Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Visiting potential schools – questions to ask

Chris and I will be going to visit one of the schools where Rosemary may go tomorrow. And the other one two weeks later. There are only two within walking distance, one very small (16 intake) and the other pretty big (37). Actually, there is a third, but that’s a Catholic school and we wouldn’t really consider it, being very unreligious. There’s also a school in a nearby village that has a bus that stops close by, which we might consider, but probably not. There are other schools around, but they would all involve about an hour’s walk, or driving. Most of them aren’t accessible by public transport at the right time, though some are.

So… what questions do we need to ask? Here are some that I’ve come up with off the top of my head:

  • What technology is used in teaching?
  • How are pupils’ individual needs assessed and catered to (e.g. special interests, extra help, extra challenges)?
  • What is the level and type of religious education? Can pupils be excused from religious assemblies and, if so, what would they do instead?
  • When are languages started and which one/s?
  • What are the meals like (e.g. healthy, veggie option, packed lunch option)?
  • How do teachers and parents communicate?
  • What is the policy on time off (e.g. OK to take a day off to visit an aquarium or museum, OK to go on holiday in term time, or neither)?
  • Is there much bullying and how is this addressed?
  • Does the school have an overall ethos?
  • How are different cultures explored?
  • How are stereotypes avoided?
  • What outdoor play facilities are there?
  • How many classroom assistants are there in each class?
  • What sort of teaching methods are used?

What would (or did) you ask? Is there anything you especially like about your children’s school? Is there anything you really hate about your children’s school and would advise avoiding? Do you think a smaller school is better than a bigger one, in general? Any other tips for the whole school choice palaver?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Helping the people of Cumbria

We are putting together an Auction to raise funds for the Cumbria Flood Recovery Fund.

The Auction will be hosted by Bambino Goodies and is being coordinated by Kat Molesworth, Bambino Goodies
Features Editor.

We have set up a specific email account for this auction:

The Plan: to gather a series of auction lots covering a range of values to be auctioned off fromMonday 30th November – Sunday 6th December the proceeds of which will be donated in full to the recovery fund.

The mechanics of the auction are being decided in the next couple of days we are looking into options including in house hosting and eBay charity auctions – we will keep you posted.

How you can help:

  • Our idea is that each lot will have several items of low to medium value or one or two high value items. You are welcome to create more than one lot.
  • What kind of items? That’s entirely up to you; we are willing to consider all ideas! The moredesirable the better. Whether it is products, shopping sprees, mystery extras or experiences; all offers are welcome.
  • Postage: you will need to include postage to the winner in your offer, please let us know if this is UK only or available to International bidders as well.
  • Please email your offers to:
  • Once you have offered an auction lot we will send you a confirmation form where you can list all the details – this will be the official confirmation of your offer.
  • All donations are to be confirmed by Thursday 26th November to allow us to set the auction up.
  • We will confirm the details of the winning bidders following successful payment so you can post their lot to them
  • Can you help us promote the auction to other potential donors?
  • Are you able to spread the word through social media? We have large support from parent bloggers and would really appreciate every extra voice.
  • Once the auction is live please stop by and bid!
All offers of support are gratefully accepted.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Christmas Rules

This is a sponsored post.

John Lewis are offering another £25 voucher, and I'm besotted by all their lovely clothes, so I am going to let them jump the sponsored post queue (there's a deadline, sorry). Also, I love Christmas, so a chance to blather on about for a bit, even though it's not yet November, is not to passed up.

So, what they want to know is our Rules for the Perfect Family Christmas:

  • Children are an essential ingredient to a perfect Christmas!
  • Only children get stockings. When you stop being a child is up for debate, though. Rosemary may get to be one a bit longer, until Eleanor stops...
  • The youngest child hands out the presents. If the youngest child can't read, she (or he) hands them to the second youngest child to read and then pass out. Or to a grown-up, if none of the children can read.
  • Stockings, and the one big present that Santa has left under the tree are the only ones to be opened on awakening, and can be opened without grown-ups (but we'd like to see, if you don't mind). Then you have to keep yourself amused with these gifts until lunch is cooking, when the rest of the presents can be opened (or started on - if there are too many, we have to do it in two batches, one before lunch and one after).
The Christmas meal
  • There absolutely and without question must be roast potatoes. And they cannot be cooked in with any meat or cooked in goose fat, so Mummy can eat them. (Fortunately, Grandma and Grandpa got a double-oven, so Mummy gets this every year.)
  • There must be brussel sprouts, even if no-one touches them.
  • If we're here, we get one of Mummy's vegetarian centre-pieces; if we're at Grandma and Grandpa's, we get some kind of roasted meat or poultry, and Mummy gets to make herself a mini centre-piece.
  • There must be a desert that isn't Christmas pudding - even if there has to be Christmas pudding, too.
  • Everyone will eat at the dining table (even if it's a ridiculous squeeze), including children. There will be no children's table.
  • There will be crackers.
The in-laws
  • Will come to us for a Christmas once they've retired, which Daddy will enjoy, as it will give him an excuse to cook a pig, or some kind of bird, or whatever. In the meantime, we will go there every other year.
  • And Daddy will have the house invaded by his mother-in-law and sister-in-law every other year.
  • There will be family games (of the board game variety). No-one will be allowed to get out of them, unless there's a limit on how many people can play, or possibly if it's gone their bedtime, or they can't sit up unaided.
  • There will be a film and everyone will fall asleep.
  • Christmas music will be played and sung all through December.
  • Decorations will go up some time in December and come down before 6 January. Usually.
  • Mummy and Daddy will disagree about how much decoration there will be.
  • The tree will be the fold-away one in the basement, because pine needles are a bugger to get rid of, and we don't want to chop down a whole tree just for a few week's prettiness.
  • Cards will be hung on string from the ceiling or along the walls, not balanced precariously on mantelpieces and TVs.
Now... I think Chris may want to rewrite some of these when he reads them.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A morning off

This morning I went to Oxford to meet up with a prospective client. He had emailed last week, after being given our details by someone I used to work with (as in so many areas, while you do need to know things, it’s also incredibly useful to know someone, as well), to see if I could come and have a chat.

I wasn’t about to say no to the possibility of lots (or even some) work, but my first instinct was to take Eleanor with me, and bring Chris or my mum to push her round/sit in a cafe with her while I was in the actual meeting. That’s what I would have done three years ago. There is no way that I would have considered going as far as Oxford, or even Cheltenham, without Rosemary when she was 5 weeks old. Because I was a new mum and panicked about everything. I didn’t let anyone else take Rosemary out in her buggy without me until she was six months, so I would hardly have gone off gallivantingworking for half a day.

But… I realised, last week, that I didn’t technically need to bring Eleanor along. She takes a bottle with no problem and tends to have some formula every day. I’d be able to feed her in the morning, then again when I got back. It’s even possible she wouldn’t need any more in between. And then I realised that I was a lot more laid back this time round – we often leave Eleanor alone when she’s sleeping (with the baby monitor on), we will let her cry for a bit (while getting the warm water for a nappy change, in her buggy while putting Rosemary’s coat on, etc.) rather than picking her up the very second she opens her mouth – and that I’d probably be OK to leave her for the 6.5 hours that I would be gone from the house.

And I was OK. In fact, I really enjoyed it. It was a beautiful day, which probably helped. I played my new DS game on the way there and read my book on the way back. I had a latte and pain au chocolate in the morning and a brie, tomato and basil baguette and bottle of coke on the way back. I eavesdropped on conversations on the train – such fun. I walked through an area of Oxford I love, where I used to live and where I would love to live again some day. I wore make-up and smart clothes – well, actually, I wore the same clothes I wear all the time, because they’re comfortable and, well, they fit. Oh yes, and the meeting went very well and looks like it should lead to a fair bit of work in the coming months.

On the way back, I had a bit of a revelation. It struck me that I could actually cope with going out to work. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing, of course, and working from home works really well for us. But occasionally I’ll leaf through the Guardian or Bookseller job pages and might light on a job that would actually be perfect for me. And then I think there’s no point in even considering it, because I couldn’t possibly work away from home. That’s not who I am. But, you know, maybe that could be me. If the right job came up.

Of course, the right job would need to pay something in the region of £100,000, so that Chris could be a stay-at-home dad and a really nice house, allow me to work flexitime, so I wouldn’t miss breakfast and dinner with my girls, allow me time off in the school holidays, so I could spend lots of time with my girls, be located within a 45-minute public transport commute (or somewhere we would happily move to), and be something that would engage and challenge me and allow me to use my creativity and not make me to take orders from too many people…

But the important thing is that I know I could do it. Even more important (and fortunate) is that I don’t have to.

What about you? Could you do it? Do you already? Have you become more laid back with your second child? Would you like to go out to work and have your partner stay at home?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Big sister

Rosemary has been rather neglected over here at Wahm-bam towers, what with pregnancy, birth and teeny tiny baby. Not to mention the backlog of reviews gradually appearing. Of course, she’s not being neglected at home. Though, mostly that’s thanks to the fact that she is at nursery school or playgroup for much of the time – three mornings and two full days.

So, I wanted to sing her praises for a bit, as a big sister to Eleanor, but also as a three-year-old girl, who is growing up and finding her space in the world.

The first few days of being a big sister were a little difficult for everyone. Rosemary was ill with a stomach bug. She didn’t really feel ill and had her usual boundless energy, but was stuck at home until she could manage 48 hours diarrhoea-free. And there was a new tiny person invading her space. One that she had  been looking forward to for so long and whose arrival she greeted with ‘Oh, isn’t she cute. I love you Eleanor.’

The problems were much less to do with Rosemary and more to do with our being all panicked and paranoid. Rosemary was being bombarded by shouts of ‘Don’t touch her head!’ ‘Be gentle!’ ‘That’s Eleanor’s changing mat. Leave it alone!’ ‘Get out of her crib!’ ‘Be careful!’ and, understandably, she found this a little difficult and was tending towards doing the things she was shouted at about more, rather than less. Hmm. Why would that be? A quick peek at my Babyworld ante-natal club, showed that everyone else with elder siblings was having the same problem, and also told us what to do, thanks to a few people who were on baby number three or four.

Once we started doing a few things differently, Rosemary became the adoring big sister she was naturally inclined to be. We made sure she got special one-on-one attention whenever possible. We got her helping with things like nappy changing. We allowed her to use Eleanor’s changing mat for her ‘exercises’ as long as she put it back when she finished with it (and she independently took on the job of putting it away if we ever left it out). We allowed her to sometimes have a bit of cotton wool for herself, as long as she asked first. For a while, she had the responsibility of sitting in the crib (when it was on the floor, of course), to warm it up before Eleanor was put in. These few little things made all the difference. Well, and our calming down a bit and not worrying that Eleanor was going to explode whenever Rosemary touched her!

Rosemary is now very good with Eleanor. She is always asking ‘Can I see her?’ which translates as ‘Can I see her eyes?’ Eleanor adores her and probably gives her more grins than anyone else. If we’re changing her nappy, Rosemary will frequently come and help or watch and she’ll lie next to her and sing or chat to her to keep her happy. When she goes to the RSPCA shop to get a treat on the way home sometimes, she almost always finds something for Eleanor, as well, or even instead of for herself. When she sees the adverts on TV, she points out all the toys that Eleanor might like. And when out and about she asks everyone (including random strangers) if they want to see ‘her baby’, who is ‘very cute’, or ‘really lovely’.

And she’s coming on in leaps and bounds in other ways, too. At the start of last week, she had had three dry nappies in a row and so was given the choice to try sleeping without a nappy. She chose to, though was a little concerned about it. And she’s been dry at night ever since.

She’s recently started drawing faces. When we travelled down to Wales on the train last weekend, she was drawing them in the condensation on the window. She’s even turning sad faces into happy faces by adding up lines. She’s also getting better at colouring inside the lines.

She’s recognising loads of letters and knows lots of words that those letters start with. She’s recognising more and more words and generally showing a good interest in reading.

She’s counting really well and has mostly got out of the weird habit of missing out number 13. She’s even managing some simple addition and subtraction.

So, here’s to my big girl, who I love to bits, even more so than before I had another little girl. Rosemary, you are wonderful and I love you very much.


So… Do you want to tell about your children’s recent milestones? Or how they are with their siblings, if they have any?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Looking for an advent calendar?

Are you looking for an advent calendar? No, I don’t mean a branded cardboard thing, full of teeth-rotting chocolate (mmm, chocoloate), but a nice reusable one that can form the basis of a family Christmas tradition. Well, go check out the advent calendar reviews at the Great Toy Guide.

John Lewis fashion

This is a sponsored post.

John Lewis recently (well in September – I’m a bit late) re-launched their fashion website and Anna Loftin from Cohn & Wolfe sent me a £25 voucher for the store.

Being a mum who enjoys buying clothes for her children more than for herself, I immediately went to the site and ordered a dress and some tights for Rosemary. Gorgeous, gorgeous clothes! There are some outrageously expensive clothes on there – baby girls’ dresses for £50 and more – but most of the John Lewis clothes themselves are very reasonably priced and comparable to Next, where I get a lot of Rosemary’s clothes. And, if I wasn’t having to watch our outgoings, I would love to be let loose on the women’s clothing with a credit card. Oh, so very much. There is some truly beautiful stuff on there. If I win the lottery this weekend, I will most certainly splash out!

Where do you buy your children’s clothes? Are your children generally more stylishly dressed than you, like mine are?

Do you back up your files?

This is a sponsored post.

How often, if ever do you back up your files? Do you have hundreds of photos and videos of your children stored in only one place? What would you do if you lost them? My gran lost a whole biscuit-tin-full of photos when she moved house. All her wedding photos and lots of photos of my dad and his brother and sister when they were children. She is still very upset about losing these, especially since my grandad and my father are both no longer with us. But, in this day and age, we really have no excuse for losing photos. Because they’re all digital. Yet, I never really thought about backing ours up. A bunch of them are uploaded to Flickr as well. Some of them are on Facebook. And a fair few of the videos are on You-Tube. But there are others that are only on one of the computers, some on two of the computers and some on all three. Gah!

This is where something like Norton Online Backup can be really useful. It allows up to five household computers to be automatically backed up. So, you can set it up to back up the photos folder on all your computers, for example. And all your photos will be accessible in the same place. Or, if you work from home, you could use it to back up current work projects and ensure you have an off-site backup, in case of fire or flood or the like. It’s fairly easy to use and works in the background, so you can pretty much forget about it once it’s set up. You should make sure you check which folders it’s going to back up, though, as the defaults could put you over the 25 gb limit.

I haven’t tried out any other online backup services, so can’t compare. If you’re looking for an online backup service, you will probably be able to find a number of them for different prices and offering different levels of service. Norton’s costs £49.99 a year for 25 gb of storage and you can add more gb if you need them. Norton is one of the big anti-virus companies, so a brand you can trust. I think £49.99 sounds like a bit much, but I haven’t compared it to others, so it might be the going rate or a good deal. I would definitely make sure you look around at the different options available but, if you do choose Norton’s, it works well and is relatively hassle-free to set up and certainly to maintain.

Thanks to Matt Churchill from Edelman for letting me try this out and also to Lucy Davies from Edelman, too.

What would you back up? Would it be your children’s pictures, your half-written novels, or your accounts? Have you ever lost data for good?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Thank you Stroud Maternity

Tomorrow Eleanor will be one month old. I will be taking the breast pump back to Stroud Maternity, along with some Thank You cards. For those of you who do not know, Stroud Maternity is the fabulous midwife-led unit where Eleanor was born. If you live locally and are low-risk, then I would highly recommend Stroud Maternity as your birth choice. And if you’re high-risk and have to deliver in Gloucester or Cheltenham, or even Bristol, do consider going to Stroud Maternity for your after-care.

Anyway, I wanted to show my gratitude, in addition to the cards, in the only way a parent blogger can – by writing a blog post about how fantastic the midwives at Stroud Maternity are, especially Sarah Hunt. Sarah was my midwife throughout my pregnancy, seeing me at home, at the GP surgery and at Stroud Maternity. And, if there’s someone who hands out awards for midwifery, she deserves one. It feels to me as though she went above and beyond the call of duty in her care for me – for us – though it may well be that she provides this level of care for everyone. Other mums who have had her as their midwife have all said how good she is, so perhaps that’s the case. If so, she most definitely should get an award!

Sarah took the time to get to know me and what I wanted from my birth. She talked through my previous, not so perfect, birth experience, reassuring me that I was very likely to have a better experience second time round. She bore with me through all my scares and false alarms and talked me through my fears. As the time grew closer, she went over Rosemary’s birth again and talked about what we could do to improve the experience second time round. And she assured me that she would be there for the birth, if at all possible.

Despite all my convictions that I would be early again, we managed to get past the 37 weeks mark and eventually, we got to the actual birth. She was there when I called in with my erratic contractions. She was there when we arrived at Stroud Maternity. She knew what I wanted and what I wanted to avoid and she helped me to have the birth experience I had imagined. She delivered Eleanor and sewed me up afterwards. And then she was back the next day, to do Eleanor’s 0-day check and to tell me I could go home.

And then she was there to help me through the trauma of not being able to breastfeed properly, despite doing so for over two years with Rosemary. She was there to help stop me from giving up, to help me through mastitis, Eleanor’s weight-loss, bleeding nipples, and uterine infections. And it’s thanks to her that Eleanor’s arrival in this world was so much pleasanter and less traumatic than Rosemary’s and it’s thanks in no small part to her that Eleanor is still being breastfed (and hopefully will be for a long while yet – though maybe not two years this time!).

Thank you, Sarah.

But it’s not just Sarah. All the midwives we came across a Stroud Maternity were lovely and helpful – Sandy, Zoe, Mandy, and a few whose names and faces are just a blur, as I met them after very little sleep; and all those at the end of the phone during my many scares and false alarms and panics over breastfeeding and infections and so on.

I went home in the afternoon of Eleanor’s birth, after a pretty good night’s sleep (she was born at 01.01). I wanted to be at home with Rosemary and Chris. I wanted to watch my own TV and lie in my own bed. I thought I knew what to do, as I’d done it all before. I probably should have stayed for a few days. The atmosphere in Stroud Maternity is more one of a school dorm than a hospital ward. The food is better than most hospital food. There is a small ward and then a number of private rooms. For the night I spent there with Rosemary, I had a private room; with Eleanor I was on the ward. They are both pleasant places to be.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at a big table on the ward. You can chat to the other mums there and start practising the old eating one-handed. Or you can have your meal in your room/at your bed, if you prefer. There are tea- and coffee-making facilities available, as well as bread and a toaster, so you can get something to eat in the middle of the night when you need a booster before the next feed.

But, what makes Stroud Maternity such a wonderful place is the staff. The midwives in particular, but all the other staff, too. They will help you with breast-feeding, with changing nappies, with giving baths, with swaddling. They will provide you with a clip-on bedside crib, as well as the normal ones on wheels, and will even talk you through the safest way to co-sleep. They’ll hold your baby for a bit, while you go to the loo, or just so you can get a bit of sleep after that incredibly long night. They’ll talk you through exercises to get your stomach muscles and pelvic floor back to normal (ish) working order.

It’s possible that, if I had stayed for a few days, we wouldn’t have had the breastfeeding issues we did have. We’ll never know. Of course, because Rosemary was ill, there’s probably no way I would have decided to stay in, rather than go home to cuddle my big girl. But, even though I was only there a little more than half a day both times, I am incredibly glad to have been able to stay there and especially glad that Stroud Maternity was saved from the axe to give me that opportunity.

Thank you Stroud Maternity.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Split in two

I remember one of my concerns about having a second child was how I would be able to share my love out. The all-consuming nature of the love you feel for your child seems, when you only have one, as though it would be impossible to spread it out at all. Yet friends and acquaintances with two or more children assured me that, actually, you just kind of grow more love and manage to find the same all-consuming love for the second child – and for subsequent ones (though I wonder if it can continue indefinitely?). And, yes, that does seem to be true. Thank goodness for that.

What I hadn’t really thought about and I don’t recall being warned about (though it’s possible I was, of course), is the feeling of being split in two, when both your children need you and you have to choose one over the other. Oh. My. God. It physically hurts. Twice now, since Eleanor was born, I have had to put her down in her crib, because Rosemary was calling out. The first time, she was coughing so badly she was retching and I had to try to persuade her to drink something. The second time, last night, she was in agony with hurting legs (which we think might have been growing pains) and I had to comfort her and persuade her to take paracetemol and ibuprofen and stay with her until she fell asleep again.

Both times, Eleanor was actually asleep when Rosemary called out, though not in her crib. Both times, it was a clear choice to put her down and go to Rosemary. Both times, she woke soon after being put down (as she frequently does) and started crying. Both times, I was sat trying to comfort one screaming child, while hearing the piercing sound of the other child’s screams from the next room. Both times, Chris came and picked Eleanor up pretty quickly. It really was probably only a couple of minutes of her crying and my not being able to do anything about it, if that.

But it still hurt. Really hurt. Even when I could hear Eleanor had calmed down and was absolutely fine with Chris. It still hurt that it wasn’t me soothing her and stopping her tears. It gave me a glimpse of the future. There are going to be so many times over the years to come when I’ll have to choose between comforting Rosemary over Eleanor, or Eleanor over Rosemary. Will it become easier as Rosemary gets older, or will it always hurt as much, even when they’re both in the twenties and one needs comforting over a failed relationship, while the other needs comforting over a work crisis? And will I ever be able to accept that it’s really not just me who can provide the comfort? I just have to call out and there’s another parent there to offer solace and to wipe away tears and to give cuddles. In fact, most of the time, I don’t even have to call out. He’s there, ready and waiting and happy, of course, to do whatever’s needed. But will I still feel like it’s my job, and mine alone, to magic away those tears?

Do you have the same feeling of being split in two (or four or five)? If you only have one child, so far, do you worry about not loving another child as much as the first? Does it get better, as they get older, or is it all part of the ‘mother’s guilt’ syndrome? Do you find it difficult to accept that others can be just as capable of giving comfort?