Tag Archives: toddlers

All change please!

29 Aug

Life changes

A few months back I made a momentous decision. I decided to leave the company where I had worked for 12 years (ie since I was young) and set sail on the choppy seas of being a freelance. This is my first week of living that decision. Whilst my head is spinning and I’m rattling between excitement and fear, sometimes you just have to grab life with two hands and have a bit of a tussle.

Since the brood arrived, I’ve always worked: full-time after my first then part-time after my second. I never really considered not working (aside from if I won the lottery obviously). I know that I don’t have the patience or organisational skills to be a stay-at-home-parent – and lashings of credit to those that do. It wasn’t until after my second child was born that I started to have pangs about missing out on spending more time with my rapidly growing kids. When we started to look at primary schools last year it suddenly struck me that the school years were really, truly, frighteningly close. No longer was I simply looking backwards at what I achingly thought I had already missed but I was suddenly conscious of what I might miss in the future.

Although I know most people manage it, the thought of having to organise pre- and after-school care for my eldest filled me with horror. I realised how important it is to me to be able to drop my daughter off (and pick her up of course – really, what kind of parent do you think I am?!) and to be there to help with reading and homework. Perhaps I am too idealistic. In reality I may end up cursing the school run, scuttling away from the gates because I can’t fit into skinny jeans or because another mother has looked at me in a funny way. Visions of sitting at the kitchen table doing sums together may turn out to be running battles over the TV remote and whether it’s okay to substitute a packet of Haribos in place of tea. Do you know what though? If I don’t try then I will never find out. Life is too short.

Continuing my current career as a freelance allows the flexibility I need as my daughter skips off into the education machine without a backward glance at me. Her brother will follow her in two years’ time but until then I am looking forward to spending more one-to-one time with him – something he hasn’t had over the last two years. He will continue to go to nursery three days a week to give me some ‘work time’. I believe strongly that nursery is a great social environment for children and that my two have benefited enormously from it. Yet I still struggle with the guilt that I should be doing that job, especially now I have opted to work from home, and wonder whether advocating nursery simply serves to make myself feel better. When I drop my son off at nursery and return home to my desk I know I will feel an overwhelming urge to go back and get him and wrap him in my arms (gorgeous little chunk that he is). It seems that parental guilt is never ending even when you’re aiming to do the best for everyone.

Now I just have to persuade my husband that it isn’t acceptable to guffaw when I say I’ve been working. But that’s another post and another strain of guilt entirely …

Remember, remember the … errrrrr …. did I switch the gas off?

28 May

Toddler me

As a mum I spend rather too much time lamenting how quickly time passes. Memories ought to document these fleeting years, but, whilst I remember events, I struggle to conjure up memories that make me feel the recent past. It seems as if my memories of my children have been lost in the blur that has been the 4 years since they entered this world.

I had begun to believe that I had a case of advanced and irreversible baby brain. It was therefore a surprise when I started to experience moments of clarity from my own childhood. That feels odd when you can barely remember what you had for breakfast. Little things that I see, little things that my kids do more and more frequently trigger a portal into my formative years.

As we sit as a family on the sofa I am transported back to always being the one to get the middle seat (on what in those days was called a ‘settee’) between my older brother and sister. Tiny fingers on brown velour in the early days (the 70s) then bigger fingers on floral patterns as my parents transitioned from the 80s to the early 90s. To my left, my brother, capable of emitting endless noxious gases (he still is) and smelling of muddy football pitches. To my right my big sister, a grown-up in my eyes yet still demanding that I scratch her arms whilst she watches Top of the Pops.

At the gym on a Saturday morning I look down over the swimming lessons. I remember such lessons well, but what I picture above all is swimming in old pyjamas (I can even remember which ones). I had expected times to have moved on but apparently swimming in pyjamas wasn’t peculiar to the 1980s. It is clearly on the list of things a British schoolchild must endure along with country dancing and learning the recorder. I found swimming lessons traumatic enough but wrap me in waterlogged material and you’ve a recipe for vivid recollection. The smell of chlorine, rubber swimming hats and verruca socks wafts back under my nose. The roof of the poorly lit public bath looms above my head while I wait my turn to try to pick an unfeasibly large black brick up off the pool floor, eyes shut and fully clad in 100% polyester. Fumbling, billowing and, in the main, unsuccessful.

Insights into your own past can of course help you to empathise with the present. Tempting as it is to get irritated by my daughter’s compulsion to collect things and become obsessively protective of them, I am transported back to a time when I was immensely proud of my rubber collection: a plastic sweet jar full of novelty rubbers mainly collected on school trips. Most clear in my mind is the rubber in the shape of a t-shirt which came in a box designed to look like a washing powder packet. I can still invoke its chemical scent – strong enough to induce a sneeze. The joy of setting the collection out, showing it to friends, yet never letting it near a smudge of pencil.

When I despair at my kids’ reluctance to share I suddenly remember how painful it felt when a friend chose Paulette Poodle from my Fabuland collection before I had a chance to. That’s how darned big and important little things can seem when you’re a child. Counting your teddies and religiously wishing each and every one of them goodnight (in order of course) is not necessarily a sign of the early onset of OCD.

I am longing to create for my children memories that they can conjure up in 30 or 40 years’ time and feel, smell and taste their childhood. “Do you remember when we went to … ?” “Do you remember how Mum used to …?” Most important of all, I want those memories to make them feel warm and nostalgic in the same way I do when I catch those flashes of my own smaller, pudgier and easier to please self.

Review: Babasac baby sleeping bag

2 Feb

BBabasac baby sleeping bag

Sleep. Every parent’s favourite topic. My two have always slept somewhere between well and okayish on the dream scale. Ever since they were big enough, they’ve both been buttoned and zipped into sleeping bags with the aim of avoiding the problem of waking up with chilly protruding toes. The bags have lasted for two kids (pat on the back for thrifty mum, pity the boy who sleeps in his sister’s pink sleeping bag) and have served us so well that I’ve never bothered trying new ones. But then came the Babasac baby sleeping bag.

What struck me about the Babasac that led me to risk disturbing my 22-month-old’s pretty sound sleep? For starters, the Babasac is designed by Mama Designs Ltd who are behind (not literally!) the fabulous Mamascarf. When I was looking for a discreet breastfeeding cover, the Mamascarf revolutionised my experience of getting my boobs out in public. Not to undersell the design, but it’s amazing what a simple piece of material can do. Enough of my boobs though and back to the Babasac. To be honest, I wondered how different baby sleeping bags could be. Bag. Zip. Poppers. Obligatory cute animal. Job done.

For me, the exciting new thing about the Babasac is that it is multi-tog. Why take at least four sleeping bags a year to get your child through the first 3 years of their life when you can take half that number? The Babasac can be used either as a lightweight 1 tog bag, or, with its inner panels zipped in, a 2.5 tog vessel of cosiness. I was skeptical that this could be done securely but the neatly covered zips and industrial strength Velcro mean the panels aren’t going to budge. You can’t whip the panels in and out at speed but, quite frankly, if I could I wouldn’t be impressed. At first glance, the price of the bag may make you feel a little light-headed, ranging from £37.99 (0-6 months) to £39.99 (18-36 months), but if you consider that you’re getting two bags for the price of one then it’s a bit of a bargain. (Please don’t put the price up though Mama Designs!)

That’s the clever internal stuff and the price tag but the proof is of course in the wearing. When I first put my toddler into the bag I was a bit surprised to see that the shoulder fixings didn’t have two fittings like most other sleeping bags do. However, my disappointment was offset by discovering the gently elasticated neckline. This design actually seems more comfortable than other bags where the tightest shoulder fitting can seem a bit too snug and the looser fitting leaves a gaping neckline. Another plus point of the Babasac is that the zip around the outside extends beyond the foot end and up the other side by a few inches. My boy’s a wriggler so has an impressive ability to undo the zip with his feet and wail until they’re popped back in again. He hasn’t managed this yet with the Babasac. Nor has he unpopped himself and taken off his pyjamas like a mini-naturist, but time will tell!

The Babasac fabric designs are, if I’m not too old and square to use the word, groovy. Pink hearts, navy stars or green apples – a pleasant change from teddies and zebras and cheeky monkeys. I washed the bag before I used it (for the record it washed up nicely, laundry fans) but was a bit worried that it felt rather stiff. Once it was on though the thickness felt less uncomfortable and more like luxury. My boy was no doubt wondering what cheap rubbish he’s been dressed in for the last two years! The only slight hesitation I have is around the length of the bag. My son is a big lad for 22 months – he’s happy now in the 18-36 month sizing but I can’t see an awful lot of room left if he is to use it until he is 3 years old. A minor point for me as I’ll have moved him into a bed with conventional bedding well before then but something to consider if you have a BLT (Big Long Toddler).

The ultimate test of whether the babe digs the bag (and therefore whether the parents do) is how well they sleep in it. If there’s a sentence that sums up and recommends the Babasac then it’s this: Not a peep from the monitor.

Sleep well!

Thank you to Keira at Mama Designs Ltd who sent this product to me and expected nothing in return other than an objective review. Follow Mama Designs Ltd on Twitter: @MamaDesignsLtd. You can also visit their Facebook page.

Christmas cheer and fear (part 1)

28 Nov

The world of children’s stories is a mixed up place when you put Kipper back on the bookshelf and pick up the traditional fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. There is a sinister side to these stories that starts to fill a child’s world with bogeymen, wicked witches and monsters lurking under the bed. Christmas is not so different. A bold statement perhaps (*puts tongue in cheek*) and certainly not in the accepted spirit of things. Is Christmas all about cheer or does it, like many traditions and stories, have a darker, scarier side?

As a child I was afraid of Father Christmas. I was fully signed up to the idea that he was the jolly fella who would arrive laden with gifts, but there was still no way I was letting a strange man into my room in the middle of the night. In the dark. When everyone was asleep. Well, would you when it’s put that way? No, no, no – it was a step too far for the shy child that I was. What if he was the child catcher in disguise? Or the Pied Piper? What if he had elves with him? My Christmas stocking stayed firmly hung on the outside of my bedroom door and never once graced the end of my bed.

Father Christmas may bring presents with a hearty “ho, ho, ho” but he is also big, fat and hairy. To a child he must seem enormous and, wearing his peculiar clothes, must beggar the question in their fragile minds: “who is this huge, red, scary monster man?” Worst of all, he is over familiar – he even wants you to sit on his knee (well, he did in the innocent days when CRB checking Santa would have been like asking the Queen for a form of ID). He’s the Werther’s Original Grandpa on speed. Observe the Santa Effect in action in the photograph below. This was taken at my daughter’s first (conscious) visit to the Big Man aged 14 months:

Note the school masterly look on Santa’s face then note the look of sheer terror on my daughter’s. Oh yes, and look at Mummy laughing nervously as she tries to enforce the Christmas cheer, only managing to worsen the Christmas fear by shoving her dear daughter closer to the object causing the anxiety. It won’t stop me doing it again. My 20-month-old son has his first visit to Santa lined up. I know what his reaction will be but, dammit, it is Christmas (and a photo opportunity).

And what do we do as parents to help this fear? Nothing. We make it worse. As soon as the first bauble hits the shops in August, the threat of Father Christmas and his all-seeing eye becomes the parents’ weapon of choice. Who needs bribery when the prospect of a lump of coal can be wielded in the face of a screaming child flailing around on a supermarket floor? So much for putting the fear of God into someone, this is the fear of Santa. (Gosh, I’ve associated Christmas with religion there – that can’t be right, surely?)

So can Christmas get much scarier? You bet it can. In Part 2 of this post you will meet a character who is so very wrong on many levels … Zwarte Piet.

From gummy smiles to Ford Fiestas

3 Nov

There’s a stranger in my house. No, it’s okay, don’t call the police. He’s only small and means no harm. The stranger is my son and he’s 19-months-old. I say a stranger but of course I know him well, after all he was made by and from me (the good bits, the rest are his father’s) and he spends an awful amount of time tugging at legs (when he’s not being the alpha male baby at nursery).

But somehow I feel that I don’t quite yet know him. It’s an admission I feel guilty making but let’s face it, like it or not, 90% of the emotions in parenting involve guilt in some shape or form. I put my feelings down to two things. First, although he’s been in my life for 19 months (plus the not insignificant 9-month pregnancy bit) that time has passed faster than a fleet-footed fox – my brain recalls the overall journey but not a vast amount of the detail. Secondly, his communication is still mainly via grunts, pointing and physical violence (of the unintentional kind) and this can be something of a barrier between even the most adorable of toddlers and the most loving of parents.

Don’t get me wrong. I am deeply in love with my son. Please don’t confuse my feelings with not loving him for I intend to tie him firmly to my apron strings and make him a mummy’s boy. Am I expecting too much as a parent? Perhaps I am anticipating too soon the fulfilling, reciprocal relationship that in time will grow if I’m patient (but then will no doubt disappear rapidly down the road in his mate’s Ford Fiesta when he hits the teenage years). Most parents will remember how one-way their relationship with their screaming and demanding newborn felt until that facial expression signifying wind first became a genuine, gummy smile. Just when you think it’s all take and no give, you get a smile, a laugh or a Peppa Pig sticker on the forehead.

Boys are generally said to develop speech more slowly than girls, preferring to develop their motor skills first and learn skills one at a time (no gender stereotypes there then).  The challenge that is getting to know your child is all about making connections and overcoming barriers whether they be, as in the case of smiling, physical or, as with the grunting toddler desperate to communicate, verbal. Whether this is harder with a boy where verbal communication may develop more slowly I couldn’t say 100%, but as a mother of a girl too I’m fairly certain that the two experiences have been very different.

With each week my son’s vocabulary grows and we can better decipher his increasingly tuneful grunts. Without wanting to wish time away, I am curious to know, when in the next few months he finally finds his voice and the words he needs to express himself, who he is and see the hints of who he will become.

How to break a child’s heart in one easy ballet step

30 Oct

We’ve just returned from holiday. In the days leading up to the journey home there were the inevitable groans about our imminent return to cold, grey reality. The 4-year-old didn’t want to go back to nursery. The 18-month-old didn’t want to leave our hosts’ endless supply of Swiss Chocobits cereal. I knew that an English supermarket could probably sort the latter, but what to do about the former? Obvious answer: give her something to look forward to when we got home.

And so it was that for several days before our return I buoyed my daughter up with the prospect of her Monday ballet class. As expected, this resulted in the tongue-rolling, dress-lifting, wriggling excitement that normally only a Disney princess can elicit. Pat on the back to Mummy. I was on to a winner.

Back at home on Monday morning disaster struck. A faulty gas supply left us without heat and hot water and the prospect of a day stuck in the house waiting for help to arrive. As the plumber (yes, the same plumber as in that post) got steadily more grumpy and the hours ticked by the likelihood of getting to ballet started to dissipate like the waft of gas from a dodgy gas pipe. Like any good parent, I deliberately didn’t mention the impending trauma to my daughter lest by some miracle all should come good.

An hour before the class and things weren’t looking promising. Tears, tantrums and utter devastation loomed. I called Mr Crumbs & Pegs in the hope he’d be able to pop home from work for an hour thus releasing us from the purgatory of infernal waiting. Success! We were back on track.

Half an hour before the class and I got one very excited little girl into her ballet outfit. All was progressing as normal – the usual explanation of why she must wear her skirt pulled as high as Simon Cowell’s trousers rather than skimming the bottom of her buttocks like a gangsta, the foot stamping as locks of hair escaped from her hair band, and of course the frenzied tumbling into the car when we discovered we were running late. No surprises then when we pulled away from the house with one/some/all of us fraught and in tears. That aside – we were on the way to ballet!

Under stress I seem to have the knack of turning my daughter into a blubbering and uncooperative wreck. (Four years in and I am yet to learn that shouting does not make children go faster. Some red underlining is clearly required in the Bad Mother’s Notebook of Things I Must Do Better. ) Dragging two children into an empty leisure centre reception area I stopped in my tracks. Where were the pushy mammas in their boots and skinny jeans?  Where were the siblings who were usually sprawled across the corridor playing Top Trumps and tripping up the attendees of the Blind Badminton class? Hell no! It was half term. No ballet class.

The receptionist looked at me with pity (or was it disgust?) as I made the walk of shame back out the leisure centre doors, crying ballerina and confused toddler in tow. Guilty doesn’t do full justice to how I felt as I explained to my daughter that her mother – who was obviously always right – had got something terribly wrong. In the car I proffered a trip to a café by way of an apology but was told that her “tummy hurt too much from crying to eat cake”. Make it worse why don’t you.

A day later I am still apologising. A day later, when reminded of the incident, my daughter still looks at me like her heart has been broken by an idiot. A complete idiot. Welcome to parenthood.

My little big boy

28 Mar

Dear W,

Here is the view across the park I had this morning whilst I waited for you to finish your first hour at nursery by yourself. It’s the same view I had two and a half years ago as I waited for your sister to do the same. Same bench, same weather, same coffee (well, obviously not exactly the same coffee but you know …), same inane conversation from the dog walkers on the next table. And did I feel the same as when I waited for my first born to spend her first hour untied from the apron strings? Yes and no. Yes, in that I’ve never left you ‘by yourself’ for so long and it punched me in the heart to think of you realising that I wasn’t there. No, in that I knew you were being well looked after – when your sister started the nursery was an unknown quantity. Ultimately, I knew that if you cried they could show you a vacuum cleaner and you’d be alright. (But your penchant for vacuum cleaners must stop when you reach adulthood, young man.)

These coming few weeks will be big ones for your Mummy and you must excuse me if I blub over you a few times. You’re starting nursery, your first birthday is coming up, your boobie ration is being withdrawn and I’m going back to work. Big emotional stuff for me so don’t you go all teary on me when I leave you at nursery – I’ll be doing enough of that for both of us. Stiff upper lip and all that.

I’ve had a super year with you. Admittedly, I can remember very little of it but don’t take that personally. I blame a lethal mix of hormones, juggling you and your sister and not enough sleep. I hope you’ve had fun. If I’ve been ratty, cursed you when you’ve woken in the night AGAIN, not talked to you enough, not done enough cutting and sticking with you or ever missed an opportunity to give you a cuddle then I apologise. If I have done anything wrong then it’s not stopped you from growing into a super son. (Thank god your Daddy is the perfect counterbalance to my jingling nerves.)

Go get ’em my little big boy. There are crayons to be eaten and peas to stuff up other children’s noses.

With lots of love.

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