Sick day.

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There have been tears around here of late. The Mancub is beginning the process of settling into new preschool and it has been… rocky. I will summon the energy to write about that soon I promise, I just need to bury my head in the sand a little longer.

Of course along with a new school comes new germs and inevitable sickness. So, both emotionally and physically drained, we spent the bulk of the weekend indoors, sheltered from the elements, trying not to lose our tiny minds.

And of course just when my inclinations were telling me just to snuggle under a blanket on the sofa and hibernate, what my children needed was some attention. And some fun. So when I saw this activity on the ever inspiring How We Montessori, I finally found a use for one of my husband’s old photography backdrops.

This is one of those ideal activities to do with children: It is inherently enjoyable, large scale, almost mischievous to be drawing on something so big. And yet, so many learning opportunities present themselves – art, science, literacy skills, all organically melded into one. It could easily be extended for older children (in fact I used to do a variation on this with my year fours when we were studying the skeleton), but is also fun for older babies who like to suck on crayons and turn themselves into tiny goths too.

I didn’t have high hopes for the weekend I’ll be honest. But sometimes it pays to raise your parenting game. Just a little.

fourteen month update.

Oops, with Christmas, new year and general laziness this one is a couple of weeks late, which means there’s all the more to report. Anyway, here is little #2, looking cute in his Christmas lion suit.

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Appearance and Growth:
This mullet! Guys, what to do with this mullet? It is beyond control and reason, but I can’t quite bring myself to give either of my babies a haircut. He’s so European.
In teething news, all four first molars are through (Hallelujah!), and his top and bottom right canines as well. Two more to come and then he should get a break until after his second birthday (fingers crossed).

On the move:
Man, after weeks and WEEKS of a few steps here and a few steps there, something has clicked and suddenly this boy is toddling all over the place. The balance is still tipped towards crawling, but he can happily walk the length of the room, turn corners and even carry a small toy or book with him. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been super impatient for this turn of events, so I’m glad he’s finally decided that walking is for him after all.

Food and drink:
This one loves his milk. The mancub was never too fussed about cow’s milk, whereas #2 has a full 200ml cup when he wakes up and a couple of smaller cups through the day. He also eats a small meal every few hours including a big bowl of porridge for his breakfast and then anything else he can get his hands on. His current favourite is baked beans.

Playing:
This month #2 has become a lot more dexterous, which means he’s interested in a much bigger range of toys and will sit and play for longer on his own. He completes the ubiquitous Ikea lighthouse independently and he got some Play Mobil for Christmas, which he loves. He’s starting to show an interest in toy cars and things with wheels, but honestly, his love of books prevails and Maisy Mouse still rules. The other thing he currently loves is action rhymes and he is starting to be able to join in with a few of the actions to songs like Five Currant Buns In A Baker’s Shop. He’s starting to role play a little and will jabber away on the phone and cram brick biscuits into my mouth with fervour.

Sleep:
Still sleeping from around 6.30pm til 5.30am without waking. I keep trying to shift it a little later in the hopes that he will wake up later, but to no avail. Any tips? He is still napping for a couple of hours at around midday at home, which is probably too late, I don’t know. I feel like we’re so close to a perfect schedule, but I don’t know how to make the final few tweaks.

Language:
This past month he has started picking up a few more signs and will sign bird, sun and star when he sees pictures of them. If you ask if wants more of something he will either sign more by clapping his hands together and say, ‘Muh-muh-muh!’, or shake his head emphatically. He is able to point out lots of things around the room including me, his Daddy, his brother and himself and uses all of our names pretty accurately too. He understands so much now and will go and get the toys and books you ask him for and can do a bunch of things on request, my favourite being if you ask him to sing a song – he will do a short ‘la la la’, before giving himself a clap.

Personality:
There are so many aspects to his character right now. He is definitely going through another bout of separation anxiety, so there’s that. It usually hits hardest in the lead up to lunch and dinner (go figure), so making food with a child quite literally clinging to the apron strings is a joy. He is also getting a little sassy in his old age and will push his older brother away if he is having a story read to him or if he is playing with a coveted toy. Luckily the Mancub finds this very funny and says, ‘Baby is telling me to go away’.
He’s in that stage where he finds pleasure in doing the simplest things over and over and over. Putting something in a container, tipping it out, putting it back in, repeat, forever. It keeps him entertained though. And of course he’s always game for a cuddle and more recently a big opened mouthed kiss. Nice.

Best of 2014: According To An Easy World.

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BEST ALBUM LISTENED TO: Guys, this year, I actually listened to some music that was… released this year! I know! Go me! I still fall hard and predictably for girls singing folk songs, and my favourite of 2014 was Burn Your Fire For No Witness by Angel Olsen. If I had any control at over what gets played on the stereo here that’s what would be playing a lot. But I don’t. So I should probably give a shout out to Futurology by The Manics, because like Rewind The Film before it, it provides a continuous and ubiquitous soundtrack to our family’s life.

BEST SINGLE DOWNLOADED: Is it wrong to find it funny that my three year old pretends to feed his toy Anaconda sticky buns, because, ‘his Anaconda don’t want none unless he gets buns Hun’? The watching of Nicki Minaj’s video for Anaconda can only be described as a truly life enriching experience. Apart from for you Dad.

BEST GIG: The. Holy. Bible. 20. I think you know that you are officially old when you pull a muscle in your neck whilst dancing at a Manics gig. But my husband and I ran around the pubs of Camden like giddy teenagers, because WE’RE OUT! WE’RE OUT IN LONDON!

BEST FILM SEEN: I loved going to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the cinema, because it is just one of those films where every single shot is perfectly choreographed and beautiful and I might have whooped out loud a little when Bill Murray finally shows up.

BEST TV SHOW WATCHED: This year we watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad. TV will always seem a little bit shitter in comparison from now on.

BEST THING BOUGHT: This was the year of frugality. We tried so hard to really think about the things we were buying and to make fewer impulse purchases. Maybe next year will be the year of mindless conspicuous consumption. Or at the very least I’ll buy a phone that actually works.

BEST WEBSITE VISITED: I still love all of my old favourites: Amalah, Advice Smackdown on AlphaMom, Janet Lansbury, How We Montessori, Small Things, Sweet Madeleine and Love Taza to name a few of the websites that I check in on most days. But my favourite new blog this year has been Renegade Mothering, which I love so much I have to work hard not to just reblog every single thing Janelle writes, so much does she speak the truth. If you are a mother, or a decent human being, you should read this blog and emote.

BEST TUMBLR HEARTED: My friend recently sent me a meme that read something like, ‘Tumblr: insulting you for things you never even knew you could be insulted for’. Which is funny, because yes, Tumblr is the most right on space in the Internet, but also, I am not ashamed to say that I have learned so much from the incredible right on women that I follow, who post about gender and intersectionality and race and trans* rights and make me think about feminism and stuff generally in ways that I had never even considered before. Tuning into mainstream media after being on Tumblr is always a shock, because you’re like, woah, why is no one talking about this? Why is no one else this angry? There are literally a ton of women writing intelligently and thought provokingly about the sorts of issues I’ve just mentioned, but my top favourite this year has been the wonderful Stone Fruit Juices.

BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN 2014: The first part of this year was heavy. I had a two year old and a baby and achieving anything else apart from the absolute bare minimum seemed like a huge stretch (including, but not limited to, staying up past 8pm). The last few months I have finally started getting some sleep again and thanks to my parents being able to babysit for us, we have had some good nights out as a couple and with friends. Because, yes I love my children more than I thought was humanly possible, but also, my husband is pretty rad too and it feels good to be able to spend time doing stuff together other than looking at each other in blind panic and crying.

WHAT I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO IN 2015: Seeing The Decemberists and Josie Long in February and The Manics again in June. Getting some sun in Portugal towards the end of Winter and hopefully some camping in the Summer. And maybe, just maybe, our first weekend away without the kids. IMAGINE!

The Snowman: A weekend kind of treat.

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Because my husband often works from home, and I don’t work at all (or work every day depending on your perspective), it can often feel as if we have lost sight of those signposts that tell us when to wind down, when to relax, when to take time off and just do… nothing. In other words life is either one long weekend, or we have no weekends at all, and more often than not we err towards the latter. I often still hanker after those days as a teacher, when I lived in a constant merry go round of half terms and holidays, just because they gave shape to my year, to my weeks, (although the actual teaching I am doing fine without).

Lately we have been making an effort to up the number of days that feel like ‘days off’, as opposed to just more of the same: getting the children up, fed, out of the house, to bed, up again, keeping everything vaguely clean and tidy, not dropping any balls. It can be hard, because the children don’t do brilliantly when there isn’t any structure, and my husband’s iPhone is always on and seemingly always buzzing, but we are trying.

So this Sunday, when we were still eating toast in our pyjamas at 10am and the Mancub asked if could ‘watch somefling’, I just had one of those, ‘fuck it’, moments, fished out The Snowman on DVD and put the laptop on the kitchen table. It probably says a great deal about me that this is my idea of spontaneity, but the kids were thrilled with their treat nonetheless, and it definitely gave the sense of ‘weekendness’ that has been missing.

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Side note: Am I officially an emotional wreck or is it normal to feel the lump in your throat before David Bowie is even off the screen? Who knew pencil crayons could create such pathos?

Creative Christmas.

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I learned a long time ago that art + child + predetermined outcome = inevitable disappointment. They, children that is, don’t do what you want you them to do, least of all when you are trying to get them to replicate something that a fictional ‘preschooler’ has made on Pinterest. The googly eyes always go in the wrong place and Rudolph’s nose gets eaten.

What I have found to be a more successful recipe for toddler art is this: a bunch of stuff on the table, a big piece of paper, no agenda. I limit my input to ‘Mmm, yes, I like what you’ve done with that massive blob of paint’, and the occasional ‘no, not in your hair!’. By choosing a few different materials (poster paints, PVA glue, oil pastels), as well as some interesting tools (different sized brushes, sponges, things to print with such as vegetables or blocks), and the odd tube of glitter or cut up bits of coloured paper, some interesting, very different and often beautiful results can be achieved (and sometimes some rubbish ones, but you can throw those in the bin).

Sometimes though, you do have an agenda, like when making a handful of Christmas cards to send to your nearest and dearest, as has become tradition in our house (you can see previous years here and here). You might actually want to produce… something that looks… nice?

To remove any cause for frustration, I stick with my usual ‘chuck everything on the table’ approach, only with a vaguely festive theme, (this year I went for stars, so put out yellow glue, gold and silver poster paint, tubes of yellow and ochre acrylic paint, a star shaped biscuit cutter for printing with and some gold glitter) and it’s a win win situation. He has fun smearing stuff everywhere, I get some good source material, but can tidy it up later and turn it into something that resembles, well, some very glittery stars in this case.

I always like using washi tape to pretty up cards, mainly because I have no discernible creative talent, but am able to cut a length of tape and stick it on some card, then I either use alphabet stampers or my own fair handwriting to etch a festive message.

Merry and Bright indeed.

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Like a girl.

‘I’m Sleeping Beauty’, he says. ‘I’m a pirate, I’m a fisherman, I’m a Princess, I’m The Queen’.

He doesn’t know yet. That there is intrinsic status (or lack thereof), attached to these roles. That some of them are strong, masculine, affirming. That some of them are weak, subordinate, female. And who would want to be female? He must be strange. Or gay. I have no idea if he’s either. I don’t really care, I just play along.

A while ago I wrote about how important it is to raise my boys to be okay with being ‘like a girl‘. The above video might be hawking santirary products, but it makes a good point. When did ‘like a girl‘ become an insult? It is, it was, it has been since forever ago. Our entire society is founded on that construct, it’s called the patriachy, now go buy some tampons, disgusting.

Much of modern feminism focuses on creating equality by elevating women to the same status as men: getting more (primarily white, middle class, but that’s a different post), women into senior roles, accepting and celebrating masculine traits in women (‘I’m not bossy, I’m the boss’), breaking down the glass ceiling. Obviously all of this is important, and really, really crucial for those women who aspire to be doctors or CEOs or presidents or Beyonce. But it is only half the picture.

The ascension of women only truly creates equality if society also gives status to what are traditionally considered to be feminine traits: being nurturing, gentle, emotionally literate. When men can, without shame, aspire to be a care giver, or a stay at home parent. (There is an excellent article about this in relation to how motherhood is so undervalued on Ask Moxie, which is well worth reading).

The bottom line is, should be, that we must accept that while some girls aspire to grow up to be an engineer or scientist, that they may choose to get there wearing a pink sparkly dress and high heels. Some women might choose to stay home with their children/get their nails done/bake a pie/go for cocktails with the girls, and that doesn’t mean that they are letting down the sisterhood. Wearing makeup doesn’t in itself make me oppressed, just like earning the same as my husband doesn’t mean I #dontneedfeminism.

So you see I’d got it all figured out.

Then my three year old son asked me for a princess dress.

And my instinctive reaction was: this is too much. Pink snowflake leggings are one thing, purple snow boots, long hair, Star Wars t shirts, pink eye shadow occasionally (but usually while wielding a sword and an eyepatch), a silver ‘space suit’ coat, a dinosaur jumper, penguin leggings. These are all things, which when combined, say, at most: androgyny. They leave a question mark hanging over his head, a gender mystery, which is no closer to being solved on hearing his unisex name. They do not, in my humble opinion, scream GIRL.

A dress screams girl. I don’t think I want him to get a dress.

But he is Princess Aurora, Briar Rose, Sleeping Beauty, he needs a sparkly blue dress and a yellow crown like in the book Mama. To be honest, he never really asks for much, so I agree to give it some consideration. I tell him we’ll go to the shops and just have a look.

In the changing room of TK Maxx I reflect that I have possibly never seen my son so happy. Are those tears of joy pricking his eyes? ‘I must go and show Daddy!’, he declares, and off he goes in a rustle of tulle and sequins, out onto the department store floor, to proudly show his father, who mercifully, is about as right on as they come and who nods approvingly, ‘You look lovely’.

‘Hopefully the sales assistant will assume he’s a girl’, I hear myself think and I’m horrified with myself. It’s not that I’m ashamed of him, certainly not, but it’s protection I suppose. I don’t want people to look at him and write him off as flawed, as one of ‘those‘ kids: the ones who get beaten up at school. I have no desire for him to be one of those kids either, but this is bigger than him, and I also don’t want him to be just another boy (100% BOY!), for who being ‘like a girl’ is basically a byword for being a right twat. Pun intended.

But he’s not just another boy. This is who he is, this is who we have raised him to be, twirling around with a paintbrush as a magic wand. I buy the dress. I determine to see through what I have started, to be proud of him, so he can be proud of himself. Like a girl, or not.

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When I was half way through writing this post, they had a short but very interesting discussion on this exact topic on Woman’s Hour, which you can listen to by clicking the link.

thirteen month update.

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Appearance and Growth:
This month will forever be known as the month of teething. All four molars are finally with us, but not before almost driving us to the brink of our sanity because 3.15am IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE TIME TO GET UP FOR THE DAY EVEN IF YOUR TEETH HURT AND YOU NEED TO CHEW ON SOMEONE’S LEG TO MAKE IT FEEL BETTER. The low point was when I went to rub some Calpol gel on his gums and noticed that his mouth was full of blood. Fun times!

On the move:
Two words: first. steps. Yaw! It’s still totally as exciting the second time around when you plonk your child onto the floor and watch them stand, then wobble, then kind of fall forward with their feet moving from underneath them until you’re like, ‘Yes! That counted! Those were actual freaking steps!’. He’s a bit steadier now and is letting go of the sofa, taking a couple of steps himself and then grabbing back on, so yeah, exciting.

Food and drink:
Molars = whole new world of chewing. This guy can eat whole tomatoes now. An achievement yes? Also, Rich Tea biscuits. A world of sugary madness.

Playing:
I don’t know, I feel like there’s been a bit of a cognitive shift this month (do I say that every month? Probably), and suddenly we’re playing games like hide and seek (he hides behind the sofa, I find him, he hides behind the sofa again, repeat forever while he laughs like a drain), and he can do cute things like if you ask him to play the drums he will bang both his hand on the nearest surface. Just make sure the nearest surface isn’t your face, because I’ve been there.

Sleep:
I think we’re down to one nap. To non-parents this is probably the least interesting news ever, (let’s face it to parents of children who are not this particular child this is only mildly interesting), but to me, this is awesome stuff. He’s up all morning, then goes down at around 11am and sleeps (usually, touch all the wood) for a couple of hours, then goes to bed any time past 6.30pm. It’s the best and it frees up so much time that we can do stuff without having to worry about tired babies. Now if he would only stop waking up so freaking early it would be pretty much perfect.

Language:
This guy? King of animal noises. He does so many now and also does the signs for elephant and rabbit and a couple of others. Before he would just do them if we asked (incessantly, because it’s always funny), but now if he sees pictures of animals in books he will do the right noises or sign and has also started to point to pictures and ask what they are (dat?). If he picks something up and you ask him, ‘Oh is that your hat?’ he puts it straight on his head. I like to do this when he’s eating spaghetti and my husband is on bath duty.

Personality:
Man, if you had asked me this at the start of the month in the days known as ‘teething hell’ I would have been like, ‘this child is the clingiest one year old in the history of ever’, and had somehow convinced myself that it would never, ever change. I am apparently still to learn that no phase, good or bad, ever lasts that long when it comes to small children. Right now he is super playful and affectionate, very into putting his head on people’s laps to get cuddles and still very into monopolising any reading that takes place with demands for Maisy Mouse.

This boy.

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Can we talk about this boy for a moment?

With his eyes still slightly awonk and his mad dog hair and the biggest. mouth. in. the. world.

God I love him.

He has been cutting all four of his first molars for approximately three years now and man, the drool! The runny nose! The 3.15am wake ups! Ugh. But through it all he will laugh like a drain and do his little horse impression with such seriousness and I will forgive him for not letting me put him down for the first three hours of the morning.

(My husband took these photos, obviously, which is why they have fancy things like depth of field and actual focus.)

He ain’t heavy.

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We entered into the two year age gap thing more than a little naively. I was the first in my friendship group to have one child, let alone two so I didn’t have many people to get advice from. And let’s be clear here, having a newborn when your toddler is barely past his second birthday can sometimes make you feel like you might stab yourself in the eye with a fork just because a stint at A and E in acute pain sounds like a nice break.

But then suddenly the little one isn’t a baby any more, and then big one isn’t a fiery ball of toddler rage any more, and what you’re left with is this: two best friends who will do anything to make each other laugh.

One Love.

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I think, after three years of trying, that I made have found a not only edible, but rather lovely sugar free cake. OMG!

They’re actually muffins and from the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook by Gill Rapley, but are perfect for first birthdays or if you’re on a health kick. They’re also dairy free and could be made gluten free very easily. My husband refers to them as fun free but that’s because he’s an asshat.

To make 12 muffins you’ll need:

2 beaten eggs
100ml of sunflower oil
1tsp of vanilla extract (I subbed this for orange extract because I’d run out of vanilla and I think it was a good call)
225g of self raising flour
2 medium carrots, grated
2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and grated
100g dates, finely chopped
50g desiccated coconuts
50g pecan or walnuts, finely chopped (we left these out due to an allergy, but I imagine they’d be great)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180c and line a muffin tray with 12 cases.
Put the eggs, oil and vanilla into a bowl and mix well. Sift the flour into another bowl and add the carrots, apples, dates, coconut, nuts and spices. Stir and make a well in the centre. Add egg mix and fold together.
Spoon the mix into the muffin trays and bake for 15 – 25 minutes until golden brown and springy, then remove and leave to cool.

Light a candle, let your cousins blow it out and enjoy.