Top 7 Books to Read to Newborns

This week the eggs that our doves Montezuma and Daria have been sitting on finally hatched. So now there are tiny doves in a nest in our garden. The new parents are very protective of their babies and so we’ve only been able to catch little glimpses when they pop their heads up to feed. We’re looking forward to watching them learn to fly. I wonder if their mum and dad will feel any pangs of sadness to see them go.

In honour of the new arrivals, and also because several people have asked me questions about this recently, for the second week of Booktober, I’m sharing our Top 7 Books to Read to Newborns.

You may have heard that you should start reading to your new baby from the very start. It can feel strange to read to such a tiny little person. If you need some tips for reading to babies, check out this post. Even if you feel a bit mad doing it at first, reading to aloud to your baby can quickly become a special part of each day.

1. Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss

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When my bump was just starting to show when I was pregnant with Pickles, my hairdresser asked me if I had started reading to my belly. I had been very sick and it hadn’t even occurred to me yet. It wasn’t my first twinge of parental guilt; taking medication for my morning sickness had taken care of that. But it was close.

I went straight from the hairdresser to the bookshop and bought Oh! The Places You’ll Go! And I started reading it to the bump. Every single night.

Whenever I got to the part where it says “Kid, you’ll move mountains” I’d get teary and have to recompose before going on. Pregnancy hormones will do that. Imagining your unborn child out in the big wide world moving mountains will do that.

This is what makes this book a good one for new or expecting parents. When you are reading to a newborn, the content is as much for yourself as it is for them. A big part of it is them just hearing your voice. They become familiar with it, and it soothes them.

But babies can also be sensitive to emotion. When you are reading this, your voice will be infused with your love and hopes for them. It is a beautiful bonding experience.

It is also a book that will grow with them. It is often given as a graduation gift because the message is as applicable for a grown child as it is for a newborn.

But it will always be treasured in our home as the book that I first read to my bump.

2. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

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Mem Fox is a master of writing for babies and young children. Her use of simple, but clever, rhyme and repetition in this book make it easy for the reader, and soothing for the listener.

As your baby gets a bit older, this book is also excellent for introducing the concept of differences and similarities. You can use it as a starting point to talk about looking beyond what makes your child different from other people and thinking about what they have in common.

I loved reading this book to both of my kids when they were tiny babies because you can touch their fingers and toes over and again as the story goes on, and then give them three little kisses on the tip of their nose at the end. Not only does this help with building language development, but also with body awareness, which is a key area of development for a newborn. Of course, it is also perfect for nurturing your bond.

Helen Oxenbury’s pictures are just beautiful. They are bright and simple for little eyes, but also contain enough detail to create talking points. When you are reading beyond the text, and using your reading behaviour to engage your little person, the pictures open up a whole world of new stories. This gives you even more reason to return to the book over and over as your child grows.

3. I Love You So by Marianne Richmond

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I borrowed this book from the library when Pickles was a few weeks old. I read it to him over and over and then decided that I needed to buy it for him so I could keep on reading it to him.

The book describes how much a parent loves their child; as gigantic as a great lion’s roar, as silly as a puppy dog’s kiss, and as brilliant as each sparkling star. When I was a new mother reading it to my tiny baby, it was as if Marianne Richmond had reached into my brain and pulled out exactly what I was feeling about my little boy and turned it into a sweet little rhyme. I too would love my child forevermore, undeniably. I think most new parents would feel the same way. With its big, bold pictures, it would make a great gift for a baby shower.

I can also imagine giving this book to a grownup child who was about to go off travelling. I imagine myself pulling it out in twenty years time when one of my kids announces they are off on a grand adventure and reading them this bit:

Do you love me just as much
When I’m far from home?
Is your loving still the same
In distant lands I roam?

I love you near or far.
I love you high or low.
My love is there with you
Wherever you may go.

Now I’m getting sad imagining my babies far away from me. Although I’m proud that in my imagined future they are independent and adventurous. Good for you, imagined grown children of the future.

When I initially borrowed the book from the library it was a board book version. The copy I bought was a hardcover and the words and pictures are slightly different. For newborns it really doesn’t matter because you’re just reading to them rather than them being active participants, but I usually prefer board books for babies because they can hold them and chew them with much less damage. The hardcover makes a nice gift though, and if it survives the everything-in-the-mouth phase you too can pull it out when your own imagined grown children of the future go off on adventures.

4. Kissed By The Moon by Alison Lester

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This book is simply magical to read to babies. There are big, bright, beautiful pictures and not too many words. The words that are there read as a list of wishes for a new baby. It is a particularly good one for people who are in touch with nature and would want their baby to share in their love of all things outdoors.

It makes an excellent bedtime book, as it’s ending hopes that the baby will: “grow sleepy at sunset, sing to the stars, and drift into dreams. And may you, my baby, be kissed by the moon.” It gets me in the mood for a sleep every time I read it. Or that might just be that I’m always in the mood for a sleep these days and don’t need too much reminding. Either way, it’s a lovely one to read to your little person just before bed.

As your child grows older, this is also a great book for language development. Books like this where the pictures are the dominant feature are perfect for exploring with your older baby or toddler as they begin to learn new words. You could talk about different seasons and weather, different plants and fruits, or different places to visit. On many of the pages there are different creatures and animals to discover, so you could turn the reading into a game.

The more active a participant your child is able to be in the reading process, the more beneficial the reading will be for them, so this is a perfect book to share.

5. You Are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa

DSCF4891This is a very cute book for a parent to share with their new baby, or any small child. The pictures show a day in the life of a parent and baby bear. They play inside and out, they eat, they have bath time, and finally the parent tucks the child into bed. The story arc in the pictures makes it a great book to share with a child at the end of the day because you can talk about all of the things that your own child has done throughout the day that the little bear is doing too. Using a book in this way to relate to your child’s own life is an important and useful way to make story time more interactive and enriching. It can also be a helpful part of a bedtime routine as the little bear ends up safe and snug in bed at the end.

In terms of the text itself, the authors use rhyme to juxtapose the role of the parent with the role of the child. The parent is the steady source of constancy and love in the life of their child, and the child adds a new brightness and wonder in the life of their parents.

I am your favourite book;
you are my new lines.
I am your night-light;
you are my starshine.

The use of rhyme and repetition make it an easy one to read over and over to a baby, and parents will no doubt find the words resonating with their own experience. You don’t just read the words, you actually tell your child, “I am your good-night kiss; you are my I love you.” It is a beautiful sentiment to share with your little person.

6. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita JeramDSCF4452

The Nutbrown Hares and I did not get off to a good start. I had heard only ever such fabulous things about this book and so I opened the copy of the board book that I had ordered online with much anticipation.

The first thing that happened was the board book gave me a paper cut. It takes a special kind of skill to get a paper cut from a book that is especially designed for little people to play with and chew on safely to their heart’s content. I thought the Nutbrown Hares must have it in for me.

Then, as I began to read, I thought that I actually wouldn’t put it passed that Big Nutbrown Hare to do something malevolent. He seemed trapped in an unhealthy cycle of one-upmanship with his very young son. It was pretty clear there were underlying psychological issues. My husband agreed. He thought, and still thinks, that Big Nutbrown Hare was a real jerk.

I got to the last line though, and realised that that’s what has made this book so wildly popular. “I love you right up to the moon – and back.” Everyone says it now. It’s on cards, t-shirts, and mugs. There is now a tv show based on the book. The more I read it to Pickles, and later to Pords, the more I came round to this enormously sweet core. Big Nutbrown Hare can’t help it if he’s hyper-competitive. He’s probably trying to make up for that one time he lost to the tortoise. In the end he really does love his son more than his son can even begin to imagine – a feeling most parents will relate to. I’ve become such a fan that I even included Big Nutbrown Hare in my list of the Top 7 Fathers from Children’s Books.

This is a great book for new parents to read to their new babies, as they struggle to find ways to describe just how much they really love this incredible new person who has entered their lives. As your child grows, it is a great book to read together. Pickles loves acting it out: stretching out his arms as wide as they can go, reaching them up as high as they can reach, and most especially tumbling upside down with his feet in the air. And now that he can say “I love you thiiiiisssss much” I reckon that I actually do love this book right up to the moon and back.

7. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

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Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. More than a century later, Peter remains a much loved figure of childhood. My children have been gifted many books, clothes, and toys featuring Peter and his friends. A particularly treasured gift for Pickles from his grandparents when he was a newborn, was the complete set of original tales.

When Pickles was a newborn and we had hours together, just the two of us, I would read him these stories. We read all of them in those precious first newborn months, often while he was happily lying on the change table so I could stand and hold the books at his height.

The stories are charming, the characters endearing, and the language exquisite. They are wonderful because they are short enough to read through in one or two sittings even with a small baby. Plus they are interesting enough for the person doing the reading.

Peter Rabbit and friends are an enduring part of Pickles’ day to day adventures and imaginings. He often now brings me one of the books to read with him.

If you are close to someone who is having a baby and want to get them something special that will remain special to the child as they grow, a collection of books is a beautiful idea.

So, those were my favourites to read to my babies when they were newborn. What were your favourites?

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Booktober

Booktober

I’ve decided that this month we’ll celebrate Booktober. Nothing too out of the ordinary around our house. Just a bit more of the usual hooray for books.

Specifically though, every Sunday I’ll have a list of seven of our favourite books with a particular theme. This will mean that we’ll end up with slightly more than a book a day for a month. If you want to start reading more with your little people, or are looking for new books to explore with your little readers, you’ll hopefully be able to find some inspiration in there somewhere. Or you could just take the whole list to the library and set the challenge of reading at least a book a day every day for a month.

Tomorrow we’ll kick off with our top 7 dinosaur books. It was always going to be dinosaurs. We’re a bit dino-crazy. If anyone has suggestions for other possible lists, please let me know.

Before we get underway with the books, I thought I’d re-share my post about why you should read to little children. It can usually be found over in our Reading Corner, along with an ever growing list of reviews of our favourite books.

READINGISFUNWhy you should read to little children

Lots of parenting advice that I have come across online, and even in published books, seems to be based on personal experience or anecdotal evidence. Never sing your child to sleep because my cousin’s friend’s mum sang him to sleep when he was a baby and now he’s 45 and she still needs to go around to his house every night to sing his bedtime lullaby. You don’t need to breastfeed your baby because my boss was only ever bottlefed and now she speaks six languages, is an Olympic athlete, runs a company with a multi-billion dollar turnover, and is just the nicest darn person you’ll ever meet.

That sort of thing.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this sort of sharing and learning. No doubt it has been pivotal for countless generations. The problem with this in our information age is that the wisdom is not just passed to us from those who know us best. Anyone who has ever had a child, or known a child, or been a child, seems to be able to call themselves a “parenting expert”. There are so many parenting experts and they are all shouting for attention, with confusingly different opinions on what is best.

Well, I’m definitely not a parenting expert. On a scale of expert to whatever the opposite of expert is, I’m definitely closer to the latter end. But I’m big on evidence-based policy. If a government is going to devote a lot of time and money to a particular issue, I want them to be basing those decisions on the results of rigorous research. Similarly, if I’m going to use a significant portion of the time that I get to spend with my babies while they’re small in a particular way, I want to make sure that the evidence supports that decision. I’m not going to spend everyday reading and re-reading picture books if there are better things I could be doing with my time.

So, I’ve read through some of the peer-reviewed research. I don’t claim this to be anywhere near an exhaustive review of the literature on this topic, but I did discover some good pointers so I’ll give you a bit of a summary. (Reading the whole articles was really interesting – I’ve listed the sources at the end in case you want to have a look at them!)DSCF4634

There was broad agreement in the literature that reading to babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers is really important for a massive range of skills and attributes beyond language and literacy, to areas like problem solving, relationships, and social confidence. There is this from Murray and Egan:

Reading to young children has long been recognized as an important precursor to language and literacy development. It encourages vocabulary development, positive attitudes to reading as well as strengthening emotional ties between the child and parent. Reading to pre-school-age children can make starting school easier for them as well as providing a head start in literacy… Reading to young children also helps them to develop social skills such as listening and interacting with an adult. Pp.303-304

As well as this from Nyhout and O’Neill:

Exposure to rich narratives at an early age may be important for a range of different abilities, such as children’s later ability to build rich accounts of past events and their information recall, social functioning, and broader linguistic and cognitive abilities. p.128

However, an important part of what I discovered was that the key was not that children were read to, or rather read at, but that they were allowed and encouraged to be active participants, even when they were not yet able to speak. For example, Makin wrote:

There is a danger that parents and early childhood educators may accept the importance of reading to children but do so in ways that may have less than optimal results… If children are physically restrained or forced to remain on an adult’s lap for the time the adult deems appropriate, the experience is unlikely to be positive despite the physical closeness. p.275

Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • Books with no words are great
  • When a book has words, steering away from the text is great
  • Ask questions, point things out, relate stuff back to your child’s own life
  • If your little person is really not interested in reading right this second, don’t force the issue
  • Try to find books and reading styles that make the experience enjoyable for both of you
  • Start as early as possible in your child’s life and read often

Reading to my babies is one of the best parts of my day every day. I hope that by sharing the books we love, I can share that joy around. Happy reading!

Sources

Farrant B and Zubrick S (2013) Parent-Child Book Reading Across Early Childhood and Child Vocabulary in the Early School Years: Findings From the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children First Language 33(3) 280-293.

Fletcher K and Holmes W (2015) The Role of Book Familiarity and Book Type on Mothers’ Reading Strategies and Toddlers’ Responsiveness. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 15(1): 73-96.

Makin L (2007) Literacy 8-12 Months: What Are Babies Learning? Early Years: An International Research Journal 26(3) 267-277.

Murray A and Egan S (2014) Does Reading to Infants Benefit Their Cognitive Development at 9-Months-Old? An Investigation Using a Large Birth Cohort Survey Child Language Teaching and Therapy 30(3) 303-315.

Nyhout A and O’Neill D (2013) Mothers’ Complex Talk When Sharing Books With Their Toddlers: Book Genre Matters First Language 33(2) 115-131.

Reese E, Sparks A and Leyva D (2010) A Review of Parent Interventions for Preschool Children’s Language and Emergent Literacy Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 10(1) 97-117.

Advice From The Heart
A Bit Of Everything



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So, your friend has a newborn baby…

Visitors

This year has been a year of new babies in my little world. Lots of dear friends and family, both near and far, have had babies or announced pregnancies. And of course the sublime Miss Pords entered our world.

Perhaps it is because I know more babies now so I’m on the look out, or perhaps it is because there are more people writing about it (or maybe a bit of both) but I have been seeing a lot of articles purporting to explain how to behave when your friend has a newborn baby.

And it’s driving me kind of crazy.

Parents of newborns are not a homogenous blob of brainless goop, unable to exercise autonomy or say what they mean.

Straight up I’d like to say that of course if your friend has a newborn baby and is withdrawing more than usual, or you suspect that they need help that they are not asking you for, they may need additional support. Depression and anxiety associated with the transition to new parenthood is quite common and early intervention is important. This post is by no means meant to make light of that scenario.

Nor is it meant to suggest that thinking of ways to make someone’s life easier is not a worthy pursuit. The thing is, when I’m reading these lists I often find myself thinking that if my friends started doing any of those things I’d find it more stressful than helpful. And I surely can’t be the only one.

From my massive personal sample size of two, I know for a fact that the experience of parenting a newborn baby is not always the same. And from just being a person who interacts with other people, I know that people’s personalities are not always the same. What might be just right for one person, might seem like the worst idea ever to someone else.

For example, I’ve read that parents of a newborn don’t want to leave their home to see you so you should always visit them there. Actually, when my babies were newborn I’d much rather have come to your place. You could have made me a tea and then held the baby while I drank it. Don’t worry, we wouldn’t have stayed long.

I’ve read that it’s the absolute pinnacle of friendship to leave frozen meals at the door and run. Quite frankly I would never have had the freezer space. Plus I always found that bit of time in the kitchen preparing a meal was a nice break in the day. And if you’d gone to the effort to come around, I’d definitely have felt bad if I thought you didn’t feel you could knock on the door. I’d have spent the next few days agonising over how to make it up to you and probably ended up inviting you over for an ill-advised dinner party. Now, if you told me you’d meet me at the park and you brought me a sandwich, then we’d be friends forever.

I’ve read that parents of newborns desperately want your help with all their housework, but are too tired or embarrassed to ask. I was raised in a household where a clean and tidy home was a priority. The consequence of this in my life has been that I don’t like people seeing my house when it is not in order. I can cope with a mess, but not if I have visitors. If you said you were coming over to see if you could help around the house, I would have spent the preceding hours in a whirlwind of stress, making sure you wouldn’t find too much to be done. I would have much preferred you to say that you’d love to get me out of my disaster zone of a house for a while and go for a walk with me. Fresh air and friendship – always a winning combination.

Now, here’s an idea. If you are close enough the parent of a newborn to be considering visiting them, don’t worry about my story, or any lists you find online. Your friend is the same person they were before. They may be tired and overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean that they’re planting hidden messages in everything they say. It’s not your job to second guess them. Use what you know about them, plus a generous helping of common sense, to work out how to behave appropriately.

And if you don’t know enough about them to work it out, maybe leave visits until you’re personally invited. Send them a text, or a card if you want to let them know you’re happy for them and looking forward to meeting the new arrival.

Luckily for me, either my friends weren’t big consumers of these online manuals for behaviour, or they had the good sense to ignore them. Just as you, in turn, should ignore this and do whatever feels right for you.

Do you think people need guidelines for how to behave when their friend has a newborn baby? What would you put on the list?

My Random Musings
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6 Tips for Reading to Babies

-POP

Reading to babies can seem silly at times. When a baby is not yet talking, you might wonder if they are able to take anything in. It might feel like a waste of time. Yet, there is a lot of literature that says that reading to babies is crucial for many aspects of their development.

Here are some tips to optimise your reading for your baby’s development and enjoyment.

1. Choose books with no words

It may seem counter-intuitive but, in terms of aiding language development, choosing books without words is a great way to go. This is largely because of your own reading behaviour. When you are reading from set text, you can get stuck just reading through the book without taking the time to stop, point things out, discuss what is happening, and relate the story back to your child’s own experiences. With wordless books, you are much more likely to have an active, engaged experience.

2. When a book has words, steer away from the text

There are lots of great books for children with interesting stories and clever rhymes. Great children’s books are also well designed with repetition and rich vocabulary to help developing brains. So, of course, it is useful to read the text. As adults, that’s what we’re programmed to do so it’s probably inevitable that we’ll read exactly what the words say at least the first time around.

Once you get to the second, or third, or four hundredth read through it is a great idea to steer away from the text. Pretend that there are no words and tell your own story.

3. Make your reading interactive

Use the book as a vehicle for talking about things in your baby’s life. For instance, if there is a dog in the book you could talk about your own dog, or a dog you saw at the park. Point things out in the pictures and name the things that you see. If your baby is at an age where he or she can point to things, ask them if they can point to the tree, or the bird, or the rainbow.

A great way of making your reading time interactive is to have some books that you have made yourself. So, you could have a book that just has the faces of people you know. Then you can point to grandma, and talk about how she looks happy. Point to her eyes and nose and mouth. Or point to daddy and talk about his red shirt. Talk about something you did with daddy today. All of these things helps your baby to make connections between words and the world around them.

4. Only read when your baby is interested

When you’ve been told that you should read to your child for at least ten minutes every day, it may be tempting to get through that time, or at least through one book, even if your child is fussing or looking away. However, forcing a child to stay on your lap while you continue to read is not beneficial for development and can actually be detrimental as the child begins to associate negative experiences with reading.

5. Choose books you both enjoy

When choosing books, think about books that you will enjoy reading, as well as books that your child will enjoy listening to. Babies can pick up on attitudes and emotions. If you are happy, enthusiastic, and engaged in the reading yourself, your baby is much more likely to have a positive experience. For very young babies, you can even try just reading them whatever you happen to be reading yourself. They will benefit from hearing your voice, and the language. The content isn’t as important as the attitude.

6. Read early and often

It’s never too early to read to your children. Try and get into the habit of reading to them everyday, from as early in their life as possible. Not only will you be fostering a love of reading and enhancing their cognitive development, but you will also be nurturing your own bond with them as you share special times with books.

Did you read to your babies? What are your favourite books for babies?

Happy Mama Happy Baby

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The Worst Best Advice

Enjoy every minuteIt was mid-afternoon. Both the kids were fed, rested, and happy. This, I thought, was a perfect opportunity to load them into the double pram and walk to the supermarket to pick up a few things that we needed.

Except the toddler insisted on walking. That’s ok, I thought, if he wears himself out this afternoon it will make bedtime easier. It might take a bit longer but we’re all still happy so let’s go with it. He stopped to watch caterpillars, smell flowers, and walk along walls. It was turning out to be a delightful walk.

Except the slow pace made the baby frustrated and want to get out of the pram too. That’s ok, I thought, I can carry her in one arm and push the pram with the other hand while we’re walking at this pace.

Except then the toddler insisted on holding the hand that was being used to push the pram. That’s ok, I thought, I knew my body was holding onto that baby weight around my tummy for a reason. I can hold the baby in one arm, hold my toddler’s hand with the other, and push the pram along with my perfectly padded belly.

It was not as easy as I imagined. The walk was becoming less delightful by the second. I was red faced and flustered, cursing my hubris with every step. My hair was blowing in my face but I didn’t have a spare hand to brush it back. One of my sneakers came untied. By the time we got to the shops all I could think about was finding a bench to stop at. I needed to get myself together.

So when I saw the woman making a beeline towards me I tried to avoid eye contact. But this one was not for turning. “Oh aren’t they precious,” She gushed. “It goes so fast. Make sure you enjoy every minute.” There it was. Enjoy every minute.

I hear that phrase, or a version of it, so very often now. It started right back during my first pregnancy. I had terrible morning sickness right up until labour when I was so dehydrated from the constant vomiting that they put me straight on a drip. Labour was easily the least difficult part of that first pregnancy. Yet as soon as someone saw the bump, they would ignore the green face and say: “It’s such a special time. Enjoy every minute.”

Then again when I had a newborn. Cards and messages, friends and well-meaning strangers were all telling me to enjoy every minute. When I was so tired that I forgot that I was sterilising my breast pump in boiling water, only realising when I smelled the melting plastic (a smell that lingered on for days), I wanted to scream “What about this minute?!” When I had mastitis and couldn’t get out of bed. “What about this minute?!” When my baby was screaming and I couldn’t figure out why. “What about this minute?!” Sure he’s the greatest thing ever in the history of the entire universe but what about this minute and this minute and this minute?!?

Of course, people don’t actually mean that they think that you will, or even should, enjoy every minute. They just want to emphasise that time goes by so fast and that children grow up before you know it. The thing is, when people keep telling you something over and over you really start to believe it. Then when you are not in fact enjoying every minute you begin to question yourself.

This is the fourteenth nappy I’ve changed today, I’m getting a bit over it. No, no, wait, I should be appreciating this moment, one day I won’t have any nappies to change.

My toddler’s been pinching me incessantly while I’ve been trying to cook dinner. I should relish the pinching now because when he’s all grown up there’ll be no one to pinch me while I chop carrots.

I’ve got a headache this morning, I’d love nothing more than just to go back to bed. Hang on now, I should embrace the tiredness, one day I’ll get all the sleep I want and wish for nothing more than a return of that extreme fatigue.

Not enjoying every minute – one more thing to add to the list of things that makes me a terrible person. Worst advice ever.

On the other hand, when taken as it is intended it really is the best advice. I do try to remember it during the rough times because I know that most of the these parenting-young-children times are good times. More than good. That crazy, indescribable soaring of the heart wonder. I know I’ll miss so very much about this time. One day maybe I’ll even genuinely miss everything about this time. I have no doubt that many of the people who give me this worst best advice are in fact missing everything about this time in their own lives.

So I looked at the kindly, well-meaning woman at the shops who was looking at my children but seeing her own, smiled and said: “Thank you. I will.” Then I thrust my belly back out and pushed the pram away from her as fast as I could.

Advice From The Heart
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