Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Why I've had a 'mum cut'. There's only time for one hair-do in my life (and it's not mine.)

Oh God, I've become a Daily Mail stereotype. 

No, I haven't signed on or become a paedophile. I haven't run away with thieving gypsies or skunk-smoking video game-addicted youths. I'm not an immigrant and I haven't stolen anyones job. I haven't reared an obese child and stood by while he broke Britain. I haven't developed a phobia for brown people, asylum seekers or gays. I haven't uncovered new research that links ethnic minorities, The European Union, having children before 26 or out of wedlock, euthanasia, teachers strikes, phone masts near schools, fizzy drinks or fat women to cancer. 

My crime? I've had my hair cut.

In the last week I've gone from this;

To this;

And without realising I've joined the 18% of new mothers who cut their hair into a more 'practical style' according to the Daily Mail. Shhhhh, don't tell them I've also ditched the heels. They'll be wringing their hands and lamenting my deterioration to slummy mummydom till my children turn four. Such a let down! I've really let myself go...

Little do they know that hair is a hot topic in our house. Bouncing Boy turns four in August and he STILL hasn't had his hair cut. Yes, his hair is gorgeous. Yes, it's become his trademark, but I'm starting to think it's more complicated than that. Is possible that Bouncing Boy's curls have become entangled with my ego? Is it possible I'm living vicariously through his barnet?

In a world were I'm lucky to brush my hair, let alone wash it every few days, Bouncing Boys do might as well have it's own Twitter account. While I use El Cheapo shampoo or the dregs of hotel freebies Down to Earth Dad has raided from work trip hotels, Bouncing Boy's locks are drizzled with nectar, massaged with pure gold and caressed with love. His hair is almost as high-maintenance as him - demanding daily TLC and discipline to coax it under control. Quite frankly, there's only time for one hair-do in my life. And it's not mine.

The length of Bouncing Boy's tresses have also become symbolic - they grow with his personality and in turn, so does my pride. Sometimes I like to weave my fingers through his corkscrews and marvel how some of those strands have been there since the day he was born. Like the rings on a tree trunk - each new loop represents another phase of his life. Cutting it would feel like deforestation. Think about the climate change!

Not cutting his hair is also an easy way to stick two fingers up at the gendered world of child-rearing. I'm not making a statement for a statement's sake - I genuinely love his hair the way it is - but if I can rebel against any of that ponytails-for-girls, short-back-and-sides for boys crap, why not? Hell, if I'm living vicariously, I might as well make a point while I'm at it.

So there Daily Mail - us mums are not 'giving up' when we cut our hair. We're just giving more to important stuff. And you know what? Now I've got shorter hair, I'm taking more pride in my appearance than ever, not less, as your article claims. The reason? Because now my hair's short people are telling me I look more like my daughter - and of that I couldn't be prouder.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Go wild, I dare you.

Last Sunday was a perfect Spring day - the sort of day when you can sense summer coming on the breeze, hear it singing in the trees and see it blossoming around you. The kids had an amazing time messing around in the garden doing all the things any self-respecting kid let loose in a garden should do - making mud pies, constructing a wormery, planting seeds and digging in the dirt. I captured it all on on my iPhone and love the photos - they're not particularly well taken but they show the kids getting up close and down with nature - something that always gives me a 'good parent' glow.

Ah, nature, my duplicitous friend; so wild, so beautiful, so uninhibited. As parents, it's our hope, - nay, our duty - to get our kids out there, knee deep in earth's playground, breathing in her fresh air, skipping through her fields, climbing her trees and kicking up her surf as often as possible.

So long as they do so in a civilised manner. Cos here's the paradox: we want our kids to behave in nature in a way that totally contradicts their own.

We tell babies whose instincts are to put everything in their mouths, not to eat the greenery.
We tell toddlers whose instincts are to climb, not to scale trees.
We tell 3 year olds whose instincts are to build and test their strength, not to throw stones.
We tell children whose instincts are to explore, to stick to the path and not go out of our sight.
We tell everyone not to pick the flowers, disturb the animals or eat things without a guide.

I'm not saying I agree or disagree with these rules - of course they have a purpose - it's just that sometimes it feels absurd that there are rules at all. Turns out hanging around in nature, isn't that natural after all.

Same goes for the pics I took of the kids at the weekend. Nothing natural about them! See that one where Bouncing Boy is looking all contemplative with the Dandy Lion? I had to beg, yes beg, him to stop brandishing it as a weapon and stand still long enough to take the photo. (He picked it for a friend on the way to his house. When the friend met us at the door shouting 'I've got a light saber,' Bouncing Boy retorted 'I've got a Dandylion!' Cue; Lump. Throat. Multiple kisses.) And that shot of him building the wormery? I tidied away the unaesthetically-pleasing bags of industrial compost in the background lest anyone note we don't have our own homemade organic heap in the garden. That one of Bouncing Boy covered in mud? Brought him out in a rash. And not one of the pictures shows the rage I suppressed in my chest while mopping muddy footprints off the floor for the 4th time that day. Or the tears when Baby Girl went feral with a trowel. No, I was careful to only capture a civilised, Pinterest take on the nature of our afternoon.

God, wouldn't it be nice if one day we could just throw caution to the mud and go wild?

Until then, there are a some take-away messages; if there's something we can learn from nature, it's that we can't tame it, we can only harness it's power. And in nature there's no rewards or punishments, there's only consequences.Worth bearing in mind next time I'm faced with a muddy, grass-stained force-of-nature waving worms in my face.

My word of the week is wild.

  Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The Reading Residence

3 Children and It

Thursday, 10 April 2014

17 food mash-ups that blew my kids minds

We're a bit behind the curve in our house. While food fashionistas were smacking their lips over 'Cronuts' - the combination of croissants and and donuts - last year, we were still obsessing over cupcakes. So 90s. Those in the know tell me fashion's fickle palate has moved on from fusion fads these days, so we may never get to try the famous pastry. No matter, we're no strangers to Frankenstein food in our house and have our own mad-scientist innovations going down. Brave new tea time experiments include;
  • 'Parrot' - the love-child of pasta and carrot
  • 'Faffles' - a mixed-carb collage of falafels and waffles
  • 'Ketchetti' - not as classy as it sounds, I'm afraid - a lazy concoction of ketchup and spaghetti.  
You know that phrase 'necessity is the mother of invention'? I reckon it was coined after someone witnessed me trying to get fruit and veg down Bouncing Boy. Desperate attempts to entice him to the juicy side have included:
  • 'Crackcumbers' - a crackers/ cucumber hybrid
  • 'Crapes' - a difficult marriage of crisps and grapes 
  • 'Fatsumas' - an unsuccessful cocktail of fairy cakes and satsumas
  • 'Bums' - a tricky pairing of buns and plums
Crap 'Crapes'
Other blends are so revolutionary they've made Bouncing Boy go 180 on whole food groups. He was never into dairy until we mixed things up. Ever wondered what Bourbons dipped in yogurt taste like? Enter 'Bogurt' - it's pioneering stuff. And ham and Dairy Lee - aka Hairy Lee - is a game-changer.

But some experiments put the grub into grubby and should never be consumed in polite company. Muffins and Nutella (Mufellas), butter and fish fingers (Buttfingers), Smarties and jelly (Smelly) or peas and hummus (Pemus) are definitely not friends-for-tea foodstuffs.

Some mix-ups are so zany they're spilling out of the kitchen into playroom. Who knew puzzles and noodles - aka Poodles - would be so fun? Or trains and mash (Trash) could even tempt me to the track? Hell, on really crazy days our combinations don't include food at all! Paint and Octonauts or 'Painonauts' is more fun than it sounds, but this week's 'it' game is a mash-up of two old favourites: Snap + Catch. Hello 'Snatch'. I reckon you'll go viral.

What zany combinations have your kids come up with? Do tell!

Binky Linky

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Climbing up the slide; imaginative play or a playground faux-pas?

Going to the park with two under fours is no child’s play. Baby Girl’s game of choice is playing chicken with the swing while Bouncing Boy pushes it round like a wrecking ball. And then there’s the roundabout. Give it a spin and watch body parts fly, like a blender with no lid. Quite frankly, I breathe a sigh of relief when they take to the slide. No moving parts. How bad can it be? Except recently I’ve been getting tuts and sighs from other parents.

‘We don’t climb up the slide, we climb up the stairs,’ I hear them telling their children over and over, while mine abseil merrily past. Oops. Am I missing something? To me climbing up the slide is no biggie.
Is it a mud thing, I wonder, quickly feeling all smug and earthy about my dirt tolerance levels. Get me, down with the kids, in touch with my messy side. No one knows I'm itching inside and flexing my fingers round a family pack of wet wipes. Promise I'll clean it after they've finished!
Perhaps it's safety matter, but come on people, this is a slide not Bear Grylls' assent on Everest. I might step in if there’s another kid about to come down (shoes-in-face is not a good look,) but think we can stand-down the rescue mission.
Maybe it's a control thing. If kids stop using the equipment as intended, who knows what anarchy might unfold? Yikes, it'll be Lord of the Files, with Bouncing Boy as chief savage leading the revolt before we know it. What's next? Standing on the swings?
I quite like that idea, and now I think about it perhaps there's lots to be gained from the slide rebellion.
What about the physical benefits? Climbing up the slide looks pretty high-intensity to me. The child equivalent of treadmill-on-an-incline, surely? Who knows, maybe it's the answer to Broken Britain's childhood obesity crisis? ;-)

Not to mention the creative thinking it encourages. Surely climbing up the slide is all about kids using their imaginations - no different to using the sofa as a pirate ship, a rug as a desert island or a footstool as an Octopod? (Don't tell me yours don't do that?)
I recently surfed across a RIE parenting forum (Resources for Infant Educators, and so-hot -right-now parenting trend, don’t you know) where it seemed climbing up the slide was positively encouraged. Trusting children to play interrupted is a basic tenant of this approach, whose founder Magda Gerber advocated respect between a parent and child and said adults should allow their children to solve problems without interference. Helicopter parenting, it's not.
Now we’re talking! I hadn’t thought about it that deeply but instinctively I hope I am the sort of parent who encourages independent, off-piste thinking. Maybe that’s why I let them play on the skate ramp sans skates, wear fancy dress to nursery and contradict me too. Maybe.

Or maybe it’s just about picking my battles. I’m all about saying yes and making things as easy as possible. Climbing up the slide is just another rule I don’t have the conviction to put into force, on a par with taking shoes off at the door, bouncing on the sofa and not talking with your mouth open. I see the point – just – but really; can it be worth the fall out?
Yes, there are safety issues I won’t budge on; mainly to do with roads, water, hot and sharp objects and going out of my sight. Not to mention all the ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ enforcements, but that’s as far as I have the energy to take it.

I like the RIE explanation better. Get me, such a rebel! Now, what’s the RIE take on policing my son’s obsession with the word ‘poo’ and snacks between meals? I will be reading Baby Knows Best by Deborah Carlisle Solomon to find out, but something tells me I’m on my own...

Binky Linky
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The mother of all lessons

It's Mother's Day tomorrow. In celebration of my mother and others I love, here's a list of lessons I've learnt from the best in the business (you know who you are...)

  • Boiling the kettle? You only need to cover the element.
  • When it comes to bunting, flapjacks, Wendy houses, Care Bears, Sindy clothes and curtains: homemade is best.
  • Roulade, on the other hand? Go shop bought.
  • Shirts should be pegged under the arms.
  • Why have pancakes when you can have drop scones?
  • Nothing says 'I love you' like doing someones ironing.
  • Most recipes can be reduced to 'a bit of this' and 'just what you think of that'.
  • Australia isn't that far...
  • Neither is New Zeland.
  • Sharing a bed with your baby is bliss.
  • Friendships forged on two hours sleep never get tired.
  • Family* holidays are the best.
  • *Godparents, that includes you.
  • Pork fillet with homemade stuffing is Food of the Gods.
  • Lemon chicken is pretty good too.
  • Tell-to stories are better than any book.
  • Bailing your kids out - it's a lifetime commitment.
  • Home-baking is the way to a child's heart.
  • A handwritten letter always says more than an email.
  • It's not just you. You are not imagining it.
  • Mummy's boys: awesome.
  • The best gift you can give your child is a sibling.
  • Daughters. Wow.
  • Commune living is not just for hippies...
  • Cocktails on an empty stomach are no cause for judgement.
  • Grandmothers. Are. Superheros. They will save your life. 
  • Godmothers and Aunties are pretty epic too.
  • Take aways make the best dinner parties.
  • Everyone loves The Tray Game.
  • Kids still need parents, even in their 30s...
  • If in doubt, hire a marquee. 
  • It's never too early for Diet Coke.
  • Chocolate sandwiches? You're on your own. (Never acceptable, apparently. Who knew?)
  • Something will turn up.

But the most important lesson of all? We're all in this together, ladies.

Friday, 21 March 2014

How to pack for a holiday with toddlers

  1. Write Packing List
  2. Divide list into sub-lists
  3. Compile List of Lists
  4. Lose them all. NB baby probably shredded them for 'sensory play'
  5. F*ck it, download packing list off Internet from someone who knows what they're doing - all parenting sites have one
  6. Panic and feel intimidated by expert list. Freestyle it
  7. Dig out suitcase from loft. (Clue: it's right at the back, filled with all those outgrown kids clothes you promised you'd eBay when you had time. *Snort!*)
  8. Start laundering clothes and folding piles a week in advance
  9. Launder again when cat uses them to fashion a nest and covers them with moulting hair
  10. Launder again after a post-bath nappy-free break-for-freedom by baby
  11. Launder again after 3 year old uses them to bury dog. In the garden. 'For hide and seek, mummy.' 
  12. You know what? Sod the laundry. Er, hello! They'll have a washing machine where you're going. You're not doing anything crazy like going off-piste with kids, are you? Yes? Sh*t yourself now and be done with it
  13. Attempt to pack clothes into case faster than baby takes them out
  14. Give up and pull funny faces with pants on your head. Needs must
  15. Resume packing when kids have gone to bed, including your bikini, a good book and the stack of magazines you never get time to read at home, just cos you can. Yeah baby, relax it up! This is a holiday!
  16. Feel a bit sick when you suddenly realise there's no nursery, kids club or babysitters where you're headed
  17. Unpack magazines. And your dreams
  18. Brace yourself for the toys edit - just a few choice favourites. This holiday is about family time and simple pleasures
  19. And a fully-loaded iPad
  20. Reorganise the case like it's Krypton Factor for kids. WTF are Trunkies rigid? What gives, people? Parents need forgiving fibres 
  21. Pack car with carseats, scooter, buggy, sling, monitor, pool inflatables, travel cot and high chair. Oh, and the huge Octopod 3 year old will NOT leave home without 
  22. Realise you've packed an essential and urgently-needed item* right at the bottom. (*the 3 year old will howl till he gets it, discard it, then deny all knowledge immediately afterwards.)
  23. Have a word with yourself. Unpack car. Regroup and repeat step 21
  24. Hyperventilate and consider auto-asphyxiation when you realise there's still no room for the kids.
  25. Shut car doors and wind up windows so nobody can hear you scream
  26. Foot to floor. Speed. To. Spa
Happy holidays!

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Monday, 17 March 2014

Divide and Conquer - why having a family means splitting up.

  • 'Do you mind if I go to the loo for a sec?'
  • 'Can I just have two mins to shower?'
  • 'Do you mind if I go Kick Boxing next week?'
  • 'It's my mum and sister's birthday, do you mind if I go out for lunch?

These are questions I never imagined Down-to-Earth Dad or I feeling the need to ask. At what point did the basics of hygiene start requiring clearance? Since when did we feel the need to ask permission for every social outing?

Since we had kids.

It's absurd. I cringe when Down to Earth Dad comes home from work and asks if he can run to the loo before joining me bath-side. Basic bodily functions should not require my go-ahead, yet still he asks, bless him. Not because I am a control freak. But because it's quite likely I haven't had the chance to go to the loo in hours either, and have been crossing my pelvic floor, waiting for him to get home. It cuts both ways, I found myself asking if I could brush my teeth the other day. For all our sakes, this should not be up for negotiation.

Divide and Conquer

The problem is, family life is a world where having an uninterrupted poo counts as time-out. We're both so desperate for a break that every moment away from the hands-on business of child rearing must be cleared, clocked and repaid in kind. You'd think such tight controls would mean we spend hardly any time apart, but actually we've never spent less time together. Surviving kids with a shred of sanity depends on the wartime principle of  'Divide and Conquer.'

Take socialising. With two kids asleep upstairs, only special occasions warrant a babysitter so a quick spontaneous drink as a couple is out. Catching last orders is only possible with a friend, while the other parent mans the monitor.

It's the same with sleep. We used to fall asleep spooning. These days something usually comes between us... something starfish-shaped and childlike. Waving goodnight to Down-to-Earth Dad over the shoulder of a sleeping child just isn't the same. And there's no more lazy Saturday mornings under the duvet together. These days we alternate lie-ins while the other person referees the dawn shift.

Weekends, we work split shifts. Down to Earth Dad gets to go kick boxing. I get a couple of hours in a coffee shop later to blog away the pain of being the Only Mum in The Park on Saturday Morning - surely the hardest shift of the week with all those dads about? Yes we squeeze in family outings in between solo escape attempts, but don't be fooled into thinking this equals time together. Down-to-Earth Dad will likely be chasing Bouncing Boy on the scooter while I play dodge-the-swings-roulette with Baby Girl. If we risk a cuppa somewhere, we're both too preoccupied with manning our designated child to exchange more than two words. Ever tried counting how many times two children can make you get up from a table in ten minutes? Sod sitting down together, lets run relays round the cafe instead.

Even family events have the potential to drive us apart. A child-free family wedding means only one of us can attend, as all family members are going, leaving us with no babysitter. A leisurely birthday lunch out is unthinkable - might as well make it a girls thing while the Dads do daycare.

I can't see an alternative - we both need time out and don't have a full time nanny. Go figure. But I do miss my husband. I married him because I liked spending time with him. Duh! We've always been team players - we share friends and have always socialised together. We've never been big on Boys Nights or Girl's Nights. It was the same at home, we bumbled along doing most things together, from loading the dishwasher to walking the dogs. But these days it's all 'I'll do tea. You do bed time' 'You go out Tuesday. I'll go out Thursday.' Sigh.

We could make like Prince William and Kate, and leg it to the Maldives for a week sans baby, but I'm not sure my maternal guilt could take it. Recently we dared to leave Bouncing Boy at a friends' house for a sleepover. It was the first time he'd spent a night apart from me, except when I had to stay in hospital after having Baby Girl. Ekkkk! Of course it was great, but there's no way he could last a week, thousands of miles from us. And - cue controversy - I don't think it's right or fair to expect him to. I can't help wondering what were the royals thinking? It's not as if they're struggling at the cot-face night in, night out without help. I can't see them asking permission to go the loo between bouts of housework, Lego and nappy changing...

I suppose I should count myself lucky Down-to-Earth Dad is so supportive and hands-on with the kids. I've just had an amazing afternoon soaking up the sun and a few glasses of Processco with my mum and sister while he ploughed through a particularly shouty afternoon as sole carer. Best brace myself for payback next weekend...

How do you stay close to your partner in the midst of  family-life?