Welcome to your fortieth year… *warning not for the squeamish

Wearing just a t shirt, you are trying to get dressed when you remember that you need to insert your Mooncup which is sitting downstairs in a pot of sterilising fluid, you having hastily dug it out after finding that the bleeding the doctor mentioned MIGHT happen after she removed your coil is much heavier than expected. You leave your two-year old upstairs rolling on your bed while you fetch it and return upstairs to find a quiet corner. As you wash your hands, she calls for you.



“Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!”

You enter the bedroom, check she’s ok, return to the bathroom to retrieve a panty liner, and she follows you announcing “I need a wee on big toilet!”

You sort her out, praise, wash your hands again and together go back to the bedroom to finally get dressed. You realise that, despite having had the week off, you have forgotten to get your hair cut. You ignore the straggly bits and instead turn to jewellery. You put on your new ring and the engagement ring you have just got mended. Your daughter needs her nose wiping. You place the tissue in your pocket and as you pull it out the mended bit of the engagement ring breaks off completely. The ring remains intact elsewhere and you realise this is probably a blessing despite the sharp edge that is now exposed.

You carry her downstairs. You return to carry down the washing and ironing. Every time you look out of the windows all you see is next door’s knickers hanging on the line. The last tenant was more circumspect.

Despite there being an entire carpet to walk on, your daughter manages to kick over your tea. You make some more. She isn’t feeling too well and falls asleep in your arms all afternoon, sweaty, snoring, but so much your baby that you briefly bless the cold germs she’s caught. You read a book and try to ignore your aching arms.

It’s a weekend and you have no idea how to take time to just sit down and get some work done. There are a million things to be done first. You take pleasure in ticking them off your list but this leaves you with no time for your own self. For the millionth time, you yearn for a room of your own.

You have spent the week trying to re-emerge. Don’t be disheartened.

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A stream of consciousness

Stand aside Virginia Woolf, there’s no such thing as a stream of consciousness until you’ve heard the chatter of a toddler who’s found her voice. Good grief. Three months ago the health visitor was suggesting E saw a speech therapist because she wasn’t talking – oh how those months seem a long time ago!

I will try and recreate this for you.

“I got witch! Here you go witch, sit here. See tall light today. Hello tall light, nice day? I need drink. I need drink. Than tu (thank you – she doesn’t pronounce Cs yet) Put drink on table. I sit on Mummy’s knee. Where’s sunflower? Where’s witch? Here you are witch. I go wee on floor. (This is a reference to about a week ago which she hasn’t yet forgotten.) All wet. Fire engine! Nee-nah nee-nah! We read book. Mummy get it. I get it. Mummy get it. Wow Mummy wow. Big lorry! We make tar takes (car cakes). Broom broom! We make cakes again. I do drawing today. I draw picture for Mummy. Bl-ack picture. Bl-ack bus. I go in trolley. Eat cake. Hair out face. Letters! I get it.”

And so on. Today on the bus she amused everyone by banging my shoulders and yelling “My mummy!” over and over. Any time I use the phone she thinks it’s Grandma. And in between all of this, she sings nursery rhymes or asks us to sing them to her. We’re still not too familiar with many – this week she’s been asking for a Lion song. I don’t know any except The Lion Sleeps Tonight which I sang to her and which she found enchanting – especially the Ah–oooooooooooooh a whimaway part.

Somewhere in there she seems to have got the hang of potty training though – today a completely dry day despite us going out for much of it. I am blessing the Potette Plus portable potty system.

This is exactly what I thought having a toddler would be like though. I’m just trying to keep up.

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A rainy bank holiday…

One small house, two adults and a small toddler, constant rain and a disinclination to go anywhere. Bank holidays are great aren’t they?

Irritating people, probably ones with waders and sou’westers, often say that small children don’t mind rain. Well mine does. And so do I. Mine doesn’t watch much TV either so any entertainment had to be creative. I had looked at the forecast the day before and spent the evening cutting pictures from magazines so we could have a gluing session. Unfortunately in a household where the magazines are from The Guardian or about knitting, this doesn’t yield a wide variety of pictures – cars, sofas, lentil dishes, a toucan, some cyclists, a hat, some glasses – that kind of thing. Luckily I found an old Charlie and Lola magazine too.

E was very keen on gluing and wielded her pritt stick with aplomb, though with a preference for gluing both sides. Still, we have an impressive picture with the characters from Charlie and Lola in a variety of clothing, on sofas and joined by penguins and stars and flowers. I’d better start stocking up on pictures – I may buy some transport mags.

Shipping containers on the right there, see?

Shipping containers on the right there, see?

It was 1.30pm. Here’s what we’d already done:

  • Eaten an enormous breakfast
  • Built a town centre complete with a railway, bus service, emergency vehicles, houses, a factory and some of those flats made from recycled shipping containers (the power of the imagination and plastic blocks)
  • Read some books
  • Colouring and drawing
  • Gluing
  • Dancing – to Simian Mobile Disco, Pulp and J Mascis

I was running out of ideas. Nigella. Always the answer.

bicciesAfter lunch we made biscuits. Cooking with a small child requires vast reserves of patience I’ve never had to draw on before. She likes to help stir. Creaming butter and sugar is especially difficult. Weirdly, she doesn’t yet like squeezing the mixture together. We rolled out the mixture (Butter cut out biscuits from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, in case you want to know. A good one to have as a fall back.), cut it in half, added chocolate chips to one half and rolled out the other half. I have loads of cutters, which have proved useful recently for Playdough sessions so E knows what to do with these. We made a lovely mixture of shapes – squirrels, bears, hearts, stars, foxes, hedgehogs, mooses, rabbits and people – and put them in the oven. E wanted black icing but settled for silvery-grey and we decorated them with hundreds and thousands, chocolate sprinkles and chocolate flowers. We worked out together that if we stuck the hedgehog in the chocolate sprinkles they look like authentic spikes.

More reading, and then we got the camera out to take some pictures. After those, we settled down to watch Aladdin, which I bought in a post-Robin Williams loss moment last week and which S had never seen before. E watched a bit but then got her playdough out and spent the rest of the film fishing it out, putting it back in the pot and then getting it out again.

That left tea time, more reading and some throwing herself about, mainly on me, to finish the day before her bath. I have fortified myself with dinner, wine and summer pudding, and thanking all deities that I have to go to work tomorrow.

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“This is rugby. The best game in the world…”

In a past life I held a season ticket at Northampton Saints rugby club. I attended every home game. I shouted, I cheered, I despaired (TV coverage of one particularly tight Heineken Cup game had my entire fingernail-biting face fill the screen…) I travelled to distant lands (well, alright, Cardiff) to watch finals, I cried, I laughed, I met new friends, I loved very minute. Then I got pregnant. I felt faint standing in the sun, I transferred my terrace ticket to a seat and then I stopped going.

It has not escaped my notice that the first season I got a ticket we got relegated and that two seasons after I stopped going they won the Premiership. I refuse to call myself a bad omen.

Anyway, I decided it was high time E had a taste of the rugby life. And so we took her down to Northampton on Saturday. I wanted to see how she’d react to a match, especially the noise and the crowds. My main concerns were:

  • the noise of the crowd would scare her
  • the large numbers of people would scare her
  • the size of the mascot, Bernie, who she has as a cuddly toy would freak her out
  • she’d be bored
  • she’d not eat anything while we were out

So I decided to test her at a pre-season friendly. We were playing Leinster.

For a small person who has just discovered vehicles and lampposts, the motorway trip was very exciting. The hour-long journey was punctuated by cries of “tall lights” “red lorry!” “Bus!” “tall light!” “So many tall lights!” all the way down. So far so good. We parked and walked to the ground. Sadly, the pre-season fixture meant there was no face painting available but there were plenty of food stalls. I’d given E baked beans for breakfast thinking they might fill her up if she decided she didn’t want to eat. We bought pie and chips and went to our seats, after saying hello to old friends.

I needn’t have worried at all. E was enchanted by everyone clapping and cheering and immediately joined in. Then she tucked into the pie and chips. I’ve never been prouder of my girl. We kept her occupied through the game with a bit of walking around, a new sticker book, an ice cream and some crayon work. Bernie walked round the pitch and she waved to him and laughed.

2014-08-23 14.37.33 2014-08-23 14.44.49The first half action took  place at the other end as we scored three tries with no reply. Couldn’t expect her to pay attention really. But then the game moved to our end and she watched as the men did “running” and threw the ball. When we scored again I held her up in the air to cheer which she loved. We sang the song “When the Saints go marching in” and she loved that, and then she watched as we took the conversion and the ball flew over her head. She cheered and clapped and general had a good time. A convert to the oval ball.

We took her home and got back just in time for the Sainsbury’s delivery – the delivery man was not impressed at our outing, being a football fan. He dismissed our good time with the typical sneer characteristic of football fans, assuming theirs is the better game. (Never understood this – if you go to a footie game you can expect to pay between 1 1/2-4 times as much for a ticket, through barriers similar to those used in prisons to a stadium with few bar facilities and poor catering, to a game with no guarantee of goals or entertainment, with a bunch of people, some of whom are racist, sexist and homophobic. And if you decide to stay at home to watch the highlights on TV instead, you have to put up with Robbie Savage. Seriously, what’s so good about that?)

We were lucky in that there weren’t any other seats filled on our row so she had a bit of room to move about – who knows how she’d do at a full game. But this was a good start. I am encouraged.


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An alternative universe

Cats have necklaces, cars have shoes, and the door likes it when you say goodbye. Soft toys are real and must be made comfortable for the day, sunflowers are as tall as lamp posts and it’s ok to ask a tree if it’s had a nice day. Yes it’s just our regular walk to and from nursery.

I like looking at the world through E’s eyes. In many ways, all she says makes a lot of sense. A telegraph pole used to be a tree and, if viewed in the right way, still looks like one. The cat’s necklace is really a collar but the logic makes sense. As does the thought that the cars have shoes.

The walk takes us 5-10 minutes or so (most of it in the pushchair unless she’s feeling adventurous.) As this constitutes quite a lot of my day with her I use the time to talk to her about what we see. It’s good training for observational skills. She sees more things than I and focuses on items I wouldn’t necessarily notice. Today she was delighted to see so many lamp posts (she calls them “tall lights”) on the way – she’d not noticed them before. She greeted each one with a shout and a laugh, only punctuated by vans and cyclists as they went past us. She’s into vehicles at the moment.

So we learn our colours using cars and flowers, we learn different types of bird as we see them fly overhead, we wave at dogs and cats as they go about their business, and we comment on the vehicles we see. It’s an action packed 10 minutes.

I guess the educationalists would like this kind of interaction but to tell the truth, I get as much from it as she does. I notice the small details I wouldn’t otherwise – how else would we know pigs live in the garden of a house round the corner? – details that spark thoughts and stories in my head, I smile at people and say hello. It helps embed us into the local community. Despite what you might hear in the media, those of us city dwellers do have a community. I know the dog walkers, the fellow workers, the families, the street sweeper and the maintenance man who works in the park.

Part of me is already regretting that she won’t always find magic in these mundane details, that soon she will be able to see something new and won’t make a logical but slightly inaccurate guess at what it is. So to record these details to remember her as she is now becomes vital, something for me to bore her with when I am old. For now, she charms with her imagination.

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A new family member

witchThere are two kinds of people in this world, we’ve noticed in recent months: those who look at E’s favourite toy and say “Ooh you’ve got the witch from Room on the Broom!” and those who look at E, look at me, look back at E and say “What a strange doll to have!” (The last lady to voice this looked very much like she’d never read Julia Donaldson – you can only pity such people.)

The witch has been with us since E’s second birthday and is very much a new member of the family. She comes everywhere with us – on trips into the city, to the park, to the library, days out – she would go to nursery too if E had her way but on days when I can’t persuade her to leave the witch on the sofa then she comes with us to drop E off and accompanies me to work.

She also helps out around the house – showing E how to use the toilet seat and the potty – and is rewarded with drinks of milk, bits of dinner and lots and lots of cuddles. E’s face lights up when she sees the witch and she can get anxious when the witch is not there, especially at bedtime.

Of course, the follow up question from people who aren’t aware of Room on the Broom is “What’s the witch’s name?” to which we can only reply, “She doesn’t have one.” There’s no name in the book and E hasn’t got to the stage where she names her toys yet.

There are other friends. Sometimes we’re joined by a teddy, a soft doll, a knitted doggy or a doggy that unfolds to be a cushion, as well as the witch’s nemesis – a soft red dragon toy. In our house these two are great friends, unlike the book. All of these creatures have demonstrated the toilet, all of them have been fed milk and all have accompanied us out somewhere at some point. But the witch is the constant.

E is also very interested in three soft toys that sit on a high bookshelf in her room. One is my old teddy – a worn threadbare panda – one is a womble backpack I used to wear to work, and the last is a teddy bear my mum bought for our first baby. These three have all been hugged and investigated but somehow I see them as the elder statespeople of E’s bedroom, watching over the others. It’s odd how important such things are still.

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But I know what I like

It was a week of ludicrous statements in the press last week. Artist Jake Chapman said that he doesn’t believe parents should take their children to art galleries because children can’t appreciate the art yet – being, as they are, “not yet fully human.” It’s obvious he’s just saying this for attention and is perhaps easily dismissed except… An interview this weekend in the Guardian with Gilbert and George mentioned that they weren’t necessarily in favour of free art galleries because if 95% of people who are in there wouldn’t pay for it, what do they gain?

Really? I know there are frequent references to artists being as out of touch as politicians but really, this dismissing of most of the public as being unworthy is a little tiresome. (Especially as both lots receive an awful lot of public money – if you don’t want us there, I suggest you give it back.)

And so we come to politicians. The new Education Minister, Nicky Morgan, started her tenure by saying that she will be tackling extremism in nurseries and ensuring that they teach British values. There is no evidence that nurseries are actually teaching extremism to children but don’t let that get in the way of a bold statement. Her ideas of British values included sharing, making the best of things (such as an incompetent government) and some other stuff that many people might just define as values or irritating character traits.

When E wasn’t at her potentially dangerous nursery last week, I took her to Nottingham Castle last week because I wanted to see the WWI exhibition in there. I wasn’t expecting E to be at all engaged with the exhibits and she wasn’t. We spent a short amount of time in the galleries, I checked out a few of the stories and then we made her a medal to wear around her neck. She loves it.

Months back we took her to a Quentin Blake exhibition at Harley Gallery, again because I wanted to see it. That one, she liked – I pointed at the children and the details in the pictures and she looked at them with interest. And then we went and ate a sausage. She will go to several art exhibitions before she starts school and onwards until she goes out without me, at which point she can do what she likes.

I think I want her to be used to seeing these places as somewhere which is welcoming to her and to all. These are public spaces, art is our art – why else is there always such an outcry when a member of the minor aristocracy wants to sell a painting? I see galleries as much of a public space as libraries or parks. Of course I want to take E there, she shouldn’t be intimidated by any of those places. They’re also a useful place for her to learn that she can’t grab everything or touch everything, that there are boundaries and places she should respect. In the Lakeside Gallery the other day I had trouble keeping her away from an exhibition of a chair – she knew it was a chair and wanted to sit on it. But she’s still little and she’ll learn.

Now, I’m pretty terrible at walking round galleries – I snort at the captions, glance vaguely at most of the pictures and sit down at the end and wait for S who is much more contemplative. (Note: galleries without seats are bloody rubbish. Yes, Nottingham Contemporary, I’m talking about you.) But I do like going in them on a regular basis – to sit, to find somewhere with an alternative viewpoint in which to scribble a few things, to seek out art that actually does something to me. And most galleries are much more family-friendly than Jake Chapman and provide all sorts of things to do to engage children with the exhibits.

I don’t expect E to necessarily see this as the inspiration she needs to become an artist. She likes painting, I admit, but she also likes peas. And stickers. And walking in the fountains in the Square. And going down slides. But surely we can all agree that if she can sit and take a moment to look at a depiction of something, if at some point she is engaged with a picture or a representation of someone’s thoughts, if she can see those things in a building which welcomes her and provides her with a moment’s peace, surely that’s a valuable lesson right there?

E is reading: If You’re Happy and you Know it Yes the song. In a book. Free from Bookstart. E has started getting really into songs, as you’ll know if you read this blog last week. This one has actions including wiggling your hips. E and S doing this together is incredibly funny – S looks like a Geography teacher dancing at the school disco and E’s enthusiasm for the wiggling is merely infectious. She has a crazy grin while she does it.

I am reading: Elizabeth Taylor – Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont I’d heard of Elizabeth Taylor the author before but not read her. This is a Virago modern classic so I had great hopes and wasn’t disappointed. What a great book! Bitchy, funny, and very touching, this is the story of one elderly lady who retires to a small hotel in London and the other well to do but not that well to do inhabitants she encounters there. She combats her loneliness and fear of being pitied by befriending an impoverished young writer and so an unlikely friendship is born. Excellent stuff. Must read more.

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