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Driving me potty (training)

Well, it’s been decided. Tomorrow is the day when I get my son on the potty and out of nappies. It’s not just the cost of nappies (well, it might be one of the reasons) but changing a nearly three year old’s poopy pants is not a pleasant experience and frankly, he’s getting far too big for the changing table. I’m not entirely sure how long it’s going to be before the whole thing collapses under the weight of a wriggling pre-schooler.

I must admit I’ve been fairly lazy thus far and delayed the whole potty-training process mainly for selfish reasons. I’ve always found it much simpler to change a nappy (which takes two minutes and can be done anywhere) than approach the ‘drying out’ business which involves reminding them to go every five minutes, changing soiled pants/trousers/t-shirt/socks on an hourly basis and being effectively house-bound for around two weeks. Even if I do decide to venture outside, I’ll be responsible for carrying a potty EVERYWHERE and be charged with finding suitable locations to a) get the potty out to put him on it and b) dispose of the evidence afterwards. Having been through this once already with the big girl, I’m really not looking forward to it again.

However, tomorrow is most definitely the day. I have no parties, holidays or anything else important planned for the next few days and am fully stocked with spare wipes and an impressive supply of pull ups. All that remains is for me to take a deep breath, break open the wine (a well-deserved reward at the end of each day of the process) and go with the flow (as it were!)

I’ll be sure to let you know when we’ve cracked it (*ahem*)

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Carry on camping…

Having just got back from a week spent in a caravan in Devon (courtesy of the Sun promotion) with my husband and three children, I feel ready for a fortnight in bed just to recover. After a nightmare three hours on the road with associated arguments from the backseats – she keeps humming, well, he said ‘go away!’, they’re ignoring me etc etc – we were just about ready to admit defeat and head for the nearest pub. Cream teas and beaches be damned; we needed something not just to numb the pain but to anaesthetize the arse out of this utter awfulness!

Were family holidays always destined to be this way? Why was I even bothering to take them away for a week when they were clearly having no fun whatsoever and obviously hated being away from home? I called my Mum to tell her we’d arrived safely and she laughed when I told her how fraught the journey down had been. She told me to take a deep breath and reminded me that all family holidays came with their own baggage (pun intended!), to pour myself a glass of wine (she knows me so well!) and just try to enjoy myself.  Her complete empathy caused me to reflect on our own family holidays way back in the dim and distant when I was a child myself and I wondered if maybe, just maybe, I had become a little spoilt somewhere along the way…

Whilst the biggest irritation for me was dealing with three bored children in the back of the car and a lack of central heating in the caravan, we did at least have an indoor pool, restaurant, cafes, amusement arcades, an onsite playground & shop, a launderette, a clubhouse with nightly entertainment, a kids club, an open top bus to the (nearby sandy) beach and most importantly, a bar!!

My Mum and Dad, God bless them, took me and my three sisters camping in a tent (and not the pop-up-and-peg-down-in-ten-minutes variety); oh no, where was the hardship to be had in that? What they had, was an honest-to-goodness canvas sheet that had to be moulded and sewn into place on-site and then held in place from the battering winds by about a million tent pegs and two parents taking turns to sleep. We holidayed in fields with a cold water tap in the centre and took our toilet with us. My parents would fill an enormous plastic water tank from the central tap every morning and boil and cool it every time we wanted a drink. They cooked our meals using a tiny one ring burner and entertained us with books and board games (over which we constantly argued and were ungracious in our losses). They washed and dried the feather sleeping bags we manage to piss in every single night for 2 weeks and it rained the entire time we were there. They made picnics, filled a 10 litre bottle of squash for us all (duly boiled and cooled) and carried the whole lot plus wind breakers, towels, beach balls, buckets and spades to the beach and back every single day.

We would argue and shout for the entire journey to and from our destination, forcing our parents to distract us with games of eye-spy and guess the animal, whilst simultaneously trying to manhandle a fold out map of our destination into position (no luxury of a satnav for them), locate potential toilet stops along the way with adequate space for exercising the dog and doling out sucky sweets, slaps and comforting words in equal measure. By the time we all arrived, Mum was a nervous wreck and Dad had almost dislocated his back in his haste to get the hip flask out. On arrival back home at the end of the holidays, Mum would have a heap of clothes to wash, dry and iron and Dad would be checking his watch to see when he could get back to work, desperate to escape to some realm of sanity.

I had all but forgotten this until I spoke to Mum to tell her we were back home safely and moaned about the lack of sunshine and cold mornings. She told me I didn’t know how lucky I had it compared to the family holidays they took when we were young and I had to admit, I was somewhat astonished when she explained. I racked my brain for memories of these alleged trips to hell but all I can recall are singing happy melodies with my sisters in the car, giggling madly during copious games of snap, unending beaches, 24-hour sunshine and the ubiquitous pot noodle. The only argument I ever remember having was about who had the pickled onion monster munch on our glorious sun-drenched picnics.

When, expecting the worst, I asked my own kids if they’d had a nice time inDevon, they told me they’d had the best time EVER and that I was so cool for taking them there and begged me to take them back to the exact same place as soon as possible as it was so amazing.

I have to admit I’m a little gobsmacked. I feel as though I’ve been in some alternate universe for the past week while my family has been holidaying somewhere else without me. And following on from the phone calls to my Mum, I’m pretty sure my poor old parents must have felt similarly bewildered when they got us home all those years ago…

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The terrible twos – it gets better right?

My son started ‘the terrible twos’ aged about 15 months and as he approaches his third birthday, he’s still suffering (as are the rest of us) from his condition. What I’ve been forced to regretfully conclude is that what I thought was merely a rite of passage that all toddlers (and their families) are forced to endure might in actual fact, merely be his adult personality emerging. I mean the one we might be stuck with for the rest of our lives. And of course, I blame his father.

It’s not that I wasn’t prepared for the terrible twos; I do in fact have an older daughter who was particularly challenging aged 2 but she came out the other side a sunnier happier child. Not so my son however!

If I say ‘no,’ to anything, he cries, if I say ‘maybe not this time’ he throws something and if my daughter dares to object to anything, he slaps her. I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s been naughty-stepped, sent to his room, had toys removed and been forced to apologise, but it makes no difference.

When I mentioned this behaviour to my mum, she suggested that maybe my expectations of ‘the little lad’ were too high and that it’s nice to have a child with some get-up-and-go. WTF?

It’s not that he doesn’t have a sweet side (he does) and the kisses and hugs I get from him are relentless (and very much appreciated) but my mum admits he reminds her of a little girl she once knew who had a nasty temper, a tendency to throw things when angry and an olympic capacity for sulking.

I don’t ever remember meeting that little girl but mum assured me (with raised eyebrows) that she grew out of it all eventually and went on to have a lovely little family of her own. I wonder where she is now…


The terror of the play date

Now I can’t profess to being an expert in organising play dates for my two.  One, because my youngest is too young to host them and two, because trying to arrange them is like entering into hostage release negotiations. When I was a kid, having someone over for tea involved nothing more complicated than playing with another child at school, enjoying their company, promptly asking them to come to tea and then informing our respective mothers at the School_Gates that that was the plan. The mothers would nod to each other and the ‘winner’ would take home her prize of 2 children whilst the ‘loser’ would shrug her shoulders, round up her other children (with any play dates she had accumulated for that evening) and head off home herself. We’d eat whatever was put in front of us, play upstairs and go home either when we were bored or it was time for bed.

Now, it’s quite a different story and the play date has turned into a regimented procedure that is run with almost Teutonic efficiency and goes something like this.

  1. Establish co-ordinates of target’s mother
  2. Approach mother with potential Plan of Action (PoA)
  3. Confer regarding possible dates, consult diaries, ballet schedules and football tournaments etc
  4. Allow 24 hours for affirmative confirmation

24 hours later…

  1. Commence initiation sequence
  2. Confirm date and issue password for collection at the School_Gates
  3. Establish dietary requirements, allergies and play preferences
  4. Draw up menu and request sign off by target and target’s mother
  5. Establish post-rendezvous collection time

Once I actually have these children in my home, I am amazed at the constant bombardment of demands bearing in mind I always thought that going to someone else’s house was supposed to be a treat. ‘Why can’t we eat in front of the TV?’ ‘I don’t like peas, can I have baked beans?’ ‘Why can’t we play in your (mum’s) room?’ And once, rather alarmingly ‘Why do you only have 2 toilets? We have 3.’ To which I replied, somewhat confused, ‘How many were you planning on using?’ My daughter, rather oddly spent much of the week following that date asking for another toilet to be installed in the house (!)

So, here’s the thing, I’ve decided that whilst having an evening free when my own kids are at after-school play dates can be rather lovely and relaxing, I’m not convinced that the pay-off of having to invite these children back to my own house is actually worth it. So there it is, decision made. I’m not going to have any more of my daughter’s friends over for tea after school unless there’s something in it for me which means a) I’m friends with the mum and we can sit and drink wine while the kids play and b) they’ve got less toilets in their house than us.


25 lies we tell our children

I’d never thought much about what sort of parent I would be before I gave birth but one thing I swore I would always be, at least, was honest with them. I never imagined that I would spend whole days lying through my teeth but it seems to me that honesty, like a reliable pelvic floor, becomes something you lose rather quickly after having kids.

And it’s not just the obvious lies we tell like the existence of Santa and the Easter Bunny, or making up imaginative stories about dandelion clocks being fairies. I’m actually talking about the things that make our lives as parents just that tiny bit easier or maybe even just give us a chuckle. With that in mind, and in no particular order, I’ve compiled my top 25 lies we tell our children that should make us hang our heads in shame…

  1. When the ice cream van plays his tune, it means he’s run out of ice cream
  2. Bogies are bits of brain so if you pick them, you won’t stay clever
  3. You’ll get worms if you bite your fingernails
  4. Eat your crusts or your hair won’t grow
  5. Leave it alone or you’ll go blind
  6. Spinach gives you muscles
  7. Kangaroos are actually just very greedy mice
  8. If you pull a silly face and the wind changes, you’ll be stuck with it
  9. If you lie, your nose will grow
  10. If you swallow gum you could die (bit extreme this one I’ll admit)
  11. Fluffy has gone to live on a farm
  12. The chocolate by the supermarket check-out is all fake
  13. This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you (having jabs at the doctors)
  14. [insert most annoying TV programme] is not on today
  15. Of course mummy and daddy never did drugs
  16. I can tell when you’re fibbing
  17. Mummy and Daddy are just going to have a little nap
  18. The police will arrest you if you swear
  19. Watching TV will give you square eyes
  20. If you put drawing pins near an ants’ nest when it’s raining, they’ll turn them upside down to use as umbrellas
  21. I did not say THAT, I said ‘fudge’ (and I never want to hear you say that other word again)
  22. Rain is God crying because you were naughty
  23. If you put a slice of cheese in the DVD player, it will play a short film about cows
  24. The only way to wake up Daddy is to jump on his tummy
  25. You can lick your elbow but you have to practice. A lot.
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Certainties in life once you’re a parent

Certainties in life once you’re a parent.

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Certainties in life once you’re a parent

As Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’ I disagree actually (sorry Ben!) but once you have children, I have found the following to be as reliable as both of these:

  1. You will attract a tiny audience whenever you sit on the toilet
  2. Your child will fill his/her nappy the only time you forget to take a spare
  3. You will sniff the ‘malteser’ found on the bathroom floor just to check even though you know you haven’t bought any
  4. Vomit is attracted to the lightest item of clothing
  5. Stating “isn’t this weather gorgeous?” is equivalent to performing a Native American rain dance
  6. The later you are, the less able you are to locate your keys
  7. Following childbirth, coughing and laughing are approached with caution
  8. You will have yoghurt in your fridge
  9. When emptying out the washing up bowl, there will be one teaspoon left
  10. You will offend at least one mum every time your child has a party
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A night out (or in) with the mums

I went out with the Mums at the weekend. When I say went out, we were actually slumped in one of the group’s back garden and when I say the weekend, it was for 3 hours after school on Friday. In all honesty we were back home by 7pm after stuffing our children full of McDonalds and ourselves full of white wine and Doritos. But that’s really not the point, the point is we went out away from our own homes (except for the hostess of course) but again, I digress…

We spent the evening in turns boyfriend bashing (not literally I hasten to add) and then, as the wine flowed, declaring our undying love for our other halves and inventing increasingly more dubious claims in a weird kind of one-upmanship which took on an ever more surreal edge. “My husband has a dingaling the size of a small horse…” “Well mine can breathe underwater whilst cooking the BEST omelette EVER…” Well anyway, I’m sure you get the gist. *wistfully* It seemed funny at the time…

I love these evenings. I live for them. My mums and I all have children attending different primary schools and unless we make an effort to meet once a week for coffee (wine), we would never get to see each other and life would be ever so slightly duller. The school gates have become a lonely place for me since the break up of the old crew and I now find myself having to talk to new mums. Now there’s a scary thought…

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Odd one out – a guide to being left off the party invitation list

There is definitely a certain amount of etiquette that exists around the subject of kids’ parties. Who would have thought that some things as benign as balloons, cake and ice-cream could prompt such an overwhelming depth of feelings from parents and children alike? However, there are some things (besides death & taxes) that we can all be certain of and that is that when you organize a birthday party for your child, you will always commit one or more of the following:

  1. You will upset a mum by not inviting their child
  2. You will upset a child by inviting someone they don’t like
  3. You will over-order food

Take a recent party at my daughter’s school. Now my girl is not one of the loud, boisterous kids that stand out in the class and seemed to be invited everywhere! She has her own special friend although she plays with the others; she’s very aware of school rules and stands up for her friends and is probably pretty bossy with those who mess around in class. Believe me, I am aware of both her strengths and her short-comings but in my mind, she’s not a nasty kid and when the invitation failed to come through for the party of a girl in her class, I was upset. There I admit it, I was really actually hurt dammit!! How dare my little girl be left off the list when nearly every other kid in the class was invited?

I know the mum and we chat in the playground (no problems there!) and the party venue is MASSIVE so I know there is no issue with space or numbers. I spent most of that week nonchalantly asking other mums whether their kids were invited and most of that weekend absolutely STEAMING that my daughter was the only one I’d managed to ascertain was not invited.

And then I switched tactics.

I opened a bottle of wine (the good stuff) and chilled the hell out. What was I actually angry about? So what if she wasn’t invited? The invitations were put in school bags so she didn’t even know about them and therefore wasn’t likely to be upset. I could have the weekend to ourselves without having to hang around for party drop off and pick up and best of all, I wouldn’t have to buy a present which meant more money for wine to chill out and philosophise further.

Of course it’s difficult to accept that not everyone adores your child as you adore him or her and bloody difficult not to feel hurt when they’re excluded seeing as your first instinct as a mother is to protect your young. But life is full of disappointments and situations like these are all opportunities to explain that we don’t always get what we want, life doesn’t always go to plan and they can’t be everyone’s favourite person all of the time. What we can do is use these opportunities to equip them with the skills to deal with people and situations that upset him. After all, this is our job as parents right?

More wine and more thoughts came flooding in. I started becoming more reasonable. There are virtually dozens of reasons why our child might not be invited to a party. Maybe it’s for girls/boys only, maybe the venue has limited numbers, maybe the invitation got lost at school, maybe our child has had an issue with the party child, we simply may never know.

A friend of mine was organizing her daughter Anna’s girls-only party recently and was writing out the invitations for the 18 girls in her class. Anna wanted to invite all of those little girls except for one, Kate. This left my friend in a bit of a quandary. Whilst she didn’t want to leave one little girl off the list, she also felt it unfair to invite her to Anna’s party against her daughter’s express wishes. After much deliberation, she decided to ask her teacher if there were any issues between the two of which she was unaware. The teacher assured her there weren’t but at the end of the school day, her daughter came home and told her mum she’d been playing with Kate and now wanted to invite her to the party.

I was particularly impressed with the way the school handled this; they obviously manufactured a play date between the two not only to highlight any issues (there were none) but also to show Anna how she and Kate could get along. My friend never found out what her daughter’s initial aversion to inviting this little girl was but the situation resolved itself naturally thanks to a little input from the school. It just goes to show that kids can sometimes just be plain weird!

I personally, (albeit briefly) almost resorted to playground tactics over my own daughter’s situation – well if mine isn’t invited, neither is yours – but is that really something we want to teach our children? There are always going to be people inadvertently offended by our actions and sometimes we just have to shrug it off and move on whether we are the offenders or the offendees. You can’t please everyone all of the time and getting upset about something as trivial as a kid’s party invitation probably warrants giving ourselves a bit of a slap to snap us out of it. And by us, I do of course mean me. OUCH! That bloody hurt actually… 

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Getting young children to sleep through the night

I’ve had mixed experiences with the holy grail of having kids that sleep through the night with a daughter who has slept like Rip Van Winkle (minus the beard!) her whole tiny life. Our son on the other hand, has proved a little more challenging to say the least.

I am fascinated by other parents’ ideas though and what works for them and have come up with top 5 tips to get your child SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT. I hope that either all or a combination of these will help you get the sleep that YOU need and give you a chance to re-energise for the day ahead.

1. No TV an hour before bedtime. Whilst plonking the kids in front of the TV for a blessed hour of peace in order to get the washing up done, table cleared, washing started (the list goes on…) is pretty standard in most homes, it is a well documented fact that too much stimulation from the TV in the hour before bedtime can hyper-stimulate children and leave them unable to sleep. Whilst something fairly innocuous like In the Night Garden can send us parents off to dreamland, the effect on our kids can be counter-productive. Encouraging them to wind down with toys can be much more beneficial (and will teach them the value of self-entertainment). Even challenging them to a board or card game enables them to settle more quickly.

2. Wear them out! Whilst I appreciate that you are not going to take them for a run around the park just before bed-time, the lighter evenings do allow us to leave them in the garden for a greater part of the day. If you have a garden or a park nearby, letting them run off steam throughout the day will undoubtedly tire them out for the night ahead. Kicking a ball, skipping, jumping, bouncing, running; in the words of Tesco; every little helps. Even if you don’t have the luxury of a nearby park or garden, a walk round the block or a scoot into town at some point during the day rather than pushing them in the buggy will also work wonders.

3. The bedtime routine. Never underestimate the power of routine. If children know that at a certain point in the evening, their routine is about to begin, the whole process serves to wind them down and puts them in the mindset for sleep. The routine does not have to be the same for everyone; it just needs to be the one that works best for you in the time you have.  I personally start with a bath for my two, followed by a book, cuddles and tuck-in for the youngest at 6.30pm and then board game, book, cuddles and tuck-in for my eldest at 7pm. They know that when the bath is run, the wind-down has begun and I’ve already noticed an improvement in my notoriously sleep-shy son!

4. Sleep trainer. My eldest has a sleep clock which is an absolute god-send for us. She sleeps well and we never really hear her in the night (I have been known to sneak into her room with a mirror to check her breathing) but she always comes into our room too early in the morning (anytime before 7am is unwelcome in our house). We now set her sleep trainer clock for 7am and the little night light on the clock comes on along with a night time scene on the face. When it’s 7am, the night-time scene changes to a day scene, i.e. sunshine instead of the moon, and the night light switches off. This is her cue to crawl quietly from her bed and rouse us gently from our slumber or as she prefers, to run felt pelt across the landing, launch herself from the doorway and wake us with a punch to the sensitives.

5. You are what you eat. I remember watching a show once that insisted no matter what amount of sugary stuff children ate, it did nothing to affect their behaviour patterns. Whilst this may be true, I have noticed that certain foods stimulate my children more than others and it is those that I limit around supper-time. It’s no good mentioning which ones as they differ from child to child and what works for one parent won’t for everyone but you probably know which food adversely affects your own child and those are the ones you need to avoid at the last meal of the day. I had a friend who swore cheese made her child hyperactive in the evening but it’s never affected mine that way. It also pays to mention here that a child needs to be full but not stuffed to the gills in order to sleep. If they’re too full, they could be uncomfortable and this will make it harder to settle. If they’re hungry, tummy pain could cause them to wake throughout the night.

Well, there they are; my top 5 tips for a better night’s sleep for everyone. These are the ideas tried and tested by me and which work for me. If you have any other ideas, feel free to comment and leave them for other parents to test.

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