Sunday 28 April 2013

Self Defence Against Toddlers

I think I've finally found the idea that's going to make me a millionaire. The dragons will fight over me, like starved pack dogs, desperate to grab themselves a morsel of my billion pound idea. I will undoubtedly leave the den with full pockets.
The idea struck me at the same time as my toddler. There we were, lovingly playing together on the bed, when all of a sudden I got smacked in the face. With a head. I can hear what you're thinking, "Ah, a teeny toddler head, that can't really hurt." Well, let me correct you. Although the rest of her is quite definitely toddler sized, her head is not. She has tiny beautiful toes, and a gorgeous little belly button. Despite being almost 16 months old, she is still wearing 9-12 month clothes because of her small frame. Yet atop her delicate toddler-sized shoulders, sits the head of a fully grown adult.
In all seriousness, I don't know how she carries the weight of it all day. Her head alone must make up half of her overall weight. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm being mean. Remember, she did hit me with it. And anyway, I birthed that head, so I know it's big.
I was lying on the bed with Ebony, minding my own business. Without warning, Ebony's head came crashing down on me like a cartoon anvil, hitting me right in the mouth. I was immediately flattened by the sheer force of the impact, and had to peel my head off the bed to survey the damage. Let me just say, hers is not a soft, padded head covered in soft curls of silky hair. Quite the opposite. This is a head as bald and hard as a bowling ball. Perhaps cricket ball is a better analogy, because she bounced right back up. I can only assume that her oversized skull is made from adamantium, because she didn’t even seem to notice that her colossal bonce had just made contact with my teeth. 

The fat lip
And herein lies the problem. While we, the parents, roll around in a disgusting mixture of agony, self pity and under-the-breath-swearing, the toddler is planning their next move. It could be anything: a toe to the eyeball, a foot to the groin, or an entire toddler to the jugular. Toddlers, with their complete disregard of safety, compassion and the rules that hold society in place, have the upper hand. We parents are too busy thinking, “It’s not ok to slap them back.” to notice that we are about to have a heavy wooden ball thrown on our toes. Not “dropped”, as the offender will immediately claim. 

We breathe deeply, and respond with understanding and unconditional love. In our calmest, most caring voice we explain: “We don’t stamp on Mummy’s face, because it hurts and makes her sad,” while a crayon gets jammed into our ear. With shaking hands and frazzled nerves, we try to explain that it’s not very nice to shove crayons into ears. The toddler laughs at our upset, throwing their toddler (or, in some cases, very large adult) head backwards at full force and it hits us square in the eye socket.
Enough is enough.
We need to stop responding to toddler violence with reactionary measures. We need to see it coming, and stop it before someone (the parents) gets hurt. We need to get on the offensive. And so, for the mother nursing her newly blackened eye, and to the man cupping his painfully swollen testicles, I am inventing a short course in self defence against toddlers. These lessons will specialise in weapon recognition and removal, redirection, distraction and, most importantly, self preservation. No longer will parents cower in fear at the indistinguishable gunk-covered hands of their toddlers.
The exact details of the course are yet to be devised, but consider this a patent. I shall soon be a very rich woman, safeguarding parents across the country.
Based on your own personal experiences, what toddler situations would you like to be covered in the course?

Tuesday 23 April 2013

No More Electronic Toys

A few weeks ago, I introduced a ban on all electronic toys. I got a cardboard box, and worked my way round the house gathering up all of the battery powered toys. We had a lot of them. They are now tucked away, out of Ebony’s reach, until further notice.

Any parent reading this will assume it was the drone-like lifeless sing song electronic sounds that drove me to this stage. Admittedly, I do hate all electronic toys with a burning passion, but it was not the desire to protect my own mental health that caused this change. It was the need to protect Ebony.

We had a variety of electronic toys. Some with flashing lights, others with moving parts, but all noisy. Oh the noise. The premise of near all of the toys was this: press button, be rewarded with short music, press button again. Repeat indefinitely until (delete as appropriate) the batteries die/Mummy throws the toy against the wall.

The toys
Watching Ebony plays with the toys was a little creepy. She would press the button repeatedly, almost in a trance like state, in order to hear the bittersweet reward of a ten second burst of a joyless tune. The behaviour was almost obsessive, and the electronic toys were her favourite.

Around the time of her first birthday, Ebony went through a stage of gathering her favourite belongings, and herself, into a box. On every occasion, the electronic toys were the first in. The bilingual shape toy, the demo keyboard and the shrill ladybird would make it to the final cut every time. They were her favourites.

As Ebony’s understanding of the world developed, so did her play. Imagination became a key part in her games. She would make her soft toys dance, kiss and go to sleep. Her animals would help her eat her snacks. Watching her play these games was eyeopening. It was wonderful to see her looking after her toys, the way we look after her. Gently kissing them and tucking them in. But then an electronic toy would catch her eye again, and she would go and play with that instead. Pressing the button, hearing the music, and pressing the button again.

There was no interaction, no exploration. She had to press the right button to hear the music, and so that is what she did. I decided that this couldn’t be healthy. I read that:
  • Mothers and toddlers interact more when playing with non-electronic toys. This was definitely true in our house. The only involvement I had when Ebony played with electronic toys, was glaring angrily and swearing under my breath.
  • Toys should be 90 per cent child, and only 10 per cent toy. With the electronic toys, all Ebony can do is press the correct button. Anything else, and the toy won’t work. With her soft toys, she can do whatever she likes. She can use her imagination to fill in the blanks.
  • Electronic toys play for your child, and so your child may find wooden blocks or other traditional toys boring in comparison. Simply because they do not have the imagination or motivation to create the play themselves.
  • Toddlers use play to learn about social interaction. By playing with you, or with other children, they learn how to interact with other people. Building blocks, getting dolls to give kisses to people, and playing peekaboo are all good ways of doing this. Repeatedly pressing a button to see a flashing light, is not. Little is learnt from these toys, other than how to work that particular toy.
  • Parental attachment is affected by the quality of play. Using electronic toys as babysitters, can have a negative impact on your relationship. High quality, interactive play between parent and child is more likely to form part of a strong parent-child bond.

Using her imagination
Since confining all of the electronic toys to the dark corner of the closet, I have noticed that:
  • Ebony has taken a greater interest in her more traditional toys. For example, she has rediscovered her musical instruments.
  • She spends more time enjoying books. She will select a book from the shelf, and bring it over to me to read. I must spend an hour of every day with her snuggled up in my lap as I read Tabby McTat.
  • She is more interested in what I am doing. If I try to sneak off into the kitchen to start cooking or make a cup of tea, instead of staying glued to the spot pressing buttons, she will now follow me. Watching me prepare dinner, or sort out the washing, has a higher educational value than pressing a button.
  • She is becoming more creative with her play. Her animals are taking on a whole host of new skills and activities each week. She is finding new ways of playing with her toys together. And she is including more objects in her play. She is exploring her world through play, just as she should be.

Now, when I watch her play, I feel proud of my inquisitive, thoughtful explorer. I am no longer worried that her toys may be turning her into a zombie.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Why I'm Glad I'm not a Panda

In my 26 long years, I have met many men. Hundreds, if not thousands, of men have crossed my path. Some have checked my train tickets, others have opened doors for me, and a few have bought me drinks.
I have been in lifts with men. I have had arguments with men. I have danced with men.
I have considered some men to be total douchebags. Other men have caught my eye. The occasional man has repulsed me.
Of all the hundreds or thousands of men, there haven't been many I've wanted to have children with. In fact, I've only ever really wanted to have children with my husband. And Luca from ER, but unfortunately our paths have not crossed so he doesn't count. So, it's just my husband then, out of the hundreds of men I have encountered.
But what if I didn't get to choose my husband? What if someone else decided the course of my life? If another person, most likely for financial gain, determined who I would spend eternity with. Of all the billions of men in the world, it's unlikely my husband would have been selected.
Let's imagine a mate had been chosen, and we had been introduced. Most likely, I would decide that this man was not the man of my dreams. Unless it was Luca from ER, and then I would be eternally grateful to our Cupid. But probably, I would look across at the stranger in front of me, and feel nothing. Perhaps revulsion at the situation.
I certainly wouldn't be picking out colour schemes for the nursery. But what if, after refusing to mate of my own accord, I was sedated and artificially inseminated. Because, of course, who am I to judge who I will or will not have children with?
These decisions should be taken with the entrance-fee paying public in mind. After all, the public expect a baby panda, and so that is what they will get.
Today, I am glad I am not a caged panda.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

The War on Sleep

I've never been very good at mornings. When I was younger, the alarm would sound, and I'd switch it off and go back to sleep. It would take my poor Dad numerous attempts at waking me before I'd actually stir. My sister is the same, and - dare I say it - my Mum too.
Over the years, I tried various techniques to increase my chances of rising with the birds, but I haven’t yet found the definitive way to get myself up. At the age of 26, I have now officially given up my research into early mornings, and have allowed Ebony to take charge of the investigations.
Self portrait
That poor, sweet little girl who just wants me to get up with her in a morning. She has tried everything. She started with face slapping. She would drag herself up to sitting (using my fringe), and would then slap me repeatedly in the face. Sometimes while screaming. This was, at first, a very effective way of getting me out of bed. But things evolve, and I soon developed the hide and roll technique. The trick is to hide yourself under the cover, and then roll out of reach.
Ebony then moved onto hair pulling. This hurt a lot. Having my hair clamped in her unyielding fist, made the hide and roll an impossible maneuver. While she held me prisoner by my own hair, I actually couldn’t do anything but shout “Get off my HAIR!”, which, unsurprisingly, she ignored. I spent an entire month being dragged out of bed by my hair, until I decided upon my countermove - the triangle of success. This move relied upon three different techniques, each executed perfectly, in order to achieve equilibrium. Firstly, I must find the handful of hair Ebony has, and grab onto it myself closer to my head, this means I am pulling my own hair and so she cannot hurt me. Then, I had to stay very still, because rolling away hurts when someone is pulling your hair. And the final piece of that triangular puzzle? The silent cry. So she wouldn’t not know I was awake. Because, by this point in the sleep games, it is not actually about sleep anymore. It is about winning.
The triangle of success continued for about a month, until we both realised that this was an unhealthy mother daughter relationship. Or, more likely, until Ebony’s understanding of language expanded to include the phrase “Stop pulling my HAIR!”, because now she does not pull it quite as often. Or perhaps, it was until I realised that giving her my phone to play with will by me extra time.
For a while, the phone seemed to work. She was happy taking hundreds of photos of her giant head, and I was happy sleeping. But over the past few weeks, she has upped her gamet. She understands more now, and she is sneaky. She has now realised that the phone is actually another weapon in her war on sleep.

One morning, I woke to discover I was being filmed. Ebony had recorded a three minute video featuring me, asleep, and her, unattended, going through a variety of vocal exercises (me me me, ba ba ba etc) frighteningly close to the edge of the bed. I can only assume that her plan was to email the video to Social Services as proof of neglect. Luckily I intercepted and was able to delete the video before it got into the wrong hands.
Yesterday, she took things even further. Ebony is probably awake for up to an hour before me each day, I think this is the perfect amount of time for independent play, but clearly she disagrees. And, in a last ditch attempt to get me up, she resorted to telling on me.
That’s right, she told Daddy.
Now, I’ve only been a proper stay at home mum for a short while, and actually I work from home sporadically so I consider myself more of a work at home mum, but I think it’s going ok. My husband though, thinks it’s hard work. “Ach, I have had SUCH a stressful day,” I embellish after an afternoon of colouring in. I don’t want him to feel hard done to. After all, he gets up at the crack of dawn, works hard at a stressful job, and arrives home exhausted shortly after 7pm. It’s the least I can do to pretend my life is equally as hard. If he’s creeping out of the house at 7:30am, I should at least keep up the facade that I rise shortly after, when in fact I usually appear dishevelled around 10.
Ebony, being a wise fifteen month old, has clearly noticed a disparity in our actual day and the day I report to her Daddy. And so, yesterday morning, as I snoozed in bed gone 9am, she facetimed him. Yes. She facetimed him. And, I am told, when he answered, she turned the phone around so that he could see me asleep.
For the time being, I am getting up when Ebony dictates, but only until my next move has been finalised.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

I've Just Booked Our Tickets

Last year, when Ebony was just a tiny baby, I was looking for things we could do as a family. Your whole lift shifts when you become a parent, and you start looking for a new kind of entertainment. Instead of looking for cheap alcohol and loud music, I started to yearn for access  to clean changing facilities.

We looked at the lineups to a few music festivals and tried to decide whether we would actually be brave enough to do that. In the end, we decided not. The idea of being stuck in a tent with a sleeping baby, next to a tent full of us three years ago, really didn’t appeal.

So then I started looking for family friendly festivals. Glastonbury would have been an obvious choice, but when you have a baby to look after, ticket sale dates pass by without you noticing.

During my research, I stumbled across Just So Festival. It’s basically a whole weekend of creative fun, outdoor play, arts and sensory activities. It sounded beyond perfect. Ebony was only a couple of months old when I discovered the festival, and she would have been around seven months old by the time it was on. I really wanted to go, but it was too far to go for the day and so we would have had to camp. And, despite taking my first camping trip at a mere six weeks old, we don’t actually own a tent. Or a working air bed. Or any of the necessary camping accessories. So, much as the idea of the festival appealed to my sleep deprived vomit encrusted self of 2012, I never actually got round to booking tickets.

This year, however, I am not missing out. After months of checking the website and trying to convince my husband that it sounds like the most perfect family outing ever, I have booked the tickets. It’s only a 30 minutes drive from my house this year which means we can go for the day. Now that Ebony is older, I would have loved to go for the full weekend, but we couldn’t really afford weekend tickets and a tent and all of the other things we would need, and so we’re just going for the day.

The festival looks amazing and I know Ebony is going to love it. If you’ve ever been to End of the Road Festival, the whole of this festival looks like that enchanted wood area. Ebony loves the outdoors and seeing new things, and Just So Festival seems to be full of unique and creative activities for her to try out. They have clay wheels where babies and toddlers can get stuck in with some clay, storytelling, pirate training and loads of different musical activities. They even devote an hour a day to bubbles - it sounds like toddler paradise.

I feel so relieved that I finally got sorted and booked the tickets. August 17 can’t come soon enough!

Disclaimer: This isn’t a sponsored post, I’m just really fricking excited about the festival.
Photo credit: Just So Festival

Thursday 4 April 2013

Buddha Beauty Giveaway

For those of you who don’t have dirty bottoms in need of nappying, and those who don’t go crazy over hot knitted beverages, I have a new competition that might be more up your street.

The lovely folks over at Buddha Beauty have very kindly offered to lavish one lucky winner with an array of beauty products worth over £40! This little known brand describes itself as “a British brand with a love for the Far East.”

After years spent travelling the globe, Buddha Beauty was formed to combine a love of the Far East with luxury beauty products. The range is reminiscent of the types of products you expect to come across in spas and luxury treatment rooms.

Buddha Beauty products are free from parabens and other harsh chemicals than can be damaging to skin. Inspired by the Far East, these lotions and creams contain only natural ingredients. They pride themselves on being a carbon neutral company,and one of the ways they achieve this is by reducing their reliance on transport - all of the ingredients are produced within the UK. All of the product packaging is 100% recyclable.

All of their products are suitable for vegans, and none of the products - nor the ingredients - have been tested on animals. This commitment to producing cruelty-free products wasn’t a happy coincidence, Buddha Beauty is founded on vegan principles and so you can be sure you are supporting an ethical business.

They very kindly sent me a tub of their moisturiser to review. Some moisturisers can be overly thick or hard to soak in, but not this one. The rose scented moisturiser was smooth and thick, and soaked in really well. It didn’t leave my skin feeling greasy. My only complaint is that I’m not a big fan of the smell. If you like roses, you’ll love it. But rose scented products always smell a bit too mature for my liking.

I was really excited when they offered to provide a prize for one of my readers, because I am really happy to be promoting a local vegan company.

The prize includes a 250ml Bare Facial Cleanser, you can choose from three different fragrance options or opt for an unscented cleanser if you prefer. The lucky winner will also receive a 250ml Orange Blossom Facial Toner to help rejuvenate tired skin, and a 100ml pot of Apple, Avocado & Aloe Clay Mask to leave your skin feeling soft and smooth. Last but not least, the winner will also be able to choose a votive candle from the huge range of scents available. 

To be in with a chance to win this amazing prize, and turn a trip to your bathroom into a luxury spa break, all you need to do is fill in the rafflecopter below. Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Our Government of Disney Villains

I struggled to sleep last night, partly because I had just watched The Hunger Games and felt very on edge. And partly, because just before my head hit the pillow, I read an article claiming that the Government is toying with the idea of freezing or cutting the minimum wage.

The bedroom tax is now in force, the doors have been opened for the privatisation of the NHS, legal aid has been cut, and now they are talking about getting rid of the minimum wage. You know, to make work pay.

This Government seems to have it in for everyone, except the very rich. They hate the benefit scroungers, they hate those with low paid jobs, they hate the teachers and the probation officers, and they hate the badgers. They seem intent on doing evil at every possible turn. It’s like the entire Cabinet Office is made up of a caricature of tired cliches of Disney villains.

Jeremy Hunt as Stromboli
You might not remember this evil bearded character from Pinocchio, but once he discovered that the puppet could sing and dance, he set him to work an reaped the financial rewards. A bit like that lovable Minister (use your Radio 4 voice here) Hunt. Ah the NHS, providing free health care as a public service since 1948. The Conservatives stroll into power, and within months have announced plans to privatise the NHS. Apparently that thing that saves lives, just isn’t doing enough for the country. Public services and profit making always go pretty well together though, so I’m sure it’ll be just fine. No need to worry. 

Osborne as Ursula
George Osborne, he just loves austerity doesn’t he? It’s for the best, he tells us, while he sits atop his many millions. His personal bank account probably has more money in it than the UK’s piggybank. As we stay drowning in recession, Osborne pushes forward with his austerity cuts under claims it is working. A bit like in the Little Mermaid, when Ursula exploits Ariel’s love for her own gain. Ariel, who sells her voice for a chance at true love, believes she has entered into a fair deal, when in fact she is being played by Ursula. Osborne is pushing austerity measures pretending they will help, when in fact they support the core Tory agenda of protecting the rich and exploiting/killing off/villainising the poor.

Owen Patterson as Cruella De Vil
Poison them, drown them, bash them on the head. Got any chloroform? I don't care how you kill the little beasts. Just do it, and do it NOW! “ screeches Cruella De Vil. Similarly, in spite of scientific evidence that the badger cull will do little to eradicate the problem of bovine TB, the Conservatives press ahead with a cull. After 10 years, the Independent Scientific Group concluded that a cull would make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control. So, why do it? Because, when it comes to animals, the Conservatives want to hunt, eat or maim it.

Iain Duncan Smith as the Evil Queen
“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” asks the Evil Queen in Snow White. Of course, Iain Duncan Smith wastes no time in pondering this question aloud, for he knows that the benefit reforms are fair. As a man with an estimated wealth of £1 million, it seems only right that he should dictate the pittance awarded to the less fortunate amongst society. With his four spare bedrooms, he has plenty of space to pace while considering how he could live on £53 a week with ease.

David Cameron as Maleficent
As the ultimate pig-faced, out of touch, dead-eyed, smug-mouthed, stumbling, awkward, dough boy with a forehead as shiny as the foreskin on an erection, David Cameron has to be the ringleader of all evil. And in Disney villain terms, that makes him Maleficent. The Disney villain so cruel she would curse a newborn baby. The devil-like horns atop her head are comparable only with the horn Dave gets when he hears stories about poor people dying due to lack of free health care, warmth and food. He’s hard for that shit. School history lessons about the Victorian era used to make him feel excited, and he’s been desperate to recreate them ever since.

But alas, these detestable characters who score much worse than their Disney counterparts for evil, are not fictional. We cannot hope for the Sword of Truth, or any other Disney invention, to end the reign of evil and allow flowers to bloom and birds to sing again. There is no happy ending. These Disney villains are here to stay.

Can you think of any political Disney villain wannabes?

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