was given one copy of the book for the purposes of this review, but all words and opinions are my own. Well, apart from the ones that were my child's!

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

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Monday, 30 October 2017

The Four Types Of Pinterest Parent

Ahh, Pinterest. Where good intentions go to die. For me, anyway.

I first joined Pinterest just over four years ago while we were in the process of buying a new house. It's a 70's build so I'd had the great idea of decorating it in a retro style and created a board to store my ideas. Of course four-and-a-bit years on the only room we've redecorated is the bathroom, and it's definitely not-retro. That board hasn't been checked in a long time.

Nowadays I mostly use Pinterest as a way of clearing out all the links I've saved on Facebook or liked on Twitter. But I do hear whispers of other parents who use it properly. Mind-blowing.

As far as I can tell all Pinterest parents fall into at least one of four categories ...

The Perfect Pinner

Not only are their boards well-organised but they are full of relevant pins. And guess what? They've even ACTED ON those pins. They've read the articles, made the crafts, cooked the recipes. Heck, they might even have added their own pins. Wild.

The Optimistic Pinner

This parent will also have various boards, but not particularly clearly labelled ones and the pins inside have been mostly put in as 'ahh near enough'. This is the parent who sees a great idea on the internet, hurriedly pins it so as not to lose it, and then never looks at it again. (This parent is me.)

The Friday Night Pinner

Also known as the 'we've got to make WHAT for your homework?' pinner. Boards are named vague things like 'kids crafts' or 'science stuff' and contain several highly specific pins of animal crafts, rocket experiments and model planets. Updated every few weeks (or for really unfortunate parents, weekly) and always on a Friday after school. Pins are never looked at again after the project is over.

The False Start Pinner

One board containing a few very similar pins, last updated three years ago. This parent clearly realised early on that there's more to life than Pinterest. 

Which pinner are you?

Linking up with #Blogtober17 - Pinterest.


Monday, 23 October 2017

Weather and Children: Expectations vs Reality

I wish I was one of those outdoorsy mums who can somehow persuade their children out, whatever the weather, and come up with lots of wonderful wholesome activities on the way. I'm not. Despite my best efforts I'm just not that good at the great outdoors, and while Toddler loves any opportunity to get out and about on his little legs, Girl Child is becoming ever more reluctant.

I'd blame the British weather for this, but in truth, is there ever a perfect weather for getting outdoors with the kids? I've been thinking about what we expect playing outside to be like, compared to what it actually is like.

I bet this kid cried after this photo because the leaves were 'too crunchy'


Expectation: Spending all day out in the garden, kids splashing happily in the paddling pool while I sip cool drinks and enjoy the rays.

Reality: It takes half an hour to get sun cream on everyone, and another half hour to inflate and fill the paddling pool. By which time the kids are getting hot and bothered. They paddle for about five minutes before the toddler slips over and the five year old gets freaked out by a fly that's drowned in the water. You try to persuade them to play outside a bit longer but they're getting whiny, the toddler keeps trying to get into the pool headfirst, and you start to get a sun headache. You all head back inside to cool off, where inexplicably both kids just want to hug you, making you all even more hot and bothered.


Expectation: You'll pull out a range of stimulating and educational rainy day activities, then after a satisfying hour or two of crafts don the waterproofs and gleefully splash in puddles together.

Reality: There are no rainy day activities because you're never organised enough to prepare them. You try a few crafts on the hop, all of which are abandoned within seconds whilst strangely still causing the room to be covered in tiny bits of paper, glitter and glue. After coaxing the kids into their waterproofs, they whimper their way through a very brief walk outside, and everyone's wellies leak after the first puddle.


Expectation: Wrap up warm and head for the hills, it's kite flying weather!

Reality: You don't have a kite. Of course you don't, who remembers to get a kite in normal weather? You hide from the wind and chain-watch CBeebies. If you do have to venture out, the kids complain about it being cold and noisy whilst refusing to wear hats, scarves or gloves.


Expectation: Everyone dons their warmest clothes and the family join in happily with snowball fights, snow angels and building snowmen, before snuggling up together with hot chocolate and a good book.

Reality: You don your warmest clothes, the kids insist that a raincoat over their t-shirts is enough. After a few minutes of handling snow everyone's gloves are soaked through and the kids are crying because their fingers hurt. The snowman only makes it to a foot tall and falls apart before you can even get a photo. Hot chocolate is spilt, causing more tears. Within five minutes the kids have forgotten their frostbite and want to go out again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Anyone else recognise these scenarios?!

Linking up with Day 23 of #Blogtober17 - Weather.


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 Girl Child 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.

Girl Child 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 Toddler) 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.


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, Girl Child 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.


Monday, 16 October 2017

Fighting Fears And Building Bravery

So, funny story. A couple of years ago, a lovely relative bought Girl Child some clothes from Joules. She gave us them in the bag which was so nice I let Girl Child 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 Girl Child. 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 Girl Child'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, Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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 Girl Child 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.


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. Girl Child 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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