Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Some People Eat Animals

September is Vegan Mofo, a month of blogging related to vegan food. I signed up last year, and managed to scrape together a few posts without proper planning/adequate time/much sleep, and I enjoyed doing it. So, I decided to give it a go this year, but with proper planning, plenty of time and shit loads of sleep.

Obviously, that didn’t work out. After months of having “Think about Vegan Mofo posts” on my to do list, I have achieved nothing. I haven’t had any sleep, and I don’t have much time. But, damnit, I’m going to manage a few posts somehow.

My daughter is two and a half, and has been vegan since birth. She knows that we are vegan, and she knows that other people aren’t. She knows that we only eat vegan food, and that not all food is vegan. She knows that we only use certain soaps, baby wipes etc because these are vegan, and that not all products are vegan. But she doesn’t really know what vegan means yet.

I’m not about to sit down my two and a half year old and start explaining about rape racks, debeaking and mastitis. She just won’t get it, and I’m already short on sleep so I don’t really want to risk any nightmares.

She’s not old enough to understand death, I know this because I foolishly tried to teach her a life lesson once when I saw a dead hedgehog. She thought I was telling her a cool story and made me repeat it many, many times. I don’t want to end up talking about unwanted chicks from the egg industry repeatedly to a toddler with wide eyes and a smile on her face.

But, the other day, while we were baking fudge, I thought I would try to explain to her what veganism is.

Me: Ebony, do you know what vegan is?
Ebony: I vegan!
Me: Yes, but do you know what that means? It means that we don’t eat animals.
Ebony: Ha! Hahahaha. (she thought this was a hilarious joke)
Me: We don’t eat animals, but other people do.
Ebony: *gasp*

She stayed looking horrified for a few seconds, before turning back to her fudge and telling me that she was vegan again.

You can find out more about Vegan Mofo here.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Last Wedding We Were Invited To

One of my oldest friends was married this month, and we were invited to share in their beautiful day. I’ve known this friend since I started infant school. We used to play imagination games in the playground, watched horror films together at sleepovers, and went through our first heartbreaks at around the same time. We go way back.
Ebony loved the last wedding we went to (it was her best friend’s parents’ wedding), and spent most of the day hiding under tables with the bridesmaids, doing handstands (that didn’t look anything like handstands) and dancing with her best friend. It was lovely, and I was excited about her busting some moves on the dance floor at this wedding too.
The wedding was lovely. The bride looked perfect, the bridesmaids were beautiful, all of the guests were wearing their best smiles. The venue was beautiful, with a red carpet leading from the gardens to the towering white columns at the doorway. There were petal-filled birdcages, vintage books, and candles covering every table, The smell of sick wafted through the air.
Oh, right, yeah. So, Ebony was sick all over their vintage-inspired, handcrafted, long slaved-over, impeccable wedding.
She was one of two (I think) children at the wedding, the other was a slightly older, much less vomit-y boy who I didn’t see causing any trouble. Ebony, being two and a half, is a master of causing trouble. After shouting “GERROF!” (this roughly translates to the way a Yorkshire farmer might say get off) very loudly during the ceremony readings, and lying flat on her back in the (limited floor space of the) doorway of the reception venue, and stealing a collection of flowers from the bridesmaid’s bouquets, I thought the worst was over.
She then shouted “I AM BEING QUIET!” over the father of the bride’s speech, then cried (loudly) in the next room when Laurie took her out. When the food arrived, she ate her soup with a spoon and knife, flicking it perilously close to my beautiful People Tree dress on more than one occasion, and announced to the person sitting next to us that she needed a “big poo” during the main course.
As the desserts were being brought out, Ebony effortlessly opened her mouth like a fish, and a mountain of multi-coloured projectile vomit landed on the table. Without thinking, I grabbed her and made a dash for the toilets. A real mum would have grabbed the goody bag from under the table to use as a sick bag, but I was consumed with how mortifying the sick was and just wanted to get Ebony away from the table. The toilets, it turned out, were quite far in running-with-sickly-toddler-speed, and Ebony started throwing up again as we were passing the bar. Luckily, by this point we were out of the dining room and well away from the cake, but there was a lot of sick. I had to run whilst trying simultaneously to protect my dress (this was my number one priority, of course), stop sick pouring on the floor, and not let Ebony choke on her own vomit. This should probably be a sports day race, it’s really hard.
I eventually put her down in the toilets and told her she could be sick in the toilet now if she wanted, to which she replied that she felt “much better now, Mummy.” I then stripped her off, tried to wipe the sick from the folds in her neck, tried to get the sick off my boob (sorry, beautiful People Tree dress, I failed you) and decided to head to the car. I thought the bar would still be empty as people ate their dessert. It wasn’t.
Turns out the guests were pretty quick eaters, so there was a crowd of people gathering not far from a big splat of sick. I left Ebony, wearing only knickers and a necklace made of undigested risotto, and ran to the bar to alert them to the sick. Then, avoiding the eyes in the room, I ran Ebony to the car where I attacked her with baby wipes, covered her in blanket, and sent her home with Laurie.
Now I remember why we had a child-free wedding.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Great Adventures Gone Awry

Sometime last year I decided to start going on weekly adventures with Ebony. It was as much about forcing myself out into the cold as it was about encouraging Ebony to love the outdoors. I didn’t want her to be stuck in the offensively bright confines of a softplay centre when she could be climbing trees, searching for conkers and tumbling down grassy mounds.
I wanted to instill in her a sense of adventure, fearlessness, confidence and a love of nature. I wanted her to be one of the kids who has seen native wildlife in their natural habitat, played on greenbelt land, and made use of the wonder and enjoyment that the great outdoors has to offer. I blogged about why I wanted to go on weekly great adventures, and you can read that post here.
So, like many people with babies, we joined the National Trust, we started going for walks, and we threw ourselves into exploring our local area. Aside from the odd delayed adventure because of illness, we made it (and blogged it) to week 42 (you can read the last post here), with each post featuring photos and descriptions of our adventures. We even managed a couple of extra weeks of adventures, though I never got round to blogging about them.
Then we found out we were moving house in three weeks, so I had lots of packing to do, and had to work more to allow for a couple of weeks of easing back into it after the move so I could unpack. We moved, we unpacked, and we stopped going on adventures as I spent my weekends working. Ebony isn’t in childcare, so I work around her, writing in the evenings and when Laurie is home at weekends.
We still spent plenty of times outdoors, mostly in our new garden as we tried to tackle the rubbish left behind by the previous owners. We spent days in the paddling pool, afternoons painting in the garden, and hours pulling out weeds. We went to our local park, and plenty of other parks, but we didn’t go on any walks or adventures like we had in the past.

I didn’t have time to miss them, because I was too busy trying to fit all my work in at the weekends. Every so often, Laurie and Ebony would return home from a day out and tell me about a trip to a meadow, or a walk along the canal, and I would feel jealous, but couldn’t really see a way of making everything fit in to our already packed weekends.
Then, yesterday, we decided to spend the day as a family. This is actually quite a rare thing, unless there’s a specific thing we’re going to, because I work weekends and Laurie works weekdays. Laurie fixed the new toddler seat to his bike, and we set off up the hill to the woods. We took tubs to fill with blackberries, books to read and food to snack on.
The woods open up to reveal a private field, hidden away behind the trees. It’s not completely private, there is the odd dog walker who passes through, but mostly, it’s pretty secluded. Laurie and Ebony tried out the new bike seat, and Ebony loved it. She kept demanding to go on it again, whilst I read a bit of my book (I’m reading Submarine at the moment, it’s so good - highly recommended). Then we picked blackberries until we had enough for a crumble (we actually had way too many, so I think we’ll be eating crumble for days).

We spent a couple of hours in the field, then made our way home and spent the rest of the afternoon picking trees from the garden, baking and eating crumble. It was a lovely, wholesome day, and really made me think about how important time as a family is. So, I’m going to try and take at least half a day away from work at weekends so that we can go out as a family  and have more adventures.

How do you manage to juggle work with family life?

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Monday, 4 August 2014

Getting My Bed Back: The End(Ish) of Co-Sleeping

We never intended to co-sleep, the day before my due date, my dad took me to John Lewis to buy a beautiful white cot for the nursery. Even though I knew the baby would be sleeping in our bedroom for the first six months, I wanted the cot to be set up so I could feel that the nursery was finished. We had borrowed an adorable moses basket off a friend, with the intention of keeping it next to our bed for the first six months My daughter was born just after 9am one morning in our living room. After some skin to skin, a feed, and a costume change, she was getting sleepy. I was way beyond sleepy at this point, delirious in fact. We headed upstairs to bed, and lay her down in the moses basket fast asleep. I stayed awake gazing at her for a while, and talking excitedly about the birth, feeling completely in awe of everything, then I finally drifted off to sleep.

We spent that first day sleeping, feeding and falling in love. The next few weeks are a blur of visitors, cold cups of tea and long feeds. But what I do remember, what I'll never forget, is the crushing tiredness I felt at that time. Every inch of my being ached from exhaustion, it made my teeth hurt and my eyes sting. My daughter was nocturnal for the first week or so, spending the nights feeding and restless. I spent my days surrounded by visitors, unable to make conversation or even focus my dreary, aging eyes.
Laurie and I took turns to sleep, working in shifts throughout the night. During my shifts, try as I might, I simply could not stop myself from falling asleep. I was just exhausted, and there was nothing I could do to stay awake. I often woke up, startled, holding Ebony on the sofa. At the time, I thought that must be safer than falling asleep with her in a bed. But I quickly discovered that I was wrong.
I mentioned this accidental sofa-sleeping to a friend who visited in those first few weeks. Her boyfriend looked shocked, and told me about a friend of a friend whose baby had suffocated this way. Visiting new parents and telling them stories about infant fatalities is probably not always a good idea, but I'm so grateful that I was told that story. That night, as I lay awake with Ebony, I started researching co-sleeping. I read lots of websites and blogs about how to co-sleep safely, and all of them explained the dangers of falling asleep accidentally with your baby, both on sofas and in beds. Co-sleeping, it turned out, was safe, but only if done properly. You can read some safe co-sleeping guidelines here.
A couple of weeks later, Laurie went away overnight with work. As I was putting Ebony to bed that night, I decided to give co-sleeping a try. That night, I had the best night sleep I'd had since Ebony was born. Night feeds were less disruptive, Ebony woke less and fell back asleep more easily. From then on, we co-slept. I moved the cot so it was pushed up against our bed. Ebony would start the night in the cot, but come into our bed when she woke. Co-sleeping was wonderful, and I'm so glad we did it. I felt safe knowing my baby was nearby, and I think she felt the same.

We co-slept long into toddlerhood, always planning to keep her with us until she turned three. Sleeping near to parents reduces stress for the child, aids brain development and is good for the baby’s heart (more here).
A couple of months ago, when Ebony was almost two and a half, we went on a family holiday to Spain. We had a two bedroom apartment, and as soon as we arrived Ebony announced that the little bedroom was hers. And when it was bedtime on the first night, she went straight into a single bed and fell asleep. This was all completely unprompted and unexpected. She slept in that bed for the rest of the holiday, but did spend at least a couple of hours in our bed each morning (because, really, who wants to get up at 5am on holiday?).
We had recently moved house, and the week we got home from Spain, a single bed arrived for her room. We never intended for her to sleep in it just yet, but wanted her to have time to get used to it, and let her decide when she slept in it.
When the bed was set up, complete with Save the Planet bedding, Ebony couldn’t wait to sleep in it. She was excited to sleep in her own bed (“little one”) on the first night, and lay with her head on the pillow with her eyes excitedly clamped shut for a while before actually falling asleep. She has slept in her bed every night since, apart from one night when she was ill and wanted to stay with us. She is usually asleep by 7:30pm, and creeps back into our bed sometime around 4am for another couple of hours of sleep. Either that or I wake, crippled, in her bed with its ridiculously soft mattress.
If she wants to come into our bed in the middle of the night, that’s fine, or if she wants me to join her in her room that’s (back-achingly) fine. She’s only two and a half, and while she may sometimes seem pretty big to us, she is still very young, and it’s fine if she wants to sleep near us.
I am sort of sad that our co-sleeping journey has come to an end(ish), and that my little baby is growing up. But, also, she is getting pretty big, and it is a relief for me to be able to lie on the bed, as opposed to hanging precariously off the edge all night. I’m glad she still comes in for a couple of hours in the morning, because it’s nice to have those cuddles, but I do like having my bed back.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

11 Tips for Moving House with a Toddler

Two months ago (has it really been that long?!), after many months of painstaking negotiations, we eventually moved house. We said goodbye to our first family home, and moved a whole five minutes down the road. We moved while my parents were away, so we didn’t have any help in terms of packing up, but we hired removal men to make moving day easier. Unpacking is still a working progress though, I’m afraid, but we’re getting there. Anyway, we survived, and Ebony seemed to be right at home in her new house, so I wanted to share some tips about to move home with a toddler:

1. Keep stress levels to a minimum
I’ll hold my hands up here and say that we weren’t particularly good at this one. During the (many, many) months of trying to buy the house we now live in, signing papers and dealing with mortgages, we were stressed. Do whatever you can to try and keep stress levels at a minimum, so that there isn’t an unpleasant atmosphere looming in your home.

2. Prepare early
Our house buying process was quite drawn out, but I’d started packing up odd boxes soon after we sold our house. We knew we’d be moving at some point, so it seemed sensible to start packing things we rarely used into boxes. This made it all seemed more manageable, and much less time consuming, in the weeks before the move. Trying to do it all in one go is inevitably going to lead to a meltdown as your toddler battles for your attention.

3. Prepare your child
Shortly after we sold our house, I stumbled across the Usbourne First Experiences book ‘Moving House’ in my local charity shop for the bargain price of 10p. You can buy it for £3.59 from Amazon here. It’s not the most riveting book to read, but it helped Ebony to understand what moving house meant. We read the book regularly whilst we were waiting to move, and I discussed the idea of moving house with her a lot. She always seems quite excited about the new house, thanks to the lure of the play room.

4. Pack toddler items last
Ebony wasn’t at all bothered when I started packing away her clothes, but she wasn’t overly pleased to see her ‘favourite’ (read: unplayed with for months on end) toys going into boxes. I left this packing until the last minute, because I didn’t want the house move to become something that prevented her from having her favourite (read: dusty and completely unloved) things. I also packed her things separately and made sure the boxes were clearly labelled (this may be how most people pack their entire house, but our stuff sort of just got haphazardly jammed into boxes and covered in packing tape).

5. Take favourite toys with you
Instead of leaving Ebony’s stuff for the removal men, I made sure I took a box of her favourite toys with us in the car during the move. This meant that as soon as we arrived at the new house, we had access to all of her favourite things. I’m glad we did this because the removal men piled all of our boxes into an impenetrable tower in the corner of a room and it took me weeks to get through them all.

6. Keep your toddler with you on the day
This one might be a bit controversial, because I think most people take the view that it’s easier to move house with the toddler safely out of the way. We had various offers from friends and family who said they could entertain Ebony for a few hours while the move was underway, but I thought she would find it easier to witness the move. Far from feeling traumatised by seeing the removal men carry out our sofas, she seemed excited to be involved in the process. She helped me with the last minute tidy up, and then accompanied me to the new house. We arrived before the removal men, allowing us to explore the house so she could get accustomed to her new surroundings.

7. Go for an explore
Once the removal men arrived with all of the furniture, we decided to get out of their way. If you have moved to a new area, this would be a great time to check out the local park, or just have a nosy around the neighbourhood. We didn’t move far so we decided to head out and explore the garden instead. The garden was one of the lures of the new house for me. Our old garden was overlooked and never felt that private, but our new garden is totally enclosed and feels incredibly private. The house had been empty for about six months, so when we moved in the garden was completely overgrown. It was lovely to spend the afternoon exploring our new sun-drenched garden, whilst Ebony made use of the toys (trampoline, see saw and playhouse) left behind by the previous owners.

8. Use distraction
Moving always takes longer than anticipated, so to avoid having a fed up toddler on your hands, have some distraction tricks up your sleeve. I bought a slide from eBay for £11, and kept it hidden in the shed until moving day. When we arrived at the new house, Ebony was thrilled to see the slide, though it was somewhat overshadowed by the trampoline, and spent ages happily playing in the garden whilst the removal men finished unloading.

9. Unpack their room first
Make sure you have all of their things to hand, so that you can get their bed for the night set up before bedtime. Have their favourite bedding, cuddly toys and pyjamas to hand so that bedtime feels as normal as possible. We were still co-sleeping at the time, so I just made sure our bed was set up and made in good time.

10. Stick to routine
Routine helps toddlers to feel safe, and while we don’t have a strict routine, bedtime was between 6 and 7 when we moved. I made sure Ebony was fed, bathed and in pyjamas at the usual time, and she fell asleep with no trouble at 6pm, completely exhausted after a busy day.

11. Unpack slowly
Moving house is a major life event for you, so imagine how it feels for your toddler! Being a toddler is hard enough as it is, without these huge changes, so expect at least a few difficulties in the weeks following the move. Chances are your toddler has been feeling a little left out of late, with all the packing and organising you’ve been doing, so now is the time to spend some quality time with your child. It doesn’t matter if some of your boxes stay packed a little longer than you’d like, or if you haven’t quite sorted out the spare bedroom, what matters is that your child feels safe and happy in their new home.

Have I missed anything off this list?

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