Choose Your Battles

‘Choose your battles’ is the mantra in our household at the moment. Sophia has a will of iron, and if her ideas on what should happen and my ideas on what should happen don’t coincide then we have a problem. A big problem. A problem who, although under 3 foot with huge melting brown eyes, peachy soft skin, wispy blonde hair and an angelic smile, takes only a split second to turn into a tomato-coloured, screaming, screeching, thrashing, wailing termagant.

To be fair, this is usually caused by some gross stupidity or unreasonableness on my part. Only this week, for example, I asked Sophia if she would like a bubble bath. She enthusiastically agreed, but was then understandably furious that these bubbles went onto her skin when she got into the bath. I obviously should have realised the magnitude of this issue and forewarned her. And how could I possibly have given her pasta for dinner, when she doesn’t like pasta? Granted she had cheerfully, even voraciously, eaten pasta for around 60% of her meals since she was about 8 months old, but I should have realised that she doesn’t like it now.

Obviously I want to avoid these meltdowns as frequently as possible, but there are many times when I can’t. Unreasonable I may be, but she is not going to go to pre-school in her pyjamas, or watch Charlie and Lola for five hours solid or put my iPhone in the bath. Nor am I very keen on her communicating her views on where she wants her sister to sit by dragging her there by the hair, or going out in the pouring rain with no coat on, or swinging on the stair-gate. Her teeth are going to be cleaned twice a day, and she does need to hold my hand when she crosses the road and she must be fastened into her buggy so she doesn’t tip out onto the pavement.

With all these red lines which I have to try and stop her crossing, more and more I find myself murmuring ‘choose your battles’. In a perfect world she wouldn’t drop food onto the floor, or hide the green tops of the strawberries she has eaten down the side of the sofa, or dip her finger into her milk and use it to draw patterns on the table. I don’t know how much our neighbours appreciate her compulsion to walk along every front wall of a suitable height, or climb up and jump off every step to a front path. And wearing wellies to pre-school on a cloudless day when temperatures are reaching 20 degrees celsius isn’t necessarily ideal. I don’t want to turn her into a spoilt brat by pandering to her insistence that her snack is served on the red plate not the blue plate, or letting her have said snack on the sofa (all the better for hiding bits of strawberry bits) rather than the high chair, but equally, in the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? Is it worth a full-scale bells and whistles tantrum which leaves both of us tear-stained, frazzled and exhausted?

I’m trying to restrict my restrictions to things which might harm her or someone else, or which set up really bad habits we might struggle to break later. I have broken many rules which I set for myself when Anna was a baby – such as no television in the mornings, except in case of illness. Now, when it’s a Saturday morning and 6.30am and I’ve already been up for an hour, and Sophia is begging to watch (yes, you’ve guessed it) Charlie and Lola I just can’t be bothered to argue. Choose your battles. Letting her watch some telly then means she’s happy because she got what she wanted, I’m happy because I get to potter round the kitchen making banana muffins for breakfast while she is contentedly engaged, before slumping on the sofa next to her for a quick Instagram, fix, and the whole family are happy because they then get to eat the muffins. And the idea of imposing a ‘one toy away before another comes out’ is a distant memory.

Part of me thinks this is fine, sensible even. Why deliberately make both of us stressed and unhappy over arbitrary rules when there’s no need to? Especially as, because of the need to get Anna to school and various other activities on time, I already spend a lot of time telling Sophia that she has to stop playing to come and get dressed, get ready, get into her buggy and go out, so maybe it’s not a bad idea to cut her some slack the rest of the time. On the other hand, I can also see that it might be a slippery slope to total household anarchy, and that this is how youngest children get a reputation for being spoilt!

And then, of course, there’s the times when she sits on the sofa and ‘reads’ a story to her teddies, looking like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and it’s impossible to believe that she could ever have a tantrum at all.

S on sofa

What do you think? Is my ‘choose your battles’ mantra a sensible and pragmatic approach to coping with a  strong-willed toddler, or a lazy parent’s excuse for failing to put their foot down?

The curse of the bunk bed (and other perils of modern parenting).

A friend posted on Facebook last week to say that if she’d known that changing the sheets on a top bunk would not only demand every atom of patience she possessed, but also risk serious physical injury, she would never have bought them in the first place. There was an instant flurry of responses from those of us who are the unfortunate owners of bunk beds or high cabin beds ourselves, with similar tales of woe from the parenting front line.

The general consensus was one of ‘if only we’d known’. It’s the kind of thing you don’t read in the ‘What to Expect’ books. About five years after having your little bundle of joy placed in your arms, the lure of the high sleeper will start to be cast out.  bunk beds of dreamsYou will think of the space saved, the practicality, the ease of siblings being able to share a room or having someone to stay over, the fun of an under-bed den or room for a bookcase or desk. Images of beautiful rooms in the GLTC catalogue will allure. Before you know what has happened, you are locked into a cycle of sheet changing which will take you to the very limits of your endurance and possibly beyond.

For those of us who have succumbed there is no way back. We have the choice of leaving our children to stew in their fetid sheets for years to come, or risking our health and sanity to ensure their hygiene. Or, as one savvy mum recommended on Facebook, bribing your children to change their own sheets.

In the interests of public service blogging I have also rounded up some of the other unexpected perils I have encountered in eight years of parenting. There were many things I expected to be difficult – sleepless nights, poonami nappies, tantrums – and they have not disappointed. But these are the hidden horrors, the things only discussed in whispers at the school gates or toddler group, but for which forewarned is forearmed.

Some time during your baby’s first weeks you will hear the phrase Tummy Time. It sounds like a children’s TV programme, and you don’t pay much attention to it at first. Then, suddenly, it is everywhere. Your health visitor asks you about it, it’s the only thing (other than shades of poo) discussed over coffee with your NCT pals, and you are bombarded with marketing emails flogging products to make tummy time easier.

For the uninitiated, ‘tummy time’ is the practice of placing your newborn baby on their tummy for a certain amount of time each day. This apparently encourages the development of all sorts of muscles which are needed for sitting, crawling and walking. If you are negligent in this respect you will end up being the mother of one of those hordes of otherwise entirely healthy children who never manage to sit up or move by themselves…

All babies seem to hate tummy time (except when you want them to go to sleep – advice to avoid cot death is to place babies on their backs to sleep, and so of course they want to be on their tummies). Anna used to scream blue murder when I placed her on her tummy, and I would be alongside her on the floor crying too, panicking because she’d only done five minutes of tummy time instead of the recommended fifteen. Then I had a lightbulb moment, and stopped trying. Just like that. If she ever let me put her down at all (rare) I put her on her back, on her play gym, where she could see me and her toys and look around. She was happy. And despite my dereliction of duty she learnt to hold her head up, roll, sit, crawl and walk just fine. If your baby doesn’t like it, just don’t bother.

A cute toy on the market for babies and toddlers is a bright yellow egg box, filled with six eggs which crack into two separate pieces to reveal a little chicken in the middle. The chickens squeak. Utterly adorable, non? Actually, seriously, NON. eggsOnce this toy enters your home, you will never know another moment’s peace. Curating all twelve pieces of egg in the box simultaneously has been scientifically proven to be as likely as Donald Trump turning down a sunbed session. You will find half eggs everywhere. And even if your attitude to tidying is as relatively laissez-faire as mine, it will niggle more than you care to admit. Every so often your toddler will have a meltdown because they can’t find all their ‘neggs’, and you will spend the next two hours on hands and knees peering under multiple items of household furniture. Eventually you will triumphantly recover the missing four half eggs, only to discover that in the meantime your toddler has lost all interest in Project Egg and has taken advantage of your distraction to draw a beautiful flower for you. On the wall. And has lost the original egg anyway.

If someone gives you a set of these as a gift then this is what you must do. Smile. Thank them. Immediately walk out of the house to the nearest charity shop and donate them. Hesitation or deviation could be fatal. If the present comes from an older family member or friend, or one without children, then they were as deceived as you, and no blame can be attached to them. If, however, the gift is from someone with children under ten, then I am sorry to be the one to break this news to you, but they hate you.

Another purchase you will be seduced into, little knowing the havoc it will wreak on your back, shins and shredded nerves is the mini scooter. How cute will your toddler look scooting along? How lovely will it be to leave the pram behind but not have to tax little legs with too much walking? How bruised and battered will you be when your pre-schooler tires of scooting and you end up awkwardly carrying them on one hip with the vicious scooter in the other arm, relentlessly banging against your knees, shins and ankles? How mortified when your previously angelic little darling suddenly scoots off at the speed of light down a crowded high street, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake? How fast do you think you can move when your child spots something of vital interest at the bottom of the steep hill you are on? The hill which leads down to a main road…

If you insist your child wears a helmet, then it is yet another item to be found and coaxed into before you leave the house, and another item to carry (along with child, scooter, change of clothes, travel potty, snacks, drinks and toys) when the inevitable disenchantment with scooting occurs during your day out. On the other hand, if you let them scoot sans helmet you will be continually plagued by horrific mental images of A&E waiting rooms, x-rays, concussion and broken bones. Your choice.

Never buy glitter. As soon as glitter enters the house, nothing in it will escape unscathed. Shiny flakes will lurk at the bottom of cups of tea, on the cat, between floor boards, in the bath. glitterYou will never be free. Of course, even if you don’t bring it on yourself, there is a very high probability that some lovingly crafted and lavishly beglittered piece of art-work will make its way home from nursery/preschool at some point. My friend is a primary school teacher. When she got married, her class made her an enormous card, liberally bedaubed with multi-coloured glitter. Two years and a house move later, she was still finding glitter in unexpected places.

 

There are more of course. I could mention World Book Day, and all the other occasions which require your child to attend school in an imaginative fancy dress costume lovingly created with just 24 hours notice. Or the Class Bear, who arrives unexpectedly one weekend and demands not just 72 hours of top-class entertainment, but also that his exploits (educational, healthy but also fun) be documented for the perusal of your child’s teacher and all the other parents in the class. Or the party bags which surge in, filling your home with more e-numbers and plastic crap than you can shake a piñata stick at. But the thing about these, painful as they are, is that they are unavoidable, inflicted on you by outside forces. Bunkbeds, tummy time, toy egg boxes, micro scooters and glitter are all brought into our homes voluntarily, even enthusiastically, as we are ignorant of the chaos and misery they will leave in their wake. It is too late for me. But if I can save just one other family from their fate then I will not have blogged in vain.

 

Being Kind

Last week was not a good week. It kicked off with Sophia ill with a high temperature and a cough. The cough was worst at night, so we were getting woken up every couple of hours by  distressed little girl. Then I discovered Anna had nits (again), and so we had to add daily assaults with the nitty gritty comb into our daily routine, which was popular with everyone. The weather was cold, grey, foggy and, it turns out, poisonous. Air quality in London hit a record low, and it felt impossible to get properly warm. Then Anna fell off the climbing frame at school and hit her head, and then vomited, and then complained her vision was blurry, so we ended up at the GP and then being sent off to A&E. She only had a mild concussion, and is fine now, but it was fun at the time. Then Sophia fell downstairs, top to bottom – she was totally unharmed, but this was the morning after the night in A&E, so my nerves were pretty shattered. The week was rounded off by Sophia falling off the bouncy castle at a party on Sunday and having one of her seizures. And this is before even thinking about the terrifying and depressing political developments in America.

But yesterday, even though it was Monday, and (still) January and (still) cold things suddenly felt better. I had a text message telling me that some friends of ours had had a baby daughter at the weekend, and baby news always makes me happy. I took Anna out for a hot chocolate and some quality mother and daughter time whilst my MIL looked after Sophia, and was reminded how lucky I am to have this bright, funny, imaginative girl. I went out for dinner with my closest friend from those early, blurry, sleep-deprived first baby days and we had a proper catch-up and marvelled at the passing of time which means we are now parents to nearly-eight-year-olds. And after pre-school, Sophia asked if she could sit on my knee to have lunch instead of going in her high chair. I agreed, and she leant back into me, snuggling her head against my chest, and said contentedly “Love you” for the very first time.

Someone I know from years back posted on Facebook this morning that protests against Trump’s policies or against Brexit, are utterly pointless, and instead we should be directing our efforts to loving our friends and family, volunteering at church, supporting colleagues at work and taking the time to be nice to people who we come across in daily life. I couldn’t agree, or disagree, more.

Being kind to the people around us is what we should be doing anyway, and all the more so when there seems to be such a dearth of kindness in high places. And the only way to get though these dark political times is to take time to appreciate and value the little things – sharing a meal with someone you love, the sleepy weight of a child on your lap, a conversation with a friend. But right now I also think those of us who believe in hope not hate should try to do a little more, go a little further, and make our voices heard just as clearly as those I firmly believe are far fewer in number but shout much louder.

This morning I have followed More United‘s advice as to what we can do to fight the horrendous ban on Muslims from certain countries entering the US – a ban which is going to tear families and friends apart. I donated some money to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the ban. I posted a supportive message on my MP’s Facebook page, as Stella Creasy is being very vocal in encouraging the British Government to speak out, and MPs who are taking this stance need our support, just as those who are not speaking out need to know that this is something their constituents care about. And I co-signed the letter which Hope Not Hate are sending to Theresa May, asking her to unequivocally condemn Trump’s actions.

None of this took very long out of my day, and none of it stops me also continuing to try  (even though I don’t always succeed) to be a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, neighbour and friend. Love and hope are stronger than hatred and fear, and we can, and must, prove that.

be-kind

Eighteen Months

Sophia was eighteen months old last week. To celebrate, we went for a blood test. However, once that was out of the way, I decided we should make the most of being out and about in London on a sunny day.

We popped into M&S to buy a picnic lunch, and then hopped on the tube to Green Park. Sophia was thrilled to have the chance to run free and chase pigeons, unrestrained by pesky hand-holding or reins. That’s pretty much all she ever wants to do.Green Park

Then I heard music coming from Buckingham Palace, and headed over to investigate. I’m not sure, but I think we caught the end of the changing of the guard. It was certainly something very ceremonial with a brass band and lots of soldiers in dress uniforms and bearskins. I pointed all this out to Sophia, but she was too transfixed by the bin lorry she’d spotted to take much notice. the guards

We fought our way through the crowds of tourists on the Mall to St James’ Park, and had our lunch on a bench over-looking the lake. This was a huge success because two of Sophia’s favourite things are ducks and dogs, and there were plenty of both to spot. Okay, so sometimes the ducks were actually swans, but there’s a whole fairy story about how that’s an easy mistake to make.cygnets

After lunch we went round to the playground. It’s a really great playground in St James’ Park, and I used to take Anna a lot before she started school, but it does get very busy at the weekend, which is a shame. Last time we were there I was about three months pregnant and feeling very sick and tired, so sat pallidly on a bench whilst husband ran round with Anna. Two years later and I was running round myself with the result of the pregnancy. I can’t quite believe how the time has flown.playground

My littlest girl is so determined and so fearless and so resolutely independent. Qualities which I hope will stand her in very good stead in later life, but make keeping her safe as a toddler (and I imagine, heaven help us when the time comes, as a teenager) quite a challenge. There was a big slide, far too steep for me to let her go down by herself, especially as it was just the two of us so there would be no-one to catch her at the bottom. So I took her down on my knee. She absolutely loved it, laughing and squealing with sheer delighted excitement. Then she saw a little girl of about four going down with her mum, side by side, holding hands. That was it, nothing else would do for Sophia, and for the next approximately forty-two times we went down the slide side-by-side.

By this time she was shattered, so I popped her back in her buggy for a nap, and walked through the park, up the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, up Pall Mall East, and through Piccadilly Circus. I love seeing London through tourist eyes and feeling proud because this is my city. I had a lovely browse in Waterstone’s, and then checked out the Cath Kidston sale in their flagship store on Piccadilly but resisted buying anything. I feel I need some credit for this as both a little red leather handbag and a gorgeous flowery dress, which I spotted back in the new Spring catalogue and have been lusting over ever since, were reduced. Not by enough for my budget though. I’m going to have to play Sale Roulette and see if they come down any further or sell out first.

By a miracle Sophia was still asleep when we got back to Walthamstow, so I bought a drink and a chocolate brownie in a little local cafe which has outdoor tables, and had a peaceful fifteen minutes reading my book in the sunshine before she woke up.

brownie

An absolutely perfect day with my lovely girl. Sophia at eighteen months is feisty, determined, active, adventurous, independent, strong-willed, mischievous, joyful, enthusiastic, loving and absolutely gorgeous. Can’t wait to see how many of these personality traits continue as she grows up.

Being a selfish mum

After weeks (months) of agonising, this weekend I took the decision to stop breastfeeding Sophia during the night. I will continue to feed her at bedtime and first thing in the morning for the time being, but I have come to the point where I need my nights back. Or at least the option of having them back. When I am crying with tiredness by 10pm I need to be able to say to my husband that he is on baby duty tonight, rather than him watching helplessly as I reach the end of my tether, unable to do anything because he is totally lacking in the boob department.

As a nervous first-time mum I stopped feeding Anna during the night at about 7 months, when a dietician told me she would become obese if I didn’t. Total nonsense, as I now know, and when I had Sophia I was determined that she would self-wean according to her own body clock, not a text book. Which is a great theory, but seventeen months later I have had enough. I’m not worried that she’s going to become obese, but I am worried that by continually substituting sugar for sleep to get me through the day, I am.

Last night could have been a lot worse. Sophia woke three times, as usual, but instead of a cuddle and a feed she got a stroke on the head, a murmured “I love you, but it’s sleep time now”, and her Baby Einstein lullaby CD switched back on, and each time she settled herself to sleep again within twenty minutes. My mum bought us this lullaby CD when Anna was a tiny sleep refusenik, so it has been the soundtrack to our nights for seven years now. Anna still likes it played at bedtime to help her settle, and we started Sophia on it at birth. We have two hard copies, and it is on the iPad, iPod, and both our iPhones. I’ve no idea if it aids sleep at all, I’m certainly not sure that my children are poster girls for it, but it has become an essential comfort blanket for all of us, perhaps husband and I even more than the children.

Would it be better for Sophia if I continued to feed her at night until she is ready to stop? Very possibly. Advocates of attachment parenting would argue that she will feel more secure if her needs are unquestioningly met, and that human babies evolved to sleep close to their mum, feeding as and when they needed, rather than fitting into the artificial constraints of a modern routine. On the other hand, I also think that Sophia (and Anna) will probably benefit from a mother who isn’t chronically sleep-deprived, and who gets a break occasionally.

And then there is also the selfish little voice whispering to me that,  perhaps, I don’t have to make every single decision based on what would be best for Anna and/or Sophia. That, just occasionally, it might be ok to think about what’s best for me.

I read somewhere that when you have a baby you lose your body and your mind, and that definitely resonates for me, but I’m now feeling ready to start the step-by-step process to regaining them.