Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How to Raise a Well Behaved Toddler

Ha! I'm kidding. Obviously I have no idea how to get your toddler to behave, but did you know that there is an abundance of articles out there that claim to be able to? All nonsense, of course. I'm inherently sceptical of advice pieces like that. For one thing, I believe that toddlers do exactly what they want one hundred per cent of the time,  but also I hate that they're not given credit as individual people; as though some formula will work on them all.

Doesn't make it any easier when your child hits the age at which they stop being able to see or hear you, though. Blake has reached that age. He spends the majority of the day refusing to acknowledge my existence, breaking from character only when he senses that my bottom has touched the toilet seat or that I might be secretly eating chocolate in the kitchen. Naturally, at those moments, he can't bear to be apart from me. The rest of the time, however, I'm invisible and my voice apparently functions on a frequency not detected by toddler ears.

Blake isn't naughty... as such. He doesn't throw enormous tantrums, nor does he get spiteful with me or other children. In fact, most of the scenarios you would automatically picture when told of 'bad behaviour' are alien in our house. What he does is ignorance, and he does it very well. In the course of an average day, I can say 'no' about six million times. The problem is: it doesn't mean anything. I know that he knows what the word means, because he used to react to it exactly as you'd expect, but somewhere down the line he has decided that it simply doesn't apply to him. 

There are a few simple rules in our house that I try to enforce. One of those rules is that if the child is outside playing and I'm in the house, then the screen door stays open. That's so that I can both hear him and access him quickly in the inevitable event that he trips over his own feet and hurts himself. Blake has decided that he'd prefer the screen door shut. I have tried everything to try and get him to see my point - from a calm explanation as to why the door needs to be open to basically yelling 'NO' at him as I carry him back into the house, right through basic bribery; when chocolate stops working, you know you've got issues. The fact is, he literally doesn't give a shit that I've said no. Somewhere in his head, a little switch has been flipped. He has gone from revering everything I say and do to thinking 'that one with the boobs? You can ignore her. She talks bollocks'.

Don't even get me started on bedtime. We have never been able to defeat that monster.


"Are we seriously back on that?"

I finish most days feeling guilty that I've spent the entire day berating the poor boy, but I don't know any other way of instilling some sort of discipline into him. My sister babysat recently and acknowledged (with some frustration) that getting his attention was a lot like saying 'Blake' over and over again into an empty flowerpot and hoping for some kind of response. 

As I say, he's not really a naughty kid, so it's difficult to establish any serious discipline routines and I sincerely doubt that any of them would work on a child that refuses to allow any negative communication. Plus, the rest of the time, he is genuinely the cutest little snuggle bunny I have ever laid eyes on. Not to mention the fact that his somewhat defiant nature has spawned some cracking personality traits that I really don't want to discourage. 

I don't know what the point of this post is. I think I just wanted to put it out there; to perhaps reassure myself that I'm not just fucking terrible at this parenting lark. I don't think it's me. Perhaps he just is what he is. After all, haven't I said myself that we ought to treat small people as individuals? Perhaps Blake is just individually as deaf as a post when it comes to being told what to do... I think I'll blame that one on his father.


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Fingers (Not Legs) Crossed for VBAC Victory

I can't quite believe I'm already in my third trimester of this pregnancy. It's gone so much quicker than my first, when every week seemed to drag along at a snail's pace as I laboriously approached my due date. Obviously, I've been giving a fair bit of thought to the birth itself and I am pleased to announce that I am officially a candidate for a vaginal birth after c-section (or a VBAC for those in the know).

Well, 90% pleased; the other 10% is fucking terrified. 

Mostly, I feel really positive about the whole thing. I laboured with Blake and got to 7cm without pain relief before my little womb monster decided that he'd had enough, so I think that I can cope with labour without too much trouble. What really scares me is the prospect of something going wrong.

In reality, the chances of that happening are pretty slim. There is such a thing as scar rupture in which the walls of the uterus are put under so much strain by the contractions that the old caesarean wound opens. This puts the life of both the mother and baby at incredible risk, so naturally I'll have a consultant on stand-by, ready to whisk me into surgery at the first sign of any rupture happening. For my part, I have to be super alert to any pain that lasts between contractions because what I feel will be the ultimate indicator to something going wrong. Well, bugger me, that's a lot of pressure. When I was in labour with Blake, I could have barely told you my name, let alone felt a deeply in-tune connection with what was happening in my nether regions.

 The obvious solution to anything going wrong will be to immediately take me in for another section, and therein lies my second biggest fear. The truth is, I just really don't want one. Any of you that might be thinking that a caesarean is the easy childbirth option would be wrong; they're horrible. The surgery is scary (especially under emergency circumstances when you've not had a chance to work out which way is up), and the recovery is long and painful. There are also these awesome anaesthetic shakes that no one tells you about beforehand, but that last ages after the operation itself. It's only when you're lying there, practically shaking yourself off the table and wondering if you're dying, that someone bothers to tell you it's normal. For the first hour of my son's life, I was too scared to hold him in case my violent shuddering threw him from the hospital bed. Not only that, but I had all manner of trouble once they took my catheter out.

Plot twist! I'm also scared of giving birth naturally because, well, ouch. My lady bits have largely remained unchanged in the long term by the birth of my son, but a VBAC will soon put paid to all of that. A day or two out from having Blake, I could go about my toilet business without too much thought; not like my poor episiotomy inflicted sistren. Sex was tricky at first, but eventually returned to normal after a few months; those who have had vaginal births complain of a permanent change in sensation. Also, how the hell do you go to the toilet when you have stitches in your bits? The whole thing sounds bloody brutal.

So, I'm a bit of a contradiction really; I'm thrilled to be given the chance to give a VBAC a go, but I'm basically terrified of every option I have. I know that when the day comes, I'll just deal with whatever happens, but that doesn't stop me from obsessing about it a bit in the meantime.

Isn't childbirth fun?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Real World Reasons to Breastfeed

It is often drummed into us at antenatal appointments that breast is best. I'm not here to dispute that; as a mother who has successfully fed one child and is gearing up to feed the one growing inside her, I'm a big advocate of what can often be a contentious issue.

Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to, but there does seem to be quite a lot of women who are somewhat on the fence about whether or not they want to try. For those ladies that are unsure, there is plethora of information available about the evidential medical benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their babies. In my opinion, that's kind of the problem; not only is this onslaught of facts and figures somewhat overwhelming, but a lot of us hear words like 'cancer' and 'SIDS' and immediately close ourselves off.

With that in mind, I'm here to provide some benefits of breastfeeding that women can relate to their immediate lives. After all, isn't it all about stacking up the real world pros and cons?

1. It's free.

A bit of a no-brainer, that one. Formula is expensive, whichever brand you go for, and breast milk is completely and utterly free. Ok, not completely, because you'll need extra fuel and those cakes soon add up, but it's still a whole a lot cheaper than buying milk in.

2. Less washing up.

Bottles are a pain in the arse to wash. You need a special brush to get right up into the teats, and even then you'll be paranoid that it isn't quite clean. Once you're finally satisfied that any trace of earlier feeds has gone, the rinsing starts. The ever-lasting bloody rinsing...

Boobs require a quick wash in the shower, which I hope you would be doing anyway.

3. No sterilising

I have never once popped my breast into a steriliser, which is probably a good thing; I've retrieved bottles from those contraptions shortly after their cycles have ended and given myself third degree burns.

4. Less clutter

Things you need for bottle feeding: bottles, teats, formula, steriliser, bottle brush, bottle warmer... the list goes on.

Things you need for breastfeeding: breasts. Of course, you can get all sorts of paraphernalia to go with breastfeeding too, but if you're anything like me, you'll use approximately none of it.

5. Baby doesn't have to wait.

Picture the scene: it's 3am and you have a hungry infant who can only communicate in shrill screams of despair. You have two options - you can either go downstairs, boil the kettle, mix a bottle, wait for it to cool and try and pacify your angry husband who has a 6am shift that day, or you can pop a nipple into the baby's mouth and provide immediate milk, perfectly mixed and at the exact desired temperature within minutes of them waking.

6. You can eat more.

I mentioned the cake, didn't I? Breastfeeding uses up calories, so it stands to reason that you need to put more in. Bring on the carbs!

7. It's a good excuse.

Don't want to go to that Ann Summers party with the loud girl from work? Best you tell her that little Albert won't take a bottle yet and cluster feeds in the evenings. In fact getting home for a feed is a pretty good excuse to leave anywhere. I once got out of having to go and sit and exam thanks to my magical boobies.

8. You can be a bit smug.

You're doing something that's universally acknowledged to be difficult, so be as smug as you like. But never, ever get self-righteous; just because you can do it doesn't give you a free pass to preach. People don't like that.

9. You get quality Netflix time.

While breastfeeding is being established, it can take a long time. This naturally means an awful lot of time sat in one spot, plugged into a baby. This is time well spent catching up on your television consumption. I once watched four seasons of Misfits in less than two weeks.

10. It sends baby to sleep.

Mastering the side-by-side feed will be a powerful part of your "please nap" arsenal. The baby will drift peacefully into the land of slumber, comforted by the close proximity of their loving mother. Of course, you'll be obligated to wait until they wake up before attempting to remove your nipple from their maw, so bring reading material or a fully charged smartphone.


Still on the fence? Ok, I have to admit it's not the easiest thing in the world and it absolutely isn't for everyone, but my advice is try it; you might love it, and it'd be a crying shame to never really know...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Why My Brothers-In-Law Are The Real Heroes

Yesterday, I read a news story that made me angry. It was about a local man that was being hailed as a hero for turning a relationship breakdown into something positive, moving to Rio de Janeiro and helping the underprivileged children of Brazil. Very noble of him certainly, except I happen to know that there's one detail the newspapers weren't aware of. In the midst of the catastrophic break up that he did mention, there was a fling that he didn't. From that fling came a child. A child that he actively rejected and then essentially ran away from. A real hero, I'm sure you'll agree.

I have personal experience of growing up with the knowledge that I'd been rejected by a man that had never even met me, so stories like that tug at my anger strings. However, something then happened that stopped my anger in its tracks; I was reminded of the power of stepfathers. Naturally, I have an automatic soft spot for any man that does a wonderful job of raising children that he has no genetic obligation to, and I was reminded of this by a post my older sister put on Facebook. Her husband is father to only one of her children and incredible stepfather to the other four. Her post was about the amount of money she had spent on school uniforms so far, and she mentioned how hard her husband has to work in order to be able to afford such requirements for all five children. It occurred to me then that, rather than getting angry about the men who were walking out of children's lives, my energy would be better spent recognising the ones who made a conscious decision to walk in.

I have two sisters and both of their spouses are heroes. They fell in love with these beautiful women and, almost without thinking, took on the children of lesser men as their own. The husband of my older sister went from a pretty responsibility free lifestyle to father to four children in just a few short months and, as far as I'm aware, it's never even occurred to him how amazing that was. My younger sister attracted the attentions of a man who already had a child, but who was living quite a bachelor existence; one which he immediately dropped, fitting naturally and comfortably into his role of dedicated family man. They are real men because they choose to be and I love them both for it.

My Dad - my wonderful, caring, occasionally terrifying Dad - he's a hero too. He moved in with a woman he had met and her two neurotic daughters. I was only three, but my sister was eight and was fast becoming the teenager that he would have to learn to deal with. I was young enough to be pretty open to the new man our lives, but I'd soon grow out of that. A few years back, I began to serialise my teenage diaries (you can find them here), but stopped that little project in its tracks when I discovered that my teenage self was horrible. I was horrible to and about my friends, but I was absolutely demonic when it came to talking about my stepfather. I was pretty awful to his face too; in fact, I once threw a drink into it while he sat in his armchair. My Dad didn't leave. He didn't get up and say "fuck this shit; these aren't even my kids". He waited for me to calm down and then dealt with me like any father would - with a bollocking and a grounding that he would inevitably let me talk him out of.

So sod the bloke in Brazil, who had the chance to know someone incredible and turned it down. Sod the men all around the World who are failing to be a part of the lives they helped to create. Sod them all, because there are plenty of incredible men who are willing to fill the gaps that they're leaving, and those men are the real heroes.


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

If Adults Acted Like Toddlers

This evening, Blake and I were walking from my friend's house to my car. He was looking after my keys and I was holding his hand and chatting merrily about seeing Daddy soon, when suddenly Blake stopped. He put my keyring into his mouth, making him look like an elaborate door knocker, and refused to take another step. Blake is eighteen months old; this behaviour did not surprise me in the slightest. However, it did get me to thinking how weird it would look if I had done the same thing. If, at the age of thirty, I had stuffed my keys into my mouth and stood stock still on the pavement, completely refusing to move.

Toddlers do some strange things. After all, they're still discovering the world and everything is new and exciting. Plus, and this bit is crucial, they get away with it. Somehow I don't think it would be quite as cute if I were to stroll down the road, trying to open every gate that I came across. I think it would be less cute still if I were to tackle Morrisons by shouting at the top of my voice the entire way round. 

Dinner time would also be interesting. If I were to suddenly start copying the way that my son ate, I would fill a spoon with peas, lift them carefully to my face, only to the tip them directly into my lap the millisecond before they reached my lips. I would fill my fork with food, then pick it off and shove it into my mouth along with my entire fist and, once I had had my fill, I would inexplicably pick up my plate and tip whatever was left onto the floor.

I would gurn for no apparent reason and stare at strangers until they acknowledged my existence. I would then smile coyly and look away. When my son does it, it's adorable; if I were to do it, my husband might see it as me flirting ineffectively with others. 

Sleeping would be altogether less restful. I'm of the opinion that Blake might never be ready to come out of his cot and go into a bed; he would fall out within minutes. I have never met a more active sleeper. If I suddenly began to imitate his sleeping pattern, I would cover every inch of the bed within the first hour of being in it. I would repeatedly try and crawl in my sleep until my head hit the headboard, only to turn around and try to go the other way. I would never keep a blanket on me and I would intermittently cry out for no reason at all, soundly asleep again within seconds. I would need bed guards and there almost certainly wouldn't be any room for Mr Meaney.

I would walk around the house, bumping into furniture, forehead first and I would fall onto my bottom without warning, apparently thwarted by my own centre of gravity. I occasionally do these things now admittedly, but there has generally been wine involved. To my knowledge, Blake has never once had drunkenness to blame for his incessant falling. 

I would laugh loudly any time I witnessed someone hurt themselves. Then I would attempt to climb the bookcase, hurt myself and shout incoherent obscenities at anyone that tried to point out the rough justice of the situation.

I would hide under the kitchen table if anyone mentioned the words 'get' and 'dressed' together in a sentence.

Toddlers are strange creatures indeed; part small, angry goblin - part hilarious, drunken hobo. They are that brilliant mix of snuggly baby smells and genuine comedy genius that mean they can get away with almost anything. As their personalities grow and blossom, their behaviour is puzzling and utterly fascinating. It's just a shame that we can't get away with replicating it, because toddlers really do look like they're having the most fun of all.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Depressing CBeebies Reinterpretations

I have delved into the murky waters of CBeebies shows before, but if I'm honest, I would have to admit that I lacked conviction. My husband, on the other hand, does not. When I planted the seed in his head that these shows were open to reinterpretation, his dark little mind ran with the idea. Soon, he was coming to me with some truly depressing explanations for the seemingly bizarre plot-lines that we were subjecting our child to.

After that, it became something of an obsession. It began with his reasoning behind Old Jack's Boat and Mr Tumble, but led us to some pretty gloomy corners of our own brains. Because misery likes company, I've decided to share some of them with you.


Old Jack's Boat



Ah, Staithes; the place that our bleak, bleak journey began. I innocently wondered aloud one day why Jack's boat, The Rainbow, looked all rusty and decrepit right up until Jack walked aboard, when it would spring into bright, fresh colour. 

As I have already explained, my husband is quite dark, and a few days later he proposed a theory. His explanation for why the boat only seemed to sparkle with life when Jack was on board was that, actually, Jack has a severe case of Alzheimer's Disease.

Mr Meaney reckons that The Rainbow is exactly as rusty and un-seaworthy as we see it in the harbour. Jack, however, only remembers the boat how it was, and when it changes we're merely getting a glimpse into the mind of a horrendously confused old man who think his boat is still shiny and new.

This theory also goes some way to explaining Jack's fairly fantastical stories and why the locals of Staithes insist on talking to him with grating condescension.


Something Special



As if I wasn't feeling sad enough about the fact that Old Jack was slowly losing his mind, my husband then decided to move onto another family favourite: one Mr Tumble of Something Special fame. I cringed away; our boy loves Mr Tumble and I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear the sad stories behind his red nose and spotty bag. Unfortunately, I was hooked; I had to know what horrors my husband's brain was capable of cooking up.

There are several members of the Tumble family with which our hero interacts. We have Aunt Polly, Grandad Tumble, Lord Tumble, Fisherman Tumble and Baker Tumble, all of whom look exactly like Mr Tumble, but each wears a different variation of his trademark outfit. 

In steps Mr Meaney...

Mr Tumble is in a home. He has severe learning disabilities and requires round the clock care to make sure that he gets everything that he needs. Sadly, however, his parents were unable to cope with the difficulties that their son placed on them and have abandoned him completely. 

With no family coming to visit him, he creates the Tumble family in his own head. Dressing up in simple costumes (Aunt Polly's hat aside), he brings each character to life and engages with the family that he never had to stave off the crushing loneliness that he would otherwise face.

It also explains his proficiency with Makaton sign language.


Teacup Travels


Inspired (and completely depressed) by Mr Meaney's ideas, I decided to tackle a show myself. Namely Teacup Travels, in which two children, Elliott and Charlotte, visit incredible distant lands via the stories of their Great Aunt Lizzie and her precious teacup collection.

It's pretty obvious where my brain went with this one: Lizzie is drugging the children. I don't know why, perhaps she just worships chaos, but she is slipping hallucinogenics into those children's teacups, sitting back and relishing the results.

There are certain things that back up this theory, quite apart from the children in question being under the illusion that they're genuinely in ancient Rome/Egypt/China the second they take a sip of her 'tea'.

The children's mother features in both the opening and closing credits, dropping them off with Great Aunt Lizzie. Lizzie's very title would suggest that the two women are somehow related, even if by marriage only, yet the mother never steps foot on the property; she simply sends a child through the gate and leaves. When she returns to collect them, she waits again on the other side of the gate and never, ever goes inside or speaks to Lizzie directly. She also only ever drops off one child at a time.

Elliott and Charlotte's mother is desperately in debt. Lizzie is no relation to any of them, but she enjoys 'spending time' with the woman's offspring and pays generously for the chance to do so. The mother knows that something is wrong, but she needs the money, yet she absolves her guilt slightly by only ever subjecting one child to Lizzie's game at a time.

Bing


After that, I decided to take another look at Bing; the big bunny with the big heart. 

Bing confuses a lot of people, mostly because the parent type characters appear to be some kind of rag doll type things that the youngsters call by name. Also, why can't Pando keep his bloody trousers on for more than a minute at a time?

I can answer both of those questions. Bing and his friends are foster children. The little rag doll things aren't their parents and, although the nice people at social services have tried to match them with someone as similar to them as possible, they haven't quite found that perfect fit.

The adults are nice, however, and the children are largely happy despite their turbulent early starts in life. Sadly, some behavioural anomalies still remain. Bing, for example, has trouble coping with day to day life and is almost completely unable to follow simple instructions. And that sodding panda just can't stop taking his clothes off.

Happy watching...

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Second Baby Syndrome

There are certain questions that people tend towards asking when they see that a woman is pregnant:

1. When is it due?
2. Do you know what you're having?
3. Is this your first baby?

And it's this third question that I'm here to discuss today. In fact, I'm as guilty of this as anyone; I found myself asking a girl just the other day if the small human concealed under her considerable bump was to be her first. She said yes and I cooed and reassured her that it wasn't nearly as horrendous as people liked to make you believe. All in all, it was a rather lovely moment.

When I was pregnant with Blake, the same thing would happen; people would get so excited for me when I told them that he was to be my first child and made such a fuss of me and my ever-expanding belly. 

This time it's different. This time people ask me if the baby is to be my first and I respond with "no, my second" and, more often than not, the response is a slightly disappointed sounding "oh" and a change of subject. People just don't seem to really care about subsequent children.

I'm not complaining as such, because I'm just as bad. We toyed with the idea of not bothering to announce the pregnancy because we just didn't expect people to care. Not only that but I haven't really given the person growing inside me much thought. It's only now that I can feel it moving that I regularly even remember that I'm having another baby in a few months. Partly, I think this is because I simply don't have the time for sitting around and mooning over what my child might look like this time around. When Blake was still on the inside, I would spend hours each day obsessing over him. In short, my mind was completely preoccupied by my son. Well, my mind is still completely preoccupied by him, and the poor little one in my womb is having to settle for filling little gaps in my consciousness. 

Perhaps this is all to do with the fact that the mother knows what to expect with subsequent pregnancies and births. People are less compelled to give out advice because she simply doesn't need it, while she's less likely to give much thought to the pregnancy because she knows just how much feeling like shit is normal. Instead of obsessing over every ache and pain or googling gender prediction old wives' tales, veteran mums are far more likely to take the whole thing in their stride (between the vomiting if they're anything like me).

I do feel sorry for the child though. They haven't even been born yet and already they're having to compete with Blake for attention. There's also a very real chance that there's going to be a third (especially if this one is another boy), so they're probably going to have Middle Child Syndrome to deal with at some point too.

Poor baby number two. I think I'll spend some time rubbing my bump and telling it that I love it tonight. You know, just so it doesn't feel quite so left out...

"Hello? Is anyone listening out there?"