Sunday, 22 August 2010

Baby-led weaning

As many of you will know, we have been using baby-led weaning with Eleanor, and we used it with Rosemary, too, a few years ago. Back then, it was really quite a new idea (though, in actuality, quite an old one, of course) and many, many people thought we were mad, strange, or endangering our child. Some people still think this, but it has certainly become more widespread and understood and lots more parents are using this method.

If you don’t know what baby-led weaning is, very basically, it’s starting with finger food rather than purees, it’s letting the baby decide (to an extent, obviously) what they want to eat, it’s taking a step back and chilling out about the whole eating process, and it’s about eating together, rather than spoon-feeding your baby, then eating later. Oh yes, and it’s about mess. Lots of it.


That photo doesn’t really show the mess to its full extent. Hmm. Here’s a top after a dinner of pasta and tomato sauce:


I’d take a photo of the floor after a meal, but fortunately we have a very useful cleaning machine:


I would advise anyone embarking on baby-led weaning to get one. (And you might also want to check out this morning’s post about a new laundry product – unless you’ve got some secret stain-removal formula up your sleeve.)

There are supposed to be a bunch of benefits to baby-led weaning, from reducing the likelihood of allergies, producing children who are more adventurous with food and providing excellent practice in fine-motor skills (picking up peas is quite a challenge, you know). I can’t really answer to all these in any scientific way, but I can say that Rosemary doesn’t have any allergies (so far, of course), we think she’s incredibly fussy with food, but when we compare her with many of her peers it turns out she has a very wide-ranging palate, and Eleanor certainly developed the pincer grip very early. The biggest benefits to us, though, have been the ability to eat as a family, not having to spend huge amounts of time pureeing, making going out very easy (the baby just eats what you’re eating – pretty much) and saving a bit on dog food – oh, and the pure joy of watching our two girls discover and explore food, enjoying (almost) every single moment of it as they do so.

If you’re thinking about going down the baby-led weaning route, we would highly recommend it (and will tell anyone who asks this – and many people who don’t ask, too). There are a few websites (, out there you can read and a search will bring up a bunch of people blogging about their adventures in baby-led weaning. There’s also a book, Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. I haven’t read it, but it’s written by the woman (an ex-health visitor and Deputy Programme Director of Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative) who came up with the idea, and I know lots of people who have read it and highly recommend it.

A few tips for starting off and moving on

We started with fruit (e.g. mango and pear), steamed vegetables (e.g. carrot, brocolli and potato), roasted vegetables (e.g. courgette, pepper, carrot, roasted for about 15 minutes in extra virgin olive oil) – all of them cut into roughly adult-finger-sized pieces. For most things, keep the skin on, as they can get a grip on the skin, and they suck the flesh of the non-skin sides. For bananas, use the splitting into three trick (push your finger into the top centre of a banana and it will split into three lengthwise), because cutting them up makes them too slippery. Most of these were things that we were eating anyway, or we adjusted the menu to include them – we almost never cook something just for the baby.

Toast is great at this age. Get some unsalted butter in (we use Lurpak Spreadable Unsalted, but there are plenty of others) and provide soldiers of toast with butter, cream cheese, goats cheese, hummus, guacamole, pear and apple spread (we get this from the healthfood shop, and it’s just concentrated pear and apple, with nothing added, though Eleanor has now had ordinary jam), etc. Crumpets are very good, too – cut into three lengthwise for ease of gripping.

You can gradually add more things in, such as pasta (fusilli works well, and spaghetti is brilliant, though one of the messiest meals) with a sauce (cheese sauce went down well with both of ours, as did a tomato-based sauce), meat (Eleanor is very fond of steak, sausages are easy for them to hold, though avoid the highly-processed stuff that will be full of salt), chunks of cheese.

As they get older, as well, you can give them food on a spoon, such as yoghurt and porridge (though both of these they can feed themselves using their hands) – they’ll usually want to take control of the spoon themselves, which does lead to lots of mess. You’ll want to gradually offer a spoon now and again, to introduce them to cutlery, anyway, though I must admit Rosemary does still enjoy using her fingers. We’ve recently started putting Eleanor’s food on a plate or bowl, as well. She’ll usually take the food off it for a bit, but after a while she’ll turn it upside down or try to throw it on the floor (melamine or wood is definitely advised, rather than bone china) – before that the food just got plonked on the tray of her high chair (which luckily is removable).

As they get older, they’ll be able to pick up small bits of food, such as peas, beans, diced vegetables, rice, and so on. Eleanor now eats what we’re having and we tailor the meals much less often to her. Examples of meals/foods she’s had recently include risotto, minestrone soup (just the bits, not the liquid), creamy leeky tagliatelle, tortilla (both the Spanish omelette kind and the Mexican kind, in the form of a quesedilla), eggs chips and beans, chocolate cake, Cheerios, noodles, porridge, yoghurt, sushi, lamb, steak, cauliflower cheese with mashed potato, and so on and so on.


If you’re thinking about baby-led weaning, but aren’t sure, feel free to ask questions in the comments. If you’re on Twitter, there’s a #blw hashtag, where people will answer your questions.

Did you use or are you using baby-led weaning? Was it successful? Do you like the puree route? Have you done it both ways?

Review: Boost Your Wash


So, as some of you may know we’re doing baby-led weaning with Eleanor, as we did with Rosemary (incidentally, it seems I haven’t done a post about that, so I will rectify that very soon). Anyway who’s done baby-led weaning, will know that, while it is absolutely fantastic, it’s also really, really, really messy. So, when Aaron from Publicasity contacted me to ask if I wanted to try it out, I really did jump at the chance (in fact, I did actually do a little jump and squee at the possibility of something that could get the food stains out of Eleanor’s clothes – sad, very sad).

I’ve tried Ariel Activelift, I’ve tried Vanish, I’ve tried the two combined, along with various other detergents (sadly, my environmental consciousness does not go far enough to try the ecological ones, having grown up using them and wearing very stained clothes – though maybe they work better these days?). Nothing seems to work very well. The only thing that does much good is soaking the clothes in (diluted, obviously) bleach (which isn’t much use for the coloured clothes) and, well, if you know me at all, you will know that I really can’t be  bothered with that much hassle (or, perhaps more importantly, I do not have the time).

So, I tried this new one out – it’s supposed to remove odours and has antibacterial agents in it too (not overly keen on antibacterial agents, I have to say, but I’ll live it with it) – and, blimey, it’s really good. It didn’t get rid of everything. The very dried in pasta sauce stain was still there, though considerably faded. But it did get rid of much more than anything else. Raspberry stains, dried-in food stains of varying origins that have been there for a few months now (actually, even some that have been there for a few years, on Rosemary’s old clothes). Some of Eleanor’s white clothes look white again. And, as an added bonus, it got rid of some sweat stains on some shirts and ingrained grey dirt on some shirt collars. It didn’t get rid of the purple paint on one of Rosemary’s dresses.

All in all, I would definitely recommend it for stain removal. Having only been using it for about a week, I can’t say whether it has any adverse effects. I’ll probably dig out the stained clothes in each colour and do a separate wash of them, as I don’t want to be using an antibacterial agent too much, but will definitely be using it and buying another bottle when this one runs out.

Do you have any tips/products for getting food (and other) stains out of clothes? If you use baby-led weaning, do you find it as messy? 

Disclosure: I was given a free sample of the product, but nothing else.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Gallery: A memory

Well, I thought it’s about time I joined in with The Gallery and this week’s prompt is a particularly nice one, I think, because that’s what photographs usually are for me – memories. Of course, they can’t replace actual memories, but they can usually jog them and remind us of a place, a person, a feeling, or just who we were once upon a time.

This is me, many many moons ago:


Rosemary is just about to start school, which will hopefully be a wonderfully exciting and fascinating adventure for her. And I really believe she is going to love school, as long as they can challenge her enough. They weren’t able to challenge me enough, which is why, at the age of seven, I swapped the schoolroom for the kitchen. This is me in my home school. This is where I spent my mornings soaking up knowledge. Delving into the wonders of algebra and symmetry, finding out about the Egyptians and the Greeks, drawing pictures of plants and birds, doing science with candles and jars of water, learning French from a secondary school textbook, learning Esperanto from a correspondence course. This is also where I would eat my lunch of diced up lettuce, cucumber, tomato (from the garden/allotment), cottage cheese and crushed up prawn cocktail crisps, while listening to The Archers. This is where I learnt to sew, to macrame, to knit (none of which really stuck, sadly) and wrote limericks and stories and illustrated books, while listening to the Afternoon Play. For me, this was a place of wonder, far more satisfying than the one I had left. I hope that Rosemary finds her wonder at her new school, but if she doesn’t we’ll make sure she gets it somehow, somewhere, whether at another school, at home or somewhere as yet unthought of.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Party Bags

It’s Rosemary’s fourth birthday on Thursday. That is, of course, a post in itself and maybe I’ll write it on Thursday, at some point. But this post is all about party bags.

Rosemary is having a ‘Go Bananas Birthday’, which is what she has been asking for since the day after her third birthday. Go Bananas is the local soft-play place. A friend of hers had her party there recently and I was pretty impressed, having been dreading it for almost a year. The children run around and expend lots of energy for just over an hour, then they come upstairs and sit in one of the three party rooms (Rosemary chose the Woodlands room), where they get fed sandwiches and cake (I have to make the cake, by the way, which I have been told today has to be a Cinderella cake. Oh bugger.). No mess to clear up. No party games to organise. No entertainers to pay or bouncy castles to hire. Just hand over some dosh, bring a cake and let them do the rest. Fantastic.

They’ll even do the party bags for you, for a little extra. But I decided I wanted something a bit more special for the party bags. The vast majority of parties Rosemary’s been to (and there have been a fair few), the party bag has been emptied within five minutes of leaving the party and usually some of the things have been broken or lost already. What does make it home, inevitably ends up in the bin within a day or two. And the (usually plastic) bag also ends up in the bin.

Now, I’m a far cry from Karen at The Rubbish Diet (for whom I have a bucketload of admiration, by the way), but I do think about landfill and other environment issues and I didn’t want to spend money on a bunch of plastic tat that would just end up not rotting away in landfill somewhere (no offence to anyone who does go down this route – I have to say it was very tempting to just pay them to do this, as well as the rest of it).

So, I went on a search and also asked Twitter (as we do, these days, when we have a problem – hmm, must ask Twitter about the Cinderella cake) for something a bit different. And I found a few great companies, offering something more than the usual:

  • Frog in the Field has a really good selection of party bag fillers, but what really caught my eye was the print your own party bags. I would have gone for this if Rosemary hadn’t seen a different option that she preferred. And I’ll almost certainly use it in the future. You can choose from a selection of images, or you can provide your own. I was going to create a flower motif, to tie in with Rosemary’s invitations that I made myself. But… this was not to be.
  • My Funky Party also tempted me, in particular with the vintage style filled bags. I was put off, in my rather stuck-up, liberal fancy-pants way, by the separation into girls and boys, though this seems to be the case at pretty much all the outlets. I wanted gender neutral gifts, even though Rosemary would be very happy with everything pink and princess, there are boys coming to the party and, well, I hate pink and princess and gender stereotyping and so on and so on. But, the vintage bags are lovely.
  • Ethical Kidz is what we went for in the end. The fillers were all wooden and good quality – and ethically sourced. And the bags Rosemary chose were the colour your own bags. We bought 19 plain fabric bags and two boxes of fabric crayons and Rosemary is decorating them herself. You can also buy bag and crayon sets that you can then use as both an activity and the party bag – i.e. the children colour their bags and then you put their gifts into it when it’s time to go home. I was very pleased with the service and they sent the package to my mum’s address at my request, as we would be away, and sent a personal email to tell us they had done so. The fillers are very good quality. We chose a stamp, with an ink pad, a (decorated) wooden peg, a spinning top and a yoyo. All in all it worked out to about £3.50 per child, which I was very happy with. It’s definitely more than the Go Bananas option, but I think it’s worth it and that these gifts won’t be clogging up the landfills (and, even if they do, they’ll degrade).

Both Frog in the Field and My Funky Party were suggested by Twitter pals and contacted me directly with suggestions, offers of help and answers to my many queries. I would definitely recommend them, as well as Ethical Kidz, which I found during my own searches.

Here’s a picture of one of the bags and its contents, though I’m afraid the quality isn’t brilliant, what with being taken with my phone in a dark kitchen:


Hopefully they’ll go down well and the children will get some use and fun out of the items.

What sort of party bags have you done, or do you manage to avoid them? What about parties themselves? Do you do them at home or hire somewhere? Do you have any tips on how to make a Cinderella cake, or shall I just buy the one she saw in Tesco? I’m good at baking cakes, but don’t have much experience in decorating them – especially when it comes to something fancy and more challenging than a few swirls of whipped cream, some strawberries and a packet of chocolate buttons!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Little Bundle of Laughs competition

Are you in London or able to get there next Tuesday night? Do you fancy a laugh? Huggies and Tommy’s have organised a night of stand-up comedy about becoming a parent, and sadly I can’t attend, due to my own little bundle not sleeping anywhere near through the night yet. Which is a big shame, as I really enjoy a bit of stand-up comedy, and miss my monthly comedy nights. So, Huggies have kindly said I can offer my two tickets up to one of my readers. If you fancy it, drop a comment down below and I’ll draw a winner at random next Sunday. The tickets will be left on the door for you, since it’s so close to the event already.


Good luck!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Taking a break

You might have noticed that I’ve been somewhat absent for a while. Only a few posts in a few months, rather than many every month. This has not been for lack of inspiration or a feeling ennui about blogging. It has nothing to do with too much or too little PR love… or hate.

It has been entirely down to work. Stupid, crazy, hideous amounts of work. This is one of the problems with working for yourself – for most people, at least, the work comes in waves. You have a generally placid sea, where you sail along with little effort, get most of your work done during the day and have just enough money to keep you afloat. Then you have the tempestuous weather, where you get almost no sleep at all, are constantly bailing out water trying to keep from sinking under the tsunami of work and have to strap yourself in for fear of falling over the edge. And then there’s the over-calm seas, where you have to get out the paddles to move at all, where you have the time and the energy to enjoy yourselves, but can’t reach the dry land where you can afford to do anything.

We have, of course, been in the tsunami. Hopefully, by the time we get back from France (we’re on holiday at the moment), it will be settling into some choppy, but steerable weather. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage to post more than once or twice a month. Even if it’s closer to the big storms, it should still be calmer for us, as we’ve built up a good bank of freelancers and have learnt that we can delegate a lot more than we thought we could. We’ve developed strategies and processes and should be able to much better weather any storms to come.

So, yes, we’re on holiday in France for a week. More than half way through the week and I really wish we were staying for two – or longer even. I'm only just getting to the point where I feel relaxed and wound down, but have now already started to worry about the work that we have to do on our return. And it’s Rosemary’s birthday next week, too, and things to do for that. Chris’ mum is staying behind for the week, so we will have on-tap childcare. But it’s still going to be busy and I absolutely need to ensure that there is no work to be done on her actual birthday.

So, I leave you (hopefully not for as long, this time) with my new motto: Taking a break. I might not be able to manage a week in France every month, but I can make sure we carve out some definite break time – family time at the weekend, couple time at least one evening a week, and me time at least one evening a week. Let’s see how long we can make it last.

So, tell me about you… Are you on holiday? Have you been feeling overwhelmed or overworked? Are you yearning for a work-life balance or a bit of me time? What would your new motto be?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Messy Play by Huggies® Wipes Blogger Challenge

Before I talk about Cybermummy, I need to tell you (very, very late) about the Huggies Messy Play Challenge. I’ve had these pictures for a while and been so stupidly busy with work that I haven’t had a chance to post them:

CIMG0655 CIMG0609

Eleanor’s main source of messy play these days is food, though with the lack of clean floors in our house at the moment, she’s also getting a lot of wipe action on our feet, every time we pick her up after she’s been crawling around! As we did with Rosemary, we are following the baby-led weaning (BLW) route. It is fantastic and has worked really well for both of them. But it is definitely not the cleanest way of learning how to eat. One of the catchphrases that goes with BLW is ‘Food is fun until you’re one’, because the babies continue to get all the nutrients they need from the breastmilk (adjusting their intake of milk according to how much or how little food they’re consuming). (I’m not sure how it works with formula-fed babies, though I imagine it’s fairly similar.) We had been using flannels to clean Eleanor up after meals, but she started getting quite spotty (probably because we weren’t cleaning the flannels frequently enough, of course), so we switched to wipes, which leads to less spotty cheeks (though not especially environmentally conscious!).

I’m afraid I’m one of those mums who tends to avoid messy play in the house as far as possible. Presented with the plea ‘Can I do some painting?’ I will do my utmost to find something else to do instead – often baking, which probably takes much more cleaning up. And gluing? No. If I have anything to do with it, she gets to do that maybe twice a year. (Fortunately, Chris is more up for messy play, providing the plastic sheet is out, she wears an apron and she only paints on the paper.) So, when there’s an opportunity for messy play at playgroup or the children’s centre, Rosemary laps it up. And I’m very happy to let her go for it, because someone else will be cleaning up the mess (if it’s at the children’s centre, that person might well be my sister, so sorry Eva!). And, yes, we make prodigious use of wipes to clean up paint, cake mixture, glue, felt-tip pen, mud… when she does get the chance to get messy.

What about you? Do you let your children loose with the paints and the mud pies whenever they want to? Do you limit it to other settings? Do you have some incredibly organised strategy that allows them to get messy without creating lots of cleaning up for you (please, please, please share your secret, if so)?

The next half an hour I don’t really have, I will be telling you all about our trip to London and my wonderful day at Cybermummy. (So, that will probably be just in time for next year’s conference, then!

If you fancy winning a Huggies goodie bag, why not take some pictures of your kids getting messy? The rules are below, but there are only a few days left to do it, I’m afraid, as the closing date is 14 July.

clip_image002Messy Play by Huggies® Wipes Blogger Challenge

Inspired by some of the Huggies® mums recent posts, Huggies® Baby Wipes wants to see your photos of your little ones really getting messy. Child psychologist Janine Spencer says, “Giving children the freedom to play messily helps them develop their imagination and social skills. It boosts their confidence and helps them understand the world around them. That’s a small price to pay for a bit of mess.”

The rules are as follows

  1. The messier your baby is in the photo the better. (The challenge is cleaning up!)
  2. Post the photo to your blog with The Messy Play by Huggies Wipes challenge. (It can be an old photo or a previous post).
  3. Send a link of your blog post featuring your Messy Play photo to @Huggies_UK on Twitter or to participate.
  4. Check out to see all the blogger submissions and links to their blogs. Submissions will also be shouted out by @Huggies_UK on Twitter.
  5. The top 3 messiest entries will receive Huggies® gift packs of Huggies merchandise. (and if the messiest children are mine, you are definitely doing a bad job…)

[I am a Huggies Mum and an independent blogger. My affiliation with Huggies does not change my capacity to blog independently. I have agreed to disclose in my postings when I receive a product, sample or sponsorship from Huggies. In no way am I financially rewarded by Huggies. They sponsored me to go to Cybermummy, not to mention feeding us croissants and looking after our bags! And have also given us a fair few packets of wipes, recently, which is very handy while BLW!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Cybermummy meet and greet

Carly over at Mummy Shoes has had the great idea for us to post a picture and short bio to help recognise people on the day (although I'm rubbish at remembering names so sorry in advance if I get your name wrong)
Name:   Tasha Goddard (occasionally known as Coding Mamma, though I rarely seem to do any coding these days)
Twitter ID:   @TashaGoddard
Height:   5ft 4ish
Hair:   Longish and darkish – getting it cut this morning, so might not be long anymore
Eyes:   Changeable – really, they can be green, brown, grey, blue…
Likes:   Reading, writing and arithmetic


This is me, though I probably won’t be sporting face paint on the day.

Monday, 31 May 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Despite having said I would be taking a long break from reviews, when Shastri Rashmi from Penguin emailed to ask if I’d like to review The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, I jumped at the chance. I find it very difficult to turn down a book, plus the literary snob in me gushes at the thought of being contacted by Penguin, a publishing company that I have always associated with quality – and I spend most of my working week in contact with publishers.

More importantly, though, the book sounded like it would be both interesting and a good read…. and it was both.

The book is set in the Mississippi of the 1960s and deals with the relationship between black maids and their white employers. It’s told through the eyes of three women – two black maids, Aibileen and Minny, and a single white woman, Skeeter. These three women really come to life in the book. The dialogue is so real that after reading a chapter or two, my thoughts (and sometimes my speech) were coming out sounding like a black woman from the deep south (should that be the Deep South?).

There is a book inside the book, as well. Skeeter is writing a book about maids in the South and Aibileen and Minny are helping her. Their stories are part of the book and Aibileen is a talented writer in her own right.

The Help brings a glimpse into two worlds that are very alien to me – the world of the domestic, but particularly the domestic descended from slaves and sometimes treated not much better than their ancestors; and the world of the wealthy white women of the South in the 1960s. They were far from the hippy movement and the beatniks, far from the concept of free love, and pretty far from understanding the civil rights movement. These women leave the running of their households and the raising of their children to their black maids, while insisting that these same maids use a separate toilet and never sit down and eat at the same table as them.

But it’s not all black and white. The most awful white woman in the book, whose racism makes you feel sick, is a fantastic mother. Some of the black women have worked for the same family for 30 or 40 years and feel like part of the family, both to them and their employers. It’s interesting to see that it wasn’t all bad, that good things could happen amongst the bad.

I felt a little discomfort at first, because the author (Kathryn Stockett) is white, and a little part of me thought ‘What does she know about it? Does she have the right to write this?’ And, first of all, of course she does. As much any woman has the right to write from a male point of view and vice versa; as much as any adult has the right to write from a child’s point of view; and so on. But, also she grew up in the South and was partially raised by a black maid herself, so she does know that side of the story. And, in her own words:

"I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don't think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.”

I loved this book and was very sad to leave behind Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter when I finished it. If I had more spare time, I would have read it through in a day or two, rather than the couple of weeks it took fitting it in during breastfeeds. If you’re looking for something to read at the moment, then I would heartily recommend The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.

Disclaimers: I got a copy of the book for free. If you click on any of the links and spend money at Amazon while there, I will receive a percentage of the money you spend..

Monday, 24 May 2010

Spring cleaning

I have just found an understanding and empathy with the whole concept of spring cleaning. Chris had just strimmed the lawn, while I was getting the girls ready for bed and before reading Rosemary her bedtime stories. The kitchen window was open, with the heat floating into the room, bringing with it that loveliest of aromas – freshly cut grass. The kettle was boiling.

And I had a sudden urge to pick up the broom and sweep the floor. I swept the kitchen floor and the dining room floor and what I really wanted to do was continue sweeping through the house. Sweeping away the dust and the dog hairs, the cobwebs, the piles and piles of disorganised junk. I wanted to get a basin of luke warm water and scrub away the stains and the stickiness, wipe away the cup rings and yet more dust. I wanted to get out a duster and polish the windows until they gleamed.

Of course, what I actually did was come upstairs and write about it, instead. So, now you know a little more about me. I can fantasise about cleaning, just not actually do it.

Though, really, I’m here to work. Which seems like all I do these days. Of course, it’s not all I do, but free time is in short supply. There is most certainly no spare hours in the day to go through spring-cleaning the whole house.

Which is a shame, because this weather is really making me yearn for freshness and cleanliness and, well, a lot less stickiness.


Do you spring clean? Did you read this and think ‘She swept the kitchen and dining room and had to blog about it? I do that twice a day!’? Do you not have time to hoover, let alone organise and dust the bookshelves? Do you want to come and spring clean (and spring organise) my house for me?

Sunday, 16 May 2010

What kind of playdate?

Rosemary had a friend round to play on Friday afternoon, someone who hadn’t been round before. While she was here, I started thinking about all the different kinds of playdates there seem to be and how I was probably building up a collection of favourite children to come to play, depending on the situation.

First of all, there are the friends who bring their mums (and quite often their younger brothers or sisters). For these playdates, I get to drink to tea and have a chat. They can also be quite tiring, because many children of Rosemary’s age tend to get a little bit annoyed when their mums are giving someone else attention and may be noisier, messier or more disobedient. When there’s no mum there, I have more opportunity to  keep an eye on things and persuade them into an occasional tidy-up, as opposed to mess-up session. A playdate with mum and siblings almost always results in more tidying up later on.

There are playdates with friends who have as much energy and as small an attention span as Rosemary. These also result in a big mess, and frequent tears, because they’re running about so much one or other of them inevitably gets hurt in some way. They fly from one activity to another, running up and down the stairs and Wesley tends to go and hide up in the office.

There are playdates where nothing is played with, but the two of them spend the time running around, jumping on each other and shouting ‘Ben 10!’ at the top of their voices. This is great in terms of limited mess, but it’s impossible to leave Eleanor on the floor and it really, really hurts my head. There are also usually a lot of bumps.

Then there are playdates, like Fridays, where the two children play together reasonably quietly and calmly. Where they stick with each activity for at least 10 minutes, if not longer. Where I can leave Eleanor in the room with them and they’ll amuse her and/or keep an eye on her for a few minutes. Where they take turns without any prompting, and need little or no guidance in what to do.

Needless to say, I like the latter ones the best. But I do also really enjoy the accompanied playdates, if I’m not too tired and don’t have too much of a backlog of housework that’s going to a) be very noticeable and b) mean I’m going to have even more tidying to do at the end of the playdate.

I think Rosemary probably prefers those with friends who are similar to her in energy levels and likes and dislikes, despite the frequent meltdowns over sharing and what to play next. Though she enjoys them all, so I don’t think I need to worry too much about encouraging my favourites!


What about you? Do you have a preferred playdate type and is it the same as your child(ren)’s? Do you try to have a mix?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

How much independent play?

Eleanor can crawl around on the floor and play on her own for considerable chunks of time. If you put a variety of toys down, she’ll explore them in detail for up to three quarters of an hour at a time.  She likes toys she can chew, toys that make music and toys she can push around. She’s also just discovering toys that she can bang to make a noise. And, if you leave a shoe anywhere in her vicinity, she’ll be your friend for life.

This is, of course, very convenient. It means I can take her upstairs and do a bit of work in the morning, while she crawls around the office floor, playing with her toys and desperately searching for some paper to chew on. It means I can leave her in the living room with Rosemary for a bit, while I load the washing machine or empty the dishwasher. In theory, it means I can sit and catch up with blogging for a bit, though in practice work or housework is taking priority most of the time, as we’re so humungously busy at the moment.

When she does get bored, just 15 minutes or so of attention, be it walking her round the room (she loves to walk and stand), bouncing her on your knee, dancing round the dining room, ticking her, changing her nappy, giving her some milk, etc. and she’ll be able to go back to her independent play, though not for as long. Or she can go in the bouncer or her bouncy chair for a bit (both of which will probably have passed their use-by date soon! She does get frustrated sometimes, if she’s trying to get to something and can’t pull herself up to it, for example, but for the most part, she plays happily, chattering and squealing away.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rosemary has been struggling with independent play recently. When a friend comes round to play, they’ll play imaginatively together for ages, but on her own she is finding it difficult to come up with independent play that she wants to do. She’s getting bored with a lot of her toys, or can’t find them, because the toy corner needs a good sort out.

But mostly, it’s because her default position is in front of the TV. When she gets up in the morning, she asks to watch TV, when she gets home from playgroup/nursery school, she asks to watch TV. And for this I entirely blame myself. She’s always (well, not quite always, of course!) watched TV, but since Eleanor was born, I’ve found myself switching the TV on for Rosemary, so I can get on with sorting Eleanor out, whether that’s changing her nappy, feeding her or just playing with her. Or, indeed, leaving her to play on her own while I catch up on the washing. It’s just easier that way, and I’ve done it far, far too much.

Chris, when he’s on Rosemary and Eleanor duty, tends to have the TV off. He comes up with things for Rosemary to play with, if she’s not thinking of them herself – he’ll get the blocks out or the Happyland people, for example. Or he’ll just leave her until she starts playing independently and imaginatively, which really doesn’t take a huge amount of time after the TV is off. And he usually manages to get a bit of housework done, too. This is what I used to be like and I’m not entirely sure where the laziness has come from – maybe from the constant exhaustion?

Anyway, we are now trying to gradually cut down on the TV, making sure it doesn’t go on the second she comes downstairs or in the front door. Encouraging other play, for example, we made some playdough yesterday, as all the old stuff had dried out ages ago. And we’re trying to encourage watching a DVD or video instead of the TV, so it’s for a finite time and not just vegging in front of the TV. Rosemary is fantastic at independent and imaginative play, given the chance. So we (I, really) need to give her that chance. Even if it means being interrupted while filling the dishwasher or having ten times as many toys to pick up at the end of the day.


How are your children at independent play? Do you have one better than the other? Has TV taken over and how have you changed that? Do you think it’s OK for a 7-month-old baby to be spending so much time on independent play?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Tone of voice

Recently I have found myself channelling a new mum friend (let’s call her Judith – as I don’t think I know any actual Judiths), when reacting to unwanted behaviour in Rosemary. Judith always talks very calmly to her children and I have never heard her shout. Of course, for all I know, she screams and swears at them at home, but I don’t think so.

I have always aimed to be a mum who remains calm and talks in a happy voice, just adding a touch of firmness when something is very unwanted. And I think I go through phases of being successful and phases of failing dismally, where I end up shouting, screeching, stomping doors and, oh dear me, swearing. Fortunately, the latter are not too common, though there was a time during the terrible twos when it was probably approaching the norm, rather than the exception.

The thing is, though, at the moment I feel like I’m almost trying to sound exactly like Judith – not just to mimic her calmness and other methods, but to speak in her voice. Mimicry is something I’ve suffered from since I was child, actually. I have offended people on more than one occasion, because I’ve started speaking in their accent and they’ve assumed I’m taking the piss. I’m not. I just naturally take on the accent, register and tone of voice of the people I’m speaking to. It is weird, yes.

But, you know what? Weird though it is, I think it’s actually working. I think I’m (mostly) getting better responses from Rosemary when I’m being Judith, than when I’m being Tasha, because Tasha can get quite annoyed and snappy with her children, whereas Judith doesn’t. Judith gets down to ground level and explains why it’s not possible to scuba diving today; Tasha snaps, ‘Oh for goodness sake! For the billionth time, we canNOT go scuba diving today!’

So, I may just keep doing it. Though I’ll have to be careful that I don’t offend Judith by talking just like her in front of her!

Hmm, though probably Judith wouldn’t have written a blog post while her baby wriggles around the floor trying to reach various objects, in her increasing attempts to start crawling. She would have left that until after they’ve gone to bed.

Do you have any weird (or just normal, but successful) ways of keeping calm in the face of unwanted pre-school or toddler behaviour? Do you have friends who come across as perfect parents and make you wonder what you’re doing wrong? Do you have friends who you thought were perfect, but turned out to quite normal?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Saturday mornings

Saturday mornings are one of my favourite days. Rosemary has a ballet class at the leisure centre at 10am. Sometimes we’re in a bit of a rush – we have to fit in a shower-bath before we leave, as well as getting all three of us (me, Rosemary and Eleanor) dressed and drying our hair, oh yes, and having breakfast and at least two cups of tea (for me) and some milk (Rosemary and Eleanor – though different kinds).

We try to leave by 9am, which gives us a good leisurely walk and plenty of time for Rosemary to get changed when we get there. If we leave before 9.10, we can still make it, but have to walk very quickly.

Part of the ritual is getting a pain-au-chocolat each (not for Eleanor yet) at the Co-op on the way, and eating them while we walk (yes, I know, not the best way to eat).

And we walk along chatting about all sorts of things. Yesterday’s conversations, for example, included talking about the Easter Bunny and Rosemary assuring me that the one we saw at the Rococo Gardens the week before had been a man dressed up as an Easter Bunny, Rosemary telling me about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which Chris is reading to her at bedtime, and explaining the differences between that and the film Willy Wonka. Rosemary told me that caterpillars are baby butterflies and how they build a cocoon and go to sleep in it and when they wake up they’re a butterfly. And lately we’ve had the repetition and repetition and repetition of the question ‘Why?’ I resort to my Gran’s ‘Y is a letter and you should no better.’ after about 10 usually (you have to say it in a Welsh accent, otherwise it doesn’t work).

The walk includes a nice bit through Stratford Park, where we see (and, if we’ve remembered to bring bread, feed) the ducks and see squirrels running up trees and yesterday appreciated the shade brought by the tall trees.

Eleanor usually sleeps for the most of the walk there (and back), but wakes up when we walk into the Leisure Centre. While Rosemary is in her class (45 minutes), Eleanor and I have some time to play. Yesterday, she almost-crawled about on the floor (she moves around by rolling and spinning on her belly at the moment, and she can go very far this way), playing with a couple of her toys, chatted to some of the other mums, tried to pull herself up on a table and ate an apple-flavoured rice cake.

And then we walk home again, after Rosemary gets her sweet (which she almost always discards after a few minutes, because it’s ‘too chewy’ or ‘too sticky’) and have more lovely conversations. She sometimes tells me and shows me what she learnt, and sometimes doesn’t.

Yesterday, we also went to Tesco and got some food for the evening and also a new dress for Rosemary. She helped me find the right salad vegetables and found the Tiger bread and even offered to pick the wine (I thought I’d better make that decision, otherwise we probably would have ended up with something costing £20. While I’m at the till, Rosemary goes and sits with ‘the dogs’ (a guide dog collection point) and waits very patiently.

There’s a wall that Rosemary walks along until she gets to a lamp post and jumps down to me, a point where she stops to hide and I say ‘I can see you, lemon squeeze you.’ Actually, there are another two walls she walks along and jumps down to me and gets a spin. There are many rituals, really, which seem to be very important to young children. If we miss any out for any reason, there are usually tears.

It’s quite tiring, though not as tiring as Chris and Rosemary’s Sunday swimming outing to the Leisure Centre, but it’s really good fun.

Do you have any special days? Do your children have rituals on the school run or regular outings that cannot be deviated from? What do you talk about on your walks with your children? How long can you keep up with answering ‘Why?’

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Always here

This is only my second go at Josie’s Writing Workshop. It seems that she always moves me to write about death and people who are gone. So far, anyway. Maybe next week it will be flowers and chocolate and fairy tales. (Please? I’d like to write one without crying bucketfuls.)

My Gran believes in Heaven. She believes Papa is in heaven, with my Grandad. She believes that he’s looking down on us. She talks to him. She believes she’ll be joining him some time soon.

I wish I believed that. I wish I knew that, one day, I would see him again. And not just him, but all the people I have lost, over the years. And the animals I’ve lost. And the babies I’ve lost. Sometimes I imagine Papa arriving somewhere and bumping into those children I’ve lost. One of whom is somehow now grown. The others who are still young, though not as young as Rosemary and Eleanor. I imagine him taking them under his wing. Having a beer and going out dancing with the older one, as he no doubt would have done the second she (or he) was 18. And I imagine him watching the rugby with his dad. And now and then having a peek to see what we’re up to down here, over here, up here, wherever it is.

But mostly I know that he’s not up there, down there, or anywhere really.

But he is still here. He is here, in our hearts, in our photos, in our videos, and in our memories. He is here in the stories that we tell our children, our friends, our readers. He is here, with all the people he ever touched, and boy were there many. He is here with his family, with his friends, with his drinking pals, with the blokes he used to work with fixing up old buildings, with the many lost souls he was wont to collect. He is here, with his granddaughters, even the one who never got to meet him.

Just as Miffy is always here with me, though I never knew him in this life. I only ever knew the memories of him, but he is still a huge part of my life. Miffy, who was so anti-smoking that he banned matches in the house, so that my mum had to carry a burning twist of newspaper from the boiler to the fires around the house, to light them. Miffy, who insisted on quiet at the dining table so that he could read. Miffy, who bought almost every new Penguin that came out each month. And read them all.

Just as Mary is always there with Eva, even though she never knew her. Mary, who loved jazz, dated Joss Ackland and wore high heels and perfume. Mary, who worked in an estate agent. Mary, who drove a red mini and knocked a motorbike rider off his bike when going round a roundabout. Mary, who travelled to America to visit her brother on the QE2 and wrote and illustrated an amazing book about the journey.

And so will Papa always be here.

Papa, who had done a little too much wetting of the baby’s head when he went to register my name, so that I was called Natasha instead of Tasha. Papa, who painted clouds on my bedroom wall in our first house – clouds that are apparently still there. Papa, who went and did the shopping every day at the local market when we lived in Spain, struggling with the language. Papa, who cooked the most delicious meals. Papa, who helped nurse his mother-in-law through her last few cancer-ridden months. Papa, who drove to Bristol and back every night to take Mama her special raw-food salad when she was in hospital waiting for months for Eva to be born. Papa, who held the tiniest Eva in his hand and watched her grow from a few pounds into a wonderful woman. Papa, who drove to Weston-Super-Mare, got drunk and slept in the car and then lost his licence, when he found out his wife had been unfaithful. Papa, who looked after Eva on his own for a few months. Papa, who took his wife back and forgave her. Papa, who took an overdose of pills because his wife wanted to keep seeing her boyfriend. Papa, who survived and stayed and gave up drinking. For a while. Papa, who tried so hard to help his wife through her years of hypermania. Only to be kicked out and served with divorce papers. Papa, who still looked after her, when she would let him. Papa, who slowly let her back into his life, as she got better. Papa, who would dance the hours away to live music in the Vic. Papa, who would take me to the Albert and do the quiz with me. Papa, who held my hand and rolled my cigarette (far too fat), when I came out of hospital having lost my third baby, and a fallopian tube. Papa, who stood up and talked for me at my wedding, despite being incredibly nervous and shy about it. Papa, who took Wesley for long walks and dogsat for us when we went away. Papa who loved our dog like his own. Papa, who built our kitchen, laid our floorboards, painted much of our house and found friends to do what he couldn’t do for free or at incredibly knock-down prices. Papa, who plastered the walls when he’d had a few beers and left some of them quite uneven. Papa, who stayed home with dog while his granddaughter was being born and came to visit in the morning, bringing me a Guardian a novel about Cryptic crosswords and a huge cuddle for his daughter who was desperate to hold her baby, but had to wait. Papa, who took Rosemary to Stratford Park and got chased by a swan while I did some work after I cried at not having enough time. Papa, who spent far too much time in and out of hospital during his last year. Papa, who had to lose his dignity and let his daughters wipe his bum and feed him medicine. Papa, who, despite being so ill himself, got up, walked into town and bought a condolences card when Chris’ Nanny died, to make sure we got it before we left. Papa, who went and had a stroke while we were in Scotland at her funeral. Papa, who died before I got home to see him again.

And so Papa will always be here.

And that’s what I believe happens when you die. And that’s what I tell Rosemary. And that’s why I tell her things about her granddad. Happy memories. Sad memories. Funny memories. Memories that, though they are not hers, she will share with her children one day.

So that Papa will always be here.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Reading matters

We need to move. No, not to get into the best school – though ask me again tomorrow, on Allocation Day; I may have changed my mind. Not for work – we work from home; and our office is one of the nicest rooms in the house. Not to downsize – can’t imagine we would ever manage that; clutter is our lifeblood (OK, mine).

No, we need to move because Rosemary has almost worked her way through all the books in the library. The children’s ones, of course – she’s not started on Jane Eyre and Great Expectations yet.

She’s not reading them herself, I should add. This is not an ‘Isn’t my kid a genius?’ post. (Though, obviously she is and I don’t even need to mention it because it’s obvious. Right?) She gets read them. She is showing an interest in the words, now, and recognising some words and lots of letters. But reading herself is still a way off, I would think.

She gets 15-20 books out each visit to the library and there’s usually a couple of visits a week. And she remembers them. We’ll pick up a book in the library and she’ll remember that she’s read it already. Not last week, but a few months ago. (She certainly has Chris’ memory, not mine!) And she seems to have a strange aversion to getting a book out more than once, though we can sometimes persuade her.

So, yes, we need to move. To a different library catchment area. Or maybe go on a library crawl. We could probably manage three in a day, if there was no nursery school or playgroup..

They are mostly read to her at bedtime. She has a shortish book with me and Eleanor, then Chris takes over while I go and feed Eleanor and get her to sleep. He reads anything between three and eight books, depending on length, time and mood (both his and Rosemary’s, probably!).

I sometimes read some with her in the morning, between ‘shower bath’ and school run and while feeding Eleanor. And we often read quite a few when a new lot has just been borrowed. But the majority of the reading is at bedtime.

So, we’re wondering whether this is about normal? Is it not enough? I won’t ask if it’s too much, because I honestly don’t believe there could ever be too much reading! Should we be spreading the books out throughout the day? Should we be varying the types of books a bit? (Most of them are from the early readers section. And, don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re much better than the Peter and Jane books we learnt to read with!) Or is it all just personal choice – ours and hers?

And out of interest, what are your children’s reading habits, whether they’re reading themselves or not? Do you use the library a lot? We’re fascinated by all things reading-related.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Commenting system removed

Back to normal service.

I've removed it, as I didn't like it. Too slow to load up, I couldn't reply from my phone, and got weird errors. Have no problem with it on other blogs, just not for me.

Thank you for testing it out for me, people! And sorry to mess you around. I may try out Intense Debate, but might just stick with the normal thing - let me know if you have any special preferences.

Testing new comment system

Feel free to say 'Hi', so I can check that the new comment system works.

I've removed it, as I didn't like it. Too slow to load up, I couldn't reply from my phone, and got weird errors.

Thank you for testing it out for me, people!

Thursday, 18 March 2010


This is my first attempt at Josie’s Writing Workshop, though I think about doing it almost every week. In fact, this one combines a prompt from this week (1 Tell me about someone from you past who you lost touch with and who you often think about.) with one from last week (4 Imagine there is another ‘you’, living in a parallel universe.).


You were 21 in August, not long after Rosemary turned 3. What did you do? Did you have a big party with all your university friends? Did you have a quiet dinner with your mum and your dad and your half brothers and sisters and your grandmothers, raising a glass to your grandfathers, no longer with us? Were you stuck at home with a crying baby, trying to finish an Open University assignment? Did you spend it in the arms of someone you love? Did I call you to say Happy Birthday? Did I bring you gifts and make you cards?

Was I a good mum to you? Did I cuddle you when you cried and show you what it means to love? Or did I leave you with your grandparents while I went out to have fun and get an education? Or did I manage to do both? Did you come to university with me? Did I read you bedtime stories, then hit the books? Were we on our own? Did I shout at you too much? Was I your friend? Did I help you with your GCSE choices? Did I tell all about contraception and how it doesn’t always work? Did I tell you to never have sex until you had finished your education, just in case? Did you listen? Or did I tell you to live your life as you saw fit and to love when it was your time and make your own decisions? Did I teach you to be strong and stand up for yourself? To always know what you want and what you should do? To never allow yourself to be subsumed by another’s wishes and desires. And to never make a life or death decision after getting yourself drunk on half a bottle of Malibu?

Did you come to my wedding? Did you come to meet your sisters after their births? Or were you maybe even at their births? Do you come to their birthdays and shower them with love and gifts?

Are you happy? Were you happy? And what about the me in that universe? Is she happy? Was she happy? Does that even matter?


Dear Adelaide, I will never forget you and I wish I could have got to know you, like I am getting to know my little girls. I hope that there is a universe out there where you got to know and to love life. And I’m sorry.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

How to avoid the temptation to clone

My sister (Eva) and I took the girls to the circus last weekend. I spent much of my time oohing, ahing and taking the names of various deities in vain. Some of the acrobatics was absolutely stunning. There were three male acrobats climbing on top of each other’s heads, doing somersaults in the air, doing somersaults round and over each other and many more things that I can’t describe. There was a woman climbing up into the big top on a sheet of what looked like pretty flimsy material, and swinging there and doing all kinds of astonishing manoeuvres with it. There was a woman hanging from a rope by her hair. Yes, her hair. Ow! There was a woman who was able to dislocate her back in order to bend over backwards. All the way. Ow, again!

I spent the whole time in awe at the acrobatics. Rosemary spent the whole time in awe at the ballet. She loved the ballerinas. Sometimes the ballet and the acrobatics coincided. Other times it was all about the acrobatics and Rosemary lost concentration and started messing about with the seats in front or trying to chat to the boy behind. Other times it was all about the ballet and I lost concentration and chattered (quietly to Eleanor). Eva and I kept saying to Rosemary ‘Look at them, Rosemary. You keep missing it. Didn’t you see what he just did?’ But she wasn’t really interested in the acrobats.

And I mourned for my dreams of taking a gymnast daughter to the Olympics. I realised that I probably wouldn’t get to watch my daughter live out my dreams. Because I used to be a gymnast. I went to circus school. I was at the top of a human pyramid. I did somersaults over people – or human juggling as we called it. I was going to be an Olympic gymnast. Until we moved to Spain and I didn’t do any gymnastics for a year. Then came home and had fear. I couldn’t do a simple backflip over the horse. Because I was afraid I would fall. And that was it for me.

So I had pinned my hopes out living this out vicariously. But this is sadly not to be. Unless Eleanor pulls through, of course. And judging by her excited wriggling at the circus. During the acrobatics. I might be in luck.

Of course, all I really want for my girls is for them to find their own way and place within the world, to have the confidence to follow their dreams and the wherewithall to know how to go about it. And I will be proud of them and love them no matter which direction they run off in. But it would be a pleasant bonus if it were somewhere in the vicinity of an Olympic podium or, you know, outer space.

(It's not just me, is it? Oh. Never mind, then. Pretend you never read this.)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The One Cuddle Regime

For those of you who read yesterday’s post about our recent bedtime woes, this is a quick update to report the success of the One Cuddle Regime.

Having warned Rosemary that there would be one cuddle and one cuddle only from each of us at bedtime, and having had lots of extra daytime cuddles, we started off the bedtime routine as usual, after a bath. We let it start a bit later, just in case Noble Savage’s point that she might not quite be ready for bed was right. Everything went fine with the routine. And she got her one cuddle from each of us.

She didn’t roll over and go straight to sleep, of course. She tried ‘Cuddle?’ once but was reminded of the rule and didn’t try again. She did try some other things, including the normal ones which we ‘allow’ – getting a drink, getting a teddy and going to the loo – and one biggie that I should have thought to include in the new rule – getting her covers put back on. Fortunately, Chris is good at thinking on his feet, and refused and stood his ground. The second time she ‘needed’ to do a wee, she was guided back to bed, with a firm ‘No, you just did one,’ and Chris sneakily put the covers on her without her noticing or asking, so he didn’t give in. She then tried out the old ‘Mummy! I need you!’ shout for a while. The rule there, though, is that she has to say what she needs us for, otherwise we will not come. So, I think she may well have been testing to see if that rule was still the same. I stood my ground.

And she went to sleep.

And neither Chris nor I shouted once. We managed to keep to firm but calm, though we both had moments where we wobbled a little.

So, all in all, I would say the One Cuddle Regime was a success, coupled with our remembering (thanks to your comments) about standing firm and keeping calm. I would hope that the next few nights will probably gradually get a bit better, until it’s back to normal by the start of next week.

Hoorah! Yay! And, thank you!

Oh, and if you didn’t read the comments on yesterday’s post and have a three-and-a-half-year-old, you might want to. Apparently, it is the age of the meltdown. Only by this point they’ve developed the ability to bargain, debate and, essentially, far more easily wrap their parents round their little fingers. You thought the Terrible Twos were bad? These half-way to four-year-olds could argue the clothes off a hostage negotiator.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Bedtime meltdown

Over the last few days, our little angel reasonably well-behaved daughter, has taken testing boundaries to to the outermost limits – somewhere approaching Alpha Centauri. And she is doing this at bedtime, a time that we had got pretty much sorted.

The usual evening routine, that has worked perfectly for a fair while, goes roughly like this:

  • We all eat dinner together at 5pm.
  • Rosemary brushes her teeth while I start getting Eleanor into her bedclothes and Chris walks the dog.
  • Rosemary gets her pyjamas on while I finish getting Eleanor into her bedclothes.
  • I read Rosemary and Eleanor one or two stories (basically until Eleanor starts crying very loudly).
  • I go through to our bedroom to feed Eleanor and put her to sleep, while Chris reads Rosemary a few more stories.
  • Rosemary lies down, gets her covers put on her, chatters to her teddies a bit, sometimes listens to Paolie’s (My Pal Scout) music, and falls asleep, usually within a few minutes – sometimes it takes maybe 15 minutes.

Every few nights, the girls have a bath after dinner, but the rest of the routine stays the same.

Quite often there will be a couple of attempts to put off sleep – going to the loo, asking for a drink, asking for a teddy to be brought up, but nothing more.

Until now.

Every part of the routine goes perfectly well, pretty much, with no arguments. Stories are read happily and peacefully. But when it comes time to actually go to sleep, all hell breaks loose, with every possible delaying tactic brought out, along with tears, stomping, leaving the room, running upstairs, downstairs, in her parents’ chamber, screaming, and threats.

Oh boy, the threats.

“I have to have the light on, otherwise I will scream and scream and scream.”

“You have to flatten my covers, otherwise I will not love you anymore.”

“I have to sleep in your room, otherwise I will hit you.”

It has been escalating since we got back from Scotland (and there were a few issues there, too). She has been getting worse every night. And we have been getting worse every night. Meaning we are shouting and screaming, too. We’ve both slammed doors. We’ve both threatened things that we’re not able to go through with. (Last night, I threatened that if she didn’t stop misbehaving, I would go downstairs, walk out the front door and go away somewhere for the night. Duh! It made her cry. Didn’t stop her misbehaving. And, of course, I didn’t do it. Because how would that even be possible.) We’ve all three of us ended up with sore throats from shouting and screaming. And she pretty much hasn’t gone to sleep until she’s completely exhausted herself with crying and screaming.

We know the shouting and screaming and so on is almost certainly making it worse, but we’re seriously at a loss of what else to do. Threats, bribes, calm explanations in the morning, nothing seems to be working. This morning, I talked to her about it and she said she didn’t know why she was doing it, but agreed that it was making it worse for her and that she wouldn’t do it tonight. We talked about it later in the afternoon, and she agreed that she would go to bed nicely. While I was reading her stories tonight, she agreed that she would go to bed nicely.

But then she didn’t.

Some of the behaviour seems to be creeping into late afternoon now, too, mostly when she’s tired out, I think. The rest of the day, she’s pretty lovely, creative, bright, friendly, affectionate, inquisitive. She’s not perfectly behaved, of course, and she’s experimenting with bargaining and the like, but to nowhere near the level that we’re seeing at bedtime suddenly.

So, I’m throwing this out to the parenting panel… Does anyone (oh, please, please, please) have any advice? And is the perfectly normal behaviour (while knowing it is wouldn’t actually provide a solution, I think it might make us feel a little better, somehow). Have you been through it? How long did it last? What worked?

Edited to add:

I just had a sudden realisation... Over the last few weeks, we have gradually accepted a new rule that Rosemary made. That she would get a cuddle everytime anyone left her bedroom. It's such an innocuous thing a cuddle, that we happily and unquestioningly agreed to it. And gradually there have been more reasons for us to come into her room. It's not sudden at all. She's been building up her cuddle quota! No wonder she's finding more and more reasons to delay. Cuddles are such lovely things! So, the plan is to let her know tomorrow that she will get one cuddle from each of us when we say goodnight (me, when I take Eleanor through; Chris when he finishes the stories) and that will be it. If she needs help to go to the toilet, or needs a drink, we will help with those things, but she won't get any more cuddles. And, in the meantime, she can have as many as she wants during the day.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Routines and holidays - do they go together?

We're currently staying with Grandma and Grandpa for half-term. This is wonderful for everyone - Rosemary and Eleanor get played with and doted on for a whole week, and Chris and I get to relax more than we can do pretty much any other time. Oh yes, and Grandma and Grandpa get to spend lots of quality time with their granddaughters who live such a long way away.

But... Yes, there has to be a but... Try as we all do, we can't seem to keep the routines going. Saturday night, Rosemary didn't get to sleep until midnight and Eleanor was up loads in the night (though the latter was more down to the 4-month growth spurt). Sunday night, Rosemary almost fell asleep at the dinner table and missed pudding, while Eleanor slept pretty much as normal. Tonight, Eleanor fell asleep about half an hour before (a slightly later) dinner, woke up when it was served, then again about an hour later. Rosemary only got to sleep at 9 o'clock (usually 6.30-7).

We've been trying to keep dinner and bedtime routines as close as possible to normal, but the daytime activities can throw it all off. Rosemary's two late nights both followed a (pretty short) nap in the car in the afternoon. Eleanor's sleep was off when she had to wait until later than usual for her 4 pm feed, or had to have a slightly earlier one.

We need our routine these days (when not on holiday, I mean). Without it, there is no way that we could manage anything remotely close to a full working week. I could maybe scrape by with 10 hours and Chris might be able to manage 20. But we need to do 30 each, and evenings are where we find that time.

I'm curious to know whether anyone ever manages to keep up a routine while on holiday. Or do you just go with the flow and accept that late nights will happen? And how quickly do you get back into the routine afterwards?

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Do you listen to/for children?

This morning, Rosemary told a man in the Co-op five times, 'I'm on my way to ballet' and in the end I had to say, 'She's talking to you'. Then she was standing in the aisle when an older man wanted to get past and he said, 'Are you in the way again?' Why he couldn't say, 'Excuse me' I really don't know. Don't children deserve a bit of politeness, too? In fact, how are they supposed to learn it themselves if adults don't model it to them? 

I also find that some mums only listen to/for their own children, while others pay attention to any children who talk to them. Personally, I prefer the latter and hope that I tend toward it myself, though I admit I can sometimes find myself ignoring children, including my own, if I'm engrossed in a conversation.

So, what about you? Do you listen to other people's children or just your own? Do you get down on the ground and join in with the children's play when on playdates? If a child talks to you in a shop or on a train, do you respond, ignore them or initiate a conversation or game?

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Happy Birthday Papa

Today has been a day of looking after the girls – taking Rosemary to nursery school, pushing Eleanor round town while doing the shopping, cleaning the kitchen and making dinner (and pudding), going to breast-feeding group, having a coffee in Costa with Eleanor, picking Rosemary up from nursery school, having friends round for a playdate, having dinner, giving the girls a bath, reading bedtime stories, and breast-feeding. With a bit of time at the computer doing some work after the girls were asleep.

What would it have been like if you were still with us? Probably quite similar, during the day, though I probably would have squeezed in a pint with you in the Vic. Or maybe just brought the girls round to visit you for tea and cake, like we did 3 years ago, though there was only one girl then. The evening would probably have included a family meal, a few beers and we might have talked you into playing a game. But it would have been one of the ones that you secretly liked, like Trivial Pursuits or Articulate.

Or maybe we’d be throwing you a big surprise party, like we did on your 60th. Gathering together many of your friends, old and new to meet up in one of your favourite drinking holes. Perhaps we would have organised it more in advance this time so that relatives could have come from afar to wish you well.

Whatever it would be, you would have wanted to spend it with all your girls – including the newest one, who you never got to meet.

Know this. You will always live on in our hearts and in our heads. You will always be loved. And, though she never got to meet you, Eleanor will know you as much as it is in my power for her to do so.

Happy 65th Birthday, Papa.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Anyone for dessert?

I was wondering recently whether to introduce puddings on a regular basis. At the moment, they are definitely treats and few and far between. I recall reading in some parenting book or magazine that it’s good to have a (reasonably healthy) pudding and to offer it without any conditions – so, no withholding pudding if dinner is not eaten – because it provides a wider variety of nutrients and the opportunity to get more food into the child if they don’t eat much of their dinner.

But we’re not really pudding people. Well, that’s not entirely true. If I go to restaurant, you won’t catch me refusing to see the dessert menu and more often than not you’ll hear me asking for it the second my plate is whisked from the table. I rarely go without dessert when out. And I will always have one (or more) for special occasions. On a daily basis, though, desserts, puddings and chocolate tend to be reserved for the evening and are usually a special grown-up treat, rather than a regular thing.

We did end up going through a stage where Rosemary was expecting ice cream at the end of every meal. Where she would ask how many spoonfuls of dinner she would have to eat in order to get ice cream. So we stopped giving ice cream, in the hope that she would just eat her dinner, with no expectations of treats of any kind (it mostly worked, though her desires for ice cream do surface on occasion). We definitely don’t want to go back to that.

What I’m thinking about are fruit-based puddings, like apple crumble, fruit pie, fruit jelly (made with fruit juice and agar agar flakes) and even just fruit salad. I’d have to tone down the amount of sugar I put in my crumbles, though. And maybe some other puddings that could count as reasonably healthy, though I can’t think of any that wouldn’t have to have fruit in to be considered healthy!

I am talking home-made here, too, not defrosting a Sara Lee gateau (which would be no good for me, anyway, as they all have gelatine in), though I do realise that home-made doesn’t always equate directly to healthier. So, it would add some extra work in for us. A lot of puddings would be things that Rosemary could help make, though, which is usually fun and has a whole bunch of other benefits, too.

Is this a good idea or a really stupid one? Do you have regular puddings or are they reserved for special occasions? Does pudding come with the proviso that the main course must be finished? And, in fact, do you have other courses, too? A salad starter, for example, or cheese board or something? Would it just lead to us all becoming obesity statistics? And can you recommend any reasonably easy and healthy puddings?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Is the grass greener over there? Or over there, maybe?

Combining a small baby with a pre-schooler and a business is definitely challenging. Probably 50-60% of the time, it works fine and we all somehow manage to keep on top of everything. But every now and then over the last month, I’ve yearned for a small(ish) lottery win so that I could take a couple of years off and be a SAHM.And then, every now and then I’ve yearned for a fancy dancy overpaid job, that I could go off to do during the day and then have proper weekends and evenings, where I get to actually take time out with my husband and children.

The trouble with being a WAHM (and a WAHD, of course) with one child at home most of the time, is that you lose your evenings and weekends. The vast majority of my work these days is undertaken in the evenings. Which works fine when Eleanor goes to bed at her proper bedtime (between 7 and 8), but is difficult when she decides to stay awake until 9 or 10.

And then there are the times when you’re working until 1am, then your elder daughter wakes with a nightmare at 1.30am, goes back to sleep at 2.30am, half an hour after which the baby wakes up for a feed, then your elder daughter wakes up at 5am and will not go back to sleep. At all. We all have this, of course, whether we’re SAHMs, WAHMs, or some other acronym! And it wipes you out whatever you have to do the next day, be it commuting to London, amusing toddlers or doing four different school runs. But surely it’s easier if you go out to work? Or don’t do any paid work? Surely? No? Oh well.

Today, I've had the day off and yesterday evening off and I’m feeling like I can face anything, even though Eleanor didn’t go to sleep until 9pm. My batteries are fully recharged and I’m ready to get back to my desk tomorrow evening, or maybe even this evening. But a few nights ago, I felt like I would never have any time to sleep, let alone sit in  a cafe chatting to a friend. And what I’ll feel like by Friday is anyone’s guess.


So, any tips from the other WAHMs out there? And for those SAHMs and career gals – is the grass greener over there, of does it look especially verdant here, to you?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Sleeping arrangements

Technically, we have a three-bedroom house, so you would think it would be easy to work out where Eleanor will be sleeping once she leaves our room. However, one of those rooms (the very nice large attic room) is our office, so there is no spare room.

Rosemary’s room is pretty tiny and only just fits her bed (cotbed in bed form), a wardrobe, chest of drawers and bookcase. It also has awkwardness, in that there’s a radiator on one of the long walls and a chimney pipe that comes up from the gas stove below on the other, making the placement of a full-sized single bed (or bunk bed) difficult, perhaps even impossible. If the radiator were relocated, a bunk bed could probably be squeezed in.

Our room is quite big and would probably make a pretty nice room for the two of them; one where they could play as well as just sleep. But then where would we go? Rosemary’s room would maybe fit a double bed and maybe a chest of drawers, but probably with almost no space on either side of the bed, if any. So, we’d probably need to store our clothes elsewhere.

The other option would be for us to move into the office and just keep one desk in there and then have another desk in the small room, with the girls in our room. Or even, somehow, try to squeeze the whole of the office into the small room. Not sure that would work, though, as it consists of three large desks with a computer on each (one of them could go, of course) and Rosemary’s desk where she now comes up to draw for a bit while we’re working. Of course, that could go into their room if they had a big room, but it’s nice having her come up with us for small chunks of time and I have visions of her sitting there doing her homework when she’s older. Perhaps even sitting at the other desk, checking the Internet for information about the Egyptians or the Vikings (that’s what they learn about at primary school, isn’t it?).

In the meantime, we need to work out what to do when Eleanor outgrows her crib, which is fairly imminent. Rosemary’s supposed to get a big girl bed and Eleanor go into the cotbed (back in cot form). But we don’t really want to get an ordinary big girl bed, if we’re going to have to get a bunk bed in a year. We don’t want to move Eleanor in with Rosemary until she’s sleeping through (Eleanor, that is, Rosemary’s pretty much got that sorted, apart from occasional awakenings for the toilet), because that would disturb Rosemary.

Rosemary’s solution is the simplest – she says Eleanor can just come and sleep in her bed with her and she’ll scoot over. Maybe we’ll just have to go along with that. Or we could just let her sleep in the buggy all the time.

So how did you work out the sleeping arrangements when you added an extra child to the family? Did you have problems when you had your first baby? I have friends who slept in the living room while their child had the only bedroom, for example.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Bloggers for Haiti

According to the BBC News front page, the death toll of the Haiti earthquake looks to be close to 200,000. People have lost everything: belongings, homes and families. The devastation is huge. And I can’t look.

I can’t look at the pictures or read the news reports. Because it makes me feel like a voyeur. Like I’m lapping up titbits of suffering and disaster, while sitting in my comfortable house, with my central heating and my fridge and cupboards full of food and my family, safe and sound. It feels wrong to follow the horrific stories coming in waves like the aftershocks.

I have always been the same. When the Asian Tsunammi hit, when Katrina descended, I couldn’t watch the news, I couldn’t read the papers, all I could do was add my coins to the collection buckets, send my cheques, phone the donation lines.

But, this time, I can do a teeny bit more. I can join with the blogging campaign to help the people of Haiti. English Mum has set up a Just Giving page so that we can send some Shelter Boxes to Haiti. Each box contains:

  • A ten-person tent with privacy partitions that allow its occupants to divide the space as they see fit
  • A range of other survival equipment including thermal blankets and insulated ground sheets, essential in areas where temperatures plummet at nightfall
  • Life-saving means of water purification. Water supplies often become contaminated after a major disaster, as infrastructure and sanitation systems are destroyed, this presents a secondary but no less dangerous threat to survivors than the initial disaster itself.
  • A basic tool kit containing a hammer, axe, saw, trenching shovel, hoe head, pliers and wire cutters.  These items enable people to improve their immediate environment, by chopping firewood or digging a latrine, for example. Then, when it is possible, to start repairing or rebuilding the home they were forced to leave.
  • A wood burning or multi-fuel stove that can burn anything from diesel to old paint.  This provides the heart of the new home where water is boiled, food is cooked and families congregate. In addition, there are pans, utensils, bowls, mugs and water storage containers.
  • A children’s pack containing drawing books, crayons and pens.  For children who have lost most, if not all, of their possessions, these small gifts are treasured.

Each box can be adapted to the individual needs of the disaster area, for example, following the Javanese earthquake in 2006, when some resources were available locally or could be salvaged from one storey buildings, the overwhelming need was for shelter – so ShelterBox just sent tents, packing two in each box.  The box itself is lightweight and waterproof and has been used for a variety of purposes in the past – from water and food storage containers to a cot for a newly born baby.

So far (Monday morning), enough money has been raised to send four boxes. Let’s make that five, or even more!

You can also donate to the Haiti aid relief efforts in other ways, including:

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Review: My Pal Scout

This is a sponsored post

My Pal Scout is a medium-sized green cuddly dog who talks and sings. He has buttons on each of his paws, which will do different things. They have pictures, which helps the child (and you) to identify which paw does what. He has a USB connection, so that you can customise him. He needs some setting up and we would suggest getting it ready without your child and then just having them there to answer the questions, otherwise they may get a bit frustrated.

There's quite a good choice of things to customise, on top of the obvious name – food, animal, colour. If you've never had a toy that says your child's name, you'll be amazed at how much this pleases them. Rosemary's eyes really did light up when she heard Scout (or Paoly, which is his nickname) say her name. And she laughs when he sings the song about how a dog should be pink (because it's using her favourite animal – dog – and favourite colour – pink). One of the paws plays bedtime music – two minutes of bedtime music if you press it once, five minutes if you press it again and ten minutes if you press it a third time. This is wonderful. Rosemary really uses it to help her go to sleep. I have heard it in the middle of the night even – she has woken up and is getting herself back to sleep instead of shouting out 'Mummy! I need you!'

It's a shame there's not more customisability available, such as putting your own songs on, or maybe recording a parent's voice (though I suppose that might actually be a bit confusing). It's difficult getting the pack (that contains the batteries and USB connection) back inside, but you only have to do that once, so it's not a big issue.

My Pal Scout is a fantastic toy and your child will almost certainly adore it. The added benefit of helping with bedtime is enough to spend £20 on itself, if you have a difficult sleeper. It will be a long time before your child tires of the toy who talks and sings to and about him or her. I would definitely recommend it and would be happy to spend £20 on such a toy.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Favourite photo meme

I have been tagged by Audrey Hepburn. Oh no, apparently it was Emily, over at Maternal Tales, but blimey she looks like Audrey Hepburn in her wedding photo. This is a lovely meme, started by Tara at Sticky Fingers who always has beautiful photos on her blog – she must have a fantastic camera, or just be really good at taking pictures, of course. It’s fairly simple, just pop up your favourite photo and say why it’s your favourite photo.

Well, actually, that’s quite difficult. I have a lot of favourite photos. As I was thinking about this meme, I realised that pretty much every photo I wanted to post was one with my dad in it. And that, I think, is one of the great things about photos. Of course, it’s lovely to capture beautiful landscapes and stunning monuments or breath-taking sunsets, but photographs of people are particularly special and really come into their own when those people are no longer with you. Which is why I’m putting these photos up…

I love this photo of my dad and mum on the beach. I think they look so young and carefree and happy, and rather cool, too.

This is a collage of three photos of my dad holding babies. I’ve put them in the wrong order and don’t have time to go and fix it, so… on the left he’s holding my sister, Eva, in the middle, he’s holding me and on the right he’s holding Rosemary. When we were putting together photos to show on the big screen at his wake, we noticed that his posture and look is pretty much identical in all the photos, spanning a period of 33 years. I just wish we could add one of him holding Eleanor.

And this one is really special to me, for fairly obvious reasons. It’s my wedding day and my dad’s walking me down the aisle. You can’t tell from the picture, but he was walking far too fast and I was saying ‘Papa. Slow down!’ You also can’t tell from the picture, but we were actually late. Everyone had been delivered to the registry office by the minibus and it had come back to get us, and then we’d got stuck behind a bunch of marching bands. Luckily, Chris waited for us. I look at this photo a lot and it makes me happy, though it also makes me sad that my sister won’t have her own photo of Papa walking her down the aisle when her time comes.

RIP Brian John Goddard, 1945-2007. We miss you, Papa.