What love means to me

I while ago I was asked to write a guest post about love. I kept meaning to share it on my blog too – so finally here it is!

Love is more than words.

When I was a child my dad never said: ‘ I love you’ – something we’re told we should be doing all the time but because of him I know love isn’t about those three words. I never doubted he loved me more than anything and I never felt anything other than love from him and here’s why:

When I was a little girl he patiently taught me to ride a bike. As a teenager he took me on my first driving lessons. He built us a treehouse and a swing and completely rebuilt our little bungalow until we lived in the best place he could make.

He did this because he loved us and no one in our home ever doubted it for a second – despite never saying it.

When I left for University and he dropped me off in the roughest part of Nottingham. He turned the car round and came to stay with me until my housemates turned up a couple of days later. He cooked me eggs and bacon and loved me. When I made a silly mistake at 21 he just cuddled me and stood by me.

When he’s with Arthur I see him ploughing the same values, the same rules and the same sense of patience and love into it all. Hammering a piece of wood on Papap’s workbench is about love – more so than vacant ‘I love yous’.

Still to this day he’s the person I call when something needs ‘doing’. Because doing is what he does; without question and without a second thought.

It’s absolutely textbook but absolutely true. My dad is the first man who made me feel safe and loved without a single word. The first man who showed me how women should be treated.
The first man to whom all others need to measure.

So breaking with tradition – I love you dad, but just so you know, you never have to tell me. I already know. x

Plum sand and water table

I love Plum toys and so when I was given a chance to review one of their outdoor toys I jumped at the chance.

We’ve been working to transform our garden from a great big ole lump of concrete into something child-friendly and appealing to Arthur. I’ve been struggling under the weight of plastic toys which, to be fair, have their place, but I wanted something it little bit more – well you know, less colourful.

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So when our lovely wooden sand and picnic table arrived from Plum I was just so pleased. It’s gorgeous.

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Jonathan said it was very easy to put together and now it’s up and running feels sturdy and well-made. It’s a perfect miniature picnic table with enough room for four toddlers to comfortably sit round and eat. Then the fun really begins!

All you have to do is remove the two wooden slats in the middle and hey presto it’s a fab little sand and water table. As we’ve only just finished the garden we’ve not used it for sand yet – but as soon as we do I’ll bring you an update.TABLEeAT

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I know Arthur will love it as he’ll be able to sit down and play easily and he already loves the fact it transforms into something else. He also needs a little help to lift the top off so that’s a good thing and means there will be no rogue sand and water incidents that we don’t know about!

Priced at £89.99 is a lovely edition to our garden. It looks great, is well-made and I know Arthur’s going to have hours of fun with it this summer. I’ll be bringing you a few more garden updates throughout the year so you can see how our new toy is fitting in!

Things we don’t think toddlers know. But they do.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But here’s what I think these wily little people don’t want us to know they know.

  • That you do have to wear shoes, they know and they exploit this for hours of running round while you trail after them brandishing said shoes. They are not idiots, they know they’ll get cold/ wet feet.
  • That hitting the buttons on the washing machine/dishwasher etc does actually f*ck up the washing. Of course they know this. Sitting back and watching you scream is all part of their cunning plan.
  • That other children will eventually give their toys back. They just like to make sure you’re on edge during any kind play date.
  • When they repeatedly scream ‘mummy’ from the top of the stairs you will; A. eventually go upstairs and; B. attend to their every whim, be it a drink, story…you get the point.
  • That relentless twizzling will lead to a fall. But hey, it’s funny and it just means they can make you kiss whichever part of their body has been banged.
  • That food is the best bargaining tool they have. Inside they are laughing at our pathetic attempts to get them to eat random adult stuff. Maybe they’ll humour us, maybe not. This mental stronghold is their ultimate victory.
  • Teeth cleaning is not about clean teeth, it’s about signalling the start of bedtime. Or, in the morning it signals time to wear clothes – neither is an acceptable toddler pastime.
  • That lying on the floor in Sainsburys screaming and crying because you can’t have a can of deodorant/ Sharon fruit/tin of salmon will usually lead to a bag of chocolate buttons while sitting in the trolley lording it over quivering parents who have, quite possibly, also put a Sharon fruit in the trolley. Something you will, of course, refuse to eat once home.
  • That conversations about pooh and trumps are funny – no matter how hard you try to be the adult. Bottom stuff is just comical and toddlers know this – deal with it.

Don’t be fooled by the angelic small person standing before you. Be warned parents, these little people know and they are not afraid to use it.

*This post is based on qualitative research using several hours observing toddlers in their natural habitat. (Except the supermarket one which I read about on a desperate ‘parenting forum’ in the early hours of the morning and to which I added dramatic licence).

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I told a lie and I rather loved it.#AllAboutYou

I told a lie today. A perfect, wonderful selfish lie and I carried it with me all day, tucked in my conscience. I’m not good at lying, I find it draining and difficult and develop an irrational fear that somewhere, at some time I’ll pay. But today was different.
I told a lie and it gave me back a little piece of the old me. The pre-child me and I’m not certain I wouldn’t do it again. It wasn’t huge or difficult and it weaved it’s way into conversation with shocking ease. It all started when I knew I had to go to the doctor’s today but I told everyone my appointment was a whole two hours before it was. It meant there was no point coming home before my hair cut. A whole two hours with no where to be.

So my lie and I bought coffee and wandered through cobbled streets that hate buggies. Peered into shops that remain closed to toddlers and I spent half an hour browsing old books. Books that tiny hands would smear with banana. I stood in an antique shop looking at myself in the misty glass of an 19th century mirror. The mist blurred my edges and for a moment made me feel 18 again. It was a little rebellion against responsibility, against always being reliable, dependable and mummy.

I’m a creative soul, it’s words and books and solitary thought that recharges my batteries. It all sounds a bit wanky in the light of day – but apart from Pirates Love Underpants and the like I don’t get to enjoy those things as much now. Sometimes it’s bloody hard to be yourself when some of you is stuck in another world waiting. So just heading out to find that other bit occasionally, meeting up and making your peace – well that’s just common sense right?

I love my boys unconditionally and my time with them is fantastic and joyous and something of which I’m never bored. But occasionally the other me needs some time, so today I did just that.

I told a lie which bought me a little time. It was the lie that made it special. If people had known I was wandering round recharging my batteries no one would have minded. But it wouldn’t have been the same. The frisson of excitement as I left the house was completely over the top, in fact it was a bit pathetic really.

But sitting here tonight I feel better, sunnier, a little less like someone else and a little more like me. I don’t feel any guilt, just a bit clearer. I enjoyed reading Pirates Love Underpants three times tonight and I reckon I can thank my little lie for that. It wasn’t white, or necessary or even particularly interesting. But it’s mine and I think I might love it just a little.

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U, me and the kids

Office politics – when women get personal

I work in an office with a lot of childless women – childless through choice.

There are no yearnings, bewildered missed moments and achings to be mothers. Nope, they don’t want them and can’t really see the appeal. Absolutely their choice but there’s an undercurrent. A  wave of dismissive banter that’s creeping in and rocking my boat a little more than I’d like.

Yesterday in the office I was talking about leaving Arthur with my mum Saturday night for the first time in months and months and how I was looking forward to it. One of the staunchly childless women said: “Can you even remember what it was like before he came along? I can’t imagine not having time to myself.” Another added: “But then I can’t imagine wanting to wipe bums and play with lego all day either.” They laughed. A wittering sort of smug, we’re only joking kind of laugh. To be fair most people are fantastic, supportive, interested in him and absolutely get it. But the ones that don’t, the ones that can’t see beyond their coupled existence, seem to think it’s fine to pass judgement – as long as you’re laughing.

I was surprised how upset I felt. I don’t care if they don’t want children, it’s none of my business but I would never turn round and say: “My god, I can’t believe you don’t want children. What’s wrong with you?”

It would be insulting and imply I knew best and, I don’t. Well not all the time. Yet their seemingly harmless banter  felt like it was a direct attack on me as a mother, my choices, my role and inevitably my ability to do my job. Now granted, there are moments I arrive with breakfast on my shirt or hair a little crispy to the touch. But I’ve never missed a deadline, never created something that didn’t get praised. Never walked around with my top on back to front…nope sorry, I have done that one.

I never want to be an evangelical mother who exhaults the virtues of motherhood at all turns and poo poos other choices – we all walk our own path. But bloody hell I’m not going to stand for that again. I’m good at my job, I’ve made it through five restructures still standing because of it.  I’m a good mum and I guess their comments hurt because that’s who I am. My job is just what I do sometimes.

So next time they decide to comment, hilariously on my boy and me, here’s my – equally hilarious – response:

“But I love playing lego, bringing up a new generation, wiping bottoms, creating a well-rounded interesting and interested person, baking buns and helping a little boy develop into a kind, intelligent and good man.  The kind that will be running the country and possibly your care home once you’re in it.  It puts writing some crap about finance into perspective doesn’t it.”

I do hope they find it as funny as I do.

Our Little Adventures with Barny

When we received our yummy Barny snacks we decided to celebrate by going on a bird hunt- like a bear hunt only up in the air! There’s a wonderful nature reserve not far from us so we set off with our picnic and our mini binoculars to find some feathered friends.

Arthur loves being outside exploring and finding new things and I love the fact that everything is a new adventure, a wonderment and in that moment, quite simply, the best thing he’s seen. Seeing the world through a toddler’s eyes is the best way to rediscover nature and that’s exactly what we did.

Of course we stopped for a picnic and to enjoy our Barny snacks- Arthur loves biting the heads of first and I love the fact they have no nasty additives or preservatives in them either. We had the apple one on our adventure and they were declared “yummy” by the chief tester.
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We spent ages in the hide spotting geese on the water, sparrow hawks in the sky and quite a few pigeons- there are always pigeons! Arthur loved using his little binocular daddy gave him and couldn’t quite believe he could see so much by peering through. We were quite the twitchers!

Next we took a wander through the woodlands and saw the most beautiful snowdrops sitting prettily beneath the trees. They always make me feel happy, as if Spring, is sending word that it won’t be long. Arthur insisted on stroking them and it dawned on me he’d never seen them before so we all bent down and looked at these tiny little wonders.

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We had a wonderful day full of new experiences and I came away feeling invigorated and happy. It was windy and chilly but it didn’t matter as we’d discovered a whole new world on our doorstep.

This post is an entry for BritMums ‘Winter Little Adventures Challenge’ sponsored by Barny, individually wrapped bear-shaped sponges with a hidden filling. Find out more about Barny here”.

Motherhood-not the toughest job in the world

Ok I’m just going to say it. I don’t think motherhood is the toughest job in the world. The phrase has passed over into everyday language as a stock response and don’t get me wrong it can be tough, emotionally draining, physically exhausting but not all the time.

I loved my mat leave, making friends, getting to know Arthur, basking it what I’d made. There were moments it was hard work but no way would I say it was the hardest thing ever.There are huge factors that can make it tough but it’s about a situation not whether you gave birth. If you have one child, plenty of money and supportive family how on earth is that tough. It’s a privilege. If you have six children and your partner left you and you need nappies and food and no one helps – that’s tough but it’s not to do with being a mother. This doesn’t take account of women suffering PND but I would never imply I could understand that or any other mental health struggle.

I also think it’s a slightly smug badge of honour, unattainable by those not in the club. As women, sometimes, we can find outselves pitted against each other and I’ve read many scathing attacks on the ‘mummy brigade’ by women sick of this perceived sense of self importance. I don’t agree with them and I hate the term ‘mummy brigade and similar’ but by using phrases such as ‘toughest job’ or ‘most important job’ we’re doing ourselves no favours.

May be this is a simplistic view which takes no account of the economic impact of being a mother, loss of earning power, status and a sense of handing some of one’s self over to another for life. Maybe it’s because you can’t escape, there’s no clocking off and once your baby is here you know that you’d end your life for theirs.

Mothers are not all tough or weak or all amazing. We are a heady mix of brilliant, crap, fair-to-middling people. Bringing up a child is the most privileged part of my life with some tough moments but it’s not a career choice – it’s a lifestyle one. Implying it’s a career in some way demeans what it is – it’s far more powerful than that, and incidently this applies to dads as well. It’s tough but not the toughest job – ask any Chinese miner.

Children’s book reviews – Christmas cheer and wizard’s whispers

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love books – especially children’s books and I really believe reading to our children is one of the most important things we an do as parents (aside from keeping them alive, feeding them, that sort of thing!).

So, I was so pleased to be asked to review two lovely children’s books published by Egmont. The first is the wonderfully titled: Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Tale of the Wizard’s Whisper by Kristina Stephenson. Currently Arthur is a little in awe of all things wizard so this was a great book to review.

STINKYSOCKS

What I love most about reading children’s books is the immediacy. An adult fiction can often meander along several literary paths – often for good reason. But to capture the imagination and concentration of a two and a half year old it has to be instant.

This book didn’t disappoint. The tale starts with a wizard making his way from a tall, tall tower to a castle on top of a hill. A mysterious whisper had told him that in the castle was a legendary knight who had helped dragons, monsters and kings.

Who could this perfect knight possibly be? Why, Sir Charlie Stinky Socks of course! And he’s looking for adventure.

With his cat Envelope and his good grey mare, he journeys along a treacherous track, through a spooky wooky wood and into a deep, dark cave where a mysterious black sack lies. But ogres, scallywags and pirates are lying in wait, ready to thwart Sir Charlie at every turn! Finally he returns and discovers what’s inside the black sack.

It’s wonderfully written with a sense of rhythm quite advanced for many children’s books but it kept Arthur’s attention all the way to the end. The name Charlie Stinky Socks has also given him hours of giggling time! The illustrations are wonderful, very detailed but still with a child’s eye in mind -  managing to capture the magic of wizards and knights perfectly.

We loved it and it’s found it’s way into the well-read section of his reading corner. I think we’ll be searching out a few more of the Charlie Stinky Socks books – I like the sound of him so far!

 Next up was a wonderful Christmas book, Little Robin’s Christmas, by Jan Fearnley. It’s a week before Christmas and Little Robin has a warm vest for each frosty day. But he meets seven chilly friends and soon has no vests left for himself. Poor Robin huddles on a roof …until Father Christmas comes to the rescue and, as a reward for his kindness, gives Little Robin a red vest to keep forever.ROBIN

This is a lovely, innocent and completely traditional book which touches on the importance of kindness to others and the idea you will be rewarded if you do good to others. It’s about friendship and not giving to receive and I thought it was a joy to read.

The illustrations are very traditional but it was very easy to read with my son and we managed to talk around the subjects of sharing and being kind in their simplest forms. I love the fact the little robin gave away his vests too – just so cute! It worked for Arthur because it was so simple and he was able to follow the cause and effect of the story and so the message wasn’t lost on someone so young.

 Both books leant themselves to a lovely afternoon of reading, drinking hot chocolate and deciding not to venture out at all!

A mighty fine pumpkin boys!

This Halloween ‘him indoors’ decided to take a knife to a pumpkin and show it who’s boss.

I am now utterly convinced that men, maybe in particular my man, descend upon a task with the kind of single-mindedness women can only dream (albeit a nightmare) about. While I was scattering spider lights, hunting out last year’s pumpkin basket and generally getting on with stuff. He sat with Arthur and created this masterpiece!

It was funny to watch, not happy with a simple pumpkin cut-out he trawled the internet and found a ‘challenge’. Unable to comprehend doing anything else at the same time he sat, with Arthur all afternoon and took on his challenge – few words were spoken while the knife was wielded in concentration.

PumpfinalThe boys, big and small, completed their task and happily displayed it on the window sill. I spent the afternoon hovering round them and making sandwiches that weren’t eaten. Well done lads, it was an insight into the strange workings of your minds and a very finely carved pumpkin too!

 

Books. What are they good for? Absolutey everything,

Reading is more than the words on a page, more than an exercise in linguistics. Grasping at the page corners waiting to turn to the next adventure; silly voices and watching your child really believe in something. Contact, interaction – reading is, without question, one of the most important things to do with your child.

This week my sister in law gave Arthur a fantastic signed copy of ’We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen. How wonderful. We sat down, snuggled up and read it twice, pointing out the pictures, making funny voices and enjoying the moment. The connotations of being a bookworm are of someone quiet, withdrawn and nerdy, yet books are full of adventure, moments of amazing enlightenment and the chance to use imagination in ways few other activities allow.

Levels and rates of reading among children are falling , I suspect, mainly because parents don’t read to them. A whole generation of children not knowing how amazing it can be…. – it’s sad. But more than that, it’s a dying art. Reading a book aloud requires imagination and  with children’s books, often abandoning your inhibitions and putting a little bit of you into making something real.

I’m not naïve, computers are not the devil, PSDs haven’t stolen a childhood. But they’ve given parents a lazy alternative, one that doesn’t require them to be involved but gives hours of child-free time. Oh god, I hope they realise they will have so much of that when their children have grown and gone.

Books influenced my life, Wuthering Heights made me cry, To Kill A Mocking Bird showed me the brilliance of the human condition and The Great Gatsby the utter wastefulness of an unfulfilled life.  As I said, it’s more than words.

I want Arthur to have confidence in his ability to read; quietly to himself, immersed in a story, and loudly and proudly to his children and grandchildren. It’s a confidence that permeates beyond the pages to offices, meetings, report writing, soulful evenings spent debating world issues with friends and family. It is a skill we need to save and cherish and hold in the same esteem as getting to level whatever on a Gameboy. How we actually do this is a whole other problem!

Maybe this is a little indulgent middle-class rhetoric but then again, my working-class dad told the best stories in the world and I think he’s partly responsible for my love of language. What a bloody marvellous gift to give me.  It’s as if books have become uncool, defunct and pointless  they are also a casualty of an ever-increasingly throw away world where no one has time and living in the immediate is more important. They need a makeover and quick.

But more basic than this, we are words; big ones, small ones and all the ones in the middle. They make up our days and if our children were to struggle to read them and make sense of them – what a sad loss for us all.

If you appreciate a book, you will never be alone.

Stats from The Reading Agency UK

  • Children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • 14% of children in lower income homes rarely or never read books for pleasure.
  • Parents are the most important reading role models for children and young people.
  • Only 1 in 5 parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children.

There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.

Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. It is vital that children enjoy reading – motivation is essential for acquiring literacy skills.  Reading for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school

  • Yet only 40% of England’s ten year olds have a positive attitude to reading. The figure for Italy is 64% and 58% for Germany.

”books”

U, me and the kids