Don’t Fence Me In

“Everytime I see that daughter of yours, I’m reminded of the amazing playpen I used for my three kids.” 

My son has always had a really long concentration span. He started moving at about 14 months, and by that time he could sit and listen to a whole pile of books, or enjoy a shape sorter or a push button toy for 15 minutes at a time. He didn’t get easily distracted, and if you put him somewhere, he generally stayed there.

My daughter is now nearly 2, and if I tell you that a tornado would be a more friendly house guest, you might get some idea of the havoc she can cause. Shelves are for climbing, toys are for throwing, electronics are for biting. She can also sense a cupboard being opened from the other side of the house with the help of her spidey senses.

I’m not here to debate the merits of playpens. For some, they might be lifesavers. If you have more than one small child at home at a time. If you have work you need to be able to focus on at a moments notice. If your home is a rental and you’re unable to babyproof the really dangerous parts like stairs or wires. If you’re that selfish kind of parent who likes to pee alone. (How very dare you.)

Some people will say they teach firm boundaries. Other people find that their kids are even wilder once they are on the other side of them. All I know is, I don’t have one. And personally, I don’t want one. They seem a little too cage like for me, and it’s never been something I needed. While I know our parents generation will often sing their praises from the rooftops, I think I’m a little too ‘generation babywearing’ to see the benefits.

Anyway, my work is flexible and I only have M at home most days.  (Plus, she keeps finding things that I’ve lost, which would never happen if she were restricted to just one area.)

But seriously though, your comment bugged me.

My daughter has an unquenchable curiosity for absolutely everything. Whatever it is, she wants to touch it, hold it, yank it into pieces, devour it whole. While you used to call R a ‘good boy’ for ‘sitting so nicely’, M’s personality somehow means she needs walls, boundaries, reins. It’s as if her insatiable appetite for learning about the world needs to be tempered and calmed.

There’s safety, of course there is, but then there’s also just diminishing her personality.

I want to give her as much freedom as I possibly can. I want to be able to say ‘Yes’ as often as possible. What parent doesn’t? When we’re out the house, in the land of roads and cars and other people’s best china, I sometimes feel like the only word I say is no. I spend what feels like every minute lifting her onto my hip and away from cigarette butts or the long distance calls she seems desperate to make from other humans landlines.

When we walk back into our home, I breathe a sigh of relief that I can say yes, or turn a blind eye. That she can be free to explore and play without those words ringing in her ears. Stop. No. Wait.

So there are eggshells and sometimes lego men in my meatballs because she ‘helped’ me make them. The DVDs are never on the DVD rack anymore, let alone in their original alphabetized categories.. There are tiny bite marks in most of the candles in the one non-babyproofed bathroom cupboard. I regularly find jewellery in the toilet. And I’m pretty sure I’ve lost about 4 sets of keys and a whole lot of perfectly fresh fruit to the kitchen bin.

And you’re right, none of this would have happened if I had your “amazing playpen”.

But honestly? That makes me want it even less.

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5 Ingredients to Tempt the Pickiest Toddlers

Somewhere between the ages of 1 and 2, you may begin to notice a startling and unexpected developmental stage appearing in your baby. An opinion. While they used to allow you to shovel in any old food all whizzed up in a blender or mashed up with a fork, suddenly they are pressing their lips tightly shut, shaking their heads firmly and throwing entire bowls of spag bol face down on your beige carpet faster than you can say ‘Here comes the aeroplane!”
Never fear, after extensive research into babies entering toddlerdom everywhere, here is the definitive list of the 5 ingredients a toddler will never turn his nose up at.

  1. Dirt.
    We’ve all been there. You’ve lovingly prepared a plate of chicken and rice but your baby won’t even take the first bite. Don’t take it personally. They probably don’t realise you spent 2 hours roasting vegetables to make your own stock for this recipe which you found by googling ‘simple baby food recipes’. We have the answer. Have you considered dropping it on the floor? No, not there by the high chair where you just vaccumed. Try on the pavement outside your house where that dog from next door usually does his business. If that doesn’t work, wedge it down the side of the car seat and give it a couple of weeks, there’s nothing babies like more than the taste of slow aged fowl.
  2. Danger.
    Babies don’t like boring food. You know the rules, you musn’t season with salt, but apart from that feel free to go wild. If tumeric, paprika and cumin don’t work, have you considered letting your baby choose their own ‘toppings’ from the bathroom cabinet? Drain cleaner, Cillit Bang, washing powder, these are just a few of my own kids favourites. If yours prefers a slightly different texture, try wrapping the food in live wires, or poking it into a plug socket as finger food. Be creative! We’ve had some great success placing meals onto turned on hair straighteners- BBQ style, as well as mixing in those tiny pieces of lego all babies love for some extra crunch. Nom nom nom.
  3. Competition.
    Y’know what tastes awful? Scrambled eggs. Y’know what tastes delicious? A sibling’s scrambled eggs. Bonus here is that the older the sibling is the more bribeable they will be, and the better their acting skills can be honed too. Get them on board with the plan by offering a small bribe like an episode of Peppa Pig or yknow, a five pound note, if they can ‘unwillingly share’ the meal they also wouldn’t usually touch with a barge pole with said younger sibling.
  4. Timing.
    This one works just as well for older kids, and it relies on a simple rule. What tastes like arsenic during the day time, is progressively more delicious the further past seven the hands of the clock go. While the cheese sandwich you offered at 4.30pm was the most offensive thing you could ever dare to do as a parent, the 9.45pm meal of quinoa salad and stuffed aubergine with lentils may as well be a bag of chocolate buttons in its inevitable appeal. In short, when your little darlings are shouting “I’m huuuuungry” mournfully from their beds like they’re prisoners of war, this is the ideal time to offer broccoli.
  5. Privacy.
    If all else fails, wait until they are distracted by something else, such as wiping snot on your freshly folded washing or climbing a bookshelf, and quietly prepare the food out of their line of sight. Tiptoe to your own bedroom and hide in a corner with the bowl hidden completely from view. If you’re not sure what I mean, imagine it’s the last chocolate digestive biscuit and nap time is too far away to fairly expect you to wait for. Toddlers find that kind of silent behaviour just as suspicious as we do in return. They’ll show up, indignant and open mouthed in no time. Finish off the theatre with a stern “No, this is Mummy’s food” before giving in. Fair Warning: This will probably only fool them for one bite, so make it a big one.  

There you have it. No more excuses for kids who won’t eat their veggies. Just make sure the meal is a week old and sprinkled with shards of glass, in a secret location where their sibling is chowing down after 10pm. Simples.

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The Usual Suspects of the Buy/Sell Groups

Social media has opened up all kinds of new ways to communicate with absolute strangers, and there are some real characters out there. While I’ve written before about the mums forums, I’ve recently become active on the selling groups, and the personalities I’ve found… they’re certainly worth a post all to themselves.

1. Embarassing Haggler

As buyers, we all love a bargain. And as sellers, we’re all just hoping to get rid of some clutter quickly and easily, and preferably without needing to get out of pyjamas. No one minds if you ask for a bit of a discount, but come on folks, try not to take the mick.

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2. Cant Take a Hint Seller 

Boy Facebook is in for a treat today. This guy has something they’ve found in a cupboard unused, and is willing to sell it on at an amazingly reasonable price! Some lucky individual is going to be benefitting from what is now completely useless to them.

But wait, what’s this? It’s been up on the group for 45 minutes already and no one has commented. Just bump it, I’m sure you just chose an awkward time for people. Hmm… Ok, try reducing the price. Maybe people want pics? This is strange. It’s SUCH a bargain! Oh wait, that’s it- people probably think it’s gone already. Three letters, S…F…S. That’s bound to do the trick.

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3. Time Waster

Have you ever actually bought or sold anything Time Waster? Or are you just here for the show, and to ask annoying questions? Do you enjoy being on the cusp of a purchase so much that you do this in bricks and mortar stores too, stand in line at checkout and then have a sudden change of heart while you’re reaching for your wallet?

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4. The Difficult Customer

Some people seem to think that the buy and sell group is the equivalent to Argos online, appearing on the group with what may as well be a product number to search for. Filled with details about what they’re looking for, they’re rarely pleased and could benefit from a a point in the direction of Amazon.

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5.  Junk Seller

Not every item needs to be brand new with tags, and we all know the expression “one mans trash is another mans treasure”. However sometimes, if it looks like rubbish it’s probably exactly that. The chances of someone else wanting your daughters’ used trainers? Pretty slim. The likelihood of a rush of volunteers to come and pick up your almost finished Berry Cherry lipgloss? Nil.

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Any firm favourites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments! 

One Day I Will…

We look to our mothers. As women, I mean. We look to our mothers to see what being a woman is all about, what’s going to happen when we grow up, what our place in the world might one day look like. Little girls with too big handbags on one shoulder, a playphone tucked under our ears as we stir fake soup on a tiny version of the kitchen we beg for treats in. We take everything in, and learn silently how to hold ourselves, how to talk and argue back and reason and pick our battles. How to care and nurture and go out to work and build a home.

But what happens if what we’re looking at is intrinsically flawed? If that formative relationship is poisonous instead of restorative? You want to find a life-long partnership and your mother insists on being hopelessly alone. You want to create a career which you love, but your mother never loved a thing in her life. You can’t imagine a future where your children don’t mean everything to you, but your mother doesn’t know the first thing about you or your siblings. Who should you look to then?

I don’t know about you, but I look to my daughter. This week is Mothers Day, and International Womens Day too. So many people seem to feel that they can’t be feminists, or worse still, that they are somehow ‘bad’ feminists because their main focus is on being a mother. Whether you choose to work at home or out, have kids or not, wear red lipstick and thigh high boots or dungarees and army boots, I wish more women understood that simply to support each others choices and freedoms is to be a feminist.

“My mother taught me…” “My mother showed me..” I won’t pretend I don’t envy the strong and smart women around me who have been given their confidence in feminism as an inheritance. Passed down, from one generation to the next. My feminism is uglier than that, more awkward, self-made. But there’s something pretty special about that too. I’m creating something brand new, something I never had. I was told quite plainly by the woman who should have made me feel invincible, that “It’s only natural to love your sons more than you love your daughters.” So how could I help but feel somehow inferior? Almost.. unwanted.

And yet, this year on Mothers Day, and this year on International Womens Day, for the first time I have a daughter of my own. A daughter I love so much I sometimes think I might squish her little face off. A daughter I want to inherit not just my feminism, but the whole wide world too. A daughter who I want to feel invincible.

So I look to her. I look to her despite my gaze being dragged towards the past more often than I’d like. I look back to her every time I forget that I’m not inferior. I look to her to decide what my place in the world should look like, what being a woman should be all about. I look to her so that ‘One Day I Will’ see her looking back at me.

 

 

 

Why I Didn’t Let My Son Wear an Elsa Dress to School

It’s hard to believe it, but my son is now 5 years old. He loves to play, and his favourite games are imaginative. “Let’s be Octonauts” he will declare on the way to school.  “I’ll be Captain Barnacles, you be a Lemon Shark.”  Bathtime consits of repeatedly drowning Sir Topham Hatt (AKA Fat Controller) with cups of water as he heads off to Tidmouth Sheds.  At any time of day, our playroom could be a shopfront, (“Hang on” my son scratches his chin “We may have some in the back. Do you have a clubcard?”) the set of Masterchef, (“I like all the colours you’ve put on the plate Daddy, but sorry-you’re going home.”) or a dentists office. (They’re all rotten, but never mind, I’ll just take them out. You probably wont be able to eat anymore.” ) 

As you can imagine, he loves dress up, and he has an inclination towards the sparkles. Unfortunately, our society doesn’t provide for boys who want a bit more flair than a Darth Vader costume can provide, so when we’re out and about at friend’s houses and he pulls out a Cinderella dress or a ladybird costume from the dressing up box, I’ve always been pretty chilled about letting him explore his theatrical side. Take a moment to look around the Disney store next time you’re in there. At last count, I could see 22 different types of princess dresses and not one prince outfit. My son could be Olaf, Luke Skywalker, or a Pirate. (White, brown or more brown.) I wouldn’t be too impressed with that selection either. So when R asked me for an Elsa dress of his own this year, we only had to pause for a moment before we added it to his make believe collection.

And then we got the following invitation from school.

“As a class treat, the Reception children have voted for a dressing up party on Friday.  Could you please send in a dressing up outfit for your child.”

And he cocked his head to one side and asked quietly, “I can’t take Elsa… can I?” 

Oh.

Anyone who knows me knows that I take real exception to gendered toys of any kind. Play is play. Make believe is make believe. And if a girl can be a fireman without a raised eyebrow in sight, my son can be the prettiest, sparkliest princess in the room. You better believe I have all the pithiest, wittiest, scathingest replies necessary if you dare to tell me that my son can’t skip around your garden in your daughters Sleeping Beauty outfit.

But at school? Without me there to give him a reassuring nod and smile when the classroom assistant automatically smiles in surprise on instinct as he walks in? What if he doesn’t remember to say “there’s no such thing as boys toys and girls toys” in response to one of his peers saying “that’s for girls”? What if a child in his class says “You’re not a princess” and he’s too embarassed to remember to say “I know- and you’re not Spiderman either”?
And worst of all, what if he doesn’t realise what he’s asking?
At home, or out with me or C, he feels completely safe to express himself in any way he chooses. If he was ten or eleven years old and he wanted to wear a dress to school in play (or even not in play) then it may take some getting used to, but I wouldn’t be worried about being supportive. If my teen goes to school in sparkles and high heels, he knows what he’s letting himself in for, and has all the information in his arsenal to make that choice for himself. But at five, does he really know what he’s asking? As an introduction to ‘kids can be mean’, letting him walk in front of the firing squad without a warning, and risking him feeling embarrassed and unprepared….

Dear reader, I agonised.

I asked my husband, I asked my best friends, I asked his teachers and then I asked my  best friends again. And while I got a wealth of opinions when I broached the question, nearly everyone pursed their lips and and looked just as agonised as I felt. How I wish someone had been confused and asked me what I was worried about. But that’s not the world we live in, not yet anyway.
As a proud feminist I wanted to be able to say “Of course you can be Elsa!” As a proud parent I wanted to be able to say “You wear whatever makes you happy”. The reasons why I ultimately steered him away from that choice, out of fear that well-intentioned people would be mean, or that he would lose some trust in me if he ended up in tears, don’t make me feel proud to be either.

I did realise one important thing though. R doesn’t care about the world we live in. He isn’t looking to make a stand for gender equality, he isn’t trying to push boundaries. The kid just wants to wear a sparkly dress. He doesn’t need to face even the risk of a ruined day because his parents believe in giving him the gift of being anything he wants. He has plenty of time to be anything he wants, and if we can give him another year or two before he learns that kids (and indeed grown ups) can be mean, well thats a special gift too.

My little Gingerbread Man came out of school that day full of stories and excitement, the grin on his face the only thing more edible than the candy buttons on his outfit. And while the little voice inside me wonders if I made the right choice, it’s overwhemingly silenced by the feeling that my Elsa wouldn’t have come out anywhere near as happy. Can you tell me that I’m wrong?

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The Formula for a Happy Baby

I took a bus ride today with my daughter. She is 11 weeks old. About five minutes into the bus journey a woman sat down adjacent to my seat, and smiled at my baby girl. “What a pretty baby” she commented. “She looks so happy and healthy.” I thanked her, and smiled in return, and then checked the time so that as all mothers of new babies do, I could begin the arithmetic we all spend the first few months working out. How many hours since the last feed, how long the most recent nap was, when you want the baby to settle later than night, and all the other futile calculations that our newborns ignore and do whatever they fancy regardless of.
I mentally calculated that it made sense to offer her some milk, and I put her back in the buggy and reached for my nappy bag. I took out a muslin and placed it over my shoulder. I unscrewed a bottle of sterile water, and reached for my nifty formula holder thingie which allows me to measure out an exact feed and take it with me for the day. I mixed the powder into the water, gave it a shake, and reached for my little girl.

“Oh,” the woman commented with a sad shake of her head. “What a shame to give something so processed and fake to her when she’s so tiny and innocent.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I have a lot of opinions on breastfeeding, and nearly all of them are wholeheartedly pro. I believe Breast is Best. I believe that it’s a huge failure of the media and an important feminist issue that so many teenagers and even adults believe that breasts are solely for sex rather than feeding our children, I even agree with the ban on discounting formula and I have no bad feelings towards the many NHS hospitals who do not provide it on the post-labour wards.

I do not however, believe that it has magical properties which raise my children’s IQ, or stop them from becoming obese. I don’t think my breast milk will imbue them with a great work ethic or even protect them from allergies and intolerances. Most of all, while I believe that it is an amazing start for your baby if you can do it, I don’t believe it’s the right choice for everyone. And dear stranger, until my offspring is looking far less than ‘happy and healthy’ than you yourself just noted, I certainly don’t believe it is any of your damn business what choice I make and why.

I won’t bore you with my own journey, as we all have different reasons for how we choose to feed our children, and as I recently said about career choices, we only have our own families to answer to. I do however have something to say to the woman on the bus, and anyone else who thinks I or they should be ashamed of the processed nature of the food we give our ‘innocent’ children.

You aint’ seen nothing yet.

If you’re looking for something for me to be ashamed of, come round at 3am, when I tell my baby to shut the hell up when she’s been awake for 3 hours straight for no apparent reason, and then stay to hear my 4 year old repeat it to his Thomas the Tank Engine the following day. Pop by at 5am when I forcibly drag him back into his bedroom and threaten to take away everything he owns if he doesn’t leave me alone until 7. Watch me take lazy mornings off from being the mummy of a new baby to chat to old friends and continually replace the dummy in my daughters mouth rather than interact. Peek through my living room window on the days where I just simply cant be bothered to entertain my son and he has about 4 hours of unadulterated iPad time on the sofa, or when I look at my watch, notice that I’ve missed supper time, swear loudly and announce “Cereal for dinner!” to his great joy.

I could keep going, because like all parents, I have tons that I could label a ‘shame.’ Enough to keep me up at night if I suddenly decide I’m looking to self-flagellate. But reaching for the formula container by choice or by necessity, ensuring that my child is gaining weight, is well fed and happy, simply isn’t on the list.

'Does it come in soy lite?'

The Chocolate Wars

I have a pretty enviable three year old, who does what he is told. He looks for my hand as soon as we get near a road or into a car park, he isn’t a screamer or prone to tantrum, he always says thank you, and he never ever takes things without asking.

Well, he never used to,  anyway.

The last two weeks I have woken up in the morning to various ‘surprises’ in the kitchen. Empty wrappers, chocolate crumbs, empty spaces where expensive imported treats used to be.. All before 7am. After receiving various pieces of advice, I decided to chronicle the events, for other judgemental parents worldwide, and as a testament to the last few weeks of my life-if as I suspect, the stress of this early morning battle of wills actually forces me into an early grave.

Sunday May 11th
Hubby calls me into the kitchen, to be greeted by a virtual mountain of Reese’s cup wrappers. I count the damage, 9. I’m torn between shock that he would take them and eat them without asking, and hope that I don’t have to deal with projectile vomiting elsewhere in the house. I go find R, and after naughty corner, sternly tell him it is not acceptable behaviour, and there will be no treats for the rest of the day, and take away a stuffed toy. No tears from him, but those punishments are usually the end of it in our house, so I get on with the day.

Sunday May 18th
Had almost forgotten about last week’s ‘mishap.’ About 7.30am, I went to throw some rubbish in our kitchen bin, and was confronted by an empty bag of giant milky bar buttons. A bag I could have sworn had been half full. So unsure that it would have happened again, my first instinct was to ask the other man in our house. “Darling?” I called through the bathroom door. “Did you wake up in the night with the munchies, and finish off half a bag of giant milky bar buttons?” Surprisingly, my hubby was not the culprit.

This time I got really angry. Especially after asking R if he’s eaten anything from the kitchen and getting a negative response. Stealing, Lies, Deception tactics… was my son on the road to a juvenile detention centre?! Overreactions aside, (after three minute naughty corner for us to confab) this time we took away iPad, (more of a punishment for us frankly) and favoured toys for a week. Niggling thought in back of head that we needed a consistent punishment if this was going to become a habit. Also occurred to us that taking away treats doesn’t really work when the child in question has already had more chocolate that morning than you would ordinarily allow in a week.

Monday May 19th
“He’s done it again.”
No one wants to wake up to those words. Not for the second day in a row. I blearily went into the kitchen, to find a Musketeers Bar gnawed on on the floor. Should I be glad he at least didn’t try to hide it today? Unimpressed by the peanuts, he had bitten off all the surrounding chocolate, leaving a pile of shavings on the floor. I literally gave birth to a hamster. Sigh.
Again, he denied it, even when faced with the evidence. He started pulling funny faces, looking cross, and basically acting.. well.. three. Eventually I was rewarded with the indignant, “What?! I was so hungry!” which surprisingly didn’t make me feel any better, especially as he had been given a full cup of Cheerios about a half hour beforehand, still untouched in his bedroom. We decided on a consistent punishment, but I have a feeling it’s more about getting through to him.

I turned to social media, and as we all do, asked a question I already had my own opinion on, and waited for someone to agree with me. Should I move the choc to a cupboard out of his reach, or find a consistent punishment and stick with it? I had an overwhelming response towards option number one. Nearly everyone agreed that he was too little to deal with the temptation, and I was causing myself more hassle than necessary trying to get the message into his little boy head.

Of course, like the majority of us, I couldn’t care less what anyone else’s thoughts about my parenting are, and decided to ignore popular opinion and keep at the consequences approach. Short term pain, long term gain. As easy as it might be to just avoid the problem and move it all away, by persevering I would teach R that he can’t have whatever he wants without asking, that lying is wrong, that gluttony is wrong. It would be worth it in the long run when I had built up a three year old who asks permission, who knows that just because something is tempting, it doesn’t mean he gets to just take it. I would be raising a man who is loyal and honest and has patience, and is TRUSTWORTHY.  Either that, or just less calories for me to inhale in the mean time. Win Win.

Tuesday May 20th
Success! No chocolate eaten, one happy little boy reunited with the iPad and lots and lots of praise and play. Oh all of ye of little faith out there! I had an excellent talk with him, explained all the reasons why he can’t help himself, and here are the results. Smug mum alert. I knew I could get through to him.

Wednesday May 21st
Er… May have spoken too soon, if the remains of an ENTIRE EASTER EGG in the bin this morning are anything to go by….
Again, greeted by denial and angry face, and eventual insistence that he was “very very hungry” and then that I was “not at ALL splendid.” (Cue fist in mouth to muffle snort of laughter and maintain stern face.)

If this hadn’t already become a matter of principle, I think I may be ready to move to the ‘move it’ camp. But hey, who DOESN’T love banging their head against a brick wall eh?

We have now enlisted nursery to help, with his favourite Auntie coining the hashtag, “Big Boys Don’t Take Without Asking.” I love it; we’re printing t-shirts.

Not quite, but we have made a fetching sign together, and dare I say it… I *think* he gets the message this time.

Agree with me? Think I’m mad? Feel free to post below. I can only hope this is the end of the saga, but something makes me say “To be continued…”

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