School Days, Thinking Out Loud

Babies Starting School

My social media is abuzz with school admissions posts and wails about “my baby” going to school. Excuse me while my lack of sympathy and I snicker darkly yet sagely into our milky tea.

I hear you, I do, but I also raise you this: MY BABY IS GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL. They will eat him alive. He is tiny and geeky and high school is not the nurturing, learn-through-play haven of Reception. He will be spat out at the other end as a legal adult.

Ok, he’s not a baby. He’s 10. Double figures and all that. And yes, I may well be projecting my own fears about moving from Primary to Comp. I blame Grange Hill. My comprehensive school looked like the fictional hell hole, it was populated with the same permed, mean eyed, all-knowing teenagers. I was definitely going to get my head flushed down the toilet or be tricked into taking an acid tab. One of the boys in my year 6 class who had an older sister there assured us that it was a rite of passage. The toilet thing, not the drugs.

I’m still yet to ever have my head flushed down the loo or trip on acid (in the words of Zammo “just say no”) and if I’m honest, I’m sure my son will be fine. He’s friendly, he’s sensible, he’s a good guy and he’s feeling cautiously confident after plenty of visits to the school and transition days.

I’ve written about it before, this ever marching time of childhood, not standing in the way of them moving on and developing, of celebrating change and not infantilising them when they’re not babies anymore.

Don’t let your 4 year old see you cry when you drop them off that first week. Please. It’s not about you. Letting them see you panicked, upset or overwhelmed is unhelpful. The same goes for all those future residential school trips. Imagine starting a new job with your partner, parent or friend crying at the entrance. I’ll be doing just that very soon (the job not the weeping) and I’d prefer a thumbs up and a snazzy new lunch box.

My step daughter’s been in high school for two years now and is having a grand old time of it. We see her so much less than we used to but that’s a whole other blog post. I’m sure my son with throw himself into a new school, make new friends, have great experiences but it’s still the great unknown. Think of all those positive things if your child’s starting primary school too.

Of course, I’m writing all of this before his Hogwarts letter arrives this summer and there’ll be a whole other level of worry going on.

Two children's books on batman bedding. The larger book on the left is 100 Things to Know About Space and the other book is Grandpa Was an Astronaut by Jonathan Meres.
School Days, Thinking Out Loud

World Book Day

Before I launch into a rant of sorts, please know that this isn’t anti World Book Day. What they stand for and what they aim to do is brilliant. World Book Day is the world’s biggest campaign to provide every child and young person in the country with a book of their own. Their twitter biography sums it up:

The biggest annual celebration of books and reading in the UK & Ireland. Share a Story with us on 7 March 2019. A charity, sponsored by National Book Tokens. @WorldBookDayUK

Our school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day this year and I’m cool with that. Instead, the children have been asked to take their favourite book into school. It’s perfectly in keeping with the whole ethos of sharing a story, building a love of reading, getting kids excited about books and seeing what a huge range of stories and factual books there are.

Yet some parents still moan. If they’d had to dress up there’d be other parents moaning. I think it comes from the everyone-else-is-dressing-up-why-can’t-we zone while completely missing the point that every child in the school will still have a free book token and a chance to share their favourite book with their class.

World Book Day’s current campaign is #ShareAStory. It’s not #SendYourKidToSchoolInARandomCostumeThatsNotNecessarilyInABook or #BuyABookCharacterCostumeFromTheSupermarketEvenThoughYourChildsNeverReadThatBook or #WearYourFavouriteFancyDressOutfitRegardlessOfWhetherOrNotItsInABook

It isn’t about dressing up. That’s just one of many ways in which schools can mark and celebrate the day. Write a story, find a fact in a book, design a book mark. My kids have dressed up some years but other years they’ve had a pyjama day at school for a day of bedtime stories. The years we’ve dressed up, we’ve talked about their favourite books and did what we could with clothes and props we already had. Think Iggy Peck the Architect (patterned knitted jumper, skinny trousers, daps and a pencil behind the ear) or Jesse Aarons from Bridge to Terabithia (jeans, raglan top and a crown made out of twigs).

I know that my children and I are coming at this from a place of literary privilege. I grew up in a home of books, we had regular tips to the library, I saw my parents read for pleasure, my best friends enjoyed the same boks as me, I had books as gifts, we had day trips to Hay on Wye, I ended up studying books at university (English Lit) and there are books in every room of our home. I read to my children and they read because they want to. When the new Health Visitor first visited after my youngest was born she glanced around the living room and said “you’ll be fine, you’ve got books”, to which I said “none of them are about parenting”. “It doesn’t matter,” she replied “it makes a difference.” The sad thing was, most of the houses she visited didn’t have books.

Not everyone lives a life immersed in books. I know mothers who taught themselves to read as adults. At Christmas in a toy shop I was browsing the children’s books when I overheard a woman say to her friend “no, she wouldn’t want a book as a present, that’s boring” and my heart broke a little. 4 in 10 boys and 3 in 10 girls aged 11-13 who took part in a 2010 National Literary Trust survey did not own any books.

Spending just 10 minutes a day reading with children of all ages can make a crucial difference to their future. Literacy matters. The National Literacy Trust research showed that children who don’t own books were two and a half times more likely to read below their expected level than children who have their own books* (19% compared to 7.6%). It helps to put important campaigns like World Book Day into perspective.

Schools have enough to deal with and your misplaced outrage about fancy dress or late notice about taking in a book isn’t going to be their top priority. Remember it’s also the season for belated St David’s Day Eisteddfodau, British Science Week and bloody Red Nose Day.

Of course, all the Matildas and Boys in a Dress, the Tigers Who Came to Tea and the Highway Rats are delightful. A gaggle of primary aged children in fancy dress is a wonderful thing. There’s joy and creativity in making outfits. But if your school isn’t dressing up for World Book Day, don’t be a dick about it. Dress them up on the weekend or this evening if you’re really gagging to take that photo for Instagram. Even better, just read a book with them, find out what their favourite book is and why.

My boys both chose books that are space themed, which isn’t surprising as they both want to be astronauts (the youngest wants to be the first ventriloquist in space, please tell me no one’s beat him to it). Both books are signed by the authors because they’re both from different literary festivals. They’re not the books they’re in the middle of reading but they’re important to them. One’s a book of facts and the other’s a story.

This quote hit the nail on the head more succinctly than my waffling diatribe:

If your child’s World Book Day costume costs more than a book, STOP RIGHT THERE! Make something from a cereal box, and BUY A BOOK instead.**

If you found yourself cursing World Book Day as you stressed over a costume last night, take a moment to be grateful that your child has access to books. If you fumed about your school not letting you show off via your offspring’s costume today, take a moment to be grateful you had one less thing to stress about and that your child has access to books. And if you don’t give a shit about books or which children have access to them, I’ll take a moment to be grateful for World Book Day doing what they do.

*National Literacy Trust online survey, took pace in November and December 2010

**from an instagram post by @brightbuttonschildminding spotted on @childcare_adventures

Places To Go, Things To Do

Mwah Ha Halloween Half Term

October half term is here and no doubt there’ll be a glut of Halloween related activities on offer. I’m not a massive Halloween fan. There, I’ve said it. Why can’t we just carve a pumpkin, dunk some apples and wear a sheet to be a ghost? What’s all this decorating the house faff about?

What’s jumping out at me so far:

Memo Arts Centre, Barry

One Man Shoe Monday 29th October (2pm) £7 / £24 for 4

A family show with puppetry, slapstick and magic. My youngest currently wants to be a ventriloquist when he grows up so it sounds right up his street.

The Little Mix Experience Thursday 1st November (6.30pm) £13.50

This Little Mix tribute act were incredibly popular last time they were in town.

Dyffryn Gardens

Lots of activities on offer here and it is a lovely day out.

Autumn Apprentice Trail Saturday 27th October – 4th November (10am-3pm) entrance fee but event is free

Whack on your wellies and join in with five tasks like raking up piles of autumn leaves.

Pumpkin Carving Saturday 27th October – 31st October (11am-3pm) £4 per pumpkin plus the entrance fee

If you don’t fancy tackling this in your own kitchen, make the most of the stencils, carving sets and helpers at this event.

Make It Mondays Monday 29th October (12-3pm) entrance fee but event is free

Craft activities.

Cook on a Campfire Friday 2nd November (12-3pm) £2 plus entrance fee

As the name suggests, you get to cook on a campfire.

Amelia Trust Farm

Pumpkin Patch Trail Saturday 27th October – Sunday 4th November

Kids Crazy Headwear Monday 29th & Tuesday 30th October £5.50 per child, pre book on website

Mini Beasts & Pond Dipping at the Farm Saturday 3rd November £5.50 per child, pre book on website

Penarth Pier Pavilion

Snowcat Cinema: The Curse of the Wererabbit – scratch ‘n’ sniff experience. Wednesday 31st October (2pm-3.30pm) £7.50 / £6 concessions (50p extra if you buy on the door)

Watch this family film from the makers of Wallace and Gromit with a special scratch ‘n’ sniff card. Fancy dress is encouraged. No adverts so arrive for a 2pm start.

Mountain View Ranch

Halloween Daily Events Saturday 27th October – Sunday 4th November (11am & 1pm)

Room on the Broom read by the Ranch Witch (11am & 1pm)

Marshmallow Toasting at Creepy Creak (2pm-3.30pm)

Spooky Pumpkin Trail (all day)

All activities are included in the entrance fee of £23 for a family of 4 and £28 for a family of 5. Wrap up warm, take a flask and a picnic and have a lovely time. Dressing up is optional. Last time we went we bought delicious pizzas and hot chocolates in their café which I’d thoroughly recommend.

St Fagans National Museum of History

Halloween Nights Monday 29th – Wednesday 31st October (6pm-9pm) £15 adults, £8 children, under 2s free but recommended for ages 4+

I really want to go to his. Expect Halloween special effects display across the outdoor Museum, Creepy Craft workshops, wand making, ghost stories for children and adults, Halloween character walkabouts, live music, lantern parade (no naked flames), Burning of the Wickerman (!) and a Scare Zone for bigger frights with a 12+ age advisory! The timing makes this perfect for those of us working over half term with older kids.

 

Sadly, they’re not running their usual Halloween event at Hendrewennol Fruit Garden this year. No pumpkin picking for us.

Let me know what you think of any of these goings on if you get a chance to try them out.

Thinking Out Loud

Baps. World Breastfeeding Week 2018.

Baps, boobs, breasts. Whatever you call them, in case you missed the memo, it’s World Breastfeeding Week 1st – 7th August. First up, I’m not a card holding member of the Breastapo. I am not a lactivist. I’m pro breastfeeding but not in an anti-formula feeding way.

I breastfed my two sons. Feels an age ago now because it was an actual decade ago the first time and 2012 the next. I had two different experiences but more about that later.

Why did I chose to give it a go in the first place?

  • Less expensive! When you’re on Statutory Maternity Pay this matters. Big time. Boob milk is free.
  • Less washing up! We’ve never had a dishwasher (except for that table top one that never got plumbed in so was just a glorified cupboard) so I saved myself hours of hand washing bottles and teats.
  • Less faff! Getting out of the house with a baby is challenging enough. I’m a disorganised mess and the massive changing bag I lugged everywhere was already fit to burst, was there even any room left for bottles? And all that measuring and warming up and cooling down. Yeesh.

So basically, I’m lazy and poor so breastfeeding seemed like the way to go. I didn’t read all the baby rearing books in the world, I didn’t go to any birthing classes (“they’re how much?!”) and I was the first of any groups of friends to have a baby. I didn’t feel any pressure to do it and I’d done jack all research. I was clueless.

First time was bloody challenging. It hurt, I bled, I got mastitis that was thankfully caught and treated very early on, my baby wasn’t gaining weight at the rate the charts said he should. He was borderline failing to thrive and I was having nightmares about him fading away into nothing. The breastfeeding support at St David’s hospital was vital, the lady running it reminded me of my Grandma with her Yorkshire accent and no-nonsense approach. I talked through what my health visitor had suggested (a bottle of formula at every breast feed) and she helped me work out something that helped my first born to beef up but also built up my supply. I topped up him with a bottle of formula each day, breastfed every two hours and pumped after each feed. It was awkward, it was the worst of both worlds but it worked. My baby was finally growing at a rate the health visitor approved of; I was able to slowly decrease the formula and we got back to feeding on demand with just breast milk.

The bonus was that he would take a bottle so when I first left him overnight (at 6 months on a hen do with regular breast pumping breaks) he would take expressed milk but if needs be he would take formula. I’m grateful to the formula milk for helping to give my tiny baby a much needed boost and for helping me to carry on breastfeeding as long as we wanted to.

I had no pressure from my husband to breastfeed, the opposite in fact as he could see me struggling and in pain. My mum was brilliant. Practical, supportive and again, no pressure. She breastfed me because we lived overseas when I was born and her friend advised she try it because she’d not and her baby struggled with the brands of milk in the shops changing so often depending on what got delivered to the island.

Second time was a dream. He latched well, fed on demand, he grew, I was comfortable. Happy days.

I know it’s not always easy. I know it’s not always possible. I know all the focus on the otehr benefits of breastfeeding make it hugely emotive and stir up those toxic responses to the topic like guilt and defensiveness. I just wanted to focus on the practical side of it: less expensive, less washing up, less faff.

I’ve never been an official breastfeeding mentor but I’ve been there for support and advice if real life friends have needed it. I’ve breastfed in all sorts of public and private spaces and I hope anyone who saw me or sat with me felt even just a tiny bit more confident about doing it themselves.

 

Thinking Out Loud

Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week #RealMotherhood

It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme is #RealMotherhood #NoShame and a reminder that getting real about motherhood is healthy for everyone.

I was first pregnant a decade ago and my youngest is 6 so maybe I’m too far removed from my own experience to be sharing it here but we all have a part to play. Supporting our friends, neighbours, colleagues and families is so important. It’s OK to not be OK.

I went to a friend’s wedding when my first baby was 2 weeks old and at the do I just remember feeling, how to describe it? Out of it? Woozy? Years later I tried explaining that I felt isolated, excluded, that everyone else was having a whale of a time and I was… I was content but not me. I was sober for a start! It was a scorching July day and I needed to breastfeed my shrimp of a child in the shade (because he might spontaneously combust in the sun, right?) so I ended up sat on my own in the shade of a marquee while everyone else basked in the sun. Jealously glancing over at friends drinking and laughing and looking fabulous, not the state I felt in flip flops because proper shoes didn’t fit my trotters and leggings under my dress because it wasn’t as boob accessible as I’d naively assumed when buying it. A mum of a friend came over and talked with me. She’s not someone I knew well but I was so thankful. She talked to me about my job, dance, all sorts. It felt like the first time someone saw through the fog and not some mother and baby package.  It wasn’t out of pity, it wasn’t patronising, she chatted away and listened, it was as simple as that.

Of course I loved my babies and of course they do take over but remember a mum of a newborn is more than a milk machine. She might be like a swan, looking serene and graceful on the surface but underneath she’s paddling away trying to stay afloat. She might be physically battered but she’s possibly mentally battered too.

With at least 1 in 10 mums developing a mental illness during pregnancy, or in the year that follows, it is so important to raise awareness of maternal mental health: tommys.org/maternalMHmatt…#MaternalMHMatter @TommysMidwives

I was fine, I am fine. Not everyone is. I had a wobble, I didn’t have a diagnosed maternal mental health condition. For every joyful #blessed #mama out there, remember that it’s not the same for everyone. My second time around was so much easier for me. No cabin fever, I felt more in control, I didn’t have nightmares about my newborn fading away into nothing which I didn’t tell anyone about because I knew it sounded worrying.

7 in 10 women will hide or underplay the severity of their perinatal mental illness #everyonesbusines everyonesbusiness.org.uk @MMHAlliance

Sometimes the best support is not trying to get someone to talk about their feelings but just being there. If they’re not ready for visitors, just send a hello by text. In those earliest of days the best visit was my mum bringing a Sunday roast around for us, making no demands to coo over the baby or cwtch her grandchild but being a practical help. It’s the offering to take the dogs for a walk, doing the ironing, making cups of tea instead of expecting to be waited on hand and foot. (Note to self: remember all this for when the new niblings arrive in the next couple of months.)

I set up this blog partly in response to the gazillions about babies and toddlers. Mine are older and my parenting experience isn’t about nappies and baby vom anymore but the pregnancy and the mad year that follows is so important and you don’t forget it.

As for #RealMotherhood I suppose I’m part of the problem. I tend to share photos of the lovely things we do, the brilliant places we go and on my personal social media their smiling faces. Should I be more real and photograph the tears and tantrums? I really don’t think it would have helped my 9 year old this morning if I’d snapped him in a grump and I’d feel the same.

Just take my word for it that for every photo of a wholesome daytrip we also have a Saturday morning watching cartoons and eating cereal. For every matchy matchy special occasion outfit that my boys wear there’s a mismatched set of pyjamas or school joggers with a hole in the bum (the 6 year old has done this to three (yes THREE) pairs of joggers this year). I’ll try to post some Instagram shots of my week’s chaos to give you a flavour of my real life.

If the content of this post has made you think of anything that has happened to you or someone you know and you feel upset, worried or uncomfortable then please visit Maternal Mental Health Alliance for a list of support services. I am not an expert in anything.

If you want to join in with the #RealMotherhood 5-day Challenge then just share your piccies and posts about the barefaced reality of motherhood. Warts and all. Keep it light and silly or use it as a chance to be truthful about your own experience. Let’s not judge ourselves by unrealistic standards.

 

#RealMotherhood #NoShame @TheBlueDotProject @MMHAlliance #everyonesbusiness #MaternalMHmatters