Quashing

You may or may not have seen the recent hoo-hah over a picture that Victoria Beckham released of herself and her daughter. If you didn’t, here’s a quick recap. The Beckhams, being uber famous, try and avoid paparazzi (and potential kidnap attempts) by once in a while releasing approved pictures of themselves and their children. This one featured VB and her daughter in a swimming pool. The hoo hah has been because her daughter is kissing VB on the lips. Many slightly hysterical commentators have suggested that this is completely inappropriate.

It does get to something when a natural gesture between two close family members is examined for shock value. Having no interest in pop music, fashion or football, I’m not too bothered by the Beckhams but they’ve always come across to me as very loving parents, with a strong family ethos.

The wrong issues are being examined here. I can only imagine anyone who objects to a young child kissing her mother on the lips is either a hypocrite or utterly joyless.

E is still at this stage – she’s very loving and affectionate and demonstrates this physically, including lots of kisses, some on the lips. I know that in many ways, she’s copying what she sees between S and I – when we greet each other, say goodbye, or just feel like a hug. It’s natural to kiss those you love, yes? So she does. I would never reject these kisses. I would never tell her that it’s wrong or an invalid emotion.

The main issue is one of consent. When she gets to the point (I know it’s coming) where she doesn’t want to give kisses, it’s important not to make her. For me or anyone else, grandparents, aunts and so on. Equally, I need to make it clear that she will need to ask other people if they want her to kiss them, and ask their consent before showing affection.

It comes down to how much we want to dampen our children’s natural instincts. I had this in a different way the other day at the hospital. E’s clothes had been cut off her in the ambulance and we had nothing with us. The nurses found us a pair of spare pants and a tiny hospital gown. Those gowns all do up badly at the back with a few tabs. This was the same but she liked it and ran down to the ECG department with it streaming out behind her, flashing her undies but happily jumping on coloured dots on the floor, completely confident in her body and happy.

We came down to a busy part of the hospital where, a passer by told us, lots of prisoners sat. (Alone? Unguarded? Really?) Also, you know, just lots of other people.

There are very real safeguarding issues. I am well aware of these. All parents are. But to tell her to cover up and be ashamed of her body suddenly wakes an awareness of appearance that I don’t think should be a consideration for a 4 year old. God knows we’re going to have to deal with body confidence at some point. But if you can avoid making it an issue early on, then I believe you should. So I picked her up and pulled her slightly exposed back to me until we were in a quiet corridor.

Awareness and making sense of how you are viewed is all part of growing up. Mostly it’s horrible. But I’m pretty sure that the issues surrounding this, and around safeguarding, are all hopelessly mixed up with an unhealthy dollop of misogyny and god knows what else mixed in. I’m not ready to deal with it yet. I doubt very much if E is. Or VB’s daughter. So can we all stop judging now?

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Hold on tight

It seems a long time since last weekend, where we spent time with my mum, sister, best friend and families; gardening, relaxing, and going to Hyde Park to watch Carole King. It was a lovely weekend and full of love and good things, one to be treasured.

I left work early on Tuesday to come home in time to visit E’s school for the first time. I was excited to see it properly, meet the teachers and so on, but when I got in, the house was deserted, TV still, on vomit on the floor and the front door wide open. No sign of anyone out the front door, or upstairs. I called S’s mobile – no answer. Changing out of my bike stuff, clearing up the vomit and getting things ready to go, I stepped into the street and called his number again. “E’s choked, we’re round the corner,” he said.

I turned the corner to find her lying on the floor, with a paramedic holding a bag over her nose and E taking big gasping breaths in. Her eyes were closed and apart from her heaving chest, she was very still. S turned to me. “I thought I’d lost her,” he said.

There was a flurry of paramedics, ambulances, and police, along with two scared looking bystanders (I found out later they’d called the ambulance for us.) We climbed in and took her to the hospital, nee-naaing our way through rush hour traffic, and into A&E. E had by now responded to her name and flickered her eyes open, but wasn’t focusing. They strapped her into all kinds of machines, pulled all hr clothes off, had terrible trouble getting blood samples or a line in her hand (she inherits my veins, it turns out) and rehydrated her before a chest xray, an ECG and some other tests. A parade of doctors came by and introduced themselves, telling us what was going on, none of which I remember now. S told the story over and over again. Then the police turned up (standard procedure) and S told it all over again.

Essentially, she had been eating a snack of cheese and grapes in the front room. S was in the dining room. She staggered out, clearly choking, he bashed her back, stuck his fingers down her throat and when she collapsed with blue lips, ran into the street to find help. I must have missed them by seconds. She went into cardiac and respiratory arrest and they lost a pulse for a couple of minutes.

She got better and better, told the paediatric doctor to “go away and stop hurting me” and I stood reciting ‘The Scarecrow’s Wedding’ to her as waited to find out what happened next.  Then we all went up to the Paediatric High Dependency Unit where she immediately fell asleep for 5 1/2 hours.

By the time she woke, she seemed back to normal, ate some Rice Crispies and told the nurse about her favourite Disney Robin Hood film. We were opposite a v ill baby and she waved at him while he sat and had his milk. Somehow this triggered something in me and I went to the family room and tried to sleep for awhile. Mainly a failure but when I got back to the ward at 5am, she and S were both asleep, her in bed and him in a chair beside her.

S went off for sleep and she woke later on, perky and chatty again. We played with some jigsaws and I tried to sneak some tea (she was nil by mouth). Then the Ear, Nose and Throat centre were ready for her and we went down to help her have her anaesthetic. Leaving her lying asleep on the bed was the moment when I nearly lost it and had to have a big hug from the nurse (everyone who looked after us was an absolute superstar, we couldn’t have had better care). The procedure was simple enough – to see if she’d ingested any food in her lungs and get it out if so.

I waited. The nurse brought me toast. S arrived from home with essentials – or the only essentials I could think of (phone charger, clean pants, cardi, but I forgot birth control pills and a toothbrush.) He also brought sandwiches and a chocolate muffin. She was awake again, and absolutely fine and so we made our way upstairs to the children’s ward. We were hoping to go home but she remained on close observation for a while and they decided a further ECG was necessary, just to be on the safe side.  As soon as we arrived, E went down to the playroom and rode a plastic horse back up to her bed. This is a child supposed to be in recovery – we were given a list of symptoms she might display from the procedure and the anaesthetic. Nothing.

The ward was a test of my patience. It was incredibly noisy, mainly beeping machines, doors banging, parents and TV sets, rather than the kids. We watched a DVD (How to Train your Dragon) without having any idea of what was going on because we couldn’t hear anything. S went home at 8.30, E slept from 9 onwards and everyone finally shut up at 9.30-10. I slept in a reclining chair and was woken at 3am by a nurse brandishing antibiotics asking to wake E up. Fat chance but she finally swallowed it down and went back to sleep. Then I got woken at 6.30 by her standing at the end of my chair saying, “Mummy, I’m beeping.”

We had a cuddle till breakfast time and read the Thomas the Tank Engine mag S picked up for her the day before. I was reliant on the mum at the bed next door for what to do at breakfast (also how to work the reclining chair, clearly a seasoned pro at the ward stuff) and E wolfed down loads of it. We spent the day on the ward, she had her ECG and then we were told we could go but needed meds. A long wait. Finally home at 6 with fish and chips for dinner.

She was the wellest child on the ward, and raced up and down in her gown and on her plastic horse. She charmed all the nurses and lapped up all the attention. She’s shown no signs of side effects yet (we have to be vigilant) and can’t remember anything much of why she was there. She doesn’t believe me when I told her she’d been in an ambulance.

For someone like me, who has been panicking about harm coming to her since before she was born, this all seemed rather like a sick joke. I also found out that a defence mechanism of your child scraping past serious health issues is to fervently wish things were normal and you could have gone to the school open evening instead. For S, things seem a little different. He went through the worst of it and, despite being praised by a lot of the doctors for his quick thinking (essentially he saved her life) he has seemed bashful and worried. I’m guessing some kind of guilt.

E is now asleep and my nightmares about her not waking up are back. But I know I need to not smother her or stop her from getting into harm or trying new things. In some ways, it was good to get a bit cross with her earlier today when she didn’t want to tidy up – it seemed so normal. It is all her little things; her hugs, her sloppy kisses, her attempts to help me when I nearly fell into the bath, her handing me items from the shopping basket to put through the till, her pleasure in Lego, Octonauts and Star Wars figurines and her clumsy dancing to Disney songs that I need to remember and hold onto. Hold on tight, said my sister yesterday, hold on to your babies, they are so precious.

(Apologies for the length of this blog post – I needed to get it all out.)

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Talking to children about bad things

Like many, the dreadful murder of Jo Cox MP was on my mind when I came in from work last night. E coming to greet me with a big hug was exactly what I needed. But when both her parents sat down to watch the news before her bedtime, she knew something was up.

I have no idea how you explain something like this a young child. With slightly older offspring it is perhaps easier but E is four and her concepts of death, hate and nastiness are very hazy. In her play, if someone is hurt it’s always fixable, no one is ever unpleasant or fights and even though we have some books where things (usually animals or pets) die, she doesn’t know what this means.

She sat on my lap and asked what we were watching. Then she asked what ‘the news’ was. Easy enough. But then she wanted to know what was going on. I decided it was silly to pretend nothing was happening – I was upset, she had picked up on my mood and we never usually watch TV during the day. I told her a lady had been hurt.

“What did she do?” she said. “Nothing. A nasty man hurt her.” Then there were lots of pictures of Jo Cox on the screen. “Is that the lady?” “Yes.” “Who is looking after her?” “She’s at the hospital.”

At no point did she ask why he’d hurt her, which would have been difficult – how do you explain random hate? I have, in the past,told her that people often get angry when they’re scared of something or if they don’t know much about something. I’ve told her it’s ok to be scared sometimes but she must talk to people about it and that it’s good to be brave. This was enough for last night, and she sat on my lap and gave me lots of hugs and kisses until it was bath time.

We know this kind of thing will go on. So I guess the best thing we can do for our small people is to tell them the truth, reassure them that we will do all we can to keep them safe and teach them that being kind and accepting of others is the best thing we can all do. I send all kinds of love to the two small people waking up without their mum this morning and cherish this time with my own.

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A holiday

Blog holidays can be ace. And in this case, unplanned. Back now though.

One of the things I’ve found most interesting in parenting is watching and understanding how E’s mind develops. There’s a point when you see someone who was a baby turn into a little person, but in the last few months we’ve really seen E develop beyond that to get a glimpse of her character; her sense of humour, the way she interprets things, how she sees the world have all come on markedly.

She’s now able to recognise things we’ve done before, or realise that there was a time when we did things without her or when she was very small. She makes jokes, she makes up stories with her toys and she remembers and relates experiences to us. Last month we had a day trip to a local castle that had a re-enactment day from the Civil War. All interesting enough until they set off some cannons and scared the living daylights out of her. Now, if you talk to her about being scared and having to be brave she talks about ‘the bangs’ – it was a really big thing for her to get past it and be brave.

She’s also much more independent and adventurous than she has been. We know she’s probably an introvert but recently at the playground she’s been chatting away to other children she doesn’t know happily enough. And she’s really adventurous. Climbing is her current passion. I found this out in a terribly inelegant and embarrassing way recently.

S has been more cautious with her than me, always telling her to be careful – I don’t know if it’s a dad thing or related to them both falling down the stairs at Christmas or both – but I’ve been worried about telling her to be careful because it feels like something we say to girls because they’re delicate and ladylike. But still, I wasn’t ready for her level of exploration. We were at the playground at Paignton seafront (incidentally, the English Riviera is a dreadful hole, and I say that as someone who loves the British seaside.) She wanted to climb on a thing that was a combination of tunnels and rope bridges. “Come with me Mummy!” We’ve been on these before, though not as high off the ground as this one, and she likes to have a hand to hold for difficult bits.

We went up together – I pushed her through the tunnels which were angled upwards, and across the platforms towards the bridge. It was quite high. How to get across together? I thought perhaps if she was on my lap we could clamber over on my bum. It started well. Then I realised the rope bridge net was also angled upwards. It turns out it’s quite hard to climb on your bum up a rope slope with a toddler on your lap and handbag slung over your shoulder. I got stuck.

We got down somehow and she decided to go up again. “You stay here because you couldn’t do it,” she said. The shame. I can, I can do it! Luckily I had to go up again to help her across the bridge so I was able to prove I could do it but she didn’t really need me – she knows where to put her feet and what to hold on to.

Of course, in reality this makes me proud and pleased. But I do wish I’d spotted her fearlessness before being stranded on my arse in Paignton.

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Girls just want to have screen time

A few weeks I emailed E’s nursery and asked if they knew why she appeared to be suddenly obsessed with princesses. “Nothing to do with us,” was the reply (though they did give her a book of Cinderella for Christmas) and they suggested she was learning princesses through the other children. This seems likely, as they’re all merchandise tie-inned up most of the time. It was only going to be a matter of time before E got more exposure to these things (we do have the films at home but we limit screen time and merchandise); it also seems likely as I’ve noticed when E plays with other children she does seem easily led by them. *makes note to find assertiveness parenting tricks*

I do like Disney films. I’ve blogged about this before. My problem with them is two-fold. The first is that they have such a monopoly on things. You can’t buy a tshirt, a scooter, a bag, a set of cutlery without seeing Elsa or someone else on them. They’re everywhere, inescapable. The other is because they reflect part of the problem we have with representing women on screen.

A recent study analysed the amount of speaking time women in Disney films have. The older films (Sleeping Beauty, even Cinderella who is the most passive heroine in the history of the world) give the women between 50-60% speaking screen time. This gets smaller and smaller as the films get more modern to the extent that, Frozen, a film with not one but two female protagonists, has female speaking screen time at 41%. I blame that stupid snowman.

Now while you may say that what they say isn’t important, their acts are, I say this does matter. Art doesn’t reflect culture, in many cases it can shape it. There are studies that say that seeing a range of female roles on screen (big and small) can ‘normalise’ those roles and make the transition for women in the workplace easier and less strewn with sexist comments. Seriously. In a word where the media adores Kate Middleton, a prominent female ‘role model’ who says nothing at all in public if they can help it, we really should be concerned about the amount of time women on screen speak.

E naturally gravitates towards female characters. Her favourite in Toy Story is Jessie, she often makes toys she plays with into women (Mickey Mouse is Mickey Sophie Mouse in our house, the dragon from Room on the Broom is now female in our house (though to be fair the book doesn’t specify)). I was watching snooker on TV yesterday when she walked in and asked where all the women were. It was this that made me think we never see female snooker on screen. Presumably there is a championship? So I imagine one of the reasons she likes the princesses in Disney is because they are prominent female roles where she doesn’t see many. We watch some regular programmes – mainly Octonauts and that one about the Natural History Museum. Both programmes have male main characters with female assistants. Thank goodness for Katie Morag.

There are some good things to be taken from Disney. My favourite, Beauty and the Beast, has a heroine who is bookish, voices her desire for adventure, happily knows her own mind enough to turn down the advances of the local creep and then goes off to rescue the beast – literally and figuratively (she not only saves him from being a beast but pulls him to safety from the top of the castle). What a gal.

E’s favourite is The Little Mermaid. Again, some good things to think about here – a heroine who doesn’t fit in is one we can all relate to. And when she voices her desires she is punished, first by her father who destroys her treasures but then by the sea witch who steals her most powerful weapon – her voice. It screams feminist injustice. (Obviously the original fairytale doesn’t but there was a reason reading it traumatised me as a child.)

Stopping by the supermarket this weekend I decided to buy some Lego Star Wars for us. There was lots of merchandise. None of it featured Rey. Or Leia. I bought it anyway and let E do what she wanted with it, which is why this morning a Tie fighter pilot and an X-wing pilot were sitting in our dolls house living room, enjoying the sofa. But why can’t we have Rey?

Why can’t we have females who aren’t princesses, who are girls and women just doing stuff? Why do I have to make a special effort to find females to show E when we watch things? Sort it out please.

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Crich tramway village – a review

This has been a blog post a long time coming. I started to write it after our first trip to Crich and then realised that it was about to close for the season. So I’ve waited winter out, returned to Crich already this year and am ready to tell you about it, in case you’ve not been.

2016-03-20 14.13.58Fancy a day out in Derbyshire? A day among old fashioned shops and transport? A day out that celebrates the days when functional everyday things were beautiful, not just functional? Nostalgia-central, that’s also great for kids? Well, Crich Tramway Village is for you.

The attraction is sited in an old quarry and has tram lines running up and down the hill. Trams from days of yore run throughout the day. There are also old fashioned shops – sweets, a printers, gift shop – a pub and a tea shop, as well as a warehouse style building that house more trams, an indoor museum and soft play centre, and a further education centre. There’s also a woodland walk, with sculpture trail and outdoor play area, and a small exhibit about the quarry including fossils. And there’s a tardis, I mean police box, as well as other old street furniture.2016-03-20 15.51.01

We’ve been three times since our first visit, all on the same ticket which lasts a year. E gets in free until she’s 4 and adults are priced at £16 each. It’s great value.

E loves it. She gets very excited about the double decker trams and the first time she rode one she had a hissy fit when we had to get off. Now she understands she can go back on them it’s ok. You get given old fashioned pennies when you enter and you use them to ‘buy’ an all day ticket from the tram conductor. I think all the staff driving and conducting are volunteers and the atmosphere is fun – they dress up in the old uniforms. But it’s not just the rides. She likes to look at the old trams, stroke their paintwork and where it’s allowed, climb on and sit down. She’s becoming a transport nerd.

2016-03-20 14.48.53The woodland trail is very good and I love the sculptures, which range from green men to wizards to books and a drum set. The outdoor play area opened this year and is excellent, providing E with all the climbing apparatus she likes. And this year we stopped off at the fossil display which has ancient shark’s teeth and a selection of sparkly rocks. It’s enough to please any three-year old, or at least mine.

The food in the tea rooms is fine, and the children’s choices come in boxes – royalty or safari (they ask which you’d prefer, not wanting to assign genders to them, thank god.) There are also plenty of toilets. So all in all, it’s really family friendly.

Look at this lovely tram stop. Why can't we make them like this any more?

Look at this lovely tram stop. Why can’t we make them like this any more?family friendly

They also have theme days. Some of these are nostalgia-based (1940s, horse drawn trams and so on) but to close the season last year they did a Halloween special and as it got dark lit up the trams and the ‘street’ with spooky costumes and lights. E loved the open air Blackpool boat tram with its lights glowing and we had such a good time dancing to Monster Mash on the pavement.

I’ve already been asked when we’ll go back to the double decker trams, and have made a list of the theme days so I reckon at least two, if not three, more trips before our tickets run out for the year. Give it a try, I really recommend it.

Crich Tramway Museum is open daily from Saturday 19 March until Sunday 30 October 2016, from 10am – 5.30pm (last admissions 4.00pm). More information can be found on their website, Facebook or Twitter pages

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Stammering

“M-m-m-m-m-mummy…” she starts. It’s obviously frustrating for her and quite painful to watch. My instinct has been to wait and let her finish rather than jumping in, but my goodness, it’s so hard to watch her trying to talk.

This started a few months back and it was a surprise to her. After trying to say something, she’d look up and say “I can’t talk!” with a puzzled expression. We tried to reassure her. The stammer went away.

But now it’s back. It’s been going on for a little while and I’ve not wanted to make a big deal of it. This time she doesn’t seem to have expressed any frustration – I don’t know if it’s all internalised, or just isn’t bothering her at all. But not wanting to watch her struggling with her speech in this way I looked up a few facts. Action for Stammering Children has a very good website with resources for children, teens, teachers, parents and therapists. Here’s what I learned:

  • Stammering is part of development for around 5% children and in most cases they grow out of it.
  • Girls grow out of it better than boys; boys are more vulnerable to stammering
  • Getting early help can make a difference

There’s no obvious cause. Researchers have been looking into heredity and stress reasons but there are a range of possibles and they may vary for each child.

The stammering framework

The stammering framework

E’s speech has not followed standard development. At her two-year check up the health visitor was concerned that she didn’t say anything and wanted to send her to a speech therapist which I refused. A few weeks later she started to talk and all was fine. These days she also makes gibberish noises instead of talking which drives both of us mad. Being followed around by someone groaning “yawp!” instead of answering questions is pretty frustrating and we have both admonished her, asking her to talk properly. But now I wonder if this is related to the stammering. She has no trouble when she talks nonsense.

I spoke to nursery about the stammer. They have not seen her doing this, so it may be something she only does at home. But they also report that she is quiet at nursery and doesn’t necessarily talk as much as the other children. In this, she takes after her parents.

Of course, hearing that she only does it at home piles the guilt on; though research suggests stammering isn’t related to stress in younger children, you still associate it with something people do when they’re unhappy. Having said that, nursery also said when she does talk, she has a complex vocabulary and they have no concerns. So this could all be part of normal development for someone who is learning to communicate big thoughts. The Action for Children website backs this up as one of the possible causes.

It’s all a little confusing. The website says that even if your child displays some speech difficulties they may not have a full blown stammer. They also say early help can be best to clear it up quickly. Despite this, I’m torn as to whether I should take her for professional help in case this upsets her or make her think she’s not right. She tends to dwell on things and remember them for a while afterwards (again, a bad trait I’ve passed onto her) so I don’t want to worry her, but on the other hand I want to help.

What can you do if you’re a parent of a stammering child? Help is available. You can see your GP though the NHS speech services will take self referrals too. Action for Stammering Children have a centre in London. Otherwise, they recommend:

  • Focus on what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it
  • Keep to good food and sleep routines
  • Don’t interrupt or try to finish their sentences
  • Don’t tell them to slow down, instead try and lead by example by reading to them and speaking to them slowly
  • Try not to look for signs that they are getting worse as it will make you and them anxious. Instead focus on things they do well. (E has started making up fabulous stories, for example, and is more independent in tasks. Also good at sharing.)
  • Try to slow down altogether – the fast pace of modern life can have an effect
  • Have a short calm, relaxed one on one session to chat with no pressure.

For now, I’m trying to monitor when it occurs so I feel more knowledgeable about it, I’m trying to be more patient with her nonsense talk and I’m slowing down. We now have more leisurely breakfasts than rushy ones (see previous blog post) and I may instigate a day where we don’t do much (maybe Saturday). It’s also good practice for my reading, which can be quite rushed, as part of my natural reading style. And reading through the website again, I think I will also contact the speech and language service.

Action for Stammering Children can be found at their website, Facebook or Twitter sites.

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