Golden days

I love the Olympics. I know parts of it are dodgy and there’s all kinds of nastiness going on in Brazil that we’re not seeing but I love it. I’ve always loved it. I remember watching loads of athletics especially when I was a child, an early hero for me was Kathy Cooke, and I danced with joy in 1988 when the men’s hockey team won gold. For us Brits, it’s only in the last 20 years or so that we’ve really been achieving, a lot of what I watched with my dad was disappointing for us. I always remember watching Jonathan Edwards getting his gold and wishing Dad was still alive to watch it, bearing in mind how many times we saw him come 13th together. 

Anyway, E has been interested in sport when we’ve had it on TV, and obviously we took her to the rugby world cup last year which she really enjoyed. But this is the first time she’s properly seen the Olympics, and been able to react to the female athletes. 

I hadn’t really thought about this in advance. The first weekend I had the women’s rugby sevens on so E sat beside me and asked who we should be cheering on. It was our game against Canada at the time, and E took it all very seriously, exclaiming when the Canadians had the ball and calling, “Run! Run for your life!” when we got the ball. 

I showed her some of the gymnastics next. Who wouldn’t be impressed by Simone Biles? E couldn’t work out if she was more impressed with the flips or the sparkly leotards. She loved the swimming but it was the heptathlon that really caught her imagination. 

We sat and watched the high jump and E was fascinated. She watched the efforts of them all, she warmed to Jessica Ennis-Hill, she watched the record breaking pbs from Thiam and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and she saw them all clap and cheer on each other. From then on, her imaginary play involved athletes. She has a band of imaginary friends, mainly Disney characters, but from the weekend Jess and Katarina have joined them. They came to dinner on Saturday night, and they played hide and seek with us on Sunday. 

We’ve watched highlights each morning over breakfast and it’s been so refreshing and positive to be able to easily show her women doing amazing things, achieving cracking physical feats and winning medals. She asks which one is ours, she cheers whenever anyone crosses the line, she is intrigued, and she’s been asking how to do these things. I told her she has to practice and she took this very seriously. “I can practice when I’mngrown.” 

I don’t know what she’ll be like when the games finish but hopefully we’ll be able to find some women’s sports, especially athletics, on TV to keep her interest. We don’t have satellite TV, so no extra sports channels, though I doubt they show much female sport. In the meantime, I’ve been compiling her a collage of pictures from the newspapers which show all the women – Jessica E-H, KJT, Bryony Page, the cycling team, the rowing eight, and now I’ll add Amy Tinkler and more Laura Trott. Then we can hang it on the wall. 

It’s so easy to knock some of this stuff, but we’ve seen all kinds of pictures in the last few days of children who met an Olympian and grew up to win their own medals. But assuming E doesn’t go and bring home a gold medal, the fact that these games have sparked her imagination, that it’s been so easy to show her women doing fabulous things, and that these are not things she sees every day, is important. Real role models, for girls and boys, seem thin on the ground these days and the nastiness of our media and social media make admiring people hard to do. 

Thank you Team GB, and Rio, for inspiring my girl. Bring on Tokyo. 

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School shopping

E starts school next month. She will be one of the youngest there, but somehow despite this I think she’s ready. She’s eager to learn things and is positive about school. Last month she had a morning session there to meet her teacher, new classmates and the buildings and took it all in her stride. She’s also had ‘homework’ (to decorate a shoebox) and has been taking it very seriously, working hard to put her own flair on her box. It’s a riot of Star Wars characters covered in flower stickers, female superheroes cut from wrapping paper, butterfly stickers, dinosaurs, coloured cellophane and glitter glue.

Of course this means we’re stepping into the murkey world of school uniform shopping. The school asks for white tops, grey skirts or trousers and the school’s branded jumper or cardigan. This then comes with additional things like white socks, school shoes, and the PE kit. Black or white shorts, a white tshirt and black plimsolls. Therefore more socks.

High street shops appear to have conceded the supply of most school kit to the supermarkets, most of whom do excellent deals on packs of polo shirts, skirt/ trousers two-packs and the gingham summer dresses. The best high street shop to get a lot of these things used to be BHS, close to my office and relatively inexpensive, but that’s gone.

In the interests of research I stopped in at M&S, somewhere I never go except in desperation. Not even for pants. They had a good range of white socks and grey tights, though hardly any in E’s size, and the polo shirts were twice as expensive as Asda/ Sainsbury’s but in packs of two, not three.

Nothing for PE. Not even packs of white tshirts. I considered buying white boys vests for a moment but had a flashback to my primary years where I had the same pair of shoes as a boy in my class and spent the term being teased for wearing boys’s shoes. The 40-year old me wouldn’t care, the 6-year old did very much.

So supermarkets it was then. Our nearest is Sainsbury’s and I picked up some skirts there but it’s a small store and their clothes selection isn’t vast so there weren’t the right sizes for polo shirts. Their plimsolls also had embroidered pink hearts on the top and I’ve read so many horror stories about pupils being sent home for the wrong shoes that I decided against it.

So we had a special trip to Asda. Their range is massive, and I picked up everything we needed except shies which I will get in Clarks. My only gripe was the gendered packs of polo shirts which I didn’t actually notice till I got home – the girls have scalloped collars and come in pink packaging. I’d inadvertently bought boys crew neck tshirts for PE (blue packaging). Sainsbury’s do gender neutral packs.

We bought 6 tops, 2 lots of socks, grey tights, plimsolls, t shirts, shorts, a new swimming costume and a new anorak plus hair bobbles and clips to match the royal blue uniform and it came to around £40. E pushed the trolley (badly) and then we went for coffee. (This is a mistake. Asda coffee comes from a machine and isn’t drinkable. They even managed to mess up the fruit toast. Shocking.)

In the spirit of the new term, I sewed name tapes on all of them that very afternoon.

And so to shoes. Clarks, obviously. And they measured E’s feet. The girl brought out the only ones they had available in her size – a choice of two. So we return to the stories of children being sent home from school because their shoes weren’t appropriate. I had some doubts about whether the first lot were quite right. I don’t want to be that parent, or at least not yet. The first pair had silver sparkly insoles, lights on the bottom of the shoes (you can turn the lights off when she’s at school, the girl said. And how long would that last, hmmm?) and large jewel flowers on the front. E, of course, loved them. Who can blame her?

I managed to get her to get the other pair, which were more appropriate but still had ballet dancing rabbits on the soles and came with a sheet of stickers. But really, do we want to have a moment to think about why Clarks put such rubbish on shoes? I know school shoes are dull black things but really.

Anyway, we’re now kitted out. I think. I hope.

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Celebrate your lefties!

Happy International Left-handers Day! I hope all you lefties have a great day waving at people and so forth. 

I, like 90% of the population, am a righty. But E is a lefty. I suspected as much a couple of years ago but was told that it might change and tends to be more fixed when she gets to around four. 

Well, she’s four now and she’s a lefty. Like Barack Obama. Other famous lefties include: Leonardo Da Vinci, Kenneth Branagh, Spike Lee, Morgan Freeman, Germaine Greer, Jack the Ripper, Paul McCartney and Martina Navratilova. Though I imagine the one she’ll be most pleasd with is that Chewbacca is left handed too. E loves Chewie.

It doesn’t mean much to us, except that I find it interesting. She can sometimes manage to cut with my scissors, and the only other thing to note is that she is a little more clumsy with utensils, so mealtimes are still quite messy. But that’s all. Research is casting some doubt on old ideas about lefties, like if they’re more creative or not, though we would encourage that in her either way. 

There is some early search that suggests handedness may be related to language, though mainly around areas of mixed handedness. Scientists have not yet managed to pinpoint where handedness comes from, but although S and I are both righties, S’s grandma was a leftie and was forced to use her right hand. So perhaps it skipped a few generations. 

For now, we’re encouraging E to get used to using her hands for dedicated work, such as writing her name or eating with a knife AND fork. Since we’ve moved on from the days when such things were frowned on, I shall celebrate her leftie-ness. And so, I wish you all a good lefty day. 

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“It’s fine once you’re past the early stage isn’t it?” said the woman next to me. “When you’ve gone feral.” It sounds worse than it really is; we weren’t in a jungle, merely a music festival. 

I’d been toying with the idea of taking E to a music festival for a while and finally bit the bullet to take her to Deershed in Yorkshire this past weekend. It’s just the right size to be able to transport things easily and have a good time while not intimidating a small person with the size and scale and chaos. E had been primed about camping for a while, trying out her new sleeping bag and sparkly face paints and so off we set on Friday morning leaving S behind. “No boys allowed!” She announced.

Deershed is geared towards families and is very welcoming for folk with small people of all ages. We arrived about an hour after the gates opened, drove straight in and picked up a trolley to move our stuff. Having been used to Glastonbury, this was a novelty – not only did I have a relatively small tent in comparison, but there was enough room to set it up and have loads of space surrounding it. The other important thing to note is that the toilets were clean, mostly fresh smelling and in most cases were well stocked with paper. 

E was very relaxed but excited about the whole weekend and was absurdly pleased with the small things I’d remembered to bring, such as bunting for the tent and fairy lights for nighttime. She helped with pumping up the air mattresses and set everything out in our temporary home with great care. 

We went and had a look around. There’s loads to do for all ages, as well as music and comedy for the adults (plus bars) there were workshops, a sports area, circus skills, film tent, fairgound and a big top. For littlies, there was a NCT feeding tent for support and rest, under five areas with soft play, sand pit and crafts, and welfare areas. They also have Mr Trolley there for trolley hire, which I decided to invest in. I hired E a wagon trolley with roof and padded sides, for her to ride in. I’d seen children sleep in them at other festivals and had a faint hope of E doing the same. Many families there brought their pwn trolley.

E was fascinated by the fairground rides though not enough to go on them, loved the bubble displays at the bubble stall, and was very excited by the green sea monster that sat in the pond. We called it Delia. 

The workshops were a lovely variety of crafts and new things to try out. We went home with more homemade items than a Kirsty Allsopp TV programme, including a lovely willow woven heart and a minion made from a plastic bottle end. But E’s favourite workshop was the Aardman model making. We sat on the first one and made a Shaun the Sheep from plasticine which, while not perfect, does resemble the original enough to make us proud. (We returned to Aardmanfor a Gromit workshop on Sunday to find it sold out but they kindly gave E a ready made one made by the Aardman man himself to make up for the disappointment. I was very excited, and E told the lady she would introduce it to Shaun so they could be friends.) 

The trolley was a great help, and easier to manoeuvre than you might think, and E made great friends with it. Ours was called Bradley, and by the end of the weekend he was covered in ribbon braids. The roof did a basic job of keeping her dry for Sunday’s rain, though there was leakage from drips. 

How about the performances? We didn’t see an enormous amount, though heard several more while out and about. E enjoyed Sam Sam the Bubbleman, once she’d put her ear defenders on to avoid being scared to death by the compere making all the kids shout, and she really enjoyed anything that encouraged her to dance. The air guitar workshop followed by the Matthew Bourne ballet workshop onSunday were big hits. But her favourite was Richard Hawley on Saturday night. We’d gone back to the tent before the performance and got her changed into her pyjamas, leaving Bradley behind. We stopped off to hear a bedtime story, then picked up some hot chocolate, churros and choc dipping sauce, and consumed all on our blanket. Then RH started playing and E started to dance. She didn’t stop till he did, and then called goodbye to him all the way back to the tent. I imagine the novelty was a big factor in her enjoyment, but perhaps she’s inherited her mother’s love of guitars too. 
E is keen to return, so I’ll keep an eye out for next year’s tickets. All in all a great success, and only a bit exhausting.

Deershed festival details can be found on their website

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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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