The only babysitter you’ll ever need

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Before I had kids, I just assumed getting a babysitter would be no big deal. After I had kids, I realised that it is a very big deal indeed, particularly when they are still very young. I am not a very relaxed parent, and I have found it absolutely nerve-wracking to leave my babies even with close friends and family members.

The first time I left my eldest, he was about 6 months old and I had tickets to see Tom Daley compete in the 2012 Olympics. I have a friend who lives near the Olympic Park, and she kindly offered to watch him. I’d known her for many years and trusted her completely. However, I still made her a TWO-PAGE LONG list of instructions about how to look after my precious boy. So, you can trust me when I say I wouldn’t choose a babysitter lightly.

The next time the need for a babysitter presented itself, a friend was getting married. The wedding was in a hotel, and we had a room near the reception, so I decided to book a babysitter to come to our hotel room so I could enjoy the party. I booked with a babysitting service called Sitters. I did a lot of research on the company first, and figured there was nothing to worry about since I was only going to be across the car park from where the babysitter would be looking after my son.

The way Sitters works is you have an online account and pay a very small quarterly membership fee and fee per booking, then you pay the babysitter directly in cash on the night of your booking (the price varies depending on region and timings, but is always a very reasonable rate).

The Sitters website tells you which babysitters are near your location (you can book at home or in a hotel/holiday home). You can request a particular one based on reviews, and once you know a babysitter or two, you can request to have the same one each time. You can also request not to have a certain one in future if you find one you don’t get on with her (but this has never happened to me).

All of the babysitters on Sitter’s database are carefully vetted, so you can trust that your children will be looked after by someone safe and qualified. Their checks include:

  • All have completed a detailed application form
  • All have passed an interview with a member of their experienced recruitment team
  • All have at least 2 years’ professional childcare experience
  • All have provided at least two childcare employment references which are checked and verified in person
  • They collect Photo ID and proof of address for every childcarer
  • They obtain copies of DBS certificates and childcare qualifications
  • All agree to Sitters’ Code of Conduct and Terms and Conditions
  • All are issued with a Sitters ID Card

The proof is in the pudding, and I have been so impressed with Sitters from my very first booking. The first Sitters babysitter I had during that wedding came in confidently and immediately established a rapport with my 1-year-old. She had even brought her own storybooks. I left her to put him to sleep and was amazed to find that he went to sleep for her readily, despite at that age refusing to ever sleep for me!

I have now been using Sitters for about 4 years, and have never been disappointed. Near my home, I have a small group of babysitters that we use regularly, and my children look forward to seeing them. My eldest sometimes asks me when I’m going to go out so he can see the babysitter.

Having a reliable babysitter makes a huge difference to someone like me, who has no family nearby. My husband and I have been able to celebrate special occasions like grownups, and look after our relationship. Recently, we were even able to go to a black tie event in London, and we had a babysitter from Sitters from 5pm until 1am. She played with the kids, put them to bed and, as usual, they were more well-behaved for her than they ever are for us!

I highly recommend giving Sitters a try. I was so pleased when they asked me to write this post, because it’s easy to write about a service I already use and know so well. To learn more and sign up, please visit http://www.sitters.co.uk/find-a-babysitter.aspx.

Do you find it difficult finding a reliable and trustworthy babysitter? Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions about Sitters!

I received compensation for publishing this post, but my experience of the service and opinions are genuine.

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‘Mum vs the World’ survival kit giveaway

We’ve all had these sorts of days. You wake up to children bouncing on your bed. Your head’s pounding, eyes caked closed, nose streaming with snot, but you can’t roll over and hide your head under the duvet. You have to get up, wipe small bottoms, wrestle them into clothes and get on with the day. The kids fight and run away and shout and do everything except put their blooming shoes on.

And the reward you normally get for finally getting them out of the house? Public misbehaviour and rude judgey people staring you down or (shudder) actually saying things to you. Don’t you wish you could just karate chop them in the head?

Masked Pony Productions gets it. They’re an all-female comedy production company, whose work is specifically aimed at women and especially mums. They’re not only producing fantastic YouTube content that mums can relate to, they’re also championing female talent in the showbiz industry.

They got in touch with me recently to ask if I could help spread the word about their ‘Mum vs the World’ YouTube shorts and I was impressed with the quality of the production. I felt like I was watching a sitcom already on a major TV channel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see these ladies on one of them soon. They won best scripted pilot recently at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

Check out one of their shorts:

If you like this video, please consider subscribing to their YouTube channel, and/or following them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Awesome giveaway involving wine and chocolate

Masked Pony Productions are offering one of my lucky readers a ‘Mum Survival Kit’, to help you relax at the end of a long day. The kit includes:

  • A bottle of Malbec
  • A large bar of chocolate
  • Baptiste dry shampoo
  • An iTunes £15 voucher
  • A spikey reflexology massage ball for your aching back
  • A cucumber (For your eyes, obvs)

To enter, please just click the link below and follow the Rafflecopter instructions.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY TO WIN FREE WINE AND STUFF

Giveaway terms & conditions

  • This competition will open on 4 November and will close on 19 November at 12am GMT.
  • One winner will be selected at random.
  • The winner will receive the Mum Survival Kit goody box described above.
  • UK entrants only.
  • No cash alternative will be offered.
  • The winner will be announced on The Mum Reviews’ social media outlets, not the blog.
  • The winner will have 28 days to respond to their winner’s email.
  • The prize will be posted directly from Masked Pony Productions.

Listed on The Competition Database and Loquax.

I did not receive any incentive to do this review. I’m just nice like that. But if they get famous maybe they’ll invite me to a swanky party or something.

How motherhood makes you stronger

With motherhood comes all sorts of lovely experiences and some, um, less lovely ones. The first time your child says “I wuv you” is lovely. The first time he vomits on your lap is not lovely. And yet, some of the things that really suck about parenthood have actually made me improve my coping skills in a number of areas.

Things the pre-child me simply couldn’t cope with just roll right off me like the peas my toddler placed on my head. So here are 5 ways motherhood has made me stronger.

Poo, vomit and other bodily effluvia does not phase me

Before I had kids, simply the smell of vomit would make me feel ill, let alone actually seeing it or, god forbid, touching it. Now, I can quite comfortably (and even intentionally) catch vomit with my bare hands. It may not be my favourite pastime, but I can handle it.

I don’t think twice about the odd smear of poo that may make its way onto my person. These things wash off so easily. It’s only a little bit stinky.

And, as a parent, sometimes picking bogeys out of another human’s nose is simply a necessity. You can try using a tissue but it doesn’t always get the job done. And I’d rather pick it and bin it than stare at it flapping out of my son’s nose all day.

All of this exposure to nasty, germy things means that I have very little fear of anything I might encounter late at night on public transport.

Spiders

On my 8th birthday, I brushed my teeth and when I spit out the toothpaste, a partially-chewed spider came out of my mouth. This was an extremely traumatic experience which kicked off a lifelong fear of spiders.

I remember being 18 years old and finding a spider a big as two 50p coins in my bathroom. I called my dad to kill it for me, but he had decided to foster my emergent independence as a responsible adult by informing me I had to resolve the situation myself. I was too scared to squash it, so I dropped my 1500-page English Literature anthology on top of it and left it there for 2 days. When I finally got up the strength to remove the book, the spider simply got up and crawled away, never to be seen again. I neither killed it not removed it from the house, but it would appear I taught it a lesson!

In more recent years, married life has meant I always had an obliging husband to remove spiders for me. He is a kind and gentle soul and so catches them in the designated “spider cup” and throws them outside.

I coasted along in such a manner without facing my spider fear until I had kids. Now, there is a real problem because nothing is more spine-chill inducing than the notion of a creepy-crawly, fang-sporting, hairy spider crawling over your sweet, sweet baby’s face. And so suddenly I became both fearless and merciless when a spider comes anywhere near my children’s domain. I’ve caught them in cups, I’ve hoovered them up, washed them down the drain (even using an implement to make sure they really went right down) and even, on one occasion, picked one up by the leg and flung it out the window.

Thank you, motherhood, for teaching me that no spider is fiercer than a mother’s love.

Squatting, carrying, running and squeezing

We’ve covered squeamishness and visceral fear, but of course motherhood also makes you physically strong. The average observer may not be able to see our mum muscles, but I assure you they are there.

A mum can hold a wiggly baby to her breast whilst assisting a potty-training toddler in wiping his bottom.

She can wrestle a tantrumming toddler into a carseat or highchair.

She can climb a flight of stairs in a single bound if she hears a suspicious bang while the kids are in bed.

She can wiggle into narrow spaces to retrieve a much-loved toy.

She can squat for unreasonable amounts of time when needing to apply shoes or change a nappy in a less than hygienic area.

She can push a buggy, up and down hills and over grass or gravel, for untold hours until the little bugger angel falls asleep.

She can carry her handbag, two children, an overstuffed changing bag, a potty and a bit of shopping with barely of bead of sweat appearing on her furrowed brow.

And we do all of this without (much) whinging. Pre-kids I would have collapsed in a heap if I had to do all that.

Pain, illness and lack of sleep

Everyone knows that childbirth hurts, but the bit that comes afterwards hurts even more because it lasts longer and nobody offers you any drugs to cope with it. We take our babies home when we are worn out and emotional, with stitches holding together either our stomach or our undercarriage. I had an emergency c-section after my first, and had burst blood vessels in my eyes and soft tissue injuries in my legs after my 2nd from pushing too hard. But in modern life we’re expected to just carry on. Maybe pop to the supermarket or take a nice(??) walk. In other cultures, women are allowed to stay in bed for a whole month after the baby is born!

Then some of us might get this lovely thing called mastitis. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a lovely infection inside your breast, which not only hurts the breast itself but gives you flu-like symptoms that make you feel like dying. And besides taking antibiotics you have to keep feeding the baby with your sore boob to help it get better. Ouch is an understatement.

Then of course there are the bugs. Have you ever tried to breastfeed in between bouts of vomiting? Or worse, cooking a meal for hungry children or changing a really stinky nappy? It might actually be my personal version of hell.

But I look back at the times I kept everyone alive when I felt like dying, and think it’s a pretty amazing achievement.

Keeping calm and carrying on

The final skill that motherhood has taught me is staying calm in the face of confrontation. I’m not going to say I’m always calm … but it takes more to throw me in a tailspin than it used to. Sometimes, I’m even calm with my own children. Mostly, this skill is employed outside the home when dealing with other adults. I know that it is very unlikely that, under everyday circumstances, an adult is going to scream in my face, kick me in the shins and lay on the floor screaming. And thus any confrontation is that much easier to deal with.

So the next time you feel like this parenthood gig is bringing you down, or you feel insecure about your parenting skills, just look back on your tired, sick, sore self, carrying heavy loads, vanquishing dangerous insects and catching vomit in your bare hands, and know that you are one strong mama.

What things can you do better now that you’ve faced the travails of raising small children?

Mission Mindfulness

My First Scalextric review

It is with great excitement that we recently received our first ever toy for the purposes of review. We’ve reviewed all sorts of lovely things, but this is the first time we’ve received a good old-fashioned toy, and by a well-known brand too.

Picture of My First Scalextric box

My youngest spotted the brightly coloured box from across the room, just as soon as I removed it from the outer packaging. “Racecar! Racecar!” he shouted in excitement. “Open!” The set is meant for children aged 3+ and my youngest will not be 3 for another 2 months, but I thought he’d be pretty safe to have a go with the toy. My 5 year old was interested too, even though he’s not quite the mini petrolhead that my 2yo is.

Open Scalextric box

The track seemed pretty sturdy and straightforward to put together, but I did have to check the instructions and it took me a few minutes to figure it out. My kids tried to help put it together, but I think it would be easy for them to break the connections if they were left to do it unattended.

Kids assembling scalextric
They couldn’t wait to put it together

You do need to plug it into the mains and there a a few cables to contend with, but my kids quickly learned how to keep these out of their way.

The biggest challenge with Scalextric is for kids to learn that they can’t go full pelt on the controller button. You have to press it gently so that the car doesn’t fly off the track when it goes round the bends. My First Scalextric has controllers that allow you to turn down the speed of the controllers while your kids get a hang of that. This feature is common to the entire Micro Scalextric range, and all of the Micro Scalextric cars and tracks work together so you can build massive tracks if you have more than one set.

Child playing Scalextric

My youngest absolutely loved the track (and so did his daddy, seen lurking in the background above). I asked him what he liked best about it and he said “cars go round and round”. I was actually amazed at how long he was happy to make the car go round and round. Time passed and he was in need of a nap, so he just played lying down.

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My eldest loved it too. He said he likes it because “It makes a sound like a train”, which is a bit random, but hey, it kept him busy. It was a beautiful way for brothers to play together, actually. They played for probably an hour and didn’t fight during any of it. Two tracks, two cars, two controllers = nothing to fight about. Who knew peace was to be found in the hum of a Scalextric track?

Brothers playing Scalextric.jpg

The ease of family play was definitely what I liked most about the set. I was also impressed at how it was teaching them both a bit of patience and self-control, because they had to be gentle with the go button and keep replacing the cars when they shot off the track.

All-in-all, I’d recommend My First Scalextric as a great introduction to electric slot cars. At £39.99, the set is a bit cheaper than other Micro Scalextric tracks, so it’s a great one to try out to see whether your child will like it. For more specs and information, please visit the Scalextric website.

I was given this set free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Teaching your kids kindness

My eldest son is 5 and what I have realised is that teaching him to be kind is not always easy. It teaches you a lot about human nature to have children. Although they are loving and innocent, they also can be very selfish. Which of course in terms of our evolutionary psychology makes perfect sense. Survival of the fittest! Look after number 1!

I have to work very hard to teach him how to be considerate of others feelings. I don’t feel I can offer him rewards for being kind and considerate, because then he would do it for the wrong reason. I have to teach him that the feeling of being kind to others is enough.

My main strategy is to praise him profusely whenever I see him being kind. I try to notice when he shares something, or comforts his little brother when he cries. I also try to chat with him when I see someone else doing something kind, and explain why it was a nice thing to do.

So I was very interested when a small start-up company offered to send me some of their Good Egg cards. These cards have a series of good deeds on them, and you can set yourself the challenge of doing as many as possible. They are aimed at older children (13+), and some of them are a bit silly, but I found them quite useful as a conversation starter with my 5 year old. He loves playing with cards, so I let him pick a card out of the deck at random and then we had a chat about the good deed on the card.

The first card he picked said you should give blood. Obviously my 5yo is too young to be donating blood, but it was an interesting topic to discuss with him. I explained why people need to receive blood, why it is important that people donate blood when they can, and how the process works.

Another card says to take your old books to a charity shop. So I was able to chat with him about how charity shops work and why it is nice to let others have things that you no longer need. On top of teaching about kindness, it was also a useful way of increasing his general understanding of the world.

The way in which we all function in society is dependent upon an understanding of how our actions affect the people around us. Unfortunately, in the real world, not everyone remembers that – even sometimes those people who have quite a lot of power to change the world for the better. Remembering to teach our children kindness is one way that parents can make their small contribution, in the hope that the next generation will seek to help instead of win.

I receive the cards for the purposes of review but all opinions and thoughts are my own.

There are more things in heaven and earth

This is a ghost story.

I had a rotten day last Monday. I was leaving for a work trip the next day and I had so much to do. Packing, cleaning, trying to fit in some exercise, and of course looking after my kids. I also had an unfortunate conversation with someone who made me feel like an idiot and really knocked my confidence. And I was feeling guilty because the work trip meant that I was going to miss my 5yo’s first sports day at big school. He also had a bad day at school that day and was upset when I picked him up.

After dinner, I collapsed on the sofa to cuddle up with my kids until it was time for the bedtime routine. I suddenly had a terrible feeling. An aching and heaviness spreading from my shoulders, across my back and down my legs. I shortly found myself running to the loo. I had some sort of stomach bug. Perfect. Perfect timing.

That evening I had booked myself a manicure. My manicurist comes to my house after the kids are in bed, sorts out my nails and is very good company in the process. I had been looking forward to it all day, but now I was ill I needed to cancel it. Worse, it happened so soon before she was meant to come that I had to turn her away at the door. Another embarrassment for the day.

And so, feeling downtrodden and physically ill, I removed the peeling shellac from my nails myself, leaving them as plain and stripped down as I felt. It was times like this that I normally would have called my grandma, who died in April. She would always listen to me unload all of my fears and heartaches and worries on her, with no judgement, and with no feeling that I was imposing on her. I felt very lonely indeed when I reached for the phone for the millionth time since she died, and stopped short, when I realised there was no one on the other end.

I called a friend instead, cried, and went to bed. Sleep was not forthcoming given the need to constantly rush to the bathroom, but over a course of hours, I eventually fell into a fitful sleep.

My dreams were normal at first, not exceptional. But then I woke up. I thought I woke up. The view I saw was the door to my bedroom, the bedside table, the light switch – the same as always. But then someone started to walk into the room. I couldn’t see who it was in the dark.

I was scared. Who was coming into my room in the middle of the night? My husband was in bed next to me, fast asleep. I tried to scream but at first I couldn’t. With a massive effort I finally managed to make a noise – a weak “aaahh” “aaahh” that sounded more real than the image I was seeing.

As the figure continued to approach my bed, I thought that it was actually someone I knew. It started to feel less menacing. I thought it might be my next door neighbour, but I couldn’t figure out why she would be coming into my room.

The figure sat down on my bed, and suddenly I began to see her shape. Soft grey curly hair, giant glasses. She grasped my hands and suddenly I knew. “Is it Grandma?” I said, talking in my sleep. It was her. “Grandma!” I spoke again, aloud, joyful.

Then, a stroke on my arm from my husband, and I was awake, and she was gone.

My husband was only half awake so I just told him I had a weird dream and to go back to sleep. But it wasn’t just a weird dream. It was powerful. I know that I talked aloud in my sleep – that is why I woke my husband – and it is not something I normally do. I was aware of struggling to speak as the dream was happening.

I had been in that twilight state between dreaming and awake, and my Grandma’s face and the clasp of her hands had felt oh so real. It was not like a normal dream where pictures and scenes run through your head, you may talk but it’s more like watching a movie of yourself than actually being you. In this dream, I was self-aware and everything I experienced was palpable.

So what actually was it?

A ghost? A dream? An illness-fuelled hallucination? Or was it really her?

I’ve been wishing to dream about her since she died. Not the sort of dream I had. Just a normal one, to see her alive and healthy again. But she’s been conspicuous by her absence from my dreams. Perhaps because of her prominence in my waking thoughts.

I’ve read some “woo-woo” websites about ghostly sleep visitations and lost loved ones. These sorts of experiences are not all that uncommon. And the biggest thing they have in common is that the person who experiences it cannot simply dismiss it.

Perhaps it was just a dream. But in my heart I think that it was really her. Coming to see me when I needed her.

This post may seem someone off-topic to my blog, but really it isn’t. Because my blog is about family. Whether my grandmother really visited me in some intentional ghostly way or whether it all came from my own mind actually doesn’t matter. What matters is the way it made me feel. Safe, not alone, important. This is what mothers do for their children.

My grandma was the only mother I ever knew, and though I always knew that I would have years of life without her, she is with me still. Earlier that day, my loss had felt bigger than big, but my dream reminded me that whatever force had bound us together in life can never be broken by death.

5 tips for a healthy recovery after having a baby

A guest post by Raunak Karim, who blogs for psysci, a psychology and science blog that examines the latest research in mental health and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives.

The new baby is here! Panic stations engaged. Do we have everything ready? Is he or she a healthy baby? What does the baby need us to do right now?

Wait! Stop.

We all get so focused on the new, little life that we often forget mum also needs some TLC after having a baby. Having a baby can be one of the most physically traumatic experiences for a woman to go through. Bits stretch and tear, things elongate which really shouldn’t and don’t forget the soup of hormones that churns through you before, during and after the birth. However, these five simple tips will go a long way in helping you have a healthy, happy recovery.

Hydrate

Dehydration can seriously weaken an already fatigued body. To the mum who’s just completed the physical marathon of childbirth, hydration is so important. The body’s fluid levels will be severely depleted postnatally, and are likely to diminish further as lactation begins. To restore fluid levels, plain water should be readily consumed, and diuretics such as caffeine avoided where possible (although sometimes your need for caffeine might be your top priority!). Increasing your fluid levels will help alleviate constipation issues and work to ensure sufficient fluid levels are retained when lactation begins.

Nutrition

Along with adequate and quality fluid intake, careful selection of nutritious meals are vital for a healthy recovery. Protein-rich foods and foods with high fibre content should be sought, along with a good multivitamin rich in B and D groups. Prior planning is recommended to prepare and freeze meals before childbirth and have them readily available for when you’re weak and in need of good nutrition. Good nutrition is imperative for both breastfeeding and formula feeding mums, in order to recover from the childbirth ordeal.

Sleep

Sleeping has phenomenal restorative properties for both the mind and body. Getting adequate sleep is vital for new mums, especially as the baby blues and interrupted nights may be just around the corner. It is recommended to sleep at the same time baby sleeps in order to keep up the quantity of hours you need to heal and handle the pressures of having a newborn baby. Of course that is not always possible, but remember that if your baby is sleeping, it doesn’t mean you should be doing the washing up. Don’t be afraid to ask visitors to look after the baby while you sneak off for a power nap.

Rest

Obviously, sleep might not always be ready and available for new mums. Instead, plan to rest. Ensure you have adequate time off work or study and don’t feel tempted to fill those days with jobs and tasks. Take the time to rest and recover from childbirth, even if it means sitting in your armchair all day long with baby in your arms. Rest is vital for a healthy recovery, and allows you time to form a strong, lasting attachment with your baby.

Ask for help

It was once said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, if not a village, it certainly takes help! To ensure you have a healthy recovery, physically and emotionally, don’t be too proud or embarrassed to ask for help. Childbirth takes a huge physical toll and an even bigger emotional toll on mums. Pain, swelling, limited movement, fluctuating hormones and postnatal depression may all be factors in your recovery. There is nothing more important for your recovery than acknowledging these factors and asking for help.

Yes, it is important to focus on baby’s needs. He or she, after all, can’t do much independently in the early days! But you also need to remember your needs are just as important. You need to do everything possible to ensure a speedy, healthy recovery so you and baby can get on with getting to know one another.  

When parenting starts to get easier

I think most people who read my blog will agree that parenting is bloody hard work. And in the early years, it can sometimes feel a little bit exhausting, a little bit boring, and more than a little bit lonely. If you are already disagreeing with me, you’re probably not my ideal reader, but feel free to judge away because this is my truth.

As babies, our kids are cute and cuddly, but they just eat, sleep and poop all day. Spending your days at home with your little poop machine can get pretty boring and lonely, no matter how much you love them or how grateful you are to have them. I now look back fondly on the days of binge-watching Netflix with a baby constantly attached to my boob, but I have no desire to return to them.

Then they become toddlers and they have minds of their own, but those minds aren’t terribly logical. You’re constantly chasing after them to keep them out of trouble. Often their only thank you for your efforts is a tantrum because you wouldn’t let them jump into that pond and drown.

Toddlers are more interactive, and some parents love playing age-appropriate games with them and letting them get messy with crafts or rolling around in the mud. For me, though, however much I value spending time with my toddler, I’m not super into toddler games. I can only build the train track once or twice before I’m feeling pretty bored. I can’t stand messy play. My toddler won’t let me help with his colouring. Seriously, he steals the pen out of my hand and puts the cap back on. And he still isn’t much of a conversationalist.

Baby and toddler parenting is physically and mentally exhausting. You need to have oceans of patience and be able to to function on very little sleep. But for anyone still in these years and feeling a bit worn out, I have good news:

It gets easier.

My eldest is now 5, and in the last couple of months I have seen such a change in him. He’s suddenly fun! Okay, he has been fun since day one, in the sense that he’s my lovely little boy/bundle of joy/etc. But he’s suddenly started enjoying and being able to do things that I also genuinely enjoy.

With him, I’m no longer needing to remind myself not to look at my phone after he’s “cooked” me a plastic piece of chicken in his toy kitchen for the 10th time in a row. I don’t have to hover over him at the playground to stop him falling on his head. I almost never have to help him wipe his bottom. The less pleasant or boring parts of parenting him are melting away and being replaced by all the reasons I wanted kids in the first place.

1. We have fantastically interesting conversations. My boy asks me questions about life, death and the universe that really challenge me and make me think. I love trying to explain things to him in a way he’ll understand. It’s teaching me a lot, realising how hard things can be to explain. Even simple things like explaining what a play is – as in a theatrical production – can be an interesting challenge if you don’t just resort to Google.

2. He can draw and write all by himself. My 2yo loves drawing but I have to watch him like a hawk so he doesn’t draw on the walls or start eating the pens. But my 5yo can entertain himself long enough for me to have a hot cup of tea, and he draws better than I do now. And the drawings are so sweet. Here is one of my favourites:

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3. He can do cultural stuff. During the Easter holidays I took my 5yo to the British Museum. Now, I might take my toddler to a place like that, but only if I could keep him securely strapped into his buggy the whole time. Otherwise, he’d be chewing on some priceless ancient sculpture before I could say “Mesopotamia”.

But the big boy looked at giant Buddha statues and said “wow”. He listened when I tried to explain the history to him. We happened across a brilliant display where a museum attendant was allowing people to hold ancient coins. My son was fascinated by the coins, carefully examined them with a magnifying glass, and held them so gently. I was in ecstasy that suddenly I could share a museum visit with my son in a way we both enjoyed.

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That’s real currency that was thousands of years old, and we got to hold them! The bottom-left is a Piece of Eight, like pirates had. Aaargh.

I also took him to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s country home, and was amazed that he was quite happy to walk through the house with me and let me explain what a typewriter is and other anachronisms.

4. He can play video games with me. When I realised I was going to have 2 boys and never a little girl, I did have to take a minute to mourn that there were loads of girly mother–daughter moments I was never going to experience. But I’ve never been all that girly anyway, and I knew that little boys were more likely to share my interest in video games. This promise is now coming to fruition in my 5yo. We’ve started playing Lego Star Wars together on the Wii U and it’s really fun for both of us. We make a great team and neither of us has gone over to the Dark Side just yet.

5. He eats normal food and behaves on picnics. The featured photo is him eating a Subway sandwich at Chartwell. Finally, I can take him out and buy some random food instead of packing like we’re camping for a week every time we leave the house. It’s lovely to be able to have fast food treats from time to time. And even better that we can have a picnic without him wandering off a million times or trying to feed his sandwich to an angry swan (I’m looking at you, 2yo).

6. He’s becoming considerate. As sweet and cuddly as my 2yo is, it is all on his own terms. He suits himself, and that’s fine. But it’s a beautiful thing to see my 5yo beginning to notice how other people feel. He can tell if I’m a bit down and he comforts me. If someone is unwell, he makes them a card. He even willingly shares his food with me sometimes.

It sounds like I’m a bit down on toddlers in this post, but that’s not the intention. I’ll maybe write something soon about the upsides of the toddler years – because there definitely are some. But I had to share my delight at being able to share things I love with my older son and have him begin to understand. He’s changed from baby to child, and he’s going to keep growing up from here. I hope that sharing interests in this way and having some good times will help form a basis of trust that will serve us well when we hit tougher times, because goodness knows growing up is hard work.

Parenting lessons in the midst of loss

What is this life if, full of care
We have no time to stand and stare.
– William Henry Davies

These words have been repeating in my head over the last week or so. They’ve been in my head because my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years, died on the Sunday before Easter. I knew it was coming. And yet knowing didn’t make that final news any easier.

I was at my sister-in-law’s house and we were getting ready for a day out. I looked up from the email on my phone telling me the news, and suddenly my world had changed. The colour had drained from it. Nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Grief is a hard taskmaster. It doesn’t matter how long or short a time you had with someone you love. It is not comforting to think that it “was just their time” or any other platitudes people always say. They might be true, but you need to take some time to process your feelings in your own way. You deserve time to reflect, and the person you love deserves it too.

But I had no time to stand and stare. Off we went on the day out, me “not wanting to make a fuss”, chasing around after my children and acting like everything was normal. And it continued through all of the next week. My eldest was home from school and I had all the time off work for once. I’d planned lots of fun activities for us and I didn’t want to disappoint him.

But all week I was wishing I could just stop and grieve. To quote another poem:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone …
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message, [S]he is dead.
– W.H. Auden

I had to keep going, but I wanted to stop. People would ask how I was doing and I felt like it was a stupid question. Everything should stop. She is dead. The world has changed forever. She is dead. Could everybody just stop going about their daily business please? She is dead.

But the world doesn’t stop.

I felt angry at first that I couldn’t stop and grieve the way I wanted to. But now my son is finally back at school, and I have a day off and I can do what I want, I think he saved me as well.

If she had died before I had children, I would have fallen apart. I probably would have gone to bed and felt sorry for myself for days and days. But instead, I was able to focus on these little people who needed me more than I needed to be sad. I knew I would have time to remember my grandmother. But in the meantime I was able to spend time with people who love me just as unconditionally as she did.

And it made me feel grateful that the only mother I’d ever known had lived to see me become a mother. Not everyone is that lucky. And it made me think that, while feeling sad is okay, the reason I feel sad is a blessing. To move away from poetry to slightly more popular culture:

A heart that’s broken is a heart that was loved.
– Ed Sheeran

I am so sad to lose her because she was a good parent to me. And I’m finding the best way I can remember and honour her is to apply her example to my own parenting.

So here are some parenting lessons my grandma taught me.

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My grandma and me on my 1st birthday

She was always gentle

There is no doubt that she told me off and disciplined me when it was necessary. I remember having a tantrum so bad one time when she wouldn’t let me stay up late on New Year’s Eve one year because I’d done something naughty. I was pleading to stay up by crawling on the floor and accidentally bashed my buck front tooth on the floor, splitting it in half. Ouch!

But she didn’t yell at me. She reasoned with me. She told me when I was disappointing her. And I never wanted to disappoint her. She taught me the value of being good for its own sake. And no matter what I’d done, she was always ready to give me a big hug.

So this week, when my children tried my patience, instead of getting cross and shouting, I’ve been giving them big hugs. It’s surprising how easy it is to fix things with hugs.

She always listened

From when I was a toddler who wanted to pretend to be a cat or keep snails as pets, to being the woman who needed to talk about my PND, my grandmother always listened to me. I was always able to tell her absolutely anything and she would just listen. She wouldn’t tell me what to do. She didn’t judge me. She wouldn’t make it all about her. She wouldn’t change the subject. She would just quietly take it all in and say something comforting.

I want my children to tell me important things when they’re adults, so I’m going to listen to them starting now, even if it’s that same knock-knock joke I’ve heard a million times.

She shared my pride and gave me confidence

If I was proud of something I’d done, I could call and tell her about it and she would be just as enthusiastic as me. She would never be unimpressed, or think that the achievement could have been bigger or more prestigious. Right down to when I would try hard to dress up nicely for a meal out. I remember she would always say “ooohhh” in admiration for my looks. She never tried to make me be like her, or like she might have wanted me to be. She was impressed by who I was on my own terms.

Our children don’t always turn out to be who we expect, but we should always love them for being themselves and trying their best.

She taught me kindness

When my grandma first moved to Florida, she found her house was infested by small lizards and tree frogs. They were little green frogs that made noises like puppies barking. She would catch the frogs and gently put them outside. But they would keep coming in.

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Some people’s next move would be to call some sort of exterminator. But not my grandma. She put little dishes of water out all over the house so the frogs wouldn’t get dehydrated. She went to the pet shop and bought mealworms to feed them. Every evening before bed she would walk through her house calling the frogs and would hand-feed them those nasty little mealworms.

She fed the lizards too. And stray cats. Birds. Even the squirrels. They would all eat out of her hand like she was Snow White. If only they would have done the housework for her too!

Her example of kindness even for creatures that others treat as pests is something I remember every day. She taught me to turn inconvenience into a chance to be kind. I only hope that, through example, I can show my kids that it is always better (and easier) to be kind than to be cruel.

Moving forward

And so I am getting used to a world in which I can’t call my grandma and tell her about my day. She can’t share in my successes or commiserate with me about my failures. And it’s going to take me some time to get used to that. And I’m going to feel sad. And some days, I’m not going to be okay about it.

But I know that she hasn’t left me completely. She’s there when I hug my children, when I listen to them and talk to them softly. She’s there when I sing them to sleep. And I will never stop feeling grateful for her giving me a gift of love that I can pass on to my children.

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When my grandma first met my eldest.
Tammymum