Playground trolls

I think I got trolled at the playground.

I was sitting in the middle of the playground with baby Pords. Pickles was running around with some friends. Climbing, sliding, swinging, spinning, and running. And running. And running. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t keep up with him while I had Pords with me.

But I didn’t want to keep up with him. He was having fun. My eyes were on him the whole time, the playground was one of those newly designed numbers, with all soft fall surfaces fully enclosed inside a fence, and I knew he was able to use all of the equipment unassisted; he’d been here plenty of times before.

Two women stood near me and started talking very loudly about Pickles. That he was very small. What was his mother thinking letting him play by himself? Anything could happen. Much too small. Needs his mother. Dangerous.

Now, as it happens, I’ve been reading quite a lot of academic articles about toddlers and risk taking lately. When I’ve read a bit more I’ll write a proper post about it. So far I’ve learnt that while risk taking can lead to trips to the emergency room when the carer has not properly assessed and managed the risks beforehand (and many times even when they have), it is also linked to gross motor development, as well as other social and cognitive development, such as the ability to independently assess risk and make decisions.

I know that a big part of the reason that Pickles is a good climber is because we have let him climb. I also know that, in letting him climb things from a young age, we have run the risk that he would fall.

I think so far we’ve tread a pretty good line on this one, but when I heard the women talking I immediately questioned every parenting decision I’d ever made. I quickly picked Pords up and rushed over to Pickles. “Are you ok? Do you need help?” He looked mortified and gave me a little push on the leg. “Shoo mummy!”

Still I hovered. Nervous. Eyes darting back to my judges.

Now that they had smoked me out, one of them strode straight over. “He’s very brave for someone so little isn’t he?” Her insincerity was sickly sweet. I wondered what pearls of wisdom from her own brilliant parenting career she was about to bestow. “Now, I personally would never have children of my own. There’s too much sadness in the world. But you’ve got to be careful. Anything could happen.”

What. The. Actual. Bazoolies.

Now I don’t object to people without kids having an opinion on parenting in general, or even on my parenting specifically. But just like online comment, there is a time and a place and a tone.

If you spit venom anonymously online just to get a stir, people might label you an internet troll.

And if you hang out inside an enclosed children’s play area without children of your own, just to criticise other people’s parenting, I might just label you a playground troll.

So what do you think? Were they just playground trolls or were their criticisms legitimate? How do you manage risks with your kids?

The Dad Network
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Worst. Parents. Ever.

You asked for one and I said: “Fine,”
“One but then no more.”
But then you smiled so sweetly
And said you’d rather four.

I said “No. You don’t need more,
That one will more than do.
Try these carrot sticks instead,
Or a strawberry or two.”

You shook your head and stomped your feet
And said I was the worst.
Your little face went bright red,
You looked like you would burst.

But I was standing firm this time,
Mummy can be tough.
I let you have that one,
And that one was quite enough.

So you tried a different trick
And called out for your dad.
Maybe he would give in
If your eyes looked extra sad

But sorry pal, Daddy’s not
As soft as he might seem.
He and Mummy made a vow
To do this as a team.

So now the both of us
Are vapid, mean and shallow.
All because I let you have
One fluffy white marshmallow.

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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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Fighting fires: Toddler discipline

Firestarter

When I was a kid there was a public service announcement that used to run on tv about what to do if your house was on fire. I don’t remember the exact details, but I do remember Ronald McDonald telling me to: “Get down low and go, go, go!” I’m sure it was good advice for getting out while avoiding as much smoke as possible, but I wonder how many kids had nightmares about crazed clowns starting grease fires in their bedrooms. Just me? Thought so.

Fast forward to today and there’s a new fire starter in my house. He’s not a junk peddling clown but a feisty two year old. I hasten to say that he hasn’t actually started any actual fires yet (although when I am tied up feeding or changing the baby, I do sometimes wonder if the noise is him lighting small ones in the next room).

Hunger and tiredness, however, are two sticks rubbing together. It only takes the tiniest spark for the fire to ignite. Maybe I’ll say that ice cream is not a breakfast food. Maybe he’ll notice that one of his pictures has been moved from the fridge. Maybe I’ll tell him that he has to wear pants to the library.

And then… Kaboom! The fire has started.

The fire burns in an unpredictable manner. Often, all that needs to happen to douse it is some food, or a nap, or a hug. Usually we know the warning signs well enough to have avoided public places. Don’t take a hungry or tired toddler to a supermarket. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

But then there are the other times. When the fire spreads out of control. How do you douse the raging flames of cranky, crazy defiance?

There are several schools of thought on toddler discipline. And I have been reading the books, as is my wont. As with all parenting advice, there are some pieces of information that just don’t fit right for me or our family. There are other things that I have taken on board to adapt and implement. I’m sure our methods for discipline and setting boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour will need to change over time.

In amongst it all, there is one piece of advice that has stood out for me and that has had an almost immediate impact; when you want to change the way your toddler is behaving you need to physically get down to their level.

Sometimes my toddler drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to yell. But this doesn’t get us anywhere. I feel myself looming over him. My voice is thunder. The power imbalance is enormous. It is intimidating and unfair. It also tends to only add extra fuel to the fire.

When I get down on his level he sees me. He hears me. He listens.

When I get down on his level I see him. I hear him. I listen.

When we are face to face I can’t be angry. I realise that the world is still big and new and scary. I remember that when I’m hungry I get “hangry”. I remember that when I haven’t had enough sleep little upsets are devastation. I remember that he’s small and I’m big and it’s my job to help him through this tough business of growing up and learning about the world as best I can.

So now when I see the toddler fire starting to burn, I remember Ronald McDonald, that wise old sage. I get down low, and I go, go, go. And we can usually escape unharmed.

Digital Parents

 

Happy Mama Happy Baby



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Other Great Loves

It was well passed my bedtime. Well, ok, it was 8pm. But I was eyeball-sore tired and I was drinking wine on the couch.

I’ve become addicted to watching those how-to-be-a-good-mother themed parenting documentaries. They don’t make me into a better mother. They just make me realise all the things that I’m doing wrong and subsequently my wine slightly salty because of all the tears.

And yet I just can’t look away.

One day there’ll be the little nugget of gold that makes me into the queen of the parents. Well, this show had a nugget alright but it sure wasn’t golden.

A very shiny looking lady said: Until you have a child of your own, you don’t really know what love means.  “Say what!?” The wine sprayed from my mouth. Actually, that reminds me, I better clean that up.

Before I had Pickles and Pords my life wasn’t a barren, loveless wasteland. To suggest as much not only diminishes the lives and loves of those who are childless or childfree, but also any other great loves in a parent’s life. It limits the selfhood of the parent to simply being a mother or a father, disregarding all of the other incarnations of self that they had prior to children, and continue to have for their whole lives.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that you might never love any children at all, or even like the little buggers very much, and still know deep, soaring, eternal love. Love that consumes you and changes you and crushes you while making you feel whole.

Or you might not have children of your own, but love nieces or nephews, or the children of a close friend. I’ll always remember where I was when my brother called me to tell me his baby girl had been born. I’ve loved her and my nephew right from the start. Babysitting is not seen as a favour for my brother and sister-in-law because spending time with them is happiness.

I didn’t have my own children and think ah well, that wasn’t really love at all. I didn’t suddenly see my husband as a mere passing fancy. The feelings I had for other family and friends did not cease their importance.

Being a mum has been a remarkably wonderful experience so far. My love for my children is immense. But I’m not mother-nothing-more. And my friends who are not parents are not incapable of knowing love.

What do you think? Was the lady on my tv crazy, or am I crazy?

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Lessons from 4 mums in a waiting room

Today I had to take Pickles to the doctor. We were in the waiting room for a very long time. But never fear, I put all that time to good use, by learning some great lessons from the other mums around me.

Frog Mum

Frog Mum came in with a toddler and a pre-schooler. Both children were carrying books and the pre-schooler sat himself down and immediately opened his book and started looking through it on his own. The toddler passed his book to Frog Mum to read. The book was about frogs. “Now Aiden”, She began. “What’s this?” She pointed to a pictures in the book. “A frog!” Aiden replied. Good answer Aiden, that would have been my guess too. “Yes, but no I mean what type of frog?” “A green tree frog.” Wow, Aiden was a superstar. I would have been struggling. But apparently so was he, because Frog Mum was slightly exasperated: “No. It’s an African Spotted Frog.” Aiden nodded solemnly. “Yes,” He said with all the graveness of a scholar. Then Frog Mum continued: “See how he puffs himself up to attract the lady frogs?” I nearly fell off the chair. But Aiden just nodded again. He was so interested, it was fabulous to watch. This kid was going to know about the mating rituals of every species of frog before kindergarten. So, my takeaway lesson from Frog Mum was to treat my children a bit more as I would an adult. And to learn some more about the fascinating world of frogs.

Nonna Magpie

Sitting opposite us was a woman with her adult son. He was talking about his business and what his kids had been doing at school. She wasn’t listening to a word. She was watching Pords the whole time. If Pords dropped a toy, or the rusk she was chewing on, Nonna Magpie would swoop straight down and retrieve it for her. She may have looked kind of frail, but Nonna Magpie was sprightly as they come. At first I thought that her son was accompanying her to the doctor, but by the end I wondered if it was perhaps the other way around. From Nonna Magpie I’m going to learn to be more attentive. And not to complain about constantly having to bend down to pick up dropped items.

The Cat Lady

Cat Lady sat in the corner of the waiting room and talked the entire time about her fur baby. Now, this might not seem like that big a deal until you realise that we were in that waiting room for close to an hour. And she did not draw breath. I now know what and when that cat eats. The ways in which it’s behaviour has changed over the eight years since Cat Lady has owned it. Its preferred route through the retirement village where Cat Lady lives, and the full list of people that love the cat. The names of other, not so great, cats in the neighbourhood. A super story about the time Cat Lady’s daughter had to bring a ladder around to get the cat out of a tree. Three different people came and went from the seat next to her. I’m not sure she even had an appointment. But I’m pretty sure that anyone who loves their cat that much has a heart of gold. From cat lady I’m going to learn to celebrate the ones I love more loudly and more often… although perhaps not that loudly or that often.

Speedy Cheetah

We had been waiting for about half an hour when Speedy Cheetah arrived. She was in a pink tracksuit and looked like she’d just come from the gym. Her son, who was about eleven, complained the whole time. Evidently he had a cold and it wasn’t much fun. Speedy Cheetah patted him arm and said “Don’t worry the doctor will see us in a minute.” I felt sorry for the kid, that she had got his hopes up when they were so clearly running behind. Let alone the fact that the doctor really wasn’t going to be able to do much about his cold. But Speedy Cheetah was on it. She went and had a quick word to someone and moments later they were through. I don’t know what she said but it worked. I’m pretty sure the doctor also would have been talked into giving her son the secret cure for the common cold that doctors have been keeping under wraps for their own personal use. Speedy Cheetah inspired me to be more efficient and assertive right then and there.

So I sprang into action…

Pickles had fallen asleep with his head on my lap so I gently lifted him under one arm, had Pords tucked under the other, and hooked my bag through the tips of my fingers. I struggled across to the reception desk. “Be a cheetah. Be a cheetah.” I recited to myself. “Yes?” The receptionist looked at me from behind her glasses. “Ummm… well, we’ve been waiting for a long time. I was just wondering how much longer she’ll be?” She pretended to look something up. “You’re next in.” I felt a surge of cheetah power. I made that happen. No doubt everyone else in the room was learning lessons from me. This no-nonsense mum was getting things done. Half an hour later, we were finally called through.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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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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I’m Hiding From My Hand

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see? – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Some days, especially those on which I have limited interaction with other adults of the species, take on a peculiarly dreamlike quality. In part, of course, this is due to a lack of sleep. I exist in that state where time takes on a different character and the air can feel somehow heavier, as if the room (or your mind) is filled with fog. But there is also another factor at play. The Toddler.

I have always had a soft spot for surreal humour. My Dad read me some of the work of Edward Lear as a child, and later introduced me to Monty Python. Who would have thought that the cultivation of an appreciation of nonsense would be such excellent training for life with a toddler. Without this, the madness of everyday life might be appreciably more maddening.

Even still, I sometimes wish that a giant foot would just descend from the heavens to mark the end of scene. But not today. Today, there was a little piece of madness that was nothing but joy.

Pickles came running into the room with his hand behind his back. He ran round and around in circles screaming with laughter. The whole time he kept his hand behind his back. When I asked what he was doing he replied that his hand was chasing him.

Of course.

I asked if he thought it would catch him. “No,” he replied matter-of-factly, “Running too fast.” I was impressed. It is surely no mean feat to outrun one’s own hand. He ran out again. I could hear him running up and down the hall. Finally he returned, much quieter now than before. He didn’t say a word, but slid open his cupboard door, climbed inside and then closed it behind him.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked. “Hiding!” Came a loud whisper. “Who are you hiding from?” “Quiet mummy! Hiding from hand!” “Oh.” I imagined his hand as Thing from The Addams Family, scuttling around, wondering where oh where he could possibly have got to. I imagined him imagining it. It made my heart smile.

And that’s it. Just a short one today. It was only a little slice of a day (although he did hide from his hand for a remarkably long time). But, in the words of Willy Wonka, “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

Little Hearts, Big Love
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I’m sorry, my darlings

I read an article the other day about how children with working mothers tend to do better. They are more ambitious because they have better role models. As someone who has spent time as a researcher I know well enough to take with a grain of salt most journalistic reporting of scientific results, which generally tend to be much more nuanced than sells papers. However, it got me to thinking about parental guilt and my own absurd situation where I convinced myself that I was taking on a new semester of teaching at university when my baby was three weeks old in order that I could stay at home with my kids. So that I could nurture a strong and unbroken attachment to me as their primary caregiver. Again, this was something that I had read. Given that the development of sound critical reasoning has been imperative in my working life, I feel that my skills in this area are pretty well developed. Yet even I get sucked into this constant bombardment of contradictions about what I am doing wrong, wrapped up in pleasant sounding articles about what other people are doing right. I try to justify decisions but have to use such warped logic to meet all of the different recommendations that I can’t win. Well, I am admitting defeat. Here is my letter of apology to my poor babies that they can show to their therapists in years to come.

My dearest babies

I’m sorry that I went back to work when you were so young. What did it teach you about relationships that your primary caregiver was not with you around the clock during your infancy? I’m sorry that I was a stay-at-home mum. What sort of role model could I possibly be?

I’m sorry that I didn’t give you enough tummy time when you were newborns. You needed to spend as much of your awake time as possible on your tummies but sometimes I let you lie on your backs. Doing so no doubt impeded your development. I’m sorry that I ever put you on your tummy as newborns. If you couldn’t get into the position yourself, I shouldn’t have put you in it. Doing so no doubt impeded your development.

I’m sorry that I enrolled you in various classes and activities when you were little. I should have let your days be filled with free play so your imaginations would have the best chance to thrive and so you would learn what it was to feel bored. I’m sorry that I let you spend so much unstructured time playing at home. There were so many more things I could have done to boost your cognitive growth and help you reach your full genetic potential.

I’m sorry that I breastfed you until you were old enough to decide that warm milk with a marshmallow before bed was a suitable exchange. If you were old enough to ask for it, then you were just too old! Don’t even get me started on the marshmallows. I’m sorry that I started you on solids at four months and didn’t breastfeed on demand exclusively until you were able to feed yourself. Having complementary feeds probably meant that you didn’t get enough breastmilk to maximise your i.q.

I’m sorry that you didn’t have all of the toys that could have helped with each new stage of your development. By not stimulating the right sense at the right time, your brain may not have developed the optimal neural connections and pathways. I’m sorry that you had too many toys. I should have ensured that you only had one thing to play with at a time so that you were not overwhelmed by choice.

I’m sorry that I didn’t give you iPads as babies. By reading you books instead, I deprived you of the highest level of sensory stimulation available. I’m sorry that I allowed any screen time before you were two. Any screen time before two limits normal development.

I’m sorry that I ever said no to you. When I didn’t want you to do something or have something I should have still ensured that every interaction was framed in a positive way; connect and redirect. I’m sorry that I didn’t say no to you often enough. A lack of proper boundaries has most likely set you on a course to lawlessness.

I’m sorry I loved you too much. You couldn’t walk passed me without being swept up for a hug. You probably had better things to do. Shoo, mummy! I’m sorry I didn’t love you enough. No amount of love could ever come close to what you deserve. But all that I do have to give is yours my darlings.

Always and forever

Your most fallible mother x

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Always Choose Sleep

About a month ago I mentioned to my husband that I was thinking of buying a whiteboard for our kitchen. I could write to-do lists, keep a record of activities, write up list of meals that we’d be having that week, plus have exercise and blogging schedules. I was going to be organised. I didn’t get the whiteboard and the moment passed. A couple of weeks later I had this great idea to buy a tin of blackboard paint and paint an entire wall of our kitchen with it. Same idea as the whiteboard but it would, I imagined, have more of a funky cafe vibe if I could write all over the wall with chalk. My husband nodded with all the feigned enthusiasm of someone who knows that this idea too shall pass. But, just in case, that same afternoon he went out and bought a small whiteboard and attached it to the kitchen wall. Point taken on the funky cafe vibe idea.

The two qualities that I think are most valuable in someone raising young children are kindness and patience. Unfortunately for Pickles and Pords their mother does not naturally possess either of these. I don’t say this to be hard on myself. I think I have other useful attributes for parenting, not least of which is the self-awareness to know my limitations and try and work on them. So every time I find myself losing patience (hourly), or starting to respond in a way that is less than optimally kind, I make a new resolution. Today I will choose patience and kindness. As I organised the new whiteboard with different headings and space for lists I just knew that from this would flow a new me. I would be organised and therefore never be flustered. I would be the mother of my resolutions; always kind, always patient.

Unfortunately, this week the babies were sick and my resolve to be kind and patient was severely tested. It was conjunctivitis, so we were in quarantine. Pickles spent the days roaming around the house and I would follow him with my disinfectant. Towels, bedding, clothes were all washed in hot water immediately after use. He picked up the routine quite quickly, and on Tuesday afternoon I found him staring into the washing machine, which was running with one face washer inside. Future (kind, patient, well-rested, mother-of-the-year) me is going to have to deal with the fact that he has worked out how to operate the washing machine on his own. In that moment, I was just glad that he’d got the fact that in the world of the sickness lockdown, hygiene was paramount. It wasn’t fun, but we got by with books and blocks and too much tv.

Then it would start. At about 4pm each day, Pickles reached the end of his tether. He hated being inside all day, he hated being sick, and so he would let me know about it with a low, continuous whine. The sound was the perfect expression of what it’s like to feel sick. Others might say: “I don’t know, I just feel ‘blerg’.” Pickles said “errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh  errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “What should we have for dinner?” “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “Shall we read some books?” “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.”Silence from me. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” “Maybe we all need to have a little lie down.” “No! No lie down! Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.” And so it went. I imagined my husband in his IT workspace, probably laughing at videos of cats playing piano, emailing someone on the other side of the room rather than having to talk, and going out for a little walk to clear his head when it got a bit much. I cursed his name. “Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh.”

There never were longer hours than those between 4 and 6. Then, suddenly, they’d be over. Dinner, bath, bed. Day shift done. Relief and peace for approximately 30 seconds. Then it was Pords’ turn. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” She was congested and it hurt to lie down. So she wanted to be held. All night. By me. If I left the room to brush my teeth, she would recommence: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” Now, my rational mind got that they were very little people who weren’t feeling well. But the tireder I got, and the more times I heard an errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh or an aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, the less patient and kind I felt. In a brief moment of respite I stood looking at my beautifully organised new whiteboard and the blank columns where I had planned to schedule time for exercise or blogging. I shook my head, took the red marker, and wrote “ALWAYS CHOOSE SLEEP!!!” My husband smiled: “That seems like a very good plan.”

Yet, here I am not sleeping. It’s a Saturday morning and I asked for an hour to write a blog. I’ve been interrupted approximately once every three minutes. I am sorry to say I have not always responded with patience and kindness. And no doubt it’s incoherent mostly rambling. I should have trusted in the wisdom of the whiteboard.

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