Thursday, 23 November 2017

Why I'm Not Jumping On The Elf On A Shelf Bandwagon




As December rolls in, my social media feeds will start to fill up with photos of self-proclaimed naughty elves wreaking havoc in their adopted homes. There are Pinterest boards full of ideas, whole websites dedicated to suggestions for hilarious antics for those pesky elves. Every morning, once kids are packed off to bed, my Facebook timeline will be filled with parents sharing their elf on the shelf setups for their kids to discover the following day. And below the photos, comments will appear from other committed elf-on-the-shelfers saying how wonderful it all is. 

And that's fine, you do whatever you want to do in your home to make Christmas as wonderful as you want it to be for your kids. And, by all means, proudly share the snaps to Facebook, I can just scroll by, but I won't be joining in. I'm no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas. I am all for Christmas. I love the build-up, I love decorating the tree, I love walking through Manchester when all the trees are lit up by twinkling lights. But this elf on the shelf thing just doesn't sit well with me. Here's why:

1. I don't think threats work
Parenting through threats just isn't a good way of parenting, is it? Either you end up doling out a ridiculous number of harsh in-the-moment threats or you have to renege on them and lose your edge. I hate the whole 'Santa won't bring you any presents if you're naughty' thing. I hate the fake calls to Father Christmas to report bad behaviour. I think it's unkind. As adults, we're in on the secret that Father Christmas isn't real, do we really need to exploit our power further by using Christmas presents as a threat to our children?

2. They're really creepy
I'm just not comfortable with the idea of telling my kids they're being spied on. Who? Oh, him. He's just a tiny creep who's going to watch you for the next 24 days, critique your behaviour and then report back to Father Christmas who will decide whether you get any presents or not. Woah, isn't that a bit much? Are we really expecting children to behave impeccably for the whole of December? Are we expecting them to stop being children just for the sake of impressing a (some might say hypocritically) badly behaved elf? 

3. Father Christmas is a fairytale, a legend, a thing of magic
Christmas is something pure and innocent and magical. Or it was until we invented these undercover agents to spy on every kid. I don't want to exploit the magic of Christmas. I love the magic of Christmas. I am always looking for ways to add a little extra magic, I'm just not sure elves complete with threatening 'your behaviour is very bad and I'm going to have to tell father Christmas' is the right way to do it. I don't think Christmas should be a discipline technique, and that seems to be a big part of how the elves are used. 

4. Christmas is magical enough already
Elf on the shelf wasn't a thing when I was a growing up. I remember I always felt like something was missing. Christmas just wasn't magical and my childhood was terrible without... oh no, wait, everything was fine. Christmas is magical. Not that it needs to be, really. But it is. There's a mythical man in a red suit who delivers present with the help of some flying reindeer. There's a stocking full of gifts, a tree covered in fairy lights and 24 foil wrapped chocolates in the lead up to the big day. It couldn't get any more magical. Elf on the shelf is just another something else, another layer, and I just don't really see the point. I love Christmas but I am happy with it staying in the realm of 1990 Christmas levels, I don't need to add a mischevious elf to pump things up to 2016 festive overload. 

5. It's going to get awkward
At some point, Christmas is going to get awkward. My kids are going to reach that 'is he real' stage of childhood and there will be an awkward period where nobody is ready to publically admit that Father Christmas is actually just me stumbling around with a stocking of presents in the early hours of Christmas Eve. And that is going to be awkward enough without having to endure a whole month of putting out mischevious elves that my kids already know aren't real. I can't do that to myself, motherhood is humiliating enough as it is. 

What do you think of the elf on a shelf craze?

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

15 Months: A Toddler Update





Ember is 15 months in a couple days. That’s pretty big. By this point in her big sister’s life, I had written tens of blog posts detailing her every move. Those early steps, the first words, it was all written down here for me to keep. And, um, this time I haven’t done that. I’ve only written a handful of posts focusing on my second born and most of those were about how terrible her birth was (I still haven’t forgiven her for that).

Well, it’s not because I love her less. When you have just one child, you can’t imagine loving another as much. It feels impossible that there could be space for that much love in your heart. But then a second baby arrives and your heart bursts straight out of your ribcage. You love them just as fiercely as you do the first.

And yet, I haven’t chronicled her every move on the blog. Why? Partly because I’m busy. Not too busy to notice her, but too busy to sit down and write it all down. When Ebony was little, I had a big fat maternity leave to enjoy. This time, not so much. Being self-employed means work doesn’t really stop, it slowed down, for sure, but it didn’t stop. So the naptimes where I would once have sat and blogged, instead I sat and worked.

And, partly, because it’s not quite so new this time. I haven’t written a blog post about her snot (yeah, I actually did do this for Ebony, sorry, the world) because I knew there would be snot. I knew what to expect the second time, I wasn’t a 25-year-old wide-eyed bunny caught in the shitstorm that is new motherhood. I was a seasoned pro. I didn’t sit down at the end of the day and wonder what the hell I had just survived. I just got on with it. And so, in the future, when Ebony and Ember sit down to gaze at their virtual baby books, my youngest will probably be left feeling a little unloved.

So, I thought I’d write a little update on how she is because she’s lovely and she’s changing a lot every week. She’s started trying to talk now. Not little baby words, but jabbering away to us as though she’s part of the conversation. She has a few words, ‘more’, ‘mama’ and ‘potty’, for example. But this week she’s been trying to say more. Chattering away to anyone who will listen, making absolutely no sense.

She doesn’t like being told no. She doesn’t like being rushed. Or wearing hats. She wants to be mostly naked as much as possible. She likes putting her own trousers on, and pauses to clap her hands whenever she successfully gets a leg in. She likes putting shoes on, her at feet rammed into whatever shoes she can find. She likes wearing her big sister’s headbands, she wanders into the room with them already in place, then gives a huge smile so she can be admired.

She has a big cheesy grin and she’s just learned how to smile for the camera. Anytime she spots a phone or a camera, she grins, A big toothy grin that forces her eyes closed and her cheeks out. And she likes playing with dolls and soft toys. She carries them around with her, cuddles them tight and forces them head first into the pram. She spends hours looking at books, just like her big sister, I find her hunched over, slowly turning the pages, looking at the pictures.

She likes walking by herself. She puts her shoes on and waits by the front door when it’s time to collect her big sister from school. And she walks next to me, holding my hand, the whole way there. She climbs onto anything and everything we pass and cries when I retrieve her from stranger’s gardens. She yells hiya to all of the dogs we pass, and wave at the toddlers being pushed by in prams. And when we get to her sister, she holds her hand out expectantly and cries if it is not immediately grabbed. And then we walk home the three of us, hand in hand, Ember giggling away to herself as Ebony tells us about her day.

And she loves to draw. Hours spent watching her big sister write, colour and craft have influenced my inquisitive little girl. She scribbles on scraps of paper, in colouring books, on toys and on the table. Felt tips have to be kept strictly out of her reach. She likes pushing prams and trolleys, filling them with toys and then walking them around the room.

She is more sociable than I remember her sister being at this age. I always felt like Ebony was happy alone when she was a toddler, she would play happily by herself at playgroup. But Ember is different, she walks over to other kids and copies what they’re doing, pushing her face close to theirs and smiling. She wants to play with them, she wants a playmate just like she has at home.

And she loves her sister so much. I hear them laughing together as I cook dinner, the two of them running around the living room, tumbling over and giggling loudly. She belly laughs, huge bursts of laughter that tumble out all over the living room floor. Her sister will do anything to make her laugh. She throws herself to the floor, she drops things, she pulls faces, anything to see her baby sister smile. In the mornings, she climbs over to her big sister and lays on top of her, her arms wrapped around her in a tight cuddle, a smile on her face.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Christmas Eve Pyjamas: My Favourites





I used to think it was just my mum who organised special new pyjamas for us every Christmas Eve, but I now realise this is a universal tradition enjoyed by many. I used to love having new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, even now it's one of my favourite things about the festive period. 

I think Christmas is one of my favourite responsibilities as a mum (not that it's a mum's job, obviously, but it is something I take control of in my house. Laurie is literally the worst gift giver. He buys everything on Christmas Eve in an angry overpriced rush. I couldn't inflict such disappointment on my children) and Christmas Eve pyjamas are an important part of that. Here are a few of my favourites: 


Are new pyjamas a Christmas Eve tradition in your house? 

Monday, 20 November 2017

The Importance Of Spending One-to-one Time With Each Child


When you're caring for a newborn baby, it feels impossible to make time for your first born. Games are played and stories are read over the head of a feeding baby, as you try to juggle the demands of two children at once. Some days you feel like a superhero for keeping everybody safe and happy and loved, and other days you feel like a failure because everybody (you included) cried at the same time. 

When Ember was about nine months old, we went on a family holiday to Majorca.  During that holiday, I was overwhelmed with the realisation that Ebony was growing up. Growing taller and funnier and more confident, she felt so grown up all of a sudden. Ember was feeding less frequently and getting a little less dependent on me, so I decided to start planning some things to do with just Ebony. Thanks to the free wi-fi at the apartment, I ended up booking lots of theatre tickets so I could take Ebony to see various shows. 

One of those shows was on Saturday. We went, just the two of us, a whole day out by ourselves. We got the train into Manchester, we got some takeout lunch and ate it by the water at Media City. Then we watched the show, The Hunting Of The Snark, and it was amazing. Ebony belly-laughed most of the way through. Then we headed back to Manchester and popped into a cafe to get a vegan brownie each. And then it was time to go home. We were only gone for five hours but it felt like a mini-holiday because it was so refreshing to spend some quality time with just Ebony. It's something we try to do regularly and something I feel is really important because:

1. It used to always be just the two of us
For four and a half years, Ebony was the sidekick who never left my side. She didn't have to compete for my attention or share me with anyone else. She was my best friend and my partner in crime (we committed no crimes). And now things are different. There is another little girl on the scene. And my two little girls love each fiercely. And they are each other's partners in crime (they commit many crimes). And the days of Me & Ebony against the world are over, for she has a new sidekick now. And so sometimes I like to have a few hours where it's just the two of us again because I don't ever want us to lose that bond. 

2. I get plenty of time with her sister
One of the many genius things about a four year age gap is that you end up with one in school and one at home, So, you get to relive those lovely newborn days properly. You're not running after a toddler or negotiating with a preschooler, you're lounging on the sofa in pyjamas just like you should be. When Ebony is at school, I get the whole day with her little sister. We get to do so many of the things I did with Ebony when she was a toddler. So it seems only fair that I get some along time with the bigger one, too. 

3. We can do different things
Toddlers are lovely and a lot of fun. But they're crap at sitting nicely in restaurants, they shout over shows and they run havoc in the cinema. There are a lot of things that toddlers just can't do. Taking Ebony out by herself means we get to do things that would be otherwise impossible. Or, rather, not impossible but bloody hard work. So, we save up those things and do them when it's just the two of us. 

4. The years pass quickly
Every so often, I stop for a moment to really look at Ebony and I'm shocked by how grown up she seems. Her limbs are longer, leaner and stronger than they used to be. Her words are chattier, funnier and, um, make more sense. She's growing up. It's happening quickly and without me really noticing. If I don't stop and savour these moments, they will soon be gone and she will be grown. I don't want to put things off for another time, I want to soak up as much of both of my girls while they're still little and want to spend time with me. 

5. Life is pretty chaotic
School takes up a huge chunk of time. And then there's drama. And seeing friends. And family. And before you know it, there isn't really much time for just hanging out. The time we do spend together as a family feels chaotic. It's me trying to get everybody ready in the morning while Ebony reads her school book and Ember screeches in the background. Chats on the way home from school where I can't really hear what Ebony is saying because of the sound of cars in the distance and her sister asking her snacks. Rushed bedtimes and late starts and rushing to stay on top of things. None of that feels like quality time.  

6. I want to strengthen our bond
I want my girls to love each other and like each other and always be a part of each other's lives. But I also want to protect my own relationship with each of them. I want to treat them as individuals and have special memories with each of them. I want to really know them and love them for who they are. And to achieve that, I need to invest time in each of them. 

7. It gives us opportunity to reconnect 
It's hard being five. You have to concentrate in school, social relationships are complex, people say mean things, you feel left out or upset or cross. There are big emotions you can't always put into words. You're tired or poorly or you have growing pains. There's a lot going on. It's important you feel loved and accepted and secure at home, and how can you achieve that without quality time with your family? I need to make time to reconnect with her because sometimes life is too busy and I miss her. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Our Family Christmas Eve Traditions



I’m not even apologising for saying the C word in November, I’ve been in Christmas mode for months. I have already finished all of my Christmas shopping, I have bought some new tree decorations and my Christmas Eve pyjamas are waiting patiently in my wardrobe. In summary, I am ready for you, Christmas. I’m not even ashamed of how ready for Christmas I am.

I am not a last-minute kind of woman when it comes to the festive period, I can’t handle the stress of trudging round overcrowded overheated shops in December, it is not for me. I need to know I have everything ready well in advance.

Personalised Gifts Shop has put together a PDF full of ideas for how you can add a little extra magic to your Christmas Eve. I thought I’d share a few of our family Christmas Eve traditions with you:



1. A trip to the theatre
We started this when Ebony was younger, every Christmas Eve we go to see a matinee Christmas show in Manchester. I love going to the theatre and it’s an experience I love sharing with Ebony. This year, we’re going to see Elf The Musical at The Lowry. Elf is one of my favourite Christmas films so there is really no way of accurately explaining my excitement to you.

2. Sushi for dinner
This isn’t exactly a standard Christmas Eve tradition, but it’s something we’ve been doing since Ebony was born. Laurie is chief sushi maker in this house but it takes ages. This means he’s usually pretty reluctant to the idea of making it. So, I made it a tradition that we eat sushi for dinner on Christmas Eve and now he has to make it at least once a year. Ebony loves sushi so it’s something she really looks forward to as well.

3. A soak in the tub
When I was little, a bath was a prerequisite for getting your special Christmas Eve pyjamas. They would be waiting for us on the stairs as soon as we climbed out the bath. I can still remember it really well, the excitement building, it always seemed like that was the moment the Christmas magic started in our house. I do the same for my family now, Christmas Eve baths followed by new pyjamas and a new book waiting outside the bathroom door.

4. Christmas Eve boxes
In recent years, I’ve just put the pyjamas and book at the top of the stairs, but this year, I’ve invested in some Christmas Eve boxes. I bought plain ones so that I can decorate them and personalise them. Hopefully I will actually get around to doing that, otherwise, it will be weird that there are plain wooden boxes outside the bathroom. The boxes will contain new pyjamas, a new book, some hot chocolate, some marshmallows and something to watch on TV. Then it will be time to drink our hot chocolates cuddled up on the sofa, watching whatever it is on TV (probably something short because by this point excitement levels will be painfully high) before bed.

5. The magic
Then it will be time to leave things out for Santa. A mince pie, some amaretto (what? That’s definitely what Santa drinks) and a carrot for the reindeer. Ebony usually takes her stocking upstairs and pops it on the end of the bed, but this was very stressful last year when she woke up as I was trying to fill it at 1am. I ended up having to lie in bed with her for hours waiting for her to fall asleep. By the time I’d sorted her stocking and gone to bed, I had about two hours of sleep before it was time to get up. I can’t do that again. So this year I’m hoping to convince her to leave the stocking downstairs.

Once all that is done, it’ll be time to read their new Christmas Eve books in bed. Then hopefully everyone will be ready for bed.

This is a collaborative post.


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