Sunday 29 December 2013

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #30

I love family traditions, and Christmas especially is full of them. From the new pyjamas waiting outside the bathroom on Christmas Eve, to the satsuma in the stockings on the fireplace, I love carrying on traditions for the newest generation. I also love creating our own traditions, and finding new things to incorporate into our family rituals.

Last year we decided to have sushi on Christmas Eve. Home made sushi always seems to take ages to make, and is a bit of a faff, so we rarely get round to making it. By dressing it up as a ‘Christmas tradition’, I can now guarantee myself an evening of sushi at least once a year.

I love hearing about other people’s Christmases, and how they celebrate with their families. A few of my friends reported enjoying Christmas Day walks with their families, and though we never did this growing up, I thought this sounded lovely. Christmas is such an indulgent time - chocolate for breakfast, prosecco before lunch, and presents filling the living room - I loved the idea of getting away from it all and spending some time outdoors.

So, for our thirtieth great adventure, we took a walk with my parents on Christmas Day. We drove down to Etherow Park, and walked once around the lake. It was a nice crisp day, and Ebony was able to show of her beautiful new scarf (lovingly knitted by a friend). Ebony wasn’t overly keen on walking the whole way round, but walked part way with a bit of persuasion (and chasing).

It was nice to go for a walk on Christmas Day, and Ebony was suitably tired out and ready for her nap by the time we got home. It will definitely be a part of our family Christmas from now on, because it was such a lovely way to break up the day.
Did you go for any  great adventures on Christmas Day? 

Monday 23 December 2013

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #29

As you might expect, December has been a pretty busy month. I’ve been really busy with work, and desperately trying to get everything finished in time for Christmas so I can have a break. Laurie has been doing the same, so our evenings have been spent hunched over our laptops furiously typing away in the race to get things finished. I won, and managed to finish all of my projects by Thursday. Laurie didn’t quite make it and has been tying up loose ends today, on the first day of his Christmas holidays.

Ebony has been poorly this month, the weather has been grim and time has been at a premium, but we managed to squeeze in an adventure to Delamere Forest. When I was a child, we used to buy our trees from Bolton Abbey. You choose the tree you want, and they cut it down for you. It was always exciting to be able to pick the tree we wanted (the biggest one available, obviously). After the tree had been netted, paid for and strapped to the roof of the car, we would go for a walk. It was always cold, and often wet, but we always enjoyed it.

I wanted to continue this tradition with my own family, although Bolton Abbey is a little too far from where we live now. I found a Forestry Commission site not far from us, at Delamere Forest, so we decided to go there to choose our tree. It wasn’t quite the same as Bolton Abbey, the trees were already cut so there was no trudging through muddy fields trying to find the best tree. They had lots of variety though, and it took us ages to choose one.

Ebony was dragging branches round with her, and helping us choose the best tree. At one point, she was using a discarded piece of tree as a walking stick, and very slowly patrolling the area. It took us ages to find the right tree because we needed one that would fit in the car. We wanted a nice big one but one that wouldn’t make the journey home too uncomfortable. Ebony was dressed up warm, and marching round the tree site while we were deliberating, and helped us to pick the final tree.

Once the tree had been paid for and put in the car, we decided to head into the forest for a walk. I wanted to do the Stick Man trail, which is a two mile route filled with fun activities for kids. We discovered that this was at the other end of the forest, and we’d have needed to drive round to the start. Getting Ebony into the car seat is always a hassle, so we decided instead to just do a quick route from where we were. I’m hoping we’ll make it to the Stick Man trail before it finishes next month, but we shall see.

Ebony was pretty tired by this point, and asked to go in the carrier. We walked through the forest, and immediately came across a collection of half finished dens constructed from fallen branches. The leaves on the path were ankle high and great for stomping through. If Ebony hadn’t been so sleepy, she would have loved running through the leaves, and adding to the dens. I really hope we go back over the Christmas break, because it was like a outdoors-loving child’s paradise. After a quick explore of the dens, we got back onto the path and began walking. Ebony was asleep within ten minutes, so she missed out on the real adventure, but we had a nice walk exploring the forest.

Did you manage any successful adventures this week?

The full story behind the great adventure blog challenge can be found here.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Blog Challenge: Great Adventures #27 and #28

Argh, six months in and I’ve finally fallen behind on my own bleedin’ blog challenge. Well, I’m actually on track with the challenge, sort of, I just haven’t had time to blog about it. Last week I took on a big freelance project and stopped sleeping so I could get it finished on time. There was no time for laundry, or blogging, or anything else, so that’s why this post is covering two challenges.

My lovely friend Alys came to visit a couple of weekends ago, and while we spent much of the weekend recovering from an amaretto-induced hangover, we did managed to head out for a quick walk before she got her train home. It was not a hugely successful adventure, with Ebony being mostly interested in a single tree, but at least we made it out of the house. Ebony is very northern, and as such believes that coats, hats and gloves are for the weak. As you can see from the photos, Alys is wrapped up warm, while Ebony is prancing around in just a thin dress.

Ebony has a new obsession with walking around things, usually me, in huge circles. Often at playgroups I am being circled in a semi-predatory fashion these days. Ebony found some decaying leaves and exclaimed, “Oh dear!” many, many times while Alys tried in vain to explain the concept of fungus.

Our next adventure is even worse I’m afraid. I spent all week desperately trying to get my freelance work done, and then our weekend was taken up with an ill husband, a birthday party, a sick toddler and a trip to London. It was a stressful week to say the least. As such, we didn’t really have an adventure into the wilderness as usual. However, a couple of weeks ago I had a Twitter conversation with Cathy Bussey, about getting outdoors with kids, and she said her daughter loves to go and find the moon at night. I thought that was such a lovely idea, and have been meaning to do it ever since. Unfortunately, we didn’t enjoy a moonlit walk amidst the hills while looking at stars, instead we stared up at the sky from central London.

Ebony wasn’t feeling one hundred percent on our first day in London, so we were trying to avoid the sweaty nausea of the tube, and were instead walking around the capital. To keep Ebony entertained (and holding my hand) on one such walk, we decided to look for the moon. Of course, it kept disappearing behind towering buildings, and Ebony found great enjoyment in trying to find it again. It was a bit of a cheat great adventure, but I promise to be back on track in time for next week, in fact, I should have a pretty great one to share!

Have you been on any great adventures this week?

Friday 29 November 2013

Rudolph's Christmas Wish

There’s no denying that Christmas is a magical time, especially if you have children. Ebony was 11 months old last Christmas and, despite knowing it would mostly go over her head, I was beside myself with excitement for the big day. This year Ebony will be almost two, and while that is still too young to understand the story of Christmas, I think she will absolutely love the build up to the day. Already she points out “Missmass Brees” to me as we walk through the village, and she loves the fairy lights scattered about. 

Children are full-time learners, and the festive period is no exception. Ebony will be soaking up everything she sees this Christmas, and trying to make sense of the world around her. For that reason, I believe Christmas is the perfect opportunity to teach some valuable lessons. Of course, it’s easy to teach about giving, greed and consumerism at this time of year, but we can also use Christmas as an opportunity to teach children about our relationship with animals. 

A quick internet search or a browse in the local paper is likely to reveal a number of Christmas events featuring live animals in your local area. While it may be easy to shrug this off from a “well, it is Christmas,” point of view, ignoring the animal exploitation at these events would be a missed learning opportunity for our children. 

Captive reindeers across the country will be trotted out this December to entertain paying crowds desperate to catch a glimpse of the magic of Christmas. But is the sight of two captive reindeers chained up next to a pile of polystyrene snow under the glaring lights of a shopping centre really magical? I don’t think so, and I won’t be taking my daughter to any events using wild animals this winter.

I am against the exploitation of these beautiful animals who belong in the arctic and subarctic regions of the world. I am also against the impact attending one of these events would have on my daughter. At 22 months, she is not yet old enough to question the world around her. She accepts what she sees, and as such I try to show her the world as it should be. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that live animals exist for our entertainment, or that reindeer belong in captivity. 

A report by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in July 2013 stated:

“There have been a number of reports of ill thrift and death in these animals due to poor management and their special dietary and environmental requirements. Reindeer are out with FAWC’s remit because they are not farmed but we strongly suggest their welfare should be considered further by the Government as they are particularly likely to be kept by inexperienced owners for commercial reasons”.

As such, we will not be attending any events showcasing live animals in the run up to Christmas. Not only will we not be attending, but I’ll be supporting the fantastic new campaign from the Captive Animals’ Protection Society by contacting event organisers and venues to explain why. Following a complaint sent last month to a local Christmas event, I received a response from the organisers explaining that they would no longer be using live animals because of public pressure (you can read the full story here on Sarah’s blog). 

If a venue near you is using live animals this Christmas, contact Captive Animals’ Protection Society to let them know. A few venues across the venues have already cancelled their plans to use live animals because of public support. 

What are your thoughts on using live reindeer for Christmas displays? 

Monday 25 November 2013

Newborn Babies and Fading Memories

Yesterday, we had a pregnant visitor. A friend’s sister and her boyfriend who, I think, were looking for some useful advice and protips to keep them covered for childbirth and parenthood. When I was eight months pregnant, we made a similar pilgrimage. After a day of antenatal classes, we drove to Chesterfield to meet some friends and their beautiful three month old son, and hear all about what life with a baby was really like. Our friends were full of advice, they told us how to stop babies crying, how to change nappies, how to cope with the tiredness, and what ‘must have’ products turned out to be a waste of money. When we left, I felt reassured. I learnt more during that brief meeting than I did from all of our antenatal classes.

So, yesterday, when our expectant visitors were on their way round, Laurie and I brainstormed to see what great advice we could share. It soon became apparent that we couldn’t really remember much. We could remember the overwhelming tiredness, and we could remember the mistakes we made. We have a few memories of things that worked, and things that didn’t. Mostly I remember my regrets, the things I wish I had done but didn’t, or the things I wish I hadn’t done. But we had forgotten the day to day things, the things we found useful and those we didn’t, and the tricks of the trade.

When Ebony was born, I thought I would never forget the details of her birth, but even now, less than two years later, my memory is hazy. I’m so glad I wrote it all down. Now that Ebony is a full fledged toddler, it is sort of hard to imagine her as a newborn. I have forgotten the routines we had, the things we did, and what she was like at each stage. I’m so thankful that I kept this blog, so I will always be able to look back on what life was like with a newborn, how terrified I was of her getting hurt, how scary it was to breastfeed in public, and how much I hated receiving unwanted advice.

I’m sure the information is in there somewhere, locked away until another baby, perhaps. I have memories of life as a new parent, of course, but even those memories are packed away, and I rarely have the time to sit and reminisce. But, after talking about newborns yesterday, I lay in bed last night trying to remember what life was like when Ebony first arrived.

I remember the moment when a clay-like newborn baby was thrust into my arms. I remember how terrifying, overwhelming and perfect that moment was. I remember the midwife asking what sex the baby was, and looking down to find the answer covered by the alien-like umbilical cord, I remember saying I didn’t know. I remember someone moving the cord, and announcing it was a girl, and I remember the uncontrollable sobbing that followed, I had never felt emotions so strong before. I remember staying in the pool, holding onto my newborn baby, terrified that I would accidentally drown her.

I remember, a short time later, the midwife taking Ebony from me and passing her to Laurie. I remember his face at that moment, so overwhelmed, eyes filled with tears, a terrified expression on his face, as he held his daughter for the first time.

I remember, after the midwives had gone, and I had showered, lying in bed completely exhausted but unable to sleep. Ebony, so tiny and new, slept next to me in her moses basket, and all I could do was watch her. I was too overwhelmed for sleep, and too terrified to stop looking at her.

I remember the weeks that followed, the breastfeeding, the healing. I remember Laurie looking after us both so well, and feeling so lucky to be a part of this family. I remember feeling amazing from that natural high that follows childbirth and continues with breastfeeding. I remember the days spent on the sofa, cuddling Ebony, as she would stretch her neck to look up at me, like a tortoise peering from its shell. I remember the night feeds, the exhaustion, and the endless nappy changes.

I remember how soft her feet were, completely new, and how tiny her fingers were. I remember the milk spots on her nose, the rise and fall of her delicate chest, and the downy hairs that covered her arms (and my fear that she would have that for life). I remember the night feeds watching New Girl, willing myself to stay awake, and the day feeds on the sofa. I remember the strange deflated bump I had after the birth, how sore I was, and how much time I spent in the bath.

I remember Ebony’s little hand gripping my thumb, I remember how happy I felt when she smiled at me. I remember how much it hurt my heart to see Laurie holding her, so comfortable in his new role as a father. I remember the night she wouldn’t stop crying, and how terrified we both were, and how relieved we felt when finally the tears subsided. I remember the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I woke after my first eight hour stretch, scared of why she hadn’t cried out for a feed. I remember when she had hiccups at just a few hours old, and how scary it was the first time we bathed her. I remember the fear, the tiredness and my intense need to protect her. But mostly, I remember that love, so strong and all encompassing, unlike anything I had felt before.

And now, as I look at the independent, strong minded toddler in front of me, I can’t believe she was ever that tiny, helpless newborn baby.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #26

26 weeks ago, when I set myself this blog challenge, Ebony had recently started walking outdoors. She loved exploring new places, testing the boundaries of her independence, and playing outdoors. It was May, and while it wasn’t always sunny, it was far from cold. It was easy to head out into the wilderness, grabbing a cardigan or thin jacket for Ebony as we left the house, and return home when we had our fill of nature.

Spring is a beautiful time of year, with bluebells and buttercups reaching out as far as the eye can see. In fact, all of the seasons have their own beauty; the daisies and dandelions of summer, the crunchy leaves of autumn, and the glistening snow of winter. But, as the weather becomes less inviting, it is all too easy to hibernate indoors. For this reason, I set myself the great adventures challenge, promising myself that I would take Ebony out every week without fail, and share our adventures on my blog.

We haven’t missed a week yet. Of course, there have been weeks where the adventures have felt a bit like a chore, if we have been unwell or busy, but mostly they have been looked forward to and fully enjoyed. We have enjoyed some beautiful adventures, and made some wonderful memories that I will remember forever. Ebony loves spending time outdoors, whether she’s splashing in puddles, climbing tree stumps or smelling pretty flowers, she thrives in the great outdoors. I want her to grow up feeling connected with nature, I want her to respect the planet and its changing seasons, and fully understand the impact her choices have on our world. I want her to seek out and create fun for herself, I don’t want her to rely on toys or computers to entertain her. I want her to fully appreciate the huge opportunities for fun that nature has to offer.

As she grows older, I want her to climb trees without fear, build dens from fallen branches and twigs in the woods, and fully appreciate the natural beauty near our home. If I want all of this for her in a few years, I must lay the foundations now. And so, for 26 weeks we have explored the country parks, lakes and forests where we live. We have walked, run, splashed, climbed and jumped. We have wrapped up warm, applied suncream and hidden under umbrellas. We have gotten muddy, fallen over and grazed our knees, and it’s been perfect.

This week, for our 26th adventure, we went back to Redbrow Woods, the setting of our orginal great adventure. We stomped through the leaves, searched for spiders in the trees, and squelched through muddy puddles.

What adventures have you been on this week?

Friday 22 November 2013

We Like to Read: Henri's Walk to Paris

Illustrated by Saul Bass : Story by Leonore Klein

My Parisian friend, Kat, who isn’t actually French at all, but loves Paris so much that she is an honourary Parisian, recently shared this article on Facebook. It’s a list of children’s books by iconic designers, and some of them looked amazing. I mentioned this to Kat, and just a week later the postman knocked at the door with a special parcel.

Kat’s overwhelming love of Paris had gotten the better of her, and she had kindly sent Henri’s Walk to Paris as a gift for Ebony. Illustrated by Saul Bass, the book has a very distinctive style and is inkeeping with his iconic work. The books itself is hardback and printed on lovely thick paper. The story is about Henri, a young boy living in rural France who dreams of one day visiting Paris. The story follows his journey to the capital. It’s a lovely story, I don’t want to give the end away but it really is sweet.

Every page is beautiful, and though it is aimed at 4-8 year olds, Ebony loves it. It has joined the favourite book pile and is read a couple of times each day at the moment. The pictures are brightly coloured and keep her attention, while the story is lovely to read (especially in a French accent, ahem).

If you like beautiful things (and need an excuse to work on your French accent), I strongly recommend Henri’s Walk to Paris.


Tuesday 19 November 2013

New Mums and the Attachment Parenting Debate

There always seems to be a lot of media-worthy controversy surrounding attachment parenting. Whether it’s that fence shag woman off The Apprentice mouthing off, dramatic headlines about cosleeping or attention grabbing front covers of women breastfeeding children on ladders.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, which I bought by chance amongst a bundle of books I ordered from Amazon the week I discovered I was pregnant. I didn’t buy it because I wanted to parent unconditionally, I bought it because it came up when I typed in ‘parenting’. In the book, Alfie talks about varying parenting styles and their effects on children, and as I read it I started to think about this in more detail. What effect had my upbringing had on me, and how had my husband been affected by his upbringing?

I identified strongly with the book, and decided I would like to try to parent in an unconditional way, as explained in the book. The book didn’t focus on babies, and so I saw it as something which would come later. I didn’t really think much about how we would parent when the baby arrived, I mostly just hoped we wouldn’t fuck it up.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and had been advised to look into breast pumps by a friend. I discussed this with my mum, explaining that the cost was putting me off, and she said that I would be unlikely to want to leave the baby when pumping would be an issue anyway, and to buy a pump at a later date if I felt I needed to. And so the tone of my parenting journey was set. I was going to be a breastfeeding mum who stayed close to her baby for that reason.

When Ebony arrived, and we eventually got the hang of the difficult task of breastfeeding, I knew my mum had been right. Breastfeeding was a nice excuse to stay close to Ebony. I still had a pile of unread parenting books, and so I picked up the next one, The Attachment Parenting Book by Dr Sears. I didn’t buy this book because I wanted to follow attachment parenting, I had no idea what attachment parenting was, I bought it because it came up on Amazon when I searched for parenting. I also bought Gina Ford’s book but (luckily) never got round to reading it. Perhaps the front cover of Dr Sears’ book showcasing a parent holding an infant close, spoke more to me than the baby alone on the cover of Gina Ford’s book.

For the next few weeks, as Laurie entertained Ebony before bed, I would take a bath by myself (well, until Ebony wanted another feed anyway) and read the book. I realised that we were already attachment parents in a way. We used a sleepy wrap, breastfed on demand, stayed close to our baby, and generally avoided any advice about how to train Ebony to do as we wanted. From then on, I identified myself as an attachment parent and felt it was a very important part of how I interacted with my daughter.

Parenting styles is something that is seen as ‘controversial’ because there are always a variety of different approaches to each issue. As a parent, you must believe you have chosen the right approach for your family, and believe strongly that it will have the best outcome. By choosing to do something yourself, you can be seen as ‘judging’ those who don’t take the same path. A breastfeeding mother annoyed about being asked to stop feeding in public, might be accused of being part of the ‘breastfeeding police’ and making other mums feel bad. A mother who chooses to bed share with her child will receive countless warnings or ‘looks’ from friends and family.

As a new mum, life is stressful and scary enough as it is, without feeling that every decision you make is offensive to other mums. I want to be able to make my own decisions about the way I look after my own child, and I don’t want to worry that I’m being judged by other parents for it. Now do I want my choices to be perceived as judgmental by other parents. I’ve got enough on my plate caring for my own family, I really don’t have the time or inclination to fret about what you’re doing to yours.

All of this judgement, whether perceived or real, is part of the reason people feel so strongly in their parenting choices. Because when we make a decision, especially if that decision is seen as ‘alternative’, we have to have the knowledge and science to back it up, because we’re definitely going to be asked about it by friends and strangers alike.

Why should Peaches Geldoff mentioning cosleeping in an article, lead to a media whirlwind surrounding the debate, and a diatribe from that vile fence shagger about Peaches’ parenting choices. Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a society where people spoke freely about their parenting choices without being judged? Or if debate about parenting styles was based on scientific research rather than outdated disproven beliefs? Wouldn’t it be great if the media spoke about that research with the same passions and column inches that it wastes on the opinion of unqualified, deliberately provocative judgemental figureheads?

I don’t describe myself as an attachment parent anymore, I just think of myself as a mother. I try to parent in a gentle, unconditional, natural way, but that can mean different things on different days. I try my best. I treat my daughter with respect, kindness and love. I do probably still follow most of the 7 B’s, so perhaps I am still an attachment parent, but I just really didn’t like feeling that I was taking sides in a ridiculously overhyped media-constructed pointless debate.

Monday 18 November 2013

My Feminist Spice Rack

I read an article a couple of months ago, about how men still take on the lion’s share of DIY tasks, and women are still in charge of domestic chores. (On a side note, isn’t DIY a domestic chore because it happens in the home?) I’m conscious that things at home have a great impact on young children, and this includes the division of labour between parents.

In our house, I like to think things are sort of equal, although they may have been a bit more equal before we became parents. Aside from the typically sexist division of laundry and bins, I think we’re pretty fair. I tend to keep upstairs today, and together we keep downstairs clean. Laurie cleans the kitchen every night while I put Ebony to bed, and though she can’t see him doing it, I make sure I always tell her what he’s doing.

I think it’s important that children see equality from a young age, and this means it’s important to each take on chores and jobs around the house. Well, that’s my excuse at least. Ebony knows that Laurie goes out each day to work, but she also knows that I work from home. I don’t want to fall into the trap of making certain things seem like female jobs, which is difficult when I am at home all the time. There are people who believe that simply by staying home with Ebony, I am setting her up for a life of believing a woman’s place in the home. I hope not, I want her to believe she can be and do whatever she likes. My mum stayed home when we were little, and worked around us, as I do with Ebony, and I can’t say whether this affected my decision not to return to work when my maternity leave ended. I can say that I enjoyed having my mum around so much when I was little, and that I feel lucky she was able to be there to take me on adventures every day.

I think my parents’ roles were split in a more traditional way than ours, my mum seemed to take on most of the cleaning, but my dad was always fixing things or doing DIY. The smell of sawdust always reminds me of my childhood, because my dad would often be sewing wood, hammering nails and generally turning the house into a workshop. I’m guilty of relying on my dad for DIY to this date. He’s always round at our house, pulling floorboards up, fixing the boiler or gluing things back together.

After reading the article about how three quarters of men still take on most of the DIY, I decided it was high time I set a good example for Ebony. I decided to put up some spice racks because our kitchen is tiny and cupboard space is at a premium. I bought some plain racks from Ikea, and put them together as soon as we get home. Then we went out to Homebase to buy some primer and paint, because I wanted the spice racks to be white. It took a couple of coats to get the right finish, and during this time I probably taught Ebony that spray painting indoors is a terrible idea, spray painting without putting protective coverings down is a bad idea, and spray painting in your new jeans can only end in tears. After these invaluable lessons had been learnt, it was time to put the shelves up.

I was perched on the kitchen surface, next to a tool box and electric drill, as Ebony looked on from the kitchen floor. I would like to report that she looked on in amazement as I confidently put the spice rack up and talked her through the process. In fact, she was preoccupied playing with spices and wasn’t paying much attention to me. Which is probably for the best, since I was mostly either on the phone to my dad, or staring dumbly at the drill.

By some miracle, the spice racks went up and were (sort of) both level (ish) and (almost) aligned. I’m not sure that Ebony learnt much about feminism, but she definitely learnt that if you keep saying “Mummmmy? Mummmmyyyy? Mummy?” while I am holding a large power drill into the wall, I will cry.

The next job is the laminate flooring, but I’ll probably do that on a day when my dad is round, just in case he wants to help.

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