Thanking You

The other night Pickles was going to be singing his little heart out at his first Christmas Carols night. So we went along with Pords and The Third, as well as my ever-present support crew (my parents).
At one point, I was selling candles to help fundraise for the school, my husband was cooking the barbecue, and my parents were with the kids. My mum called me over and said that we would be forgiven for not helping out this time around, with three very small people in tow and sleep deprivation to boot. She said she and dad had spent years and years on Parents and Friends Committees and it was a thankless task (or, rather, a million thankless tasks).
I’ve been turning that over in my head ever since. It’s devastating to me that my parents don’t know how much it meant to me to have them so involved in my school and the events that made up my childhood.
The sense of community and belonging inspired by their tireless generosity were hugely formative in my upbringing. I want my husband and I to participate, despite the fact that we don’t really have the time or energy, because of how wonderful it was for me to see my own parents involved. No one really has the time or energy, but someone’s got to do it after all.
It strikes me that there must be a multitude of little things like this in different families. Maybe a parent doesn’t think their child appreciates the long hours they work to provide for them, or the effort they put into choosing and preparing healthy food every day, or the time they spend sewing sequins onto ballet costumes, or the fatigue to the arm muscle involved in pushing a swing at the park ten thousand times. But beyond a thank you, all of these little things add up to making the child the person they are, and that they will become. The child is the embodiment of the gratitude.
But sometimes it’s nice to hear a thank you. So, Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, thank you for everything. You are adored.
Thanking You
Barefoot at the beach.
Hours at the park.
Singing in the car.
Reading after dark.
The lens is rosy,
Scene is sweet.
Childhood’s viewpoint;
Hard to beat.
Zoom out now / Through time and space
Another home / Another place
And there you were
And here are we.
The same but different
Exhausted parents struggle,
That other life a dream,
But happy children play around –
They run and dance and scream
And nothing here is possible
Since everything is new.
But all I want is what I had;
I want to be like you
So on we press
Though times get tough
For we have learned
That love’s enough.
You think it’s thankless.
That’s not true.
I’ll spend forever
Thanking you.

Kettle’s Boiled

So, after a long break in which the new baby sibling of Pickles and Pords arrived, I’m starting to emerge from the fog. Everything is just that little bit busier; just that little bit different. Well… everything except the fact that I still can never get enough peace for a quiet cup of tea!
Kettle's boiled
I’m not sure if I’m going to go back to blogging and if I do, The Third will no doubt protest that he is absent from the title. But I just thought I’d explain where I’d been and apologise for disappearing for awhile.

Body Image and Kids: Choosing the Right Words

The wonderful Julie from Happy Mama Happy Baby is running a blog event throughout January, called Body Positive January 2016. Julie says it is “the antidote to all that New Year’s resolution, diet tip, exercise routine chatter the internet is about to explode with.”
When Julie asked me to write a guest post as part of the series, I wasn’t sure that I was the right person. It’s not my area of expertise, and I don’t intend to suggest in writing this that I have any sort of training in psychology.
When I thought about it a bit more, I decided that I could approach it from the point of view of language because this is one of my key areas of interest.
Language is a very powerful tool. As parents, we need to be especially careful about how we wield it.
Anyone who has ever visited my blog will know I love all sorts of picture books. It’s a bit of an obsession. However, there’s a classic picture book that I loved as a child that I refuse to read to my own children.
In “There’s a Hippopotamus On My Roof Eating Cake”, the little girl protagonist who tells the story from her own point of view is talking about everyone sitting down to dinner and the food that they are eating. She says: “Mummy is on a diet. She eats lettuce, tomato and cheese.”
What disturbs me about this line, other than the fact that lettuce, tomato and cheese are relegated to “diet food” rather than just being normal food that you would eat everyday, is the casual way the diet is mentioned. It implies that this Mummy character has been on diets before and it is no strange thing. It requires no more mention or context. Mummy is on a diet. Obviously.
The language that we choose and use can have a profound impact on our children and their own developing body image. Let’s try to make it a positive impact!
Talking About Food
Try to think of ways that you can educate your child about making healthy choices without labelling food as “good” or “bad”. If you do choose to use those words consider what they mean to your child. In what other contexts do you use those words?
Bad manners. Big bad wolf. Bad food. Bad girl. Bad boy.
Kids are still trying to make sense of language. If you use words that are tied to particular judgements or emotions to describe food, you are potentially tying the food to those emotions too. I ate too much cake at that party. Cake is a bad food. I am bad.
This is clearly problematic. On the flip side, if you tie “good food” to moral virtue you are creating a similar problem, not least because if your child does accept this teaching and eats only the good foods their whole life, they may turn into an irritatingly self-righteous adult who posts several-a-day Instagram updates about their kale smoothies. But, more dangerously, if they stray from the good food path, they may again internalise those messages and view themselves as being not good.
This leads me to my next point, which is more directly Talking About Your Child.
Talking About Your Child
When I took Pickles in for his routine 18 month checkup, the nurse told me that he was too skinny for his age. She gave me a horrifying pamphlet in which the causes of his “failure to thrive” were likely to be parental neglect, poverty, or some sort of medical condition. Se told me to put him on a high fat, high calorie diet, with no more direction than that. Eventually, after a couple of weeks of stress, we got in to see a specialist paediatrician who did thorough developmental testing and said he was at least at the right level in all areas, and well ahead in most. He said it was clear from the moment that Pickles walked in the door that he was a bright, healthy, active kid and that the best advice he could give was never to go back to that nurse again.
I was relieved. Yet, somehow, something had shifted.
Suddenly he was talked about as the skinny kid; the kid who needed to be fattened up. Despite my efforts not to use these types of labels, perhaps because my attention had been so stressfully drawn to it, I now noticed how many people commented on his size in front of him.
He’s not too bothered about it at this stage in his life. Mostly because it means people are more generous with treats. What concerns me is that as his identity forms, that is becoming a part of it at such a young age. My name is Pickles. I love running and jumping and digging in the garden. I love books and dinosaurs and trucks and singing and dancing. I am helpful. I am thoughtful. I am a big brother. I am a skinny kid. I shouldn’t be so skinny.
In a similar way, I’ve often heard people talking in an offhanded way about children as chubby or even fat. Generally it is said in an affectionate way – look at those chubby little cheeks, I just want to squeeze them – but kids are sponges, absorbing it all. I’m not suggesting we cease talking like this at all, but I do think we need to be more careful about the language we are using.
Research has shown even pre-school age children expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies. We need to be really conscious of the seemingly innocuous comments we make about our children. And about ourselves, which brings me to my final point.
Talking About Yourself
At this time of year we are bombarded with advertising about the New Years Resolutions you should adopt to make you a better you. And a better you inevitably is someone who looks different than the current you.
I happen to think that a resolution to adopt a healthier lifestyle can often be a good thing. However, it comes back again to the language that we use and the motive. Think about the words you are using to describe yourself, and why. Do you really think losing a bit of weight, or bulking up, will make you a better person?
When you talk about yourself in negative terms, your child is likely to take all of that onboard. They will accept it as normal. They too will think that there is virtue in a particular image. If they don’t meet that image, they may get trapped in a similar cycle of negativity.
I wrote a poem about this point, which I wanted to share to finish off this post. But before I go, I want to wish you all a happy new year, and to thank Julie for inviting me to be part of this series. I look forward to reading the other posts.
Mirror girl
The Girl In The Mirror
In the mirror is a girl
Who’s quite a lot like you.
She has your eyes, your hair, your smile;
Your sense of humour too.
She’s watched you closely everyday –
She’s listened and she’s learned –
While you were speaking right to her,
And when your back was turned.
From you she’s picked up what to eat
And how to move about.
But also other little things;
Those inner shades of doubt.
Does she wonder what they’ll think,
Or if she’s good enough?
Creeping down the family tree
Comes all that kind of stuff.
If you and she are so alike
As all around concur.
It follows that what’s said of you
Is also said of her.
So call out those who put you down,
And those who speak untrue.
But even more, be sure to check
The barbs that come from you.
When she looks into the mirror
And sees her mother there,
Here’s hoping she’ll be glad to see
Your eyes, your smile, your hair.


A Fond Farewell

I’ve been busy trying to be not busy. A nice couple of weeks of no computers and mainly no phone. It has been glorious.
I think it’s going to take me a little while to ease back into the blog. I considered not returning but my husband convinced me that I’d miss it and I think he’s right.
It was nice though for a time for it to be just the sun and the sea and me. That time was the blink of an eye as I briefly lay on my towel and imagined I was at the beach on my own. Then I immediately worried that in that second the children had both scurried away from my husband straight towards the sea so I snapped back to the reality of holidaying with very small people.
They loved it. It was amazing. But beach holidays are certainly less relaxing when your children are on an eternal quest towards the ocean. And rather than being tired at the end of a day at the beach, it was as if they were fitted with solar batteries that charged up during their days in the sun.
Coming home was sad, but a relief!
I hope everyone has been able to enjoy some time with family and friends over the festive period. Happy 2016!
A Fond Farewell
Farewell sand. So long sea.
Goodbye fish and chips for tea.
Farewell beach. So long sun.
Goodbye crashing waves of fun.
Farewell rest. So long dreams.
Goodbye strawberry ice creams.
But wait. When did we have time to dream,
When long days messed with our routine?
When little people woke too soon,
Excitement bounding in the room.
When every calming seaside stroll,
Was marked by vigilant patrol.
Though every cheerful toothy smile,
Made lack of sleep more than worthwhile.
And I can’t wait until next year
To live again this festive cheer.
As much as I would love to stay,
Sometimes home’s the holiday.

Christmas Fairytale

Lots of bloggers have been putting their own spin on classic Christmas songs. I thought I’d have a go at it too, although I have possibly done a terrible thing in messing with this one. Tracey from The Anxious Dragon and I recently agreed that Fairytale of New York by The Pogues is the best ever Christmas song. If you haven’t heard it, it will be hard to get the rhythm, so you can listen to it first by clicking: here.
This is my version (With humblest apologies to all lovers of the song):
Fairytale of the Disorganised Christmas Shopper
It was Christmas Eve babe,
In the toy store,
An old man said to me, “We’re nuts to be here.”
And then he cursed the air
As he joined the long line
I turned my face away
And dreamed about wine.
Got in a lucky one;
Efficient line of mums.
I’ve got a feeling
I chose the right one.
So please remember
The presents next year
I can see a better time
When Christmas Eve is fun.
They’ve got dolls, they’ve got trolls,
They’ve got gifts blue and pink.
Gendered toys drive you crazy
But you can’t get a drink.
When I entered the store
Sometime so long ago
You promised me
Lines here would never move slow.
You were handsome.
You were pretty.
Said you’d go to the city
To buy all of the presents
A whole month before.
How could you forget it?
Now we both regret it
And I’m in this line
On this Christmas Eve night.
The kids in their Peppa Pig pjs
Will still be wide awake,
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day.
You’re a punk!
You’re an arse!
But the line’s moving fast
So at least I’ll be done before old Santa comes.
I’m losing my head,
Can’t wait for my bed,
Let’s toast happy Christmas
When shopping has passed.
The kids in their Peppa Pig pjs
Will still be wide awake,
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day.
I could have been someone.
Well so could anyone.
This store stole all my dreams;
They’ve turned to apathy.
Life has no meaning.
This line is all I know.
But wait! I’ve reached the end!
And I can finally go.
The kids in their Peppa Pig pjs
Will still be wide awake.
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas day.


My Helpful Little Elf

When first I found a place to live
And moved out on my own,
I sighed at all the housework
That was mine to do alone.
Even though I loved the thought
That it was my own space.
I really wished for little elves
To help me clean the place.
Flash forward just a year or ten
And suddenly there’s you.
My little elf who wants to help
With any work to do.
If you come across a mess
You always grab your broom.
Then sweep all of the dirt and dust
Around and round the room.
You collect up all the washing:
The shirts and pants and tights.
My conscientious helper
Who rarely sorts the whites.
You really love to spray and wipe –
Though usually you spray,
Then think of something else to do
And so wander away.
You just adore the washing up,
The soapy suds that splash.
But every now and then I hear
An old familiar crash.
There’s little doubt about it;
Chores were easier before.
But anything I do with you
Could never be a bore.
Your helpful heart is joyous.
You do it all with flair.
And frankly if there’s mess about
I really couldn’t care.
I never saw the magic
When I did it all myself.
So I’m writing this to thank you,
My helpful little elf.

Prose for Thought

The Wisdom of the Nanny Goat

“Nanny Goat, the kid is wild!
My hair is filled with greys!”
The Nanny Goat just nods and says,
“He’s going through a phase.”
“The kid just won’t be still at all,
Makes playgrounds of cafes!”
The Nanny Goat just grins and says,
“He’s going through a phase.”
“The kid is now a parrot,
Repeating every phrase!”
The Nanny Goat just smiles and says,
“He’s going through a phase”
“The kid forever wanders off
When we’re out he always strays!”
The Nanny Goat just laughs and says,
“He’s going through a phase.”
“I try to be so fair and kind,
But he still never obeys!”
The Nanny Goat just snorts and says,
“He’s going through a phase.”
“This kid is just so stubborn.
He’ll never change his ways!”
The Nanny Goat just whoops and says,
“He’s going through a phase.”
“I don’t see why it’s funny,
YOU take him for two days!”
And let’s see then if you still think
He’s going through a phase.”
“Of course my dear, I’d love to!
A Nanny has her ways.
I’ve got tricks to help him when
He’s going through a phase.”
I miss his every fibre.
Eternity; Two days.
I hurry back and don’t care if
He’s going through a phase.
“The kid was simply perfect!
A sweet angel,” she brays.
“Of course it may not last with you,
It may be just a phase.”
“Thanks for that!” I retort.
“But you have earned your praise.
How do you always seem to know
When it is just a phase?”
“Don’t you see!? A Nanny Goat
No longer must trailblaze.
For I was you and you were he
And it was just a phase.”
“Blink and you will miss it.
That crazy, glorious daze.
His childhood will be fleeting,
It’s really just a phase.”

A Bit Of Everything

The importance of nursery rhymes

Have you heard the old Woody Guthrie song “Grassy Grass Grass”? It starts off “Grassy grass grass, Tree tree tree, Leafy leaf, leaf, One two three.”
You can hear Pickles doing that line here:

Yes, Pickles has started reciting the poem. A lot. Whenever we go outside, eating breakfast, in the car. Sometimes I’ll hear him just singing it to himself in bed. He has it stuck in his head and so consequently it is also stuck in the heads of the rest of the family.
When he was learning to speak, Pickles’ emerging language came in rhyme patterns.
“Cat” “That”
“Duck” “Truck”
I don’t know enough about typical language development to know if this is what usually happens, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Kids seem to have that ability to pick up rhythm and rhyme. They are naturally drawn to it. So many children’s books are written in rhyme. You can read about some of our favourites in The Reading Corner.
And then there are nursery rhymes.
Knowledge of nursery rhymes in very young children has been shown to be a predictor of success in a whole range of skills that are developed later on, such as reading and spelling.
If you think about it, if you can have an even basic understanding that duck rhymes with truck, you also have a basic understanding that words are made up of different sounds. Tr-uck. D-uck. So two completely different words might have similarities in their component parts.
Of course, your two year old reciting Humpty Dumpty is not going to be considering any of this. Nor should they. Two is a time for play. But you are laying these foundations for later.
In a 1989 study, Bryant, Bradley, Maclean and Crossland wrote:
“All in all, our results have shown a powerful and lasting connection between the children’s early knowledge of nursery rhymes and aspects of their linguistic development later on. The nursery rhyme scores are connected to the development of phonological sensitivity over the next two to three years and, through that sensitivity, are linked to the children’s success in learning to read and spell as well.” (pp. 426-427)
So, you may have noticed that I’ve done a bit of reading on this topic. I know, I’m a big nerd, but I find it so interesting!
Here are some things I have learned:
1. A fun way to introduce your child to rhymes is to invent your own. Use words that your child already knows so they can join in even for parts. So, when Pickles was saying “Duck, duck, duck, truck truck, truck” I used to say this rhyme to him in the car when we saw a truck. He loved it.
Duck truck
2. When you are reading a rhyming book that you have read a few times, leave space for your child to complete the end of the rhyme. This will become their favourite part of the book! The more you can involve your child in reading, the better.
3. Add music to your nursery rhymes. Try this one.
Hickory dickory dock
4. Play around with rhymes. When we arrive home, I’ll often say some variant of the “To market, to market to buy a fat pig, home again, home again jiggety jig” rhyme. Today for instance I said “Home again, home again sniggety snig”. Pickles immediately picked it up. “Silly old Mummy! You said the wrong words!” Despite being called silly and old, I loved it. This is exactly what I want him to start being able to pick up.
5. Add movement to your nursery rhymes. Try this one.
humpty dumpty
As with any activities you are doing with your kids, only persevere if they’re enjoying it. Childhood is about fun! The best thing about music, books, and nursery rhymes is that they can be a lot of fun too.
If you’re a nerd too, you can find these journal articles (and many more!) online:
PE Bryant, L Bradley, M. Maclean and J Crossland, “Nursery Rhymes, Phonological Skills and Reading” Journal of Child Language (1989) July, p.p. 407-428.
Jonathan Bolduc and Pascal Lefebvre, “Using Nursery Rhymes to Foster Phonological and Musical Processing Skills in Kindergarteners” Creative Education (2012) Vol 3 No. 4, 495-502.

Advice From The Heart
Little Hearts, Big Love

Oh Bunny, Where Art Thou?

For a little while today Pords couldn’t find her very favourite toy rabbit. She was inconsolable. We found him in the end thankfully, but the episode gave me a little insight into her world.
Oh Bunny, Where Art Thou?
Have you seen my bunny?
His fur is soft and grey.
I just can’t seem to find him.
Perhaps he’s run away.
Although Mum tells me not to fret.
And Pickles thinks it’s funny.
It’s a terrible, horrible, monstrous thing
For a girl to lose her bunny.
My lip just won’t stop trembling.
My mouth can only frown.
My heart is close to broken.
My world is upside down.
It may be sort of tricky
To really comprehend
That I can’t be without bunny;
He’s my very dearest friend.
From the day that I was born
He’s been always at my side.
What could I have done
To make him want to hide?
Oh Bunny Love where are you?
Please come back very soon.
It’s not the same without you.
I love you to the moon!
But who’s that with my Daddy
With fur so soft and grey?
It is! It is my bunny!
Oh Dad! You’ve made my day!