Sunday, 20 December 2015

Book review: Meg and Mog

In this house, we are big Meg and Mog fans. I bought a set of six M&M books for my elder daughter about four years ago and we have just started re-reading them with our youngest.

I remember the books from my own childhood, when I was delighted by the illustrations and the funny scrapes that Meg the witch got into with her pet cat and owl. Calamity is never far away, especially when Meg casts one of her spells, but the trio always get out of trouble unharmed.

Our 1yo's favourite is the original book "Meg and Mog". She likes to make a big yowling noise when Meg treads on Mog's tail. It is Hallowe'en and Meg goes to a spell party with four witch friends but, the spell goes wrong... The other witches are turned into mice and chased by Mog!

My 5yo likes "Meg on the Moon". Mog wants to go in a space ship for his birthday treat. Meg and Mog blast off to the moon and meet some astronauts (presumably Americans because they say 'Hi!'). They eat pureed space rations, float about and then head back down to Earth for birthday tea with Owl.

"Meg's Veg" sees them attempt to grow their own food. Meg attempts to control the weather using magic and they end up with a bumper crop!

In "Meg at Sea" the three are stranded on a desert island. They use their scouting skills to survive and are eventually rescued by helicopter after sending a morse code distress signal.

Arguably their biggest adventure is in "Meg's Castle" when they end up fighting ghostly knights and celebrating their victory with a feast.

My personal favourite is "Meg's Eggs" when the eggs Meg magics up for breakfast hatch and three dinosaurs are set loose!

I like how all the stories end with the same word: 'Goodbye!'
And we always wave goodbye to Meg, Mog and Owl before closing each book.

These stories are great fun for young children. They have a great use of colour and imagination and the pictures are fantastic. There are also interesting effects with the lettering and vocabulary. Whilst the stories are too young now for my eldest daughter, she likes to read them to her little sister.

I can see us continuing to enjoy these books for a long while to come. (Just as long as one of us can resist the temptation to eat the pages...)

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

He's my brother

She reached the photo down from the shelf for her little sister. She held the photo frame carefully and showed her sister the picture:

"This is baby Monty. He died."

This is how my 5yo introduced her sister to their brother.

I was proud of how she described him and how she shared this family history with her youngest sibling. I felt sad that she had to have a conversation like this at such a young age, with an even younger, almost-no-longer-a-baby sibling.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Biological clock

In the year I turned 30, my husband and I decided to start a family. (Well, we actually decided to stop trying to not have a family - i.e. that I would stop taking The Pill and we'd see what happened...)

I had no idea at that point how much of my thirties would be dedicated to activities around starting a family and raising small children.

Over the past seven years, I have spent 21 months trying to conceive, 24 months pregnant and 26 months breastfeeding! That leaves only 13 months in which I wasn't actively pursuing our family plan.

During this time, I have been employed full time or part time and taken 28 months' maternity leave. More recently, I've added voluntary work into the mix.

Now, we have completed our family. We aspired to three children and we have two wonderful daughters and memories of our son.

Having invested so much of myself into building our family, the time has come for me to think about where I want to be by the end of my fourth decade. By the time I turn 40, my youngest daughter will be ready to start school and we'll move into a new phase of family life.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Would you know my name?

It's that time of the year, again.

Another year passed; another anniversary come.

Happy birthday, Monty xxx

I'm thinking of getting you a tree. Your big sister would like an apple tree. We could plant it at the arboretum and look at it each time we visit. We could have a plaque with your name and decorate it for you...
like we have decorated your rose bed in the front garden.

I think about you every day. I hold you close in my heart.

How is it that three years have passed?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Strange currencies

My 5yo likes sweets and popcorn but she is less of a fan of cake and chocolate. She likes the idea of confectionary but usually only has a piece or two of candy and then saves the rest 'for later'... (and so I end up with opened packets of sweets taking up space in the kitchen cupboard).

So, we have suggested to her that she should either save up her pocket money or think of other things to spend it on. We've tried to explain that spending money on sweets that you don't eat is a waste (but she has difficulty comprehending us: "But I like sweets!" she says).

The trouble is, there are few non-candy things that she can buy with her pocket money on a weekly basis. Even so-called pocket-money-toys are quite pricey and would require her to save for at least a couple of weeks. So, I've compiled a list of consumable treats that would, for her, make a suitable alternative to a packet of sweets.

1) Stickers
2) Colouring pens / pencils
3) Hair accessories
4) Stationery items (erasers, pencil sharpeners, pencils, tiny notebooks)
5) Beads / buttons

My husband offered to double whatever she could save up over the course of the last term at school. She was lucky to have had a headstart by being given £5 by one of her grandparents over the summer holiday. By the time half term started last week, she had increased her savings to £10. My husband duly doubled it and another grandparent gave her an extra £10. So, off she went to ToysRUs and bought herself a My Little Pony Rainbow Castle, which she hasn't stopped playing with.

I praised her for saving up her pocket money so diligently and asked what we would do with her pocket money in future. "Save it up!" she said.

Let's see if she does!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

I want you to remember

October is Baby Loss Awareness month. Next week is Baby Loss Awareness week. October 15th will see another Wave of Light ripple around the world. I will light my candle and post a photo.

At the end of this month, we will mark the anniversary of the day we realised that something might be wrong with our second pregnancy; followed by the anniversary of the date we found out that our baby had died; followed by the anniversary of the date that our son was stillborn.

Nearly three years have passed since we lost Monty. I wouldn't say that time has healed us but that we have got used to living with loss. I no longer wear bereavement like an open wound; it has been woven into the fabric of the 'new me', the person I have become since losing my son. I am forever changed and will live the rest of my life as a bereaved parent.

I have two beautiful daughters and they bring me immense joy. Yet, there is a gap between them. Not just an age gap but a sibling gap - the space where their brother should be. A space where he will always exist (or, at least, be remembered).

I want my son to be remembered. By his family, by our friends and by the people that we meet and with whom we share his story. He was real and he existed (albeit briefly and only inside me).

I want you to remember: Monty Turton (stillborn) 3 November 2012

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The honeymoon is over...

My baby is 13 months old, I'm settled back at work and we have just stopped breastfeeding. We are on the cusp of toddlerhood. My 'baby' is standing, well-balanced on her own and starting to take her first wobbly steps. She has graduated to the '1-2s' room at nursery. She is a baby no more...

and I? I feel liberated.

The breastfeeding and maternity clothes are gone: donated to charity or expectant friends. The baby clothes my girls have grown out of are being despatched to nursery (as 'spares') or to friends with younger babies. Ditto the baby toys that are too 'young' for us now.

This transition doesn't make me sad. I'm not welling up or harking back to the days of newborn. In all honesty, I found newborn hard with both girls. I'm really enjoying the stage we're at now and looking forward to the future with children (rather than babies).

My two girls are starting to build rapport. They love each other and enjoy each other's company. They share a bedroom and toys and clothes. They make each other laugh, they have empathy and they both LOVE Hello Kitty.

The 'babymoon' may be over but we've got so much fun, love and family time to look forward to.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A picture of you...

I spent about half an hour today on a coffee break, talking to a colleague about his son, who was born a couple of months after mine.

My colleague described his son's interests, likes and dislikes. They love playing Lego together; they have started 'hanging out' with each other at the park; they are becoming real pals. My colleague said that he is really enjoying this new stage of parenting, where the child's personality really begins to develop and shine through.

During the course of the conversation, I began to wonder what Monty would be like at two-and-a-half years old. Would he enjoy playing with construction toys with his sister? Would he chase her around at the park, follow her up the climbing frame, or try to swing higher on the swings? Would he be able to speak in sentences or form an opinion? Would he like to snuggle up for a bedtime story?

I imagine that he would be boisterous and noisy and give us a cheeky grin. I imagine that he would share his love freely, with hugs and kisses for his sister. I imagine that he would like songs and stories and painting and sticking. I imagine that he would be lots of fun. I imagine that he would fit right in.

Friday, 4 September 2015

What a girl wants...

Last year, when my 5yo daughter started school, we introduced pocket money. We thought that it would be good for her to start thinking about dealing with money and practising counting. I gave her 50p per week, term time only and she could get an extra 10p if she got a mention in the school assembly for good work.

Friday became 'pocket money day'. My daughter likes to go to the local shop on her way home from school to buy some sweets. I encourage her not to spend all her pocket money in one go and to save some of it back for a rainy day.

Towards the end of July, my daughter pointed out that 50p isn't very much money. She often struggles to understand the value of certain sweets and gets frustrated if she can't afford something she wants. For example, she likes Kinder Surprise Eggs but they cost 99p - almost two weeks' pocket money - so she has to choose something else. She successfully negotiated an increase to her pocket money for the start of the new school year. Today, she will get 60p - the new standard rate. As before, she can get an extra 10p if she receives a mention in assembly. But 60p doesn't buy much more than 50p.

Over the summer, we visited grandparents and went on holiday. We accumulated packets of sweets and chocolates, many of which were gifts or treats from relatives. I have therefore told my daughter that I don't want her to spend her pocket money on sweets until all of the summer's spoils have been eaten. She views this as a punishment but I've tried to point out that she could spend her pocket money on other things, or not spend it at all and save it up for something special. My husband has incentivised her saving by offering to double whatever she can save up by the half-term holiday and take her to ToysRUs so that she can buy a new toy before Christmas.

I wonder what she will want to do this afternoon on her way home from school. I know that she wants to go to the shop and she has told me that she won't be buying sweets. Unfortunately, I don't think there is much that 60p can buy. It seems that children's comics and magazines start at £2 per issue (almost 4 weeks' pocket money!) and that there are no toys or trinkets for less than £1.

I don't remember much about my own pocket money. When I was my daughter's age, I think my mum gave me 10p per week on a Friday to buy sweets. But, back then, sweets cost a halfpenny or a penny each. When I was 8 or 9 years old, I would buy The Beano and I think I got £1 a week from my grandma. How much did the comic cost? I can't remember.

I wonder if I *should* increase my daughter's pocket money further? I'm not sure. 60p per week feels like quite a lot of cash for a 5yo to be responsible for, even if it doesn't seem to have much buying power. Giving her £1 per week probably wouldn't be enough of an increase to give her more options and giving her £2 per week suddenly becomes very expensive for me and puts her in charge of quite a lot of cash. Just think of all the sweets she could (and would want to) buy for £2!

In my view, giving pocket money at this age is not about giving her buying power but rather about encouraging her to perform cash transactions and to think about the relative value of commodities. If there is something she really needs, I will buy it on her behalf. Sweets are not needed, though, so she has to buy them herself. She can get a small treat for less than 60p, even if it's not the scale of treat she would like, but there is a lesson in itself. You can't always get what you want...

Monday, 24 August 2015

Summer holiday

We have just returned from our first family holiday abroad. We took the girls to France.

I have felt nervous about travelling overseas with my daughters. Mostly, I feared the long periods of waiting around in confined spaces (in the car and on the ferry) and there were some stressful moments on our journeys. Listening to the baby cry for an hour as we waited to board the ferry at Portsmouth was a particular low-light and didn't give me much hope for the holiday!

On the whole, though, the holiday was a success.

We kept it simple and stayed with Eurocamp not far from St Malo, thus limiting the amount of driving we had to do to get to our holiday destination. The campsite had lots of outdoor and sporting activities to offer, as well as a kids' club and evening entertainment.

Our 5yo threw herself into the holiday spirit with gusto! She spoke some French and tried new foods. She also demonstrated confidence in the swimming pools and even attempted the water slides on her own! She really appreciated the fact that we were visiting another country and she looked for and revelled in the differences between holiday and home.

The baby was less enthusiastic. I think she would have found it difficult whatever holiday we had chosen but there was no space in the caravan for her to crawl about or play and the campsite didn't have any facilities for babies to play in or explore. She hated the swimmings pools (perhaps they were too noisy or cold?) and so she spent a lot of time strapped into a highchair or her pushchair. When she did crawl about on the grass outside the caravan, she tried to eat pine cones and sticks that she found lying around!

All in all, we had a good time. The weather was nice and we found lots of things to entertain ourselves with. We did some day trips, visited some local markets and enjoyed the kids' club activities.

We have agreed that we'll venture across the Channel again with the children but probably not until the baby is a few years older.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Well it looks like we might have made it...

The end of the school year is upon us. Today is the last day of term. My daughter has completed her first full year at school with no absences. She is exhausted as she graduates from Reception class.

We should take a moment to reflect on the achievements of the past year:

When my daughter started school, she could not read or write (apart from her own name). She could count to 20 and just beyond but not perform mathematical functions. Now, she can easily manipulate numbers: she can double and halve; add and subtract; count to 100 in ones, fives and tens and count to 30 in twos. She can estimate and determine whether one amount is greater or lesser than another. She can read books and try to sound out new words that she doesn't know. She can write simple words and likes to help with shopping lists, meal plans and to write stories and greetings cards.

She is confident and articulate, stubborn and determined. She has the ability to try and test her limits. She takes pride in her school and was delighted that her house colour won the annual house-points prize. She has received certificates for sporting achievements, including being in the top-5 in a hula-hooping competition! She has been Star of the Week, had her written work displayed on the writers' wall of fame and been recognised for good behaviour in the playground.

It has been an incredible year of learning and fun. She has thoroughly enjoyed herself and worked hard. She has made new friends and discovered new abilities and skills.

I am proud of her.


Friday, 10 July 2015

Time piece

My year on maternity leave is drawing to a close. How quickly the time seems to have passed! I look at my baby girl, who seems so very grown-up now and yet still needs me for so much.

This time last year, I was preparing to take a couple of weeks' holiday before starting maternity leave at the beginning of August. The weather was hot and I felt heavy, tired and uncomfortable. One year later, the weather is hot again and the Health Visitor has called to make an appointment for my baby's 12-month health check.

I'm still breastfeeding three or four times a day, including once at night. I'm usually the person my daughter reaches out for when she is hurt, upset or hungry.  I'm still her primary carer and we spend almost all of our time together. However, she is growing more and more independent. She has started to attend nursery two mornings and one afternoon each week. She finger-feeds and has begun to try feeding herself with a spoon. She rolls with confidence and is on the verge of crawling. She has slept through the night on four occasions (not that I'm counting...) She is playful and curious and, for the most part, contented.

For the first time, I will be returning from maternity leave to the job I left. Whilst I feel a little anxious about putting my daughter in the care of others three days a week, I am looking forward to re-balancing my sense of self and purpose. I will work three days per week, which will give me two days a week at home, allow me to do some of the school runs and get to the school's celebration assembly on a Friday, and give me time to continue some voluntary activities.

I have enjoyed my maternity leave. It's been hard work at times but I've tried to make the most of it and have fun with my girls. This has been a year of transitions: my baby has gone from newborn to pre-toddler; my elder daughter, from pre-schooler to completion of her first year at school.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Conscious Pilates

As part of my recovery from abdominal divarication, I have been advised to take up Pilates (again).

I did Pilates for about six months to heal the divarication after Monty was born. I attended an evening class at the local leisure centre but never really enjoyed it. I felt so unhappy about my situation and spent a lot of time during the classes just thinking about my little lost baby. As soon as the physio said I could move on to other forms of exercise, I did.

This time, I am determined to do better. For a start, my divarication is worse: 10 months after my daughter was born, the gap is still 4cm across! More importantly, though, I am in a very different mental state and I can concentrate better on the classes. I know I am doing better - I have already reduced the divarication down from 13cm and after each class, I can feel the muscles aching for a day or two. Overall, my muscle tone is improving and my core stability is stronger.

I'm just about to increase my attendance to two Pilates classes per week. I have to focus hard on what I am doing and concentrate on which muscle groups to use but I would say that I am actually starting to enjoy Pilates.

I wish I could say the same for the weekly swimming I am supposed to do...

Friday, 19 June 2015

No problem!

My baby girl is now 42 weeks old. I look at her and wonder where the past nine and a half months have gone!

I'm still breastfeeding and we are weaning. She will eat three meals and a couple of snacks a day. She also has four or five milk feeds, each one usually quite short (5 mins or so). Sometimes, she asks for more milk feeds - usually only on days that her teeth are hurting or after a night with little sleep.
[No, she is still not "sleeping through".]

I perceive an expectation that my baby should be much more independent of me than she is. Mainly, from comments people make about feeding. Breastfeeding is something that I feel privileged to be able to do. I intend to do a full year, as I did with my elder daughter - not because I'm trying to treat them both the same but because we're getting along with the breastfeeding just fine. However, some of my friends seem to think that I should make a change, to 'get my life back'. They ask if I have tried expressing milk and suggest that perhaps, if I did, I could leave some milk out for my husband to give to the baby. They also mention the benefits of giving a formula feed at bedtime to ensure a full night's sleep. I'm sure there are good intentions but I feel like my decision to breastfeed is being undermined. I'm not asking for a solution because I don't have a problem.

I did express milk for my elder daughter. A couple of evenings a week, I would sit and express for 10-15 minutes after she went to bed, carefully decant the 50ml of milk yielded into a bag, label it up and put it in the freezer. I tried putting the defrosted milk on her cereal when she was weaning - she wouldn't eat it. I tried giving her the defrosted milk in a sippy cup - she wouldn't drink it. I ended up throwing my milk away (you can only store it in the freezer for 6 months) and I nearly cried thinking of all the effort that had gone into its production. So, this time, I decided not to bother expressing.

My choice to exclusively breastfeed is as valid as the next mother's choice to bottle feed and the next mother's choice to combination feed and the next mother's choice to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula after 6 months. It is a choice that I'm sticking to - at least for the next few months. When my baby is a year old and can have cows milk as a drink and I return to work, she'll probably give up breastfeeding quite quickly. Until then, I'll continue 'putting my life on hold'.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Turning orange

June is SANDS Awareness Month. This year, SANDS aims to turn social media orange, encouraging people to change their profile pictures and upload selfies to raise awareness and money for the charity.

I'm doing my bit, too. This month, I acted as a lay-person reviewer for research proposals looking at attitudes towards post mortem examination for babies and children. Instead of accepting the fee for my work, I asked for the money to be donated straight to SANDS. I'm also still knitting and collecting blankets to send in for the SANDS memory boxes.

I have also written an article for the Willow Tree Centre newsletter, due to be published later this month, about how bereavement counselling helped me to deal with my loss and rebuild my life.

As more time passes since Monty's stillbirth, my strength grows. His loss is no longer a physical and visible wound; my bereavement is becoming more neatly woven into the fabric of my life. I still want something positive to come from my experience, so I look for opportunities to give something back, to raise awareness and to raise funds.

Always loved, never forgotten


Sunday, 31 May 2015

Seeing what isn't there

This photo, taken just over a year ago, makes me smile. It also makes my heart ache.

We had gone for a day out with my family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. We found this fallen tree log and my mother suggested that the kids sit on it for a photograph. They duly hopped up.

At the time, I just thought it was lovely to capture a shot of the three of them together. It wasn't until later that I noticed the gap between my daughter and her eldest cousin. The space where my 18-month old son *should* be sitting.

To others, this photo is simply a memento of a happy day out.

To me, it is a reminder that there is always someone missing.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

B-b-b-b-build... (or why I dislike Lego kits)

One of my favourite things to do at the start of the school holidays, is suggest to my daughter that we build a Lego city. She is always keen to play and lays out road base plates and space landscape base plates, joining them together with small, flat pieces to keep them in place. My husband and I take turns to play alongside her. Usually, we are required to find specific pieces of Lego that she needs to build houses, bridges, gardens and vehicles. The Lego people move in and the city comes to life.

As a family, we have a large volume of Lego, much of it saved from when my husband and I were children. The vintage stuff has been added to with Lego Friends kits given to our daughter as birthday and Christmas presents. New Lego bricks come in different colours to our battered old Lego; some of it is pink and purple (our daughter's favourite colours) and orange. New Lego people are very different in style to the '80s spacemen with helmets and oxygen tanks. I consider the Lego Friends kits too twee and girly but try not to get hung up on the gender debate and focus on the fact that my daughter likes playing at construction.

I would happily buy buckets of bricks and windows and doors and wheels to add to our collection but I dislike the kits because they take away from our daughter's imagination play.

She is good at following the instruction booklets to make the kits as described but only plays with the finished items in a limited way. For example, the Lego camper van is 'just' a camper van with a little doll; the lusted-after Lego dance studio has never been played with but 'can't' be dismantled. I might as well have just bought another Polly Pocket set for her to play with!

So, now I throw the instructions away! We make the kits when we first open the boxes but then I put the assembled kits into the crate with 'gen pop' Lego. The next time we build Legocity, I quietly take the kits apart, strip them down to their components and mix the pieces in to the architecture that our daughter creates from her own imagination.

Because, after all, that is what Lego is all about: building from your imagination. Making and re-making things. Breaking things apart and using the components to make something better. Learning how to form a strong brick bonding pattern. Trying new things, some of which work and some of which fail. Not being afraid to make mistakes; being willing to have a go, to test the limits, and to look at the world from a new perspective.

I don't want my daughter to grow up to be good at following IKEA-style instructions for flat-pack furniture - I want her to design innovative new buildings and machines and furniture for someone else to assemble.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Counting conundrum

The passage of time does nothing to ease the burden of answering the seemingly innocent question: how many children do you have? In the past week, I have encountered this question three times in situations where I have not wanted to disclose the 'right' answer.

In general, my rule is that I will talk about Monty with people I am likely to form a friendship with or with whom I will come into contact often in the future. I have told other parents in the school playground, for example, as I don't want my son to emerge like a skeleton from the closet.

I don't tend to tell people with whom I am making a fleeting acquaintance because the revelation that my son was stillborn is usually met with an apology and condolences, followed an awkward silence. Then, I find myself saying that it's OK...

but it's not OK and it's never going to be OK.

It isn't that I dislike talking about Monty. In fact, the opposite is true. I love talking about him because I love him and talking about him preserves his memory and reinforces his place in our family. It's just that I prefer to talk about him on my own terms. Memories of him are all I have and to share them is extremely personal.

I am a mother of three, with two surviving children. I like to talk about all of them and to omit Monty feels wrong. Besides, I believe that being open about my experience of stillbirth helps to break down the stigma and taboo that persists around baby loss.

I still hesitate, though, each time the question is asked, when I try to decide how to answer. A moment during which I have to choose whether to be truthful or not.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Inbetween days

My baby girl is weaning. She has two teeth and seems to be growing up so fast...

She has taken well to solid food and likes to feed herself. She sits at the table with us and gets on with it. She grins, joins in with mealtimes and likes it best when Daddy sits next to her!

She seems to be firmly into a routine:

7.30am - breakfast with Daddy
8.30am - milk
11.00am - fruit snack
midday - milk
12.30pm - solid lunch
3.00pm - milk
4.00pm - carb snack with Sister (after school)
6.00pm - dinner with the whole family
7.30pm - bedtime milk (after bath time)

Usually, she wakes in the night and I give her a quick feed to settle her back to sleep. Once or twice, though, she has slept right through for 12 hours! (...and I've woken up grossly engorged in a puddle of milk)

I know that she will still need milk for another few months and that I will miss breastfeeding when she stops but, at the same time, I am pleased that she is feeding from me less. It will ease her transition to nursery in just over one month's time if she can go four or five hours without milk. It also gives me more freedom during the day - we can attempt longer spells out of the house and I don't have to wear dedicated breastfeeding tops if I know I won't need to feed in public.

I'm enjoying my in-between baby, watching her develop from a newborn to a bouncing baby!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

30-day challenge

In an attempt to boost my creativity (in a long-term search for 'what I want to be when I grow up'), I've decided to undertake a series of 30-day challenges. The idea is to try some new things, step outside my comfort zone and see what I can learn.

My first challenge is to cook 30 new recipes in 30 days. Mostly, these are dinner recipes that we eat together as a family, which adds some complexity to the challenge: the recipes have to be appetising for a four-year-old, two adults and a baby. It's also stretching my abilities in the kitchen. I quite enjoy cooking and am technically competent but I don't have my husband's flair (well, he did work as a restaurant chef for a year...)

One week into the challenge and I'm feeling pleased with myself. We've tried seven new recipes, most of which have been well received - apart from our attempt at polenta chips, which failed abysmally (so we just ate it as soft polenta) and a chicken casserole that turned out as per the recipe but lacked depth of flavour. The baby's new favourite foods include lentils and meat, particularly chicken.

Alongside my challenge, my husband is attempting better bread-making. We've had a bread-maker machine for years and use it almost daily to make loaves for toast and sandwiches and to prepare dough for pizza. We also have a sourdough starter in the fridge, which is used weekly to make a loaf at the weekends. This week, my husband has dabbled with some artisan breads: a pesto-topped focaccia and a wholemeal cob were both delicious!

Next month's challenge will be to walk at least 30 minutes per day. Best foot forward!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Happy holidays

Here we are, on the first morning of the school holidays. I'm up early with the baby, Daddy is away overnight and my elder daughter is sleeping, like a starfish, in my bed.

Even though the last half term has been short (just 5 weeks), we are all ready for a break. There are two weeks of no school stretching ahead of us and Daddy will be taking the whole holiday off work!

I admit that I build up high hopes for the school holidays. I romanticise the notion of long, lazy mornings snuggled up, four in a bed. I make lots of plans for activities that we can do together. I expect us to have lots of fun and laughter.

In general, we do but, because we are a 'normal' family, we also have tears, tantrums and fallings out. We get bored. Sometimes, no-one wants to do the *brilliant* activities I have planned.

So, what are our intentions for the Easter break?

Well, we have written a holiday wish list. (We did this at Christmas and it worked quite well.) The idea is simply that you write down some things that you'd like to do and you aim to tick off one per day. They don't (and shouldn't) have to be expensive activities or day trips but they at least provide some structure for the breakfast-time 'what are we doing today?' conversation.

This is our list:

  • draw the whole story of "Frozen" (an ambitious art project, I'll admit: NOT my idea!)
  • run down a sand dune (we saw an episode of Nina and the Neurons about sand dunes)
  • visit an art gallery (next term, my daughter's class will be learning about art appreciation)
  • go to some cafes 
  • do an Easter Egg hunt
  • write a story for the school creative writing competition
  • visit all the Grandmas and Grandads
  • visit Sherwood Forest (Robin Hood's Major Oak tree is not far from Grandma's house)
We may yet add a few more things to our list. Possibly a trip to the library; perhaps a playdate with some friends? 

I wonder how far down our list we'll get?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

You've come a long way, baby

You are seven months old, now. Still my baby but less babyish day by day. How long ago it seems that you were my newborn girl.

Now, you can sit up and remain steady. You have just started rolling (although never when I'm there to watch!) and you are developing your sense of humour. You're ticklish, especially on your feet and under your chin. You have beautiful eyes and a smile for everyone.

You no longer just cry to get my attention. When you're hungry, you blow raspberries at me and wave your arms and legs around. If I do the 'milk' sign, you burst into a smile and get even more excited! You recognise that, when I pick up the half-moon cushion, it's time for a feed.

You've started weaning and you enjoy exploring food. The tastes, textures and smells fascinate you. You prefer it when Daddy helps you with your meals, perhaps because you still associate me with milk.

You adore your big sister. You love watching her when she runs around and plays. She brings you toys, picks up things that you drop and likes to give you big cuddles. You enjoy playing in the bath together each evening before bed.

You are becoming your own person and establishing your place in our family.

We love you so much.


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Bridging the gap

My baby girl is 29 weeks old.

I still have abdominal divarication.

The physiotherapist thinks that, overall, my muscle tone has improved. However, the divariacation between my rectus abdominis is between 3cm and 5cm and my linea alba is flaccid. Making progress will take time: possibly another year, maybe more.

I have been given a set of exercises and a fitness plan. Every day, I have to pull up my pelvic floor, stand on one leg, raise my arms above my head and, for 100 repetitions, throw a ball against a wall and catch it. I also have to do the pelvic floor, standing on one leg thing and raise my arms above my head each time I boil the kettle to make a cup of tea! I am to go swimming for 30 minutes each week, whilst my elder daughter attends her swimming lesson, and I may take up Pilates.

I have to return to see the physiotherapist in three month's time to see how things have improved.

The physiotherapist asked me if I would consider surgery. I misunderstood and thought she meant to repair the damage; she actually meant for cosmetic purposes (as the skin across my tummy is quite saggy and wrinkled). I'm not bothered about the appearance of my mum-tum (after all, it's only me and my husband who ever see it) but I am determined to regain muscle tone and function. The physio believes I can do this through exercise, so that's what I'll do - even if it takes a year, or longer...

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mothering Sunday

Tomorrow is Mothers' Day.

Traditionally, I tell my mum that she doesn't need to receive a card from me on a particular day to know that I love and appreciate her. I don't normally send a card. This year, I sent a card and flowers.

I also sent flowers and a card to my mother-in-law and flowers to my husband's step-mum.

My children are lucky to have three grandmas. Three grandmas who love them and think the world of them. Three grandmas who spoil them when they see them (which is not often enough because we live so far apart). Three grandmas who make them cakes and buy them books and nice clothes and toys.

Three grandmas who have helped me so much in my journey into motherhood: they babysit so that I can spend time alone with my husband on a rare and much-needed night out; they come to stay to help me look after my girls when my husband travels overseas. Three grandmas who came without question or second thought to help in the crisis of losing their grandson.

There is no 'right' time to tell them how grateful I feel; how lucky I am to have a mother and two mothers-in-law who I can turn to for help and advice. So, I have chosen this Mothers' Day to send them each a small token of my appreciation.

My Mothering Sunday will be like a normal Sunday. Just me, my husband, the girls and thoughts of Monty. A lie-in, breakfast in bed (a mug of Old Sod's and a bacon sarnie, please!) and hugs and kisses from my family will make my day special... and perhaps a nice walk, if the weather is good.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Epic make fail!

This week, the elder daughter and I attempted some home craft - with disastrous consequences!

Inspired by an article in a magazine, we set out to make Easter egg piñatas. The instructions seemed simple enough and we had all the materials in the craft and cookery cupboards. All we had to do was:

(1) inflate a balloon and cover it in 3 layers of papier mache, leaving a hole at the top
(2) pop the balloon and paint the papier mache shell
(3) decorate the painted shell and fill it with sweets/treats/confetti
(4) make two small holes near the opening and thread ribbon through, then seal the hole
(5) hang the piñata in the garden or playroom, bash with sticks and enjoy the bounty

We got more than a little messy doing the first layer of papier mache and things looked okay as I left it to dry. However, by the next morning, the balloon had started to deflate and the shape of the 'egg' was a bit wonky. Undeterred, we applied a second layer of paper. Overnight, the balloon deflated even more and any hopes we might have had for acquiring an egg shape were gone.

We attempted to salvage the project by skipping to stage 2 of the instructions. Two coats of white paint later, we can still see newspaper print. My daughter has lost all interest in the project and I'm about ready to throw the towel in!

I will stick to cake making and biscuit decorating in future...

Friday, 6 March 2015


We've been offline for a fortnight. Not through choice but by accident - our internet/phone cable was damaged and had to be replaced. Losing the landline wasn't much of a problem but I hadn't realised just how much I use the internet in my every day life. Only a few days earlier, I had joked to my husband that we could try a 30-day challenge to get by without it. How we'd laughed at the thought...!

20 years ago, when I was doing my 'A' levels, I had no need for a computer and the internet didn't exist. I learned to touch-type and wrote up my homework using a typewriter. (I can still touch-type but I'm quite lazy about it now!) My mum generously bought me an electric typewriter to take to university but I never used it because, in Freshers' Week, I was given a swipe card for the 24-hour library on campus, where there were three floors of computers, and an email address. Within 12 months, I had bought my own PC.

Fast-track to today and I can't live without my laptop and iPhone! I take it for granted that I can look up information about anything from wherever I am and get an answer within seconds; and that I am always connected to friends and family. My husband gave me an iPad, when our elder daughter was a few months old. It was an anniversary present and one of the best gifts ever! I felt lonely at home with a young baby whilst he was at work all day and the iPad helped me to feel part of the world. I used Facebook to arrange meet-ups with the mums from my antenatal group; nearly five years later, I still do. I use the internet every day to learn, communicate and relax.

Two weeks without internet felt very strange. It took me back to a quieter, simpler time but not one that I miss. Its absence didn't give me the chance to focus on my knitting or song-learning but rather hindered my progress, since I couldn't download information I needed or check progress with others.

The first thing I did when the wi-fi signal came back on was grab the laptop, check all my social media and crack on with some online shopping (the weekly Tesco order)! I'm very glad to be back in the 21st century!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


I first heard about baby-led weaning (BLW) when my elder daughter was a few months old. My husband's cousin was weaning her baby by this method and suggested that I should the book about it. I watched her nine-month-old daughter confidently navigating a buffet-laden table and decided I'd find out more. I bought the book, read it cover to cover in a week, and waited for my daughter to show signs of readiness. Four years later, I've just started weaning my younger daughter.

When I weaned my elder daughter, BLW was relatively, new. I was the only mother from my antenatal group who did it. Some family members were skeptical but quickly converted. Now, it is the recommended method yet, from conversations with other mums at local baby groups, it still seems to be regarded with some suspicion.

For me, the key is allowing my baby to feed herself. My job is to prepare and offer a range of nutritious and safe foods in a form that she can eat. This currently involves fork-mashing our food and loading it onto a spoon that she can hold and direct towards her mouth, or giving her soft finger foods. Tonight, she ate the filling from a home-made chicken pie, using her fingers to scoop it from the spoon into her mouth and grinning between mouthfuls. Over time, as her ability improves, I will do less mashing and offer trickier finger foods.

I like being able to cook one meal that the whole family can share; I don't have to think about making a separate meal for my baby girl. We enjoy sitting down to dinner together as a family each evening.

Friday, 20 February 2015

The first time ever I saw your face: birth story #3

Baby 3: Another daughter

Mid-morning, I called the Antenatal Ward at the hospital to see if there were any spare beds. I was 38 weeks pregnant, it was late August and the weather was hot. The midwife who answered the phone spoke in a bright and breezy tone. There was room on the ward; I could arrive after lunch.

My in-laws had come to stay to look after our daughter whilst my third labour was induced. My pregnancy had been closely monitored and had planned a 'managed, natural delivery'. They drove us to the hospital and wished us good luck. My daughter, sitting in the back seat, gave me some advice: "Mummy, don't forget to push the baby out like this!" *made a 'straining for a poo' noise*

We were shown to a small room on the antenatal ward and I was officially admitted to the hospital. Over the next few hours, there was lots of monitoring of baby's heartbeat and movements. We knew that we were expecting a baby girl. She kept wriggling around and kicking the foetal monitor, so the readings were inconsistent and had to be repeated several times. When the doctor was happy with the results, we were allowed to begin the induction process. A hormone-laden pessary was inserted; we were told it could take up to 24 hours to take effect. The waiting game had begun.

I walked around to stimulate the induction and, within an hour or two, I could feel a strange set of nervous pulses down the backs of my legs and around my lower back. It was difficult to work out whether or not I was having contractions. Sitting down made some of the sensations subside, so I sat and tried to concentrate on what I was feeling. There was something regular but not very painful. We called the midwife and I was hooked up to another monitor. Yes, there were contractions and they were regular but they weren't doing much and baby was very active.

It took a while for the doctor and midwife to reassure themselves that the baby wasn't distressed - she was very active. I told them that she was often active but since her heart rate kept rising and falling, they wanted to be careful. After a few more hours, they removed the pessary and performed an internal exam. The doctor thought I was probably dilated enough for them to be able to break my waters. "It won't feel very comfortable" she warned "but it will move things along." I went to the loo, my husband gathered my bags and we walked slowly along the corridor to the Delivery Suite.

I was shown into a large, high-tech delivery room. The midwife chatted to us about our birth plan and talked us through the net stage of the induction: breaking my waters. The doctor marvelled at how active the baby still was and gasped when she saw the outline of baby's foot through my bump! My husband got the TENS machine ready and the midwife filled in her paperwork and got her tools. We waited for a big contraction and she broke my waters. I felt a gush of warm fluid and breathed deeply through the pain. I stood up so that the bed sheets could be changed and my husband applied the TENS pads.

Very quickly, the contractions came faster and more intense. I knew things were progressing rapidly. "Does it feel pushy?" the midwife asked. "It can't do!" my husband exclaimed "It hasn't been long enough!" It did feel pushy, though. I climbed back onto the bed and knelt up. The midwife told me to let her know when I wanted more pain relief and my husband got ready - he was going to catch our baby girl as she was born! In just over an hour, she arrived. There hadn't been time for extra pain relief.

Our daughter cried out. I was so relieved to hear her cry! My husband passed her through my legs to rest on the pillow under my tummy. I looked at her face and noticed her dark hair. I requested the hormone injection to speed delivery of the placenta and within another few minutes, that was out too. I turned around to sit down and cradle my baby girl. The midwife weighed her and checked her over, then brought her to me and popped her inside the top of my nightie for some skin-to-skin cuddling. My daughter turned her head and latched on for a feed.

It was nearly midnight.

I was told that, like her brother and sister before, my third baby had been born with her hand by her cheek; this time, I only suffered a small scratch and didn't need stitches. After the feed, I got up to shower and change into clean pyjamas. It was hard to walk or stand up straight - my back and abdominal muscles were incredibly sore and I felt weak. Tea and toast helped. My husband dressed our daughter and we got ready to be transferred to the postnatal ward for the night.

My husband wasn't allowed to stay. We said goodbye and he promised to return in the morning with our elder daughter. I spent the rest of the night dozing next to my beautiful new baby, watching her chest rise and fall as she slept in her crib.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The first time ever I saw your face: birth story #2

Baby 2: A son

It was a bright, sunny yet cold Winter's day. After lunch, my husband and I drove to the hospital. My overnight bag was on the back seat of the car. I clutched my V-shaped pillow and cried. We were on our way to the maternity unit to start the induction process and meet our second baby but I wanted to turn the car around and go home. I was not looking forward to what was to come: we were going to have a child that we would never raise.

I was 34 weeks pregnant and my son was dead. Two days earlier, I had seen the community midwife, who referred me to the hospital for a growth scan. By the time I got to the Assessment Unit, his heart had stopped beating. We had spent a night at home, trying to come to terms with how my second pregnancy was going to end and waiting for grandparents to come to look after our daughter.

On this November afternoon, we settled into the bereavement suite and talked through the induction procedure with the midwife. I was given medication to soften my cervix and sent home for 24 hours.

The next day, I returned to the hospital with my husband and my Mum. This time, I knew that, when I went home, it would be without my baby. We had a birth plan but I told the midwife that I was scared. I gave her a tiny vest and a fleecy blanket and asked that she dress the baby in them when it was born, to keep warm. I felt helpless.

The induction was started with a pill. The dosage was to be repeated every four hours until labour was established. We watched TV and waited.

Within two hours, I felt contractions and took some paracetamol. After four hours, a second pill was given. My labour then accelerated rapidly. I changed into an old nightie and asked to borrow a TENS machine. We moved to the room next door to the bereavement suite, the TENS pads were applied and I was given some gas and air. I knelt on the hospital bed. My husband held my hand and gave me sips of water. My mother mopped my forehead and the back of my neck with a cool, damp flannel. When I felt a dropping sensation inside, the midwife said the baby was coming. With a few short pushes, it was all over and my baby came silently into the world. "Let me look after this little angel for you" the midwife said. She put it in a crib and came back to help me deliver the placenta. She administered a hormone injection and within a few minutes, the placenta was out too.

I felt relieved that the pain was gone and empty that my baby was no longer a part of me. The midwife told us we had a son and we named him Monty. Like his sister, he had been born with his hand by his face but because he was so small I suffered only a small graze and didn't need stitches.

My mother went with the midwife to bathe and dress Monty. My husband made me a cup of tea. I drank it, then vomited and passed out on the bed through exhaustion.

When I woke up, a kind doctor was asking for permission to perform a post mortem and take samples for testing. I nodded consent and asked if I could take a bath. I washed and put on clean pyjamas. I asked the hospital porter to remove the clothes I had laboured in - I didn't want them back.

The midwife brought Monty to us. He looked as though he was sleeping. He was wearing his vest, wrapped in his blanket and was laid in a Moses basket. The midwife had given him a blue knitted hat. His hand was by his cheek, as it was when he was born. He looked tiny and frail but otherwise perfect. We stared into the basket and cried. My husband took some photographs and held his hand.

Eventually, we decided to let him go. The midwife took Monty away, to be transferred to the Chapel of Rest. We went back to the bereavement suite and had some tea and toast. I crawled into bed sometime around midnight but couldn't really sleep. Each time I woke up, I cried.

The next morning, it snowed. The midwife gave me a memory card with Monty's handprints and footprints on it and a lock of his hair. The doctor returned with consent forms for me to sign to give permission for the post mortem and disposal of tissue samples. The midwife read through my notes with me because the birth had happened so fast and gave me a pill to stop my milk from coming in.

I was discharged after lunch and we went home. I didn't want to leave my son behind - I thought he would be lonely and frightened without his mummy. The rightful place for a newborn was with his mother. I hoped the mortuary staff would take good care of him.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Time To Talk

Today is Time to Talk Day. People are taking five minutes to talk about mental health. Here is my story:

I have blogged about my bereavement following Monty's stillbirth but found it difficult to describe how much bereavement has felt like a mental illness. When I first went to see a bereavement counsellor, I was given a questionnaire to fill in to determine whether or not I was depressed. Not surprisingly, I ticked most of the boxes.

In the first few months after losing Monty, I found it difficult to sleep. I couldn't concentrate or make decisions, not even on watching TV or choosing what to cook for dinner. I lost interest in things that I had previously enjoyed: singing, knitting, socialising. I just wanted to shut myself away at home but I hated being by myself. I went through the motions of daily life. People who visited thought I was 'doing well'. From the outside I appeared to function normally. Inside I was hollow. My self-esteem and self-confidence plummeted. I could no longer identify myself as the person I had been before my son died. My life had been derailed and I felt like I was in free-fall.

Relationships and friendships were put under strain. My world shrank. The only people important to me were my husband and my daughter. I tried to concentrate on getting myself better but I didn't know how and I needed a lot of help. At my lowest ebb, I told my husband I was broken and could never be fixed.

It took five months for me to feel ready to return to work but even that was too soon. It took longer for me to be able to get back to my hobbies. Even now, I struggle to learn new songs and to concentrate on anything other than the simplest knitting patterns. I continued to attend bereavement counselling until after Monty's anniversary and still regularly meet my counsellor for coffee.

I often wonder which box to tick when I have to complete equality monitoring forms. Do I have a disability? Should I declare my bereavement stress? I don't know. I don't consider myself to be ill but I'm not sure that I will ever be fully recovered. Many of my symptoms have gone but they have left a mark. Losing Monty has changed me forever. I am not and will never again be the person I was before. I have been taken on a journey to the depths of my soul and learned a lot about my mental health - something I previously took for granted.

Monday, 2 February 2015

The first time ever I saw your face: birth story #1

Baby 1: A daughter

I spent the day of my due date at home doing a jigsaw puzzle. There was no sign of baby coming. My husband came home from work and cooked dinner. My Dad phoned; I said nothing was happening. Since it was a nice May evening, we decided to go for a stroll. We got home at around 8pm and sat down to watch NCIS.

At some point during the programme, I noticed some cramping sensations. Nothing painful but over the course of about an hour, I realised that they were regular. I quietly started to time them: every 6 minutes or so and for about 30 seconds. My husband continued to watch TV - his favourite show Justified was reaching its conclusion. By half-way through, I was pacing the room. I told my husband about the cramps, which were more intense but still not very painful, and he started to time them.

At around 11pm, I decided to phone the hospital. We had been told at antenatal class to stay at home for as long as possible and only to go in if the pain was unbearable. I could talk through contractions and just wanted reassurance that it was OK to go to bed and try to get some sleep! The midwife who answered the phone was lovely. She asked when I had last felt baby's movements and when I said it had been a few hours earlier, she suggested that I should go to the Assessment Unit for monitoring. I pointed out that baby normally got active when I went to bed and that I was still up but she insisted that I go in for a check. "Just bring your maternity notes and a spare pair of knickers" she said "as we'll probably send you home again in an hour or two."

I slipped on a pair of shoes and a cardigan and grabbed my notes. We put my overnight bag in the car just in case. It felt uncomfortable sitting in the passenger seat but, at midnight, it only took 20-minutes to drive to the hospital.

I was hooked up to a foetal monitor and was relieved to see baby's heartbeat. When I was reclining on the bed, the baby started moving around too. The contractions got stronger and longer and the pain more intense. After an internal exam, I was told I was only 2-3cm dilated, so not in labour and couldn't be admitted to the Delivery Suite. I could go home if I wanted. I didn't. I was given two paracetamol, which I promptly puked back up. The doctor said it was very quiet on the neighbouring ward and kindly ran me a bath to help ease the discomfort.

I think I stayed in the bath for a couple of hours, until the water went cold and we could get no more hot from the tap. When I got out and put my clothes back on, the pain was much worse. I shuffled back to the Assessment Unit and they offered another internal exam. I was 7cm dilated! Hurrah! I could go to the Delivery Suite. They wheeled me up in a wheelchair, notes in one hand, spare pants in the other.

I don't remember much about the room I was taken to. By now, the contractions were every couple of minutes and so intense I couldn't speak. I accepted the offer of gas and air and my husband applied the TENS machine. I deployed my best 7-11 breathing - a technique learned through my singing hobby - and focused on the job in hand. I noticed the light begin to change as the dawn broke and I heard the birds wake up and start singing.

I wondered how much longer I would wait before asking for more pain relief but then it became time to push. The *short* journey down the birth canal seemed to take forever! At 7.30am, my daughter arrived. She was quiet and blue but they revived her with some oxygen and tested her responses. She was OK. I delivered the placenta whilst they checked her over and we decided on her name.

I had given birth kneeling on a floor-mat and cushions. The midwives asked I if could get up onto the bed so that they could check if I needed stitches. I said 'yes' but I couldn't - the rapid loss of weight had changed my centre of gravity and my stomach muscles were floppy; I couldn't find my balance! They helped me up and checked me over. One of the midwives told me that they had found two true knots in the umbilical cord, which could have had catastrophic consequences if they had pulled tight. The other told me that my daughter had been born with one hand by her head and that I had a third-degree tear. A Registrar was called and I was taken off to theatre for a spinal block and a proper suturing.

When I got back to the delivery room, my husband was there cuddling our baby girl. Everything was peaceful. He had popped out to the car whilst I was in surgery and collected my overnight bag. The midwife had helped him to dress our daughter and wrap her in a blanket.

I spent the whole day waiting for the effects of the anaesthetic to wear off. In the early evening, my catheter was removed. I had to stay overnight. I ended up staying another day and night after that too, in order to establish breast-feeding. My daughter was very sleepy and reluctant to feed. Kind midwives helped me to express colostrum. On the second morning, after an almighty effort, my daughter took two good feeds and we were discharged.

Outside, the sun shone strong and warm and we drove home very slowly with our tiny, precious bundle in her car seat, to begin life as a family.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


With one term completed, I have learnt a lot about school uniform. Before my daughter started school, I thought it was simple. There is a uniform. You buy it; they wear it.

If only...

Here's what I didn't know:

My daughter prefers polo shirts with a little pocket on the front. She likes to collect interesting things during the school day and put them into these pockets. She does the same with the pockets on her cardigans. I have to carefully check and empty all pockets before putting uniform into the washing machine. So far, I have inadvertently laundered: sycamore seeds, sequins, buttons, glass marbles and (worst of all!) holes from a hole punch!

Trousers vs pinafores:
My daughter cannot wear most skirts or trousers because she has a narrow waist. I bought pinafore dresses for her to wear to school but they are no good for the days on which she has PE because she has to get herself changed. It's not the dress but the tights that she wears underneath that are the problem. (Roll on summer!) So, I bought some elasticated waisted trousers. She prefers the trousers.

[What am I going to do with all the dresses?!]

Cardigan vs sweater:
I bought cardigans because I thought they would be easier for her to put on and take off. They are but a sweater would be better for the days on which she does PE, as they often do sports outside. Note: the cardigan must *only* be fastened by the top button - any more buttoning is seriously uncool!

Socks vs tights:
White socks get filthy! They have to be replaced - often! It's a good job they are cheap.

Grey tights are warm under dresses but the legs shrink up and the waistband expands in the tumble dryer.

Shoes: patent leather or not?
Black shoes are fine. We went for a sandal (T-bar) style with a velcro fastening. My daughter thinks they are boring, so we chose a pair with lights in the sole that flash as she walks. I opted for patent leather and discovered that they wipe clean with wet wipes! The velcro, however, has become matted with carpet fluff and hair and dirt from outside and is impossible to clean.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Getting ready for BLW

My baby girl is 20 weeks old: we are fast approaching the weaning stage - in a few weeks, it will be upon us! Despite feeling quite anxious about weaning my elder daughter, I'm really looking forward to introducing my younger daughter to food. I guess this is because I know a bit more about what to expect as well as the fact that baby-led weaning is now the recommended method (rather than the new-fangled 'fad' it was deemed to be when I did it before).

In preparation, we are helping her to practise her sitting-up skills and hand-eye co-ordination. We have set up the high-chair in the kitchen and, if she is awake and happy, we have started to sit her in it when we have dinner or breakfast. She has a table-top toy to play with but sometimes just watches what we are doing. We tell her what we are eating!

My four-year-old is a fantastic big sister and loves to be helpful, so we've told her the rules about weaning:

1) ALWAYS check with Mummy/Daddy if it's okay to offer your sister something to eat (to make sure it is safe and appropriate food)

2) NEVER put food in your sister's mouth - put it in front of her, so she can feed it to herself

I expect to continue breastfeeding for at least another six months and I know that my baby is unlikely to drop a feed until she's about nine months old but, since I'm not planning to return to work until after her birthday, this won't be a problem.

I'm hoping that we'll have lots of fun on our weaning adventure: Bring on the mess!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Book review: "Your Baby Week by Week"

This book is the one parenting book that I found helpful when I had my first daughter. I borrowed several books from the library but this was the only one that seemed to have pragmatic advice that suited my approach and fitted with me and my baby. I dug it out of the cupboard just before my second daughter was born and have found it as helpful over the past few months as it was first time round.

It does what it says on the cover: it gives you advice and information about your baby's growth and development, week by week, for the first six months. Each 'chapter' corresponds to one week of your baby's life and the following topics are covered: sleep, crying, feeding, nappies, washing, development and playing, when to see a doctor, and what's happening to mum.

The book is written by two mothers - one a doctor, the other a journalist - and it reads as if it was penned by a good friend. The tone is informal yet authoritative and the style and content of the book helped me to feel more confident about motherhood and looking after my babies. It's also quite short and you only have to read the week ahead. The index at the back is very helpful too.

My favourite sentence occurs at the beginning of week 13: "If you've cosseted your baby over the past weeks, then congratulations because most experts are now convinced that lots of cuddling will help your baby to grow up to be secure." (As a first-time mum, I was relieved to read this and wished I'd read it sooner, since I had spent a lot of time in the first three months worrying that I was doing it all 'wrong'!)

I have recommended this book to expectant friends. It has been a great reference guide and a mine of information and I look at it a couple of times each week. My baby is four months old now and we are coming to the end of the book (it only goes as far as week 24). I plan to pass the book on to someone who is expecting their first child and I'll be sorry to see it go...

but not for long because I have the sequel ("Baby to Toddler Month by Month") to look forward to!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Can explorers wear princess dresses?

The next term at school has begun with a dressing-up day to introduce a new whole-school topic: explorers! This promises to be an exciting and engaging topic for learning but, over the holidays, it raised a few questions, namely: what do explorers look like? One of the other mums said that her daughter only likes dressing up as a princess. Can explorers wear princess dresses?

The question set me thinking about stereotypes and role models and I wondered what are the most important characteristics that explorers exhibit. A love of princess dresses probably isn't on the list and I'm guessing fashion isn't particularly important when planning an expedition!

What explorers wear largely depends upon what they set out to explore: underwater explorers wear diving gear (and I truly hope that someone turned up to school in a wetsuit with a snorkel, face mask and flippers!); interstellar explorers wear space suits; jungle explorers wear light, cool clothing; and arctic explorers dress for the cold.

Apart from Lara Croft and Dora the Explorer, we struggled to think of famous female explorers. Amelia Earhart came to mind, as did Helen Sharman (who I met, once, back in the '90s). I turned to Wikipedia for a list but, shamefully, recognised only one name. Literature didn't help much - I thought of Lucy from "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" but didn't have a fur coat to hand.

So, rather than emulate a famous explorer, we put together a costume from things we could make and clothes we already own.

My daughter is a mountain explorer: she wore sturdy boots with thick socks, a gilet and a hat, and she carried a rucksack with binoculars, a telescope and a hand-drawn map. We talked about the skills that explorers use (navigation and planning) and their characteristics (a sense of adventure, courage and perseverance).

I wonder what adventures she will have as an explorer at school today?