Thursday, 9 August 2018

Playtime at the Whitworth Art Gallery This Summer




We only get five weeks off for the summer holidays in Stockport (and two weeks at WHIT to compensate) so the summer holidays don't feel too long. With a two-week holiday planned and Ebony spending a week at a holiday club, we really only have two weeks to fill. One of those weeks was the very first week, and I decided I didn't want to waste a second of it.

I had decided we should pop in to see Laurie in Manchester, so I looked for somewhere to have a day out in the city centre. Last holidays, we went to the People's History Museum (amazing) and the Football Museum (Ebony has not stopped talking about the football training she did there... best 35 minutes of her life). We quite often go to Manchester Art Gallery because it's not far from Laurie's work and they usually have good activities on for the kids. But the kid's studio is at the top of the stairs and there is no door so I would spend the whole visit just trying to stop Ember hurling herself down the stairs. One-year-olds are no fun. So, I was looking for somewhere different to visit. 

After a bit of online research, I decided to take them to the Whitworth Art Gallery. Located on Oxford Road, it's a little further than we usually like to venture, but the summer activities sounded really good so I figured it would be worth it. We've only ever been once before when Ebony was a toddler and I remember being really impressed. 



It's a half hour walk from Manchester Piccadilly to the art gallery but I much prefer to walk than faff around with city centre buses. There are huge painted bees scattered across Manchester at the moment as part of the Bee In The City Trail, so we decided to try and find a few of these on the way. I hoped this would stop Ebony moaning about the walk. I downloaded the Bee In The Cit app which cost £1.99 and we ticked off all of the bees we found. By the end of the day, we have found 16 bees which Ebony was pleased with. And, as hoped, the search for the bees distracted her from the walk. In fact, she kept making us go the long way just so she could find more bees. 

We had a little picnic in Whitworth Park before heading into the gallery. As part of their summer holiday activities this year they are running Playtime. Essentially, it was a collection of toys, games and activities scattered around the art gallery to keep little ones entertained. With a four and a half year age gap, it's not always easy to find activities that work for both kids, but this was perfect. First up, we found a picnic basket of assorted shapes on a rug. Ebony made some patterns while Ember tried to eat the shapes, so everybody was happy. 




Through in the next time, there was a baby area set up. Ember borrowed a few of the toys from the baby area and had the time of her life hurling herself onto the cushions, banging sticks together and banging a drum. Meanwhile, Ebony was playing (I think) Minecraft on a computer with the help of a member of staff. Once Ember had terrified all of the babies in the baby area, we went down to the sandpit. The sandpit was huge and the sand was clean (hooray!) and there were lots of toys for the kids to play with. They had pipes and jugs and colanders. It was pretty busy when we were there but there was still plenty of room for all the kids to have fun. 

Once they'd had enough of the sand (which took quite a while), we headed out to the lawn games. It was a lovely sunny day and there were picnic blankets set up on the grass. They had huge wooden dominoes and Jenga and other games set up. There were families and friends sitting around playing games in the sun. My two found a huge connect four and busied themselves with that. 



I'd spotted some easels set up inside so I wanted to swing by and have a look at them before we left. They had plenty of blank paper and pencils ready so the kids could make a few sketches of their own. Ebony drew a bee (obviously) and Ember drew her entire family (represented by just a few squiggles) and then spent ten minutes running up and down a ramp while screaming (she has not yet got the hang of appropriate art gallery etiquette). 

We were probably there for an hour and a half and the kids enjoyed every minute of it. I think Ebony could happily have spent longer there but you have to rush when your toddler sister is running rampage around art. The Playtime activities were great and I would definitely recommend paying a visit to the Whitworth gallery this summer if you're in the area. 

Playtime runs 11 am - 3 pm every day until the 31 August 2018. You can find out more on the Whitworth Art Gallery's website.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Wishing Life Would Slow Down A Little



Lately, I've been plagued by the realisation that life is passing too quickly. Weekends pass by in the blink of an eye, then another week is gone, then a term and now a whole school year. It doesn't feel possible that the summer holidays are almost upon us again. 

My baby isn't a baby at all anymore. She is almost two years old, a fully fledged toddler with the attitude to prove it. She is desperate to race ahead through life, she isn't willing to slow down for even a millisecond. She watches the things her big sister can do and then demands that she be allowed to do them too. She refuses to sit on a toddler toilet seat now, instead, balancing precariously over the bowl as though she may disappear down the toilet any moment. She doesn't want to hold my hand to walk down the street, she wants to walk beside me independently as her sister does. In the mornings, when I try to do Ebony's for school, Ember barges in front of her and demands that I do hers first, as though the fact she has none is irrelevant. 

And if I worry about how quickly Ember is growing up, she has nothing on her big sister. The past couple of years have flown by. When I think back to life before Ember, I remember nursery runs and lunchtimes at the breakfast bar and days out in Manchester. I remember Ebony's chubby cheeks and her hand gripped tightly in mine. That little girl feels like a distant memory now. This year, she has grown, taller and leaner, her limbs have thinned out and her face has lost the telltale chub of a little girl. She knows more now, she remembers things, and she chats away about all the things she has learned and played at school. 

Sometimes, there are moments that feel perfect and I wish I could bottle them and keep them forever. Little snatches of time that I never want to forget. My two girls, little but growing as there are now, creating perfect memories that I know will one day escape me. I want to remember how it feels to be cuddled tightly by a toddler, or needed by a heartbroken six-year-old. I want to remember their huge excited smiles, their laughter, and the games they have played together in the garden this summer. 

I wish I had a huge shelf of bottled memories that I could replay over and over again in my old age. When my little girls have grown and gone, I want to look back and inhale these moments over and over again. I want time to slow down that I can commit these days to memory. I want the summer to pass slowly, with plenty of time for exploring and adventure and just enjoying each other, and I want to remember this feeling of what life is like right now. It is easy to get caught up in the stress and the chaos and feel like this bit of life is hard, but I know that one day I will look back and long for the love and the warmth of this time of my life. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

7 Things That Make Modern Motherhood More Difficult Than It Needs To Be



Parenting isn’t easy, at all. I don’t know whether this is something people have always felt, or whether the idea of parenting as a struggle is a new phenomenon. I don’t know whether mothers in all cultures plonk themselves down at the end of the day and let out a sigh of relief at having gotten through another day, but I kind of doubt it. It seems like this struggle is cemented in the way we live our lives in the west. It complicates the way we hold ourselves as mothers, the way we interact with other mothers and even the way we bond with our babies.

That’s not to say motherhood should be perfect and glossy and easy. Of course, it shouldn’t. Life with kids is messy and chaotic and sometimes it makes you want to sit alone in a dark room for a while. But every single day shouldn’t be hard. Life shouldn’t feel like an uphill struggle. When life feels hard, we don’t manage to enjoy the days as they pass. If we’re busy begrudging motherhood, we’re less likely to appreciate the little things that make it all worthwhile - the grubby hands around our neck, the whispered I love yous and the misspelt handwritten notes left on our pillows.

Every minute doesn’t need to be perfect, but we should be able to sit down in the evening and feel positive about the day we just had. We should be able to remember the smiles and the cuddles and the pride, not just the stress and the self-doubt. Maternal mental health problems are on the rise and many women are finding the adjustment to motherhood a difficult one to make. Perhaps it has always been this way, but I doubt it. I think society is making motherhood more difficult than it needs to be, and I think once we recognise that, we will have the power to change it. Here are a few of the reasons I think parenting feels so damn hard in 2018:

1. The loss of a village
This pretty much sums it all up, doesn’t it? Generations ago, children grew into adults who stayed close to home. Families lived in the same communities and you stayed living near the friends you’d grown up with. By the time you had kids, you had a whole army of people to help you out. People relied on their friends and family for informal childcare in a way many people are unable to nowadays. In Bali, babies generally don’t touch the ground until they are six months old. Before then, they are carried at all times. The parents rely on friends and family members to help them keep their baby in arms for the first six months. I imagine there aren’t many people in the UK who could manage such a feat these days. I only live an hour from where I grew up, but that hour means I don’t have much of a village around me at short notice. For those who live even further from home, it must be even more difficult to get help when they need it.

2. Loneliness
It’s a sad fact that motherhood can be a lonely time. Babies are great, but they aren’t skilled conversationalists and the days can pass slowly when you’re not surrounded by friends to talk to. We live in our own houses with our own gardens and driveways. You can easily pass a day without leaving the confines of your own home. You can live in a house for years without ever really knowing your neighbours. The days of neighbourhoods communally raising their kids are gone. Now we have a country of lonely new parents trapped indoors, desperate to find their tribe but not knowing how to go about it. The early days can be so overwhelming that the thought of heading out to a baby group alone is just too much for some new parents. It’s a sad but very true fact that some women find motherhood to be incredibly lonely.

3. The obsession with back to ‘normal’
When you become a mother, there is a new normal, at least temporarily. Your body won’t look or feel like your own, you’ll be exhausted and you will probably lose track of your identity a little bit. Don’t worry, you’ll get it back, but it’s hard to retain your sense of self when you are in survival mode and just trying to make it through to bedtime so you can get some sleep (ha … maybe). But the media, and society, and even your friends are obsessed with you getting ‘back to normal’. They want you wearing your pre-pregnancy jeans, they want you on nights out, and they want your baby to slot into your pre-motherhood life and not change anything. But that isn’t how it works. There will be changes, some permanent, some temporary, and you won’t be ‘back to normal’ anytime soon. And that’s ok. This obsession with being ‘back to normal’ puts women under pressure to chase an unattainable dream.  

4. Technology
Technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has completely changed the modern world and, in many ways, made parenting easier. The invention of the washing machine saved women countless hours and the disposable nappy even more so. Travel is easier and more affordable than ever before. And, thanks to technology, we are better connected, better informed, and better at taking all the photos than previous generations were, and that’s all thanks to advances in technology. But, there are downsides to the technological revolution.

Smartphones and the internet are great for new parents. They allow you to search for answers to the burning questions you have during the 3 am feed. And that’s great if you’re reading trusted information from relevant sites, but it’s not great when you end up down a rabbit hole on a forum of deranged pessimists whose answer to every question is ‘that happened to my cousin and then she died’. Information is power, except when it isn’t. The sheer quantity of information available online can leave new parents not knowing where to turn. It is hard to trust your instincts when the internet is scaremongering and contradictory.

5. Society’s dislike of ‘mum culture’
Simply put, mum doesn’t equal cool in our society. Being somebody’s mum is not a feather to your cap. It doesn't buy you any extra cool points. Mums are seen as being the opposite, really. Uncool, frumpy, past it, too busy to take care of themselves. Even though there are bucketloads of mothers out there proving how untrue that is, the stereotype remains. And, as soon as you have a kid, you worry that that stereotype might be true. After all, you really do spend a lot of time worrying about teething and nappy rashes and you really don’t have as much time to spend on looking after yourself. And so you worry that your friends don’t want to hear about your life,  that they’ll think it’s boring, and so you struggle to think of things to add to conversations. It is very lonely to be surrounded by friends detailing their latest adventures while feeling you have nothing interesting to say.

6. The habit of putting on a brave face
This is just what you do, isn’t it? You don’t tell people all your inner battles in the hope they will like you, even though they’ll never really know you. You don’t tell people when you’re struggling after a traumatic birth or holed up with infected stitches, or barely surviving on such little sleep. When people ask how you are, you tell them you are fine and give them a big (albeit dead-eyed) smile to prove it. But that inability to open up and be vulnerable means many new mums are missing out on the help they need. If you don’t tell people you’re exhausted, they won’t offer to hold the baby so you can nap. If you don’t tell people you’re struggling to get on top of work, they won’t offer to take your toddler to the park for a few hours so you can get things done. It’s not always easy to be honest, but it is always worth it.

7. Judgement, or at least the idea of it
There is nothing worse than feeling like you are being judged, especially for your parenting choices. You want to be the best parent you can be, so to think others believe you are doing a bad job is just heartbreaking. We are all just doing the best we can, so can’t we just get along and be kind to each other? Why is there this obsession with tearing each other down? Sometimes, the judgement is real. Some people are incredibly judgemental and, if that affects how you feel about yourself, are better off avoided. But, I would argue, sometimes it is in your head. We worry so much about being judged that sometimes we get into the habit of feeling judged even when nobody is judging us. And media stereotypes make that worse.

The tabloids and daytime TV shows are filled with parenting stereotypes pitted against each other in ‘debates’. You know the ones, they find a mum who thinks breastfeeding is perverted child abuse and put her up against the mum who is still breastfeeding her 45-year-old son. It’s a way of getting people riled up and selling newspapers, but it also has a negative impact on new mums who are sat at home already feeling like the world is judging them. This obsession with us vs them makes parenting even more difficult to navigate.

Each of these things plays a part in making modern motherhood more difficult than it needs to be. Some people may be affected by some more than others, but I think all mothers are feeling the impact of these changes to society. The good news is you can do something to help. Ok, you can’t un-invent smartphones or force people to live closer to their mums, but you can take a positive step towards helping new mothers feel good. You can smile and be kind, and think about the words you say before they tumble out of your mouth. Be mindful of the words you say and the impact they may have. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

If you’re a new mum navigating motherhood, you can do your bit by being honest. Let yourself be vulnerable and speak truthfully with the other mothers you meet, that way you can take steps towards building a supportive community of women surviving and excelling at motherhood together.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Taylor Shaw & The Vanishing Vegan Options



When Ebony first started at school almost two years ago (how?!), it was really simple to organise vegan school dinners for her. It was so easy, in fact, that I wrote this smug little piece for the Metro so other vegan parents could replicate my success.

It was easy, I got in touch with the school’s catering company and explained that my daughter was vegan, and they said no problem and then filled the school’s freezer with vegan substitutes so my daughter could enjoy school dinners with her peers.

Then, a few weeks ago, this all stopped. The catering company, Taylor Shaw, who provide food for over 300 schools across the country, have decided to stop doing vegan options. They haven’t really explained why. At first, they blamed allergens, and then the School Food Standards (which don’t mention not providing vegan options so I got the impression they were just trying to sideline me with industry jargon by this point).

Taylor Shaw is one of many catering companies and, luckily, the others seem to be going above and beyond to ensure no pupils are left out at lunchtime. It’s a shame that, at a time when veganism is becoming more popular, a large catering company is taking such a big step backwards. And it’s frustrating when it would be so easy to veganise a number of the meals. The Taylor Shaw menus seem to rely heavily on Quorn for their vegan options so it would be easy peasy to switch the vegetarian Quorn for the vegan version and create a dish more children could enjoy.

I realise vegans are in the minority, but our numbers are growing year after year. Vegan children should have access to free school dinners just like the rest of the children. My daughter might be the only vegan at her primary school, but the primary school just up the road has four vegan pupils. If Taylor Shaw caters for 300 schools, there must be other vegan children who are affected by this move.

I have sent a complaint to the catering company detailing why I feel this policy change is a step backwards, though I have not yet heard back. I would urge the parents of other children affected by the move to complain as well. The company may not even realise how many vegan children they should be catering for unless we make ourselves heard. Please do email Taylor Shaw’s head office to complain. You can contact them on info@taylorshaw.com

Also, email me on hello@watchingyougrow.co.uk because there is strength in numbers and I think it’s important we work together to encourage the company to provide inclusive lunch options for all.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Friday, 6 July 2018

Are Your Car Tyres Safe & Legal?



If you’re driving your family around, safety is probably one of your top priorities. Safety and car snacks, anyway, because long car journeys with hungry toddlers are not fun at all. Nobody wants to get stuck in traffic with a hangry toddler in the backseat.

It’s important to check that your car tyres are safe and meet the legal requirements. To stay safe and legal with your tyres, UK law states that your vehicle must be fitted with the correct type and size of tyre for your vehicle. That means not only do you need to have the right tyres fitted, but you also need to ensure they are inflated as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Inadequately inflated tyres will cost you more in fuel costs as they are less efficient, and they could also be compromising your safety on the road.

The tread of your tyres is really important, too. In fact, the tread of the tyres is what helps the car grip to the road, and it also helps to shift water on the road. Over time, the tread on your car tyres can wear away, so it’s important to keep an eye on that. The tread helps the car to brake effectively so a worn down tyre can prove dangerous in an emergency. The legal minimum depth for the tread is 1.6 millimetres. This applies to the middle three-quarters of the tyre and must be true for the entire circumference of the tyre.

If you are found to have a tyre with a tread below the legal minimum depth, you could be fined up to £2,500 and end up with points on your license. Oh, and that’s per tyre, so if all four tyres failed to meet the legal standard then you could be fined £10,000 and potentially lose your license.

There’s no need to wait until the tread gets to 1.6 millimetres. In fact, lots of car manufacturers actually recommended that tyres are replaced when the tread reaches 3 millimetres. Once the tread drops below 3 millimetres, stopping distances increase which could be dangerous in an emergency. New tyres could improve the safety of your car, and give you some much-needed peace of mind, so it’s worth enquiring to see whether your car might benefit from a new set of tyres. Book Your Vehicle Tyres Online at Calmac Tyres Northampton.



This is a collaborative post. Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev on Unsplash

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