Word of the week: unsettled

Unsettled

It’s been JJ’s second full week at big school. He seems to be taking it in his stride but just at the point where you think a new routine is bedding in, it seems that the dust is once again un-settling as tiredness creeps in. What started off as a pretty chaotic madcap pre-bed ‘routine’ has rapidly descended into the ninth circle of hell as JJ not only encourages his little brother to ignore me and defy my every wish but also seems to be possessed by the devil a little himself, kicking, screaming and seeming to relish this new found naughtiness.

This has not been helped by the fact that their father has been working late shifts and I’ve been flying solo, although the threat of ‘telling Daddy’ has been enough to kickstart the first hints of obedience. As always, once EJ is in his cot, JJ’s defiant behaviour suddenly ebbs away as quickly as it washed in. Last night he even turned to me and said, ‘sorry for being naughty earlier Mummy’ and then ‘are you sorry too?’ to which I replied ‘yes, I’m sorry for getting cross’ and that was enough.

In the meantime EJ’s nice settled routine of going down to bed like a little lamb is also a bit off the rails as he has begun climbing out of his cot and then repeatedly climbing out every time he is deposited back in, screaming at the stair gate demanding to be released. My policy is always to ignore this kind of thing. I’ll only put him back twice – I’m not playing that game! If they have to cry themselves up into a fury then that’s what happens. It happened with JJ for a couple of nights when the gate first went up too. This time it’s different though because, whilst I studiously ignore the screaming and get on with my chores (we’re talking maybe 15 minutes here – and always with the intention of going back to soothe, comfort and reassess once the mood has changed from defiant to just plain tired and upset), JJ can’t in good conscience let EJ sit and stew, preferring to talk to him calmly and kindly through the gate which is actually really sweet and, last night at any rate, left EJ a lot more docile, just wishing for some milk before allowing me to put him back to bed once and for all.

I have to say though, every evening I get more and more on edge in the run up to 6pm when I know I will be chewed up into a mangled shadow of my former self before being spat back out at 7, grasping desperately for the G&T!

As far as the transition into autumn routine goes though, it’s starting to come together. The madness of party planning is over thanks to two birthdays that bookend the holiday period and I’ve actually taken my foot off the pedal and relaxed a bit, even treating myself to a small shopping spree, before I begin to formulate my master plan for the run up to Christmas. This breather has left me with the space to think about me again, as selfish as that might sound. I guess the summer period is always going to be a time filled with wall to wall kidstuff, but once term kicks in and they are back in the capable hands of their educators, it seems like the right time to start thinking about personal goals and dreams outside of motherhood.

So, whilst certain events of the past week have been very unsettling, I look forward to shaking myself out of whatever comfortable furrow life seems to have settled into lately and come a bit more alive with a challenge more demanding than just baking a cake or joining a linky. Watch this space…

 

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Are women better parents than men?…

…is the topic of Sara’s Prompt this week over at Mum turned Mom. The answer is no, of course we’re not. But what I would say is that, as women, we are hard-wired to fulfill a certain role for our children. Gender roles exist, largely springing from what are still marked biological differences despite the leaps forward in evolution since the era of the caveman. If they didn’t, then there would be no difference in the way we parented but as it is, women will always have the first physical bond with a child (through pregnancy) and they are very much the primary care-givers for a newborn in the majority of cases. I think women can be a lot more in tune emotionally and childhood can be a pretty emotional time.

male vs. female

Because of the way society tends to run, women are gifted with maternity leave whilst men are expected to return to full time jobs, and again, spending that amount of dedicated time in the company of your rapidly growing and developing child leads to a knock on effect of imprinted need and reliance on the mother by the child which, in turn, leads to a mother who has that much touted ‘instinct’ and an ability to pick her own child’s cry out of a room of crying toddlers, or understand half-grunted, half-signed language which might baffle another person.

Although it may be entirely unfair to men who would like to devote more of their time to their children and do a wonderful, nurturing job in the evenings and on weekends, any true comparison is never going to be forthcoming unless every single one of us does exactly the same share of the money-making and the child-rearing. For every example of a friend of a friend who reversed roles with her husband and found that she was returning from work to discover piles of laundry and washing crusting from breakfast in the sink (or worse, not in the sink), there will be someone who can produce the perfect SAHD – but any perfect SAHD must surely rely heavily on the feminine side of his make-up, if you will; the side that knows the difference between Sudocrem and Metanium, the difference a well-timed nap can make, and the part which is happy to succumb to domesticity and routine. It isn’t easy for dads to fulfill that role simply because they are in the minority and it takes a brave man to face down the all-female Toddler Group Clique who may eye him suspiciously across the squash and biccies.

And what of the judgement from male friends, or that sneaking feeling that the role itself is somehow shamefully emasculating? Maybe I’m not giving enough men credit for being enlightened souls who don’t actually give a toss about what their peer group might have to say.

When it comes right down to it what exactly is the ‘best’ parent anyway? The one who the child turns to first when they fall and hurt themselves, or the one who works long hours to pay for the roof over all their heads? Making it into a competition is not helpful – I say as long as both parents are pulling together in their different ways to ensure the health, happiness and security of their children, mentally, emotionally, financially, then everyone is a winner.

 

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True adventures…

skydiving mission beach

I think there must be an optimum time in your life for true adventures, you can’t be too young but you can’t be too old. Depending on your definition of the word ‘adventure’, I feel there has to be an element of risk, of danger and the unknown.

As a parent, you are never going to want to see your child go off on a true adventure. I remember my sister cashing in her life’s savings at the tender age of about 25 and heading off to Katmandu for the start of a year travelling alone around Asia and Australia. I think I may have been studying the third year of my degree in Texas at the time, so I only have vague memories of how my parents felt about this, but I do remember a very tense time when she wasn’t contactable and a British girl had been abducted and murdered by a thai monk near to her last known location. That was a scary one.

My sister’s eldest daughter is now 15 and she’s recently become part of a band and been allowed to travel on her own by tube from South to North London. My sister has definitely felt the full force of parental anxiety over this mini-adventure, particularly when my niece, bless her, didn’t call or answer her phone to confirm that she was still in one piece!

Which leads me on to the question of “will it be different with boys?”. I always used to think that it would, that there would be some in-built protection mechanism, be it physical strength or just a less vulnerable presence in the world, but boys are vulnerable in different ways and the world is full of danger no matter the gender.

Speaking personally I have always shied away from true adventure, preferring to take on the world, buckled up in a harness with a safety net there to catch me if I fall! I guess if I really go to the self analysis I have to admit that I am a risk-minimiser, I am “risk-averse”! My mum said the day she heard I’d jumped out of an aeroplane at 14,000 feet she never would have believed it, but even then I was jumping tandem with an experienced instructor who knew what he was doing – it didn’t even end in a graceless tumble, just a cloud walk onto the terra firma of Mission Beach.

I tend to be an over-thinker and I guess this is the wrong state of mind for an adventurer – after all youcan’t plan for the unknown. Canoing down the Amazon is all well and good but what about the searing heat, the biting insects, dangerous river creatures lurking just below the surface? There have been times in my life when I have definitely toyed with the idea of taking an adventure – going off to teach English in Japan, joining in with the voluteer project helping the endangered turtles of Costa Rica… But each time I have analysed the negatives and freaked myself out!

Now I have a family and once my children are grown I will be approaching retirement so those experiences may well have passed me by for good.  But can you look back on a life without a true adventure and not regret it? Or feel like there is enough colour there to entertain you in your twilight years?

I guess its true to say that we’re not all cut out for the backpacking lifestyle – and maybe even a mini-adventure with a safety net is better than none at all.

For the time being I look forward to the little adventures that await my children – scout camps, their first time away without mum and dad, first time on an aeroplane, trying exotic food or even venturing across a big city on their own. I want to encourage an adventurous spirit and not wrap them up in cotton wool. As someone who is risk averse I think this may be something I have to work on!

Linking up with this week’s Theme Game over at The Reading Residence and Red Peffer – this week’s theme being ‘adventures’.

 

The Reading Residence

The trickiness of treats

Pick your battles

My children are still very young but they are very lucky – to live in the western world, to come from a happy home, to be loved and doted on, to never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from or whether or not they will have somewhere to sleep at night or a roof over their heads.

They have already been given so much, so many treats (although not as many as some) and sometimes I wonder at what point they will realise that they have so much to be grateful for and that the treats they receive are very special and to be treasured.

When it comes to ‘spoiling’ a child everyone has their own opinion. Giving them everything they demand, willy nilly – well, I certainly try not to do that but sometimes when you’re choosing your battles you have to just cave once in a while (OK more than once in a while!!) and that can lead to short term peace but possibly long term moody, self-righteous children with an over-riding sense of entitlement and nobody wants that! I admit I teeter on this line all the time and overall I’d say that I tip over into lavishing treats more often than is probably acceptable. What’s that? Ice cream just before dinner? Oh go on then! Another fruit pastille at bedtime ‘”to soothe your cough”? What they hell! Your seventh episode of Chuggington in bed before lights out? If it means I can go and swig down a glass of Sauvignon uninterrupted, I say YES!

But seriously, I don’t give in to every demand – it wouldn’t be physically possible and I would be stony broke – its the knowing how to handle the fallout when the treats are denied – that’s the tricky part and I worry all the time about my lack of any kind of consistent strategy. This is one of those bits of parenting that doesn’t just kick in when you have a baby. Its the part where those self doubts kick in: “I’m not a natural mother”, “I wasn’t cut out for this” and perhaps my own reactions just reinforce a negative spiral down into the depths of bratty behaviour…

When the treats become the norm there is nothing left to offer, no bribe, no reward… So maybe what we need are less ‘magic’ moments and more ‘ordinary’ moments. Or another glass of Sauvignon (mummy’s treats!) and some earplugs!!

This post was inspired by this week’s theme at the The Theme Game (‘Treats’) devised by Jocelyn of The Reading Residence and Iona of RedPeffer.

 

The Reading Residence

Mindful Saturday…

This Saturday the hubster was working so I took the munchkins over to my mum and dad’s for the weekend. I have to admit that normally, when we go over there I have been guilty of taking the opportunity to pop into town unencumbered by either of them to mooch about a bit and buy the odd birthday pressie or other necessity. This is normally while EJ is napping and therefore I tend to miss out on spending quality time with JJ. He adores his Grandma and she is fabulous with him, patiently playing games and letting him help her with the dinner preparations whether I’m there or not. However this week, for whatever reason, I decided not to go out. I had taken a couple of things over which I thought JJ might enjoy – an Usborne Appletree Farm ABCs sticker book and this  pack of colour and create headresses:

091

which came as part of a lovely pack of stationary, cards and wrapping paper which I won in the month of March for writing four posts on four different themes, my favourite of which is probably this one for The Theme Game devised and administered by Jocelyn of The Reading Residence and Iona of Red Peffer (great fun!).

We never really touched on the stickering this weekend but JJ was well up for the colouring in and he definitely wanted me to help him (read – do most of the work!).

Strangely enough I actually quite enjoyed this activity. It turns out colouring is really quite therapeutic! JJ spent most of the task looking over at Grandma (who was enjoying a well deserved sit down with a cup of tea and a magazine) and trying to recruit her to the task!

Finally we finished the mammoth colouring task and I popped the head-dress out and glued the crown together. This is the end result:

As my Dad pointed out this is possibly a bit at the Elton John end of the spectrum, but I think you can pretty much tell from the look on his face how happy he was about this entire project!

I pretty much spent all day giving both boys as much attention as I could, attempting to cut down on my phone blogging and resisting the draw to pick up my book or Kindle Fire. I don’t really know if this made their behaviour better (it was pretty good) but it made me feel more on top of things – I was trying to pre-empt their needs and give them lots of positive attention all the way up to bedtime and I think that mindfulness paid off one way or the other. Happy children: happy mummy = magic ordinary moments ❤


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Collaborative hoovering

005I’d like to think I’m not the only person out there who’s house cleaning standards dropped somewhat with the advent of children. Not to say that my home was ever a Mecca of dazzling surfaces and rarely was furniture ever moved – even in spring. Nowadays though, the entire fiasco generally consists of an hour and a half flying around the house with a cloth and a hoover once a week on a Tuesday afternoon. Occasionally a dustpan gets involved.

Last week however, my annual leave petered out at work with three whole weeks left to go. Drastic action had to be taken in order to fulfil my lacklustre yet obsessive need to maintain my own half-arsed standards. Yes, that’s right, I enlisted the assistance of the boy.

As an incentive (!) to miss out on a post pre-school play date I informed him that there was a little friend called Henry at home waiting to play with him. Intrigued, he went along with my charade.

Back home Henry appeared in all his red and black glory from the cupboard under the stairs. JJ examined him from all angles before demanding an explanation. Apparently he was expecting a red Henry. Henry is only half red. This is the kind of obsessive compulsive behaviour you come to expect from a pre-schooler.

After some persuasion I managed to convince him that this would be fun! (And allow me to crack on with the beef casserole). You can see where this story is leading can’t you? Yep, ten minutes later I was shuffling along the corridor noting the enormous amount of dried mud JJ had somehow managed to miss and he was shouting “Mummy, you’ve missed a bit” from his perch on the sofa, Chuggington blasting out of his froggy earphones.

Ah well, one week, three bits of fluff less for me to deal with, a trained up child… Hmmm, perhaps some more delegation is required here; next week, the story of EJ’s love of sink cleaning (who knew one small patch of sink would require three quarters of a bottle of Fairy Liquid though? True story…)

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The Mirror Stage

001

Anyone who’s ever seen a baby progress through their first year of life will be aware that, at some point, they become aware of mirrors and the fact that there is another little person on the other side. When my eldest first went through this phase I was reminded of something I learned when I was at university studying literature. Part of the course involved getting to grips with literary theory – a lot of which crosses over with psychology and philosophy. There is one particular theory by a French academic, Jaques Lacan, called ‘The Mirror Stage’. He suggests that babies between the ages of 6 months and 18 months discover themselves in mirrors for the first time and it gives them a sense of (false) power and control (as they can force movements in their reflection by moving themselves). It’s false because of course the reflection is not a real person any more than is a shadow.

You might wonder how this plays into literature. As I recall through my studies of the works of Henry James, the mirror stage comes into play through his ghost stories. He has two particular tales, more famously The Turn of the Screw in which a governess goes to work in a large country house to look after two children. Whilst there she becomes convinced that there is a ghost stalking the children and she becomes absolutely paranoid about their safety. She believes the ghost to be a former employee who is thought to have molested the children and imagines that the children can see the ghost too. In the final scene she speaks with the young boy and explains that he is no longer controlled by the ghost, however the boy dies in her arms. In another tale by James called The Jolly Corner, a man returns to his former childhood home after spending 30 years abroad. Seeing the house again reminds him of the choice he made years ago to forsake a career for a more leisurely life and soon a ghost appears in the house which represents the man he would have been if he’d taken a different path in life. The ghost stalks and haunts him at night.

Essentially these ghosts are projections from the fevered imaginations of the protagonists – the opposite of what happens in the mirror stage really because they are the parts of the psyche that cannot be controlled and this is the human condition beyond the age of 18 months when we first become aware that the person in the mirror is just a trick of the light.

With EJ just turned 19 months I am now fully aware that he has hit Lacan’s ‘turning point’ – the point at which we first develop our ego – the first little bit of self-knowledge. Its hardly the end of innocence but at the same time it’s a major developmental leap and kind of explains why the ‘Terrible Twos’ suddenly begin to come into play at this point. The understanding that they have both the ability to demand control but also lack control leads to unrealistic demands and massive frustrations.

I guess the best we can do as parents is try and give them the illusion of as many choices as possible (the strawberry yogurt or the apricot yogurt?) and hope that they never manage to knock themselves out in a fit of pique!

Linking up to The Prompt over at Mumturnedmom whose prompt this week was the word “Reflection”

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Pink is for girls… (The Prompt Week 6)

Well it is, isn’t it? I wouldn’t dream of sending my boys out dressed in pink – it would just confuse everyone! Is that right? No of course not, but society says…

Should we challenge society? On this I ponder. The hubster is a bit of ‘man’s man’ and would shoot down the very suggestion of mixed gender roles – which is why I had to laugh when, one day whilst driving along with the boys in the back JJ suddenly said “I’m going to drive a pink taxi when I grow up” and then, without any sense of irony, “Daddy will be pleased won’t he?”

pink taxi

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to encourage my sons to paint their nails, wear my make up, etc. but when they grow up I will support their decision to do any of those things if that’s what they want and if they feel, like Eddie Izzard, that its part of who they are and if they aren’t prepared to let anyone else squelch that then good on ’em!

For me though, I fear the possibility of bullying when the school years are upon us. Whilst I desperately want to give a balanced view when my four year old asks me “Mummy, is pink for girls?” and often find myself trying to explain that pink mostly appeals to girls, but that no-one owns a colour, and anyone can choose to like whatever colour, accessory or toy that appeals to them – at the same time I don’t want them to be victims of those that have been told that boys who like pink are the lowest of the low.

I know I’m fighting a losing battle against society. Does this make me weak? Does this mean that I’m perpetuating gender stereotypes and when my boys grow up they wll expect the women in their lives to take responsibility for the full burden of childcare, housework and the entire planning and organisation of family life, the way it seems to be in the present day (obviously with some exceptions)?

I hope I can instill enough of a sense of respect, generosity of spirit, empathy and work ethic – both inside and outside the home – to ensure that there is a change for the better for (at least a very small proportion of) the next generation of mothers.

As for pink? Well I can see pink toys and clothes becoming less prevalent in favour of other, bright and neutral colours, but I’m afraid I can’t see a general acceptance of boys choosng traditionally  ‘girly’ things – not in my lifetime.

Linking up to The Prompt over at Mum Turned Mom.

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The Prompt: Sweater…

WinterworriesDontoverdressyourbabyfull

I’m a bit late to the “Prompt” party here but this week I’m finally joining in with this new linky devised by Sara over at Mum Turned Mom. Each week Sara is throwing out a phrase, sentence or quote which can mean different things to all of us.  This week she has given us:

Sweater, n.  garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. Ambrose Bierce

I remember when I was pregnant with JJ we had one particular ante-natal session which involved handing round a life size baby doll which was programmed to cry like a real baby. The idea was that we each share an idea for what might be wrong and how to fix it. I guess it came as a bit of a surprise both how relentless a newborn cry could be and how many different things could be wrong!

As it turned out, JJ was colicky so there was no answer to be deduced or solution enacted for at least the first five months.

I do remember that one of the proposed reasons was “the baby might be too hot or too cold”. Later on down the line I often felt that surely he was freezing like me but every indication said the opposite and I often felt that my child was dressed in about four layers less than other new mums I spoke to. It wasn’t that he was a big or particularly chubby baby – his default setting just seemed to be ‘roasting’.

Ironically, now, age four, this seems to be the opposite – he eats like a bird and looks like a streak of lightning and often complains of being a bit cold – camping himself out in front of our little electric stove (even when the central heating is on!).

I think this ‘under-dressing’ for the prevailing conditions was one of the first times I questioned my own judgement as a parent because every other mother who was feeling a bit chilly was dressing their toddler in 6 vests, a woolly jumper and a snowsuit!

But ultimately I believe that old adage that a mother should ‘trust her instincts’ and, to an extent, follow her child’s lead and my child is certainly none the worse off for any decisions I may have obsessed over at the time.

 

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The joy of a flushable poo!

Poo

I just know that any of my friends or followers who don’t have children will have just read this title and backed off in a hurry – hee hee! I know, I know, its probably way TMI but this is a subject that’s very close to my heart (well, very close to my toilet as well!) at this moment in time.

EJ has recently been suffering from many particularly delightful runny nappies and for about a week he was even taking out about 4 outfits a day (which did the poor, strained washing machine no good whatsoever). The thing was that, despite what, for all intents and purposes, would be described as diarrhoea under any other circumstances, he was absolutely fine in himself, running around, happy as the proverbial Larry. Then one day I suddenly had a flashback to a similar stage in JJ’s development and a quick web search revealed that both children had, most likely been suffering from a syndrome which is probably not all that uncommon and goes by the name “Toddler Diarrhoea” (not very imaginative, I think I’d prefer “Exploding Nappy Syndrome” or “Sudden-onset Heavy Internal Turbulence”*).

For those who may have a child with similar puzzling nappy contents, it may be interesting to know that this phenomenon can (and probably is) caused by diet and nothing to do with food intolerences. The information I have says that you should make sure your child has a good daily intake of fat (such as full fat milk, etc), take in a normal, but not excessive amount of fibre and, the one I’ve found to be most pertinent – too much fruit juice and/or squash. Apparently some of the sugars in fruit juices are not easily absorbed into the bowel and sit in there causing water to be retained which leads to those delightful runny poos!

It galls me to say this, but I think the advice about juice and squash is probably spot on as, since cutting back EJ’s consumption his poos are finally back to good old peel and flushables! I say it galls me as there is a bit of a back story to this. I realise that its pretty common good advice to give your children milk and water over other drinks for as long as possible but the hubster’s ex has, for years, made it her mission to rule over my step-daughter’s liquid diet with the flexibility of an iron girder. As a dental nurse I guess that’s not surprising and its the teeth themselves (rather than any real dietary concern) that is her primary – if not exclusive – battleground. Even now at nine, my step-daughter will not allow herself to accept so much as a sip of lemonade on Christmas Day – trained and groomed just like her mother’s agile whippets!

I vowed that I would never be such a harridan as a mother and allow my poor children some little pleasures in their young lives (or perhaps I’m just WEAK willed and don’t know how to say no!!). At the age of weaning and really quite quickly losing interest in baby milk, I tried in vain to get JJ to drink other liquids – cow’s milk or water. But no dice. He went through norovirus at about 6 months and I discovered that formula was simply exacerbating the diarrhoea he was suffering from and in the end invested in a few sachets of Diarolyte (blackcurrent flavoured). To my astonishment he downed a 7 oz bottle of the stuff (he was probably starving at the time mind you having gone cold turkey from milk for 24 hours on doctor’s advice) and after that I wondered and suspected that I could kick start his life as a consumer of non-dairy fluids by gently easing him onto some harmless (reduced sugar) Ribena. Hey presto, one hydrated and content child. Who then progressed to fruit shoots, smoothies and now, yes, I’m sorry to say I gave in the battle with (the very occasional!) lemonade! (Never Coke mind you, I’m not having sugar and caffeine in the boy’s system!).

Of course, along came EJ and, as soon as the powers of observance came into play he was damned if he was going to put up with that crap from the tap when his big bro was swilling the good stuff! Hence the fact that we practically by-passed weaning and went straight to the Happy Meal Fruit Shoot. Parenting FAIL!

Having said that, I do believe that it is worth the effort to attempt to wean him OFF the squashes by increasing the dilution little by little. He’s a much better drinker than JJ was and I know he’ll kick up a fuss but he will drink if he is thirsty at the end of the day.

And don’t lets forget solid poo = happy mummy!

*S.H.I.T.

For information, Toddler Diarrhoea is apparently more common in boys than girls and strikes between the ages of 1 and 5.