Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Book reviews: The Large Family

For Christmas, my daughter was given four books from 'The Large Family' series by Jill Murphy. The books feature a family of elephants - Mr and Mrs Large and their four children (Lester, Laura, Luke and the Baby). My daughter likes these books. They are her current favourites and she asks for them to be read to her at bedtime and pre-nap story time every day. My husband and I don't like them! What is it that makes these books appeal to her and not to us?

As with all books aimed at young children, they are nicely illustrated. The elephant characters represent a 'normal' family. The stories are relatively short and the concepts are easy to understand. I can see why my daughter likes them. She says she likes the elephants. Also, they are new, which gives them novelty value - important to a child who reads/listens to half a dozen or more stories every day.

So, what's wrong with them? Well, I don't like the fact that the parents don't seem to like their children and I don't think the stories give my daughter helpful messages about grown-ups. My husband dislikes the way the books are written. Specifically, the sentence structure: it is too wordy and feels clumsy when read out loud. Perhaps this is because the stories rely too heavily on conversation between the characters?


"Five Minutes' Peace" is all about how Mrs Large tries to escape her kids - before the day has even got started. Don't get me wrong, we've all experienced the desire to get away from it all in a long, hot, bubbly bath with a pot of tea and a cream cake but that shouldn't be the basis of a bedtime story! (At least not one aimed at pre-schoolers... "Fifty Cups of Earl Grey", anyone?)

"All In One Piece" is similar, in that Mr and Mrs Large try to avoid their children as they get ready for a night out. I know that it's probably their only grown-up night out alone for the whole year but the way it's written just makes the parents sound really selfish. To top it all off, granny is rubbish in her role as baby-sitter - she lets the kids run amok!

"Mr Large In Charge" reinforces the stereotype that men don't make good child-carers. Mrs Large is ill and takes to her bed; Mr Large fails to keep the kids in check and spoils dinner. Brilliant.

Finally, "A Piece of Cake" is about Mrs Large's negative body image, her attempt to force the family onto a strict diet and exercise regime, and their inevitable surrender to the temptation of a large cake sent over by granny. The take-home message is one of misery and failure!


Having said this, the books aren't all bad. They provide new vocabulary for my daughter and certainly cover different concepts to the other stories we read. Also, there is no rhyme or meter, so they offer a different form of prose. According to the blurb on the back cover, they have been nominated for awards.

My overall verdict on the books: meh. My daughter likes them, so we'll keep reading them. Even if we have to do it through gritted teeth...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Give her an inch...

I try to give my daughter opportunities to observe, learn and practise how to do things for herself, rather than assuming she can't and doing them for her. Some people might consider this too liberal an approach to parenting (and I certainly find my patience tested when it takes ten full minutes to get two shoes on!) but I want her to be capable, to think for herself and to be able to solve her way out of problems or predicaments.

People often comment on my daughter's confidence, for example with climbing stairs. I remember being at a friend's house and telling my less-than-one-year-old daughter to turn around and go down the step into the kitchen backwards. She obeyed and my friend was amazed. From when we started baby-led weaning, I showed her how to wipe her own face and hands with a cloth and how to clean up any spillages. She can now easily do these things for herself. We have put a lot of effort into developing other practical abilities, such as putting on socks and shoes, undressing at bath time and putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket, helping to set the table for dinner, and assisting with cooking the evening meal. Most of the time, my daughter is happy to lend a hand and feels grown up for helping mummy and daddy.

However, I'm beginning to fear I may have created a monster or, at the very least, set a rod for my own back. Take her insistence that I must wait at the bottom of the stairs whilst she climbs up unaided. She spends so long checking that I'm doing as I've been told, that it takes her ages to get to the top! Also, why does she have to dress/undress in a specific order? Does it really matter if the pyjama bottoms go on before the pyjama top? Apparently, it does and woe betide mummy if she gets it wrong! Everything has to be done a certain way - her way - and she has to try to do it for herself. Unfortunately for me, the 'rules' change without notice. I can't keep up and I'm NOT allowed to help!

More and more often, I find myself chastising her for being bossy (I can't imagine who she gets that quality from...) and at the end of the day, I feel harassed and exhausted. I should feel proud - she can solve problems and she is immensely capable, just as I wanted her to be!

So, do I regret giving her an inch and finding that she wants to take the mile? Not at all. As a parent, it is my job to try to equip her with skills she will need for adult life and she needs to have a safe space to practise these skills with me and her father before applying them in the real world. I just have to manage her growing independence and her manner, teach her to deal with her frustration and encourage her to identify when she needs to ask for assistance.

I enjoy watching her assess the world around her, make sense of it, find connections and chart her own course. I don't take my wellies off by standing on the toe-end but she does and it works for her! She loves jigsaw puzzles but thinks I'm crazy for suggesting that she might begin with the edge pieces. No mummy, it's much better to complete something recognisable from the picture (an animal or a person) and then fit those completed sections together.

I am proud of my daughter. I envy her capacity to learn and admire her strong spirit. My mother would say that she is just like me when I was a toddler. What goes around comes around, I guess?!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The glass half full

I feel lucky that I am able to take maternity leave to recover from my son's stillbirth, although it is very strange to be at home without my baby...

I was planning to have a year at home, which would be busy with the competing demands of a newborn and an increasingly independent toddler. Instead, I'm grieving and concentrating on my physical recovery from childbirth. I am pleased that my divarication is improved (just 1cm now and only across my navel) and I have been discharged by the physiotherapist with a prescription of four toning exercises and permission to take up Pilates. If only the emotional recovery was straightforward - the ups and downs, which can be triggered by anything (or nothing), can be unexpected and exhausting. My confidence in myself has been shaken.

The thing I really wasn't expecting was to have the opportunity to spend more quality time with my daughter. (In fact, I thought she would be short-changed in this respect by the arrival of a sibling.) Whilst I'm on maternity leave, we get two whole days and two afternoons to ourselves. Mummy and daughter one-to-one fun time. We go to Music With Mummy (something she previously did with daddy), Jym Tots and Hungry Elves.

We have just returned from a visit to my parents in Cornwall. My daughter and I travelled down on the train. It was her first train ride and she really enjoyed looking out of the window, especially when we went through the rock tunnels at Dawlish and then over the Tamar Bridge! I packed snacks and treats for her and she was very well behaved on the journey. She liked having her own little rucksack to carry and was reluctant to take it off when we got to granny and grandad's house! She enjoyed playing with her cousins and will miss them until she sees them again, which probably won't be for another couple of months.

Although there was no snow in Cornwall, there was plenty waiting for us when we got home today. So, she made a snowman with daddy before bedtime. Her first snowman - here he is:

Monday, 14 January 2013

10 things I love about you

1) You remind me of myself, when I was a child

2) Your capacity to learn, every day

3) Your fierce independence (although this also drives me mad and I can't imagine where you get it from...!)

4) The cuddle and kiss you give me each night before you go to bed

5) Grammatical errors (because, unfortunately, English isn't as logical as you!)

6) Your compassion and empathy

7) Your love of routine (just like your daddy!)

8) Your sense of humour (makes I laugh!)

9) How you put into practise all the things I taught you about how to be a good big sister...

10) The way you say "I love you too, mummy"

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Ones and Twos

Ten weeks after abandoning potty training (due to stress) we are just starting to think about it again. My daughter is very keen on being a big girl and has shown renewed interest in her potty training books ("Everybody Poos" and "My Very Own Potty!"). So, I have decided to pick up where we left off by offering the option of going nappy-free for a few hours in the evening. If she says no, we don't bother with any potty practise; if she says yes, she puts on big girl pants and we do a jigsaw whilst we wait for her to need a wee.

Certainly, the approach is very relaxed and we're enjoying mixed success. I have asked her to describe what it feels like when she needs to do a wee or a poo. She can articulate the feeling of needing a wee but doesn't seem to know what it feels like when she needs a poo. I'm also trying to get her to tell me as soon as she's done a poo in her nappy, so I can clean her up promptly. I'm hoping that getting her into this habit will mean she doesn't like keeping a poo in her nappy and encourage her to identify the need to poo and ask to do it on the potty! (This will also help to alleviate the nappy rash that flares up occasionally.)

I don't know how effective the books are at supporting my daughter's learning. "Everbody Poos" is a lot of fun and we can spend quite a long time talking about how all animals need to poo. However, my she seems to have an aversion to poo at the moment (not a bad thing in some cases!) and got very upset when she accidentally did a poo in the bath. We try to reassure her that pooing is normal. The other book is a bit Victorian, in that it doesn't actually describe the process of going to the loo! Rather, the heroine sits on her potty and 'waits for something to happen'. It focuses on potties and big girl pants and includes a selection of stickers, which attract my daughter's attention.

I think we're still a long way away from going outside with no nappy but I'm happy to take this slowly. I'd rather my daughter was confident in her abilities than anxious because I've pushed her too quickly. Besides, I'll be spending plenty of time at home with her for the next couple of months, so there's really no rush.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Family tree

There is an heirloom tablecloth that Grandma would bring out on special occasions. At birthday parties, Christmas and Boxing Day dinners, any gathering that required two tables to be pushed together: the tablecloth would be brought out and take pride of place.

Originally a bed sheet, from when Grandad was in the Royal Navy, the cloth is good-quality cotton and has been laundered many times. After Grandad left the Navy and became a Coastguard, Grandma re-purposed the sheet as a tablecloth and embroidered her family onto it. Ma and Freddy (her parents, my great-grandparents) are at the centre and spiralling out from them are three generations of names - their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There are some place names too, around the edge of the cloth, indicating how the family has spread across the globe, from Canada to Australia.

After Grandma died, my mother sorted through all her possessions and passed the tablecloth to me. I think she wanted me to continue updating the family tree but I've never felt able to - I wouldn't want to spoil it by not stitching as neatly as Grandma did. Besides, there are so many names to add now (the next generation is growing rapidly!) that it would take a lot of research for me to gather all the missing data. Finally, Grandma would unpick the names of people who died and re-stitch them in white and I can't bring myself to do that to her name. So, the tablecloth is wrapped in blue tissue paper and stored in my 'treasure box' in the bottom of my wardrobe.

I have been thinking about Ma quite a bit recently. She died when I was about a year old. There are a couple of photos of me, sitting on her knee. Her name was Mary Annie Giles. She married my great-grandad, Frederick Smith, and they had nine babies. There were 18 years between their eldest and youngest children! Six children survived to adulthood. Leonard and twins, Donald and Florence Mary, were the babies who never grew up. I wonder how Ma coped with the loss of three newborns? I wonder how she found the strength to go on to have more children? I wonder how she coped, years later, with the loss of a grandchild, Annette, who also died in early infancy?

I find it comforting that, within living memory, I'm not the only person in the family to lose a baby. I am glad that Leonard, Donald and Florence Mary, who were born more than 80 years ago, are not forgotten. I want the same remembrance for Monty, which is why his photo is on the windowsill, why I talk about him often, and why I will make sure my daughter knows about her brother. I have a memory box with photos, hand and footprints and a lock of my baby's hair - did Ma have keepsake mementoes of her babies, too?

Perhaps, one day, I'll feel ready to update the tablecloth and include the names of my children and nephews and fill in the rest of the gaps? Until then, the cloth will remain frozen in time, as it was nine years ago, when it was passed from Grandma to me...

(Pictured above: Ma, Grandma, my mother and me on my christening day)

Friday, 4 January 2013

Sleepy times

Shortly after my daughter's second birthday, it became impossible to put her down for a daytime nap. This came as a bit of a surprise to me because I'd previously had no trouble getting her to sleep and I was under the impression that children need a daily nap until at least three years of age. I tried to persevere with the routine of putting her to bed after lunch but after a couple of weeks of tantrums, screaming, and tears (both of us), I admitted defeat.

I really missed her nap time. Whilst I'd been on maternity leave, she'd never slept for more than 45-60 minutes at a time during the day but she would have a couple of naps and that was enough for me to recharge my batteries and get a few things done around the house. When I started back at work, she began to take one, much longer nap after lunch. She would sleep for 2-3 hours - it was bliss! I got used to having most of the afternoon to myself on my non-working day and at the weekends. So, I really missed the nap when it was dropped.

It was hard because my daughter would get too tired by early evening, so dinner would be difficult and tempers would start to fray before bath and bed time. I found it hard to be entertaining all day long. Toddlers don't concentrate on anything for very long and I discovered that I'm not very good at thinking up new things to do or games to play. We had to go out and join clubs or set up play dates so that we had activities around which to structure the day. I also felt frustrated because I knew that she was having a long nap every day she went to nursery - if she would do it for them, why wouldn't she do it for me?!

I am pleased to report that the nap has made a comeback! A friend popped round to visit shortly after Monty died. My husband had taken our daughter upstairs to read some stories in our bed, snuggled up under the covers. He popped out of the room to get another book and by the time he returned, she had fallen asleep. She slept for a couple of hours. Hurrah!

Although I haven't been able to recreate this success on a daily basis, we do now try for a nap after lunch every day. We close the curtains in mummy and daddy's bedroom, climb into the big bed with a cuddly toy, and read a couple of stories. I then settle my daughter into the bed and leave her to try to get to sleep. If it works, I get a couple of hours to myself. If it doesn't, we do a quiet activity for an hour or so.

Long may the daytime nap continue! If only she'd do it in her own bed, then I could get some shut-eye in mine...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The best laid plans...

I'm one of life's planners. I'm organised and always have been. I used to be embarrassed about this (as a child, my family teased me for setting lots of rules for the games we played) but I now see my planning skills as a huge advantage and I try to exploit them to maximal benefit at work and at home. I'm ESTJ and proud!

The disadvantage of being a planner is that I find it hard to deal with chaos and spontaneity. I prepared, before going on maternity leave with my daughter, so that I wouldn't expect too much of myself. It was hard to let go of my routines but I positively embraced the freedom of my year as a SAHM and learned a lot from the experience. My mantra was: any day on which we all get dressed and eat is a good day!

The last two months have challenged me in many different ways. I'm dealing with the emotional response to bereavement and my physical recovery from giving birth. I have felt alarmingly unsettled, to the point that I haven't known how to think about the future. The baby I longed for, planned to conceive and carefully gestated was stillborn and we may never know why. The coming year was supposed to be a second year at home with my young family.

It has only been 8 weeks since my son was born, which isn't very long, but I've had a nagging feeling that I should be doing something. I have imagined a question mark hanging over me - who am I now and where do I go from here? The bereavement pack we were given at the hospital contained some excellent advice: don't make any big decisions for at least a year. However, I need focus and cerebral challenge, I can't just sit at home all day, watching daytime TV, knitting and convalescing. My GP is right - I need to get out of the house and find social things to do to fill my time until I am fit to return to work.

Thankfully, over the last couple of days, I have started to feel calmer and less panicky. Perhaps that is the benefit of finally getting a good night's sleep? I can still work towards some of my goals but more flexibly and in a different order. I can make new plans; some of them may come to fruition. Most importantly, I don't have to rush into anything. I'm suppressing my J.

Although I don't make New Year resolutions, I am resolved to give myself a bit of a break this year. I need to adjust to the 'new me' and take time to enjoy the family I have.