2/5 This much I know.

unnamed-7

So, parenting.

I don’t know, I’m sure some people manage it, but in my experience it is impossible to have a baby, and then not let said baby take well and truly over your life. Pregnancy, birth, feeding and raising tiny humans has utterly dominated my every waking moment for the past 4 years and has made up the fabric of my day, every day. Which has been both wonderful and totally bonkers, inspiring and, well, intense.

Right now though, I feel like some of the fog is lifting. I can sustain my attention for more than 60 seconds on topics other than cloth nappies and the best strategy for getting your toddler into their car seat without giving yourself an aneurysm. I am beginning to prioritise myself more, and my need to get fit and use my brain in different ways, rather than always feeling at the bottom of the pecking order. There is, oh my God imagine, space in my life for more than just babies. A dog! Why will no one let me get a dog?

Part of the reason for saying farewell to this blog is that the impetus to write incessantly about parenting has waned. But while I am still here, not quite clear of those all encompassing toddler years, I thought I would write down the most important stuff that I have learned. The pearls that I want to pass on, to other people still very much beneath the mist, trying to figure it out, with only 4 hours sleep and a strong coffee to their name.

***

The very most important thing I know: We all fuck up. Like, you can read all of the Janet Lansbury you like, rehearse all the right things to say in the midst of an epic toddler tantrum, be the most zen and empathetic earth mother to your three year old who has very specific cup preferences, but at some point, you will lose your shit. Not in a ‘I’m strategically raising my voice to get you to listen’ way, but in a ‘Dude, I am exhausted, my patience is in the gutter, you are pushing me to my goddamn limits and I am just yelling because I am full blown ANGRY with this TOTAL LACK OF COOPERATION YOU ARE TAKING THE PISS MY GOD!’. This is not a thing that any parent is planning on, and shit, when it happens on the way into Sainsburys with a thousand judgey old people staring at you, know that it will be one of the low moments of your life. But guys, we are human, and while I LOVE positive parenting sites like Janet’s, I think we need to be honest that sometimes a situation will just push a button and we will yell and it will be ugly. It’s okay, our children will not be emotionally broken as a result of this, and it absolutely does not undo all the other good stuff that we do. On behalf of mothers everywhere, I am officially cutting us some slack.

Parenting though, it’s a judgey game. Actually I think it begins way before we are even parents and we are in a restaurant and there is a family on the table next to us. Ipads are on, pasta is being thrown and the parents are just benignly drinking wine and pretending not to notice the breadsticks that are being crushed and then liberally sprinkled about the floor. And we sit there and we think, ‘That will never be me, I will never be that parent, I will do so much better than that’. It carries on when we have had our baby, and you see an eighteen month old in the pushchair chowing down on a packet of Quavers and you act all aghast, because suspiciously cheese flavoured reconstituted corn shall NEVER pass the lips of YOUR preshus angel. And then again when you’ve got a toddler and you see those big kids dominating the bouncy castle, bumping yours right out of the way and onto their faces, while their parents drink beer and literally could not give less of a shit, and you vow to never let your children be such obnoxious little brats that leap all over babies without a care in the world. We all judge, of course we do. Judgement is useful! When you are thrust into the oblivion, I think it is good to look around at what others are doing and syphon off the things that you like, and want to emulate, and the paths that you swear you’ll never go down. This is all a healthy way to work out the parent we want to be. But also, shit happens. The afore mentioned shit in the last paragraph for example. And it helps precisely no one if you are there, looking on, at parents having a hard time or wilfully ignoring their children, because they’ve had ENOUGH that day, and passing judgey judgement. I am trying my best to remember that, and to not be a dick.

So if we have ascertained that we are all going to have bad times, and that we will refrain from being too harsh on others who are having bad times, what about the rest? Repeat after me: there is no right way. I know amazing parents who put a ton of effort into their interactions with their children, set up wonderful Montessori style activities, and are mindful of everything they do. I also know amazing parents who work full time and drop their kids of at child care every day and let them watch a ton of TV in the evenings because they are all freaking tired. I have written a lot about the guilt that suddenly descends when you have kids and makes you feel like whatever you’re doing? Not good enough. NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH. But the conclusion that I have drawn is that if it is working out for you and you’re family? Probably good enough. I am definitely the geekiest parent on the block and if there is stuff in our family that is bothering me (my kid has started waking up in the night again, my kid hasn’t eaten any vegetables in a month, my kid has an all consuming obsession with sharks at the expense of any human interaction, let’s say, just as an example), then you can bet I will be up all night scouring the internet for ways to improve the situation. But I do try and separate out the stuff that bothers me, because it bothers me, and the stuff that is driven by what I think I should be doing, because a Mormon lady in New York is doing it.

A word on parenting blogs: There are some amazing women out there who write inspirationally and honestly about their time with children (shout outs to Renegade Mothering, Parenting Illustrated with Crappy Pictures and Recipe Rifle for keeping it so real). For the most part though, once a blog has paid sponsorship, they have to maintain their brand, and their brand is usually them, being a completely perfect parent. Of course they are dealing with the same crap as the rest of us, OF COURSE THEY ARE, but they are photographing and writing about fun trips to the pumpkin patch, or how they just weaved their own yurt out of felt. Which is cool, I love those blogs! I love felt yurts! But the phrase ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, has never been so apt.

Here are some other things I know:

Never tell the mother of a new born to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, ‘savour every moment’ or that is all ‘goes so fast’. It does go so fast but a day when you’re up at 5am and your partner is away and it’s raining and the internet has broken also lasts a thousand years, so that kind of makes up for it.

Instead, take the mother of a newborn food: cake, coffee and meals she can reheat. Literally the only gifts worth giving.

This too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass. They will stop doing that annoying thing that they do eventually. Sure, they’ll start doing some other annoying thing instead, but a change is as good as a rest right?

And seriously, if I was to pass on one piece of actual advice to the parent of small children it would be this: Ignore them sometimes. I am cultivating a style of parenting I like to call ‘conscious neglect’ (admittedly i might need to work on my branding), because honestly, it’s okay for kids to fend for themselves for a good chunk of the day. I think a lot about my Grandma, who raised three children in the North of England during the 1950s. She had a job and did all of the domestic chores without even a goddamn vacuum cleaner or washing machine, while her husband worked away a lot. Seriously, how was this even possible? Well she sure as shit wasn’t putting together colour match wheels and busy bags and making toast that looked like a little bear (although that bear toast? OMG). And yet she was still an amazing mother. So I think about her when I tell my kids that they have to entertain themselves for a while so I can cook, or get dinner ready or mess around on my iphone and feel thankful that I don’t have a mangle and that it’s no longer an expectation that I scrub my front steps every day. They’ll be okay on their own for a while, and it makes me appreciate the times when I sit down to do something nice with them all the more.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things. How to do a one handed nappy change on the parcel shelf of your car for a start, but that’s okay, you’ll figure it out. I need to go and do some other stuff: Plant some cabbages, swoon over yellow kitchen tiles, read a BOOK, Snap Chat a friend, secretly buy a dog. Stuff that still exists, waiting for you, when you emerge from the fog.

Aquarium.

This morning my husband had to drive his Mum back to London and offered to take #2 with him so that I could hang out with the Mancub for the day. It’s always a treat to have a bit of one on one time with my biggest, and I had it in my head that we would do whatever he wanted with the day, while free from the schedules of preschool and his little brother. It would be nice to follow his lead and see what came of the time.

As soon as I asked him what he fancied, he instantly replied, ‘The Aquarium!’. Not what I expected, but I happened to have a 50% off voucher, plus it was a rainy Saturday, so feeling awfully spontaneous, we headed straight off on the bus.

So often we are out with others, be it the rest of our family or friends and, quite rightly, we have to find compromise and go at the pace of the group. It is nice, on occasion, to not have to nudge the Mancub along, or have him keep up a pace that is either too fast or too slow for his liking. Today the day was entirely his. We rushed through the initial tanks of tropical fish and straight to the rock pool area, where he happily stayed for half an hour, talking to the expert, leaning in and touching the starfish and shore crabs and operating the mini camera. I instinctively went to move him along several times, but he was clearly completely engrossed, so I bit my tongue and let him stay. We whizzed through several other sections too, pausing briefly to take in octopus and jelly fish, before getting to a digital exhibition on prehistoric marine reptiles. ‘Prehistoric is my favourite word!’, he declared, and that’s where we spent the remainder of our outing. It was an absolute pleasure throughout.

As we were in town we popped to the library and took out some books on sharks and fish, then headed home via a pizza restaurant, where he proved that he is still my favourite lunch date, because no one else I know scoops up and eats garlic butter using cucumber as a makeshift spoon, but really more people should.

Back home he spend the rest of the day playing PREHISTORIC MARINE REPTILES! using some of his dinosaur toys and told me that mudskippers are really his favourite fish.

I can’t remember a day where parenting felt so carefree and relaxing. A nice reminder that slowing down and letting them take the lead, avoiding that instinct to always hurry on, often pays off in the end.

Learning at home: Reading.

image

This week, at just shy of three and a half, the Mancub learned to jump with two feet, and read. One of those things was just on the cusp of worryingly late, the other? Well allow me at least a second to Mom brag: the boy can read. Words. Short words admittedly (cat, dog, pot, win), but he sees them, sounds them out, and then tells me what they say. To say that he is excited by this development is something of an understatement. He laughed hysterically for a minute after he read his first word before shouting, ‘Write another!’. And another. And another.

At this point I believe I’m supposed to insert some sort of platitude along the lines of, ‘It’s incredible! Unbelievable! I don’t know where it came from!’, which would be something of a misnomer. I do know where it came from, because I taught him to read. So obviously I knew it was coming and it doesn’t really surprise me, but nevertheless, I’m pretty blown away by it. I’m only human, just like he is only three.

Anyway, I thought it might be nice to share a few of the strategies I have used here, because they are things you can do with a child of any age, providing they find them fun and engaging and providing they are ready. Feel free to take a few of them away, or just ignore them and write me off as a terrible show off. If you’re new to this blog or don’t come here often I should also probably point out that I am a primary school teacher by trade, hence my ability to ramble on about this topic for far too many words.

***

I don’t think there are many things that we are obligated to do as parents. Feeding and clothing our children is a good start. A few toys are essential I suppose. Love, warmth, affection, but certainly nothing as complicated as the thousands of parenting books on the market would suggest.

Reading for me, like clothes and food, is a non negotiable. Stories, comics and magazines. Poetry, nursery rhymes and information books. All children love being read to, and if they are read to frequently, all children will, eventually, want to learn to read for themselves. It might be when they are two, it might be when they are seven, but I fundamentally believe that children have an innate desire to learn that needs little encouragement.

What we, as parents, carers and teachers have the power to do, is to put out that flame of desire in an instant if we push them too soon, or make reading a chore. Learning anything, whether it’s riding a bike or reading a book should always come from a child’s willingness and ability to do so. I’m absolutely not advocating here that we sit down all kids at age 3 and teach them phonics (that that is happening in nurseries across the country makes my heart sink), just that we to read to them, as early and as often as possible, then the rest will naturally follow.

But, my kid showed an interest. He had that desire, and he has a good grasp of words and letters, so I did some things with him that moved his reading forward to the point he is at now, where he can decode short words himself and make a good guess at many others based on their context and initial letter. Here are a few of the things we’ve been doing over the past year.

***

Strategies for Reading With Children.

As I have said, for me the single most important thing a parent can do with regards to their child’s education is to read to them. I had a bedtime story every night until I was around ten years old, and I still remember the feeling of sadness when I realised I was too old to have one any more. No child would ever want to read unless they have an incentive to do so. Reading them stories that they love provides that incentive, as well as about a million other benefits.

Alongside this you can begin to introduce your child to the phonetic alphabet. There is no harm in teaching letter names (A, B, C etc), but it is more beneficial in terms of learning to read to teach the phonetic sounds (A is a hard a, like at the start of Apple, B is buh, C is cuh, E is eh like at the start of Elephant etc). I bought a few simple alphabet books and used these as a starting point, (I would trace the letter with his finger and sing ‘Buh is for ball, Buh-Buh-Ball or whatever was on that page). We also played with magnetic letters (Can you find me puh for parrot?), letter jigsaws and stampers. We wrote letters on pebbles and we traced them in the sand. (Side note: our ridiculously complex language means that all letters can represent many different sounds, so it’s best to go with the most common. However the Mancub’s name ends in a y, which in his name makes an ‘ee’ sound like at the end of monkey, so I taught him right away that Y makes a ‘yuh’ sound at the start of words, but an ‘ee’ sound at the end. He doesn’t seem to find this too confusing, but usually refers to Y as ‘ee’. You might want to do this if your child also has a phonetically complex name such as Phillip or Cedric).

As your child begins to learn some of their letters and sounds you can introduce games like I Spy. The Mancub always finds this easier if instead of spotting things around the room that we can actually see, we play on a theme, (I spy with my little eye, an animal that begins with duh… Duck / a dinosaur that begins with sss… Stegosaurus / someone who begins with mmm… Mama). Sometimes I would collect a bunch of objects on a tray and we would play I spy with them, and you could also use those ‘find it’ books. The point of all this I spying is to focus on the initial sounds of words, as a segue into being able to spell and read them. As a way of encouraging them to think about it from the opposite perspective you could ask your child, I’m writing a card to Grandma, what letter does Grandma begin with? If they’re old enough they could write or use a stamper to print the first letter for you. You could also do this when your writing shopping list (what letter do I need at the start of bananas?), or you could write a story together (they tell you a story, you write it down, but ask them for help with some words).

If your child is enjoying books, they know most of their letters and can pick out the initial sound of familiar words, you might like to start helping them to segment words (break words up into their individual sounds), and blend them (put them back together again). This sounds complicated, but is basically what we’re doing all the time when we read and spell unfamiliar words. We sound them out, we turn those sounds into a word. A nice way to do this is play a game based on your child’s interests. The Mancub loves Octonauts, so I ask him, ‘Which Octonaut am I? D-a-sh-ee’, and he is able to put those sounds together to say, ‘Dashi’. We have done lots of this sort of thing on different themes, and he likes having a go at sounding out words for me to guess too.

Finally, once you put those skills together, you have the building blocks of reading. In time your child will go from having the component parts, to being able to look at a word and sound it out ‘c-a-t’, and know that it makes the word cat. It’s magic really, and it does just seem to happen over night. Of course not all children take this route to learning to read, but it is the one most commonly taught in schools now.

***

This is the beginning of a long journey. The Mancub doesn’t yet know that sometimes two letters go together to make a sound like sh or ch. He finds it hard to read words longer than three letters, because it’s still too challenging to hold onto all of those letters in his head and blend them. And then there’s words like ‘the’ and ‘was’ and ‘he’, that can’t be sounded out and just need to be learned by heart.

But he’s on the road and he’s so excited to get going that it’s infectious.

I hope you’ve found some of these little activities of interest or of use. Ultimately I think my only advice is to be led by your child, to use their interests and enjoyment as a starting point and to do little bits here as they want to, (we play these games for no more than a few minutes at a time, and by no means each day).

If you’re child is anything like mine, the laughter that follows the first time they read the word ‘bum’ out loud will be worth it.

sixteen month update.

A bit late this month and time just seems to keep flying by. Here is a slightly belated update of what #2 is up to at the moment.

image

Appearance and Growth:
Not much to report, his growth has reached a steady rate, his hair keeps getting longer at the back yet nowhere else and he is still the cutest when he smiles and his little cheeks pop out.

On the move:
#2 is walking so confidently now and toddles around over different levels and surfaces when we’re out and about. He enjoys playing a game where he deliberately falls, so I say, ‘ooplah’, then he gets up and does it again. He still crawls up and down the stairs, but that’s just about the only time he does.

Food and drink:
He is still eating a lot less than he used to, which I guess is a little surprising, as I thought he would be using that much more energy now he’s walking. He’s a real front loader, and eats a lot in the morning (toast, cereal, fruit, raisins all before 9am), then eats less at each meal, barely touching his dinner most nights. This is frustrating as I’m sure it’s not helping his desire to wake up at the crack of dawn and that’s often when we’ll eat most of our more adventurous meals and a lot of veg, but it’s a tough nut to crack.

Playing:
As I mentioned earlier he likes playing a few physical games such a falling over and getting back up, chasing and spinning to music (and the Hoover), and hiding behind my back. He loves his spinning top and his toy whale and is starting to enjoy building towers, but mainly he still loves boxes of little things (he has a tray of shells, which end up all over the house), and books. His favourite is The Snail and The Whale.

Sleep:
One slightly irksome development is that #2 has started waking up really sad from his nap. I remember the Mancub going through this phase, and actually it lasted until he stopped napping, so that’s not particularly reassuring. He just wakes up so grumpy and will cry on and off, sometimes for up to an hour and usually it takes a change of scenery or getting out in the car to snap him out of it. I have no idea what causes this, but it’s difficult and I can’t think of any ways to make waking up easier for him, so any advice would be welcome.

Language:
This month he has started using the initial sounds for some words, which is exciting. He can say ‘bah’ for bat, and ‘wuh-wuh’, for both walrus and whale. He can sign ‘more’ really well now and says, ‘moh moh moh!’ to ask for more food, another book or another episode of Peter Rabbit on the laptop (ahem). He has morphed a lot of the animal noises he knows into words for animals, so ducks are ‘dack dack’, cats are ‘yah yah’ and owls are ‘wooh’. He can follow so many instructions now such as putting his shoes in the shoe box, or fetching a particular book (I said the opening lines to Peepo the other day, and he toddled off and picked it out), and he can point out tons of stuff in his books, although he doesn’t quite have the same obsession with learning birds that his brother did at this age.

Personality:
This month has been a little tricky. He is so happy for much of the time, but he can go from happy and smiling to crying huge tears in an instant, and it’s not always clear what’s upset him (to us or him I think). He’s also developed a pretty insistent whine to let you know when something’s not to his liking and it’s hard on him because having a big brother means that a lot of the time I’m not necessarily able to focus on him and what he wants at that moment. I try to spend a little time each day giving him my complete attention, so he gets stories or playing or tickling, and it’s so rewarding to see how content he is, but I feel like too often he is just bimbling about trying to keep up with everything else that needs to be done. Not easy being second baby.

Kids on a plane.

image

image
^^Photos from my husband’s Instagram.

Much like writing your birth story and (over)sharing in excruciating detail how you wash your nappies, a post about flying with your kids for the first time is a rite of passage for any bonafide parenting blogger. I think the apprehension beforehand is such that afterwards you feel the need to declare to the Internet, ‘I did it! I survived! I did not hurl them out of the aeroplane window!’

And we did! We survived! We flew to Portugal and back without major incident and luckily for us (although not so lucky for the rest of the passengers), a delightful stag do totally stole our thunder as the people you’d most like to stab in the neck with a cocktail stick, and drowned out the noise of a squirmy baby and then some with their gripping accounts of exactly how much alcohol they had consumed in the last three hours. Gotta love the Brits abroad #proud.

My main concern before we went was packing enough stuff to keep both boys mildly entertained for the duration of the flight. I shouldn’t have worried (about that at least). The perpetual bookworm that is the Mancub already spends hours sitting on the sofa looking at books and absorbing magazines, so why I thought that three hours confined to a chair would be an issue for him I don’t know. He read his copy of Disney Princess Magazine from cover to cover on both flights (what an absolute festival of sexism that is by the way, but that’s a whole other post), and barely even noticed the aeroplane taking off.

At the other end of the ‘keeping yourself entertained’ spectrum was fifteen month old #2. Fifteen months is surely the WORST age to take a baby on a plane and I swear you couldn’t pay me to take him on a long haul flight right now. He is that heady mix of wanting to be constantly on the move, but with no ability to stay focused on any one thing for more than 3 seconds, so he worked through our selection of toys, books and stickers before we were even on the runway. We also flew out at his bedtime, but getting him to sleep with the afore mentioned stag party so close by was impossible. In fact, the only thing that kept him remotely occupied was a steady stream of snacks, from biscuits to fruit leather to sandwiches, so by the end he was not only exhausted, but also entirely wired on sugar, an excellent combination to be sure. In short: if you’re flying with a toddler, fill all your available luggage space with food.

However, having focused on the potential for disaster in the air, I totally overlooked getting us through the airport, forgetting that we’d be there for nearly as long as our flight. Having arranged to borrow a pushchair at our destination, I naively thought that we would be okay with two kids and one sling between them. Hahaha!

#2 is content to be in the Ergo, as long as I am moving at a steady pace. If I stand still for more than 15 seconds (ie. to queue for security, queue to get into the gate, queue for an interminably long time to get onto the plane), he wriggles and squirms to get down before beginning a never ending campaign of whining until at last you relent and just let him run around desks and security checkpoints, pulling things off conveyor belts, because you’re embarrassment at being seemingly unable to control your toddler is preferable to the whiningOHMYGODSTOPWHINING!!!

The Mancub on the other hand was more than happy to walk through the airport. Totally happy to cruise along at a rate of approximately a mile a day, taking in every screen, every item for sale in every shop, every vehicle spotted out of a window. Our gate was a twenty minute walk away at a normal pace, so we were faced with the choice of either dragging him along the polished floors by his sleeve, carrying him the entire way, or nearly missing our flight because we indulged his desire to spend ten minutes carefully observing the patterns on a chair. Obviously we went with the latter, because we are ridiculous.

Unlike Gatwick, who don’t give you anything for free, Faro airport have banks of pushchairs available to borrow, which caused my husband to almost cry with joy coming home. #2 is always content to be wheeled around, and having him in a pushchair meant I could pop The Mancub in the Ergo if we needed to get anywhere quicker than at snail’s pace. Never again will I travel without that option.

Others things to note: Easyjet’s inflight baby changing facilities are appalling. Very glad that I took a fold up change pad. // €5 for a small tub of Pringles and a bottle of water. Gravely regretted packing a million snacks for the boys, but none for us. // Ears. #2 has been pretty miserable since his flying experiences due to a heavy cold plus cabin pressure, which apparently equals all sorts of pain. Our health visitor assured me this is normal, although unpleasant, but I certainly wished I had packed a sugar free lolly for him to suck and some Calpol for the following day.

In between times there was also the small matter of HOLIDAY! Three glorious days of sunshine sandwiched into this miserable British winter and thanks to my parents’ impeccable babysitting service, we managed to eat out, without the kids, for all three nights. This alone was worth the flights. The Mancub loved scurrying around on the beach collecting hermit crabs and sea anemones and hurling himself into every available body of water, usually fully clothed because HOLIDAY! SUNSHINE! FREEDOM!

I should probably have dedicated a thousand words to that instead, but there’s something about flying with kids that you need to get out of your system afterwards. So there it is.

fifteen month update.

image

Appearance and Growth:
Hurrah! All 16 teeth are through now, leaving only the last 4 molars to go, but they should be about a year away. The change in his temperament has been dramatic and we won’t be giving him up for adoption after all.

On the move:
A week or so ago a game changer occurred: he learned to get up to standing by himself. This means that if he falls over he can get back up again and is now walking the bulk of the time. Officially a toddler *sob*.

Food and drink:
His appetite has diminished a bit of late, as I guess he’s not growing quite so rapidly. As a result he’s becoming a little more… Discerning? I definitely wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s being fussy, but he doesn’t eat absolutely anything like he used to. Although crumbs (and general dirt) off the floor are still his favourite, so not that discerning.

Playing:
Hs favourite things to play with are essentially toys with lots of small pieces that he can throw all over the place, collect back together, throw again, and then leave for me to tidy up. Pots of pencils are a favourite, as are jigsaw puzzles or anything where you don’t want to lose a bit. He was caught red handed the other day posting the cards from Bird Bingo through the floorboards.

Sleep:
Same. Old. Story. Early to bed, early to rise.

Language:
Despite understanding tons, and being able to identify lots of objects and animals using signs and sounds, #2 doesn’t have many actual words yet aside from ‘look’, ‘deh’, ‘dat’ and a few other things along the same lines. Recently though he’s started saying a few affectations, such as ‘Wow!’ and ‘Yay!’, and he is getting better at copying sounds and words that we make.

Personality:
Honestly, since his final tooth came through it’s like we’ve been gifted a new child. Of course he still has his grumpy moments (when it’s time to get out of the bath – he’s perfected the jelly arms), but he is just so freaking lovely at the moment. So happy and silly and smiley and ticklish. The only time he gets in a really foul mood is when he wakes up too early in the morning (I’m talking pre 5am), which is pretty rare and if he wakes up too early from a nap (before two hours), which is a little less rare, but still only once a week maybe. Other than that he is pretty damn chilled and even nappy changes are a relative breeze these days. I’ll take it while it lasts, because I know full well that the onset of toddler tantrums are only just around the corner.

Letting go.

image

image

The Mancub has started preschool.

He goes three mornings a week from 9am until midday, term time only, fully subsidised.

He cries every morning.

He cries, my heart breaks a little and I wonder: Is this the right way to prepare our children for the world? To bit by bit break them into the fact that after years of being there to console their every cry, to hold their hand through every difficult experience, that from now on, we’re just going to shove them into a room and walk away stoically, and tell them to be brave and that it’s what they have to do.

I wonder: If I do this will he gradually embrace the group activities that have always made him so anxious? Will he slowly move away from his key worker and the safety of the book corner, where he sits, unsure of where he fits into all of these children confidently running around, playing with Duplo, crashing cars into each other, dressing up as nurses, taking each other’s temperatures and doling out imaginary medicine.

I wonder: If I don’t do this will school be an unmitigated nightmare? Will he inevitably be that child that clings to me at the school gates, older now, but still so attached. The other parents will look and think, ‘Wow, she must have really spoiled him’ and I’ll think, ‘Wow, I probably did’.

For the first few weeks he sobbed, brutally, every morning. He cried on and off throughout his time there, sometimes distracted, but always returning to tears. Not eating the snack at the free flow snack table, not helping himself to water from the water station. And then I’d arrive to collect him and instead of running to me and dissolving into my arms like I so wanted him to, he would just be so, so angry. It was as if all of the energy it had taken him to just keep it together came flooding out in a ball of rage, so he cried all the way home as well, and after so much bloody crying he was incapable of doing anything other than watching episodes of Octonauts on repeat, which really contributed to my confidence that I was doing the right thing.

He’s been going for four weeks now. There are still tears each morning, but drop offs are swift and I have gained the strength to just take him in, kiss him, and let his key worker do the rest. I always call ten minutes later and by then he’s fine, playing happily with the animals or the dinosaurs or a fishing game. He stays happy now, the whole time he’s there. Some days he comes home with pictures he’s made and tells me about the snack he ate and who he sat next to. He sits in a circle for story time, he enjoyed watching the others play with the giant parachute, he is no longer terrified when everyone sings the good morning song.

And when I come to collect him he runs out with his back pack on, smiling. It no longer requires all of his energy just to keep it together, so he now has a little left over at the end of a session for me. He chatters animatedly on the way home, asks where we’re going that afternoon.

I no longer feel as if I’m breaking him.

Which is nice.

Going it alone.

image

Today, for the first time ever, I dropped the Mancub off at a crèche, and left him. Without me. Or any member of his family. FOR A WHOLE FORTY MINUTES.

Clearly I was racked with a whole gamut of worries about what might happen to my beautiful and unique snowflake once he was lumped in with a bunch of other utterly average children. WOULD THEY RUIN HIM FOREVAH???

Luckily he seems to have escaped unscathed, but these were legitimate concerns you guys.

At one point I walked past (read: stood hovering outside of the window for the majority of the time) and saw a paint brush being placed in his hand and being guided into the shape of a smiley face. AND HE WAS ENJOYING IT! It was as if he has no concern at all for the creativity I have diligently nurtured in him over the past two and a half years. The betrayal was palpable.

I finally managed to tear myself away to go and get a coffee. I returned a while later and there he was, still totally happy, playing with the doll’s house, barely registering my presence as I walked into the room. I only managed to get him to willingly leave by bribing him with a smoothie.

So this is… Good? Of course it is, it is great. To be able to leave him and take his brother swimming once a week, while he is gallivanting in a ball pit and painting and playing with different toys and children and not missing me one iota.

Brilliant.

Couldn’t be happier.

Whatever.

image

So Alicia Silverstone has written a parenting book. I haven’t read it, but I’m going to go ahead and slate it anyway. Obviously it’s fairly easy to lay into a woman whose parenting style includes prechewing her children’s food for them, but that’s not my beef. Nope, it’s this little gem:

“Though it’s less common among kind mamas, some women experience the blues after giving birth.”

Got that ladies? If you’re experiencing them baby blues, if you’re tired and weepy and crying at that advert for insurance, or you’re standing at the sink wiping away tears because the baby is still crying and the toddler won’t put on his shoes and motherhood is turning out to be less wonderful that you had imagined and actually you’d kind of like to run away to France and sleep for two weeks straight. If you find yourself nervously sitting in a Doctor’s waiting room desperate to tell someone that you’re not coping particularly well and could you please have some help. Well, it’s probably because you’re just not kind enough. Soz.

I wouldn’t mind, but this kind of woman hating bullshit is becoming so common place that it makes me want to scratch my face off a bit.

It is a given that there are things that most of us strive for when we have a baby. We want a safe and natural birth without medical intervention or trauma. We want to be able to breastfeed our child. We want to be happy parents that love and dote on our baby.

Of course, it’s important that there is literature available that supports these goals, but what I am increasingly noticing is a rhetoric that doesn’t just support women in their desire for natural birth and motherhood, but that shames those who aren’t able to achieve that.

I would imagine that it’s true to say that women who prepare well for birth, attend antenatal classes, practice relaxation and have a supportive partner and midwife are more likely to have a natural birth, although let’s face it, women have been giving birth for a millennia without any of those things. You can prepare, focus and do all the visulations you like, but we must also acknowledge that there’s a lot of luck involved too. Sometimes things just go wrong, things that if they had happened a hundred years ago, or happened today in parts of rural Africa, would kill you. Medical intervention is not failure, it is what has to happen sometimes to keep a mother and baby safe and there is no shame in that. It does not make you a lesser woman or mother because you chose to have an epidural, or because doctors made a decision to cut you open when that was deemed to be the safest option.

Ditto breastfeeding. I attended a breastfeeding class led by a woman that told a group of expectant mothers that there was no excuse for anyone not to breastfeed, that she had been to Papua New Guinea and everyone in the villages there breastfeeds because formula is not an option. The amount of guilt a friend from that group felt when her baby didn’t latch was acute, but let’s not forget that while in Papua New Guinea every baby may be breast fed, that’s not the whole picture. It’s fine to romanticise traditional cultures, but you have to be realistic that they also have major shortcomings in the shape of some really grim statistics (50 in every 1000 live babies dies before the age of one in Papua New Guinea, compared to just 4 in the UK). My friend’s baby who never did latch on, would more than likely been one of those 50 if she had lived in a different part of the world, but here she had the option to express milk and give formula, which is awesome.

And as for the baby blues? With my first baby I sailed into motherhood. I just revelled in how much I enjoyed it and soaked up every single minute. After my second baby I cried every day for a fortnight. Like, sobbed. Every day. If I was a more vulnerable person I would read comments like that one above, written by some actor, and it would feed into the notion that it was somehow my fault. That it’s because I wasn’t a good enough mother, that I wasn’t kind enough. Luckily for me I am happy to see it for the bullshit that it is, another example of the guilt that is laid at our doors if we don’t measure up. If we are not quite perfect.

What expectant mothers need is empowering. It’s great to feel positive about child birth and breastfeeding in public and how awesome it is to have a tiny new born, and I’m so glad that there’s such a wealth of that available online and in books and from the women that I have met since having children. But surely we can empower and inform and educate in a way that doesn’t also create a culture of guilt and shame and one upmanship. We are all just rookies trying to get along, trying to do the best that we can do and inevitably screwing up some of it and learning from mistakes along the way. It doesn’t matter how kind you are, there is shit that will go wrong and make you tear your hair out, and days when you feel like the worst mother in the world. What you need on those days is a strong cup of coffee and a non judgmental friend who knows exactly how you feel, not someone insinuating that you brought it on yourself because you didn’t have enough happy thoughts.

So I won’t be buying Alicia’s book. I’m sure she’s a wonderful person and an impeccably kind Mama, but turns out she’s still pretty clueless (see? yes!) when it comes to how other women might feel.

Two month update

Appearance and Growth:
This one is turning out to be a bit of a chunker. Last time i had him weighed he was hitting the 75th %ile and a rough home weigh in puts him at around 13lb. Oof! He looks more and more like me as a baby. Same strong eyebrows, withering frown and massive gob. Cute though 😉

Feeding:
Like a boss. We still, as is my wont, have no discernible pattern of feeds. Sometimes he feeds to sleep then won’t have another feed until his next nap time. Sometimes he also wakes up ravenous and top and tails his sleeps with milk, sometimes he snacks all day. Fine by me as my supply is awesome and it’s all dead easy.

Day Sleep:
In this field we have established a bit more of a pattern. We’re still hitting 4 naps a day most days, with 3 taken in the crib if we’re at home and the final one in the sling. He lasts roughly 90 minutes awake, so I can predict when I’ll need to start getting him ready to go down, although the timings differ every day depending on when he woke up. Still going down with relative ease and naps tend to last around an hour.

Night Sleep:
It seems a little disingenuous to describe what ‘normally’ happens, as at the moment we all have colds in the Easyworld household and therefore sleep has gone a little bit awry. Thankfully the mancub has interpreted this as going into hibernation and is sleeping in until between 8.30am and 9am most days. #2 on the other hand has had a couple of nights of waking every 2 hours again, with a little bonus of every 45 minutes come 4am. I’m feeling HOT you guys. BUT. Normally he goes down to sleep at around 6pm, puts in a good 4 hours at the start of the night, has a further feed before I go to bed then two wakings (at around 1am and 4am), which takes us through until morning. I am trying to stop fixating on the fact that the mancub was down to one feed by now and sleeping through by 3 months, and instead remind myself that that’s a pretty normal state of affairs for a 2 month old.

Personality:
So, so CUTE. He’s getting more and more chilled by the day and is definitely at his best in the mornings, when he will happily lie on the bed while I potter around him. He’s started doing those lovely cooing and gurgling sounds, which along with his broad smiles make sitting and holding him a real pleasure. He did amazingly well over Christmas when he was passed around a slew of relatives with no complaints (from me or him!) and is a pretty sociable chap. He no longer looks like his brother, but they have so many similar mannerisms, noises and preferences, the main one being that he likes to be held upright, either sitting and looking around, taking it all in, or standing on your lap and pushing wobbly legs down. Those first few weeks I was so worried that this little guy might be more of a fuss pot, but nope, totally calm, just how we like them.