Category Archives: Weekly Musings

These are the general ruminations that I post on a weekly basis

And What Would Madam Like to Wear Today?

Butter Wouldn't Melt...

Butter Wouldn’t Melt…

It’s no good – I’m going to have to admit defeat.

I am no longer the most stubborn person in our household.

Who have I lost the crown to?

Mini of course. That sweet little girl, who has just turned two and a half, has a stubborn streak that is wider than she is.

It all sneaked up on me.

It started innocuously enough with a preference for wearing a certain hat or coat. I put it down to her having a thing about hats and thought it was cute.

Then it progressed and things got a little more serious, spreading to her entire outfit. Now, trying to get her to wear something she doesn’t want to is akin to trying to dress an octopus whilst blindfolded, and a belligerent, drunken octopus at that.

Consequently we have been known to venture outside with her wearing her brother’s underpants.

Over her jeans.

Or her Halloween costume for three days in a row. In December.

I have found a tactic that seems to be working. I catch her just as she’s waking up and present her with a choice of two pairs of leggings. She’ll wave a sleepy hand at one of them and I’ll move swiftly on to a top. For some reason she always takes longer choosing her socks. We could have several drawn out moments where she’ll stroke her chin and point at first one pair then the other, umming and aahing as she does so, before she finally chooses. I’m not sure if this is because she’s more awake by this time or she has a thing about socks.

(I think she might have inherited my thing about socks.)

I’m making the most of being able to direct her choice of attire, at least a little, since I don’t expect to be able to do so when she catches on, probably, oh, about the middle of next week.

She also has very clear idea about the way she wants some other things as well. She’s a bit of a neat freak (I think that must be one of those weird characteristics that skip a generation or two because she certainly didn’t get it from me or the Other Half), so she has to be the one who wipes the table down before dinner. She also has a thing about emptying her plate in the bin, normally the one in the living room. This isn’t usually a problem, since she eats an awful lot of toast, although I’m glad I managed to catch her just in time last night after she decided she didn’t want the rest of her mandarins and custard.

I’m also glad we have laminate floors.

Part of her neat-freakishness is having a clear idea of where things should be and woe betide anything, or anyone, in the wrong place. One of her first sentences was “You sit there,” delivered in a stern tone with suitably imperious gestures. She’s just as bad when I’m feeding her. I have to be in the right seat and sitting (or lying depending on her mood) in exactly the right position. She’s just as bad with her dad and brother (about where they’re sitting, not the feeding bit) and they are both remarkably patient about it all considering. Bedtime can be entertaining as she has to arrange all her toys to her satisfaction before I can tuck her in. I’ve tried to discern a pattern in how she does this but it eludes me and she’ll give me a telling off if I try to help her, mostly I think because I always get it wrong.

I know she’s growing and that developing a sense of independence is important, as is her having an opportunity to be involved in some of the decisions that affect her, even if those decisions are about clothes or food.

I am pleased she’s found her independent nature and that she’s not letting herself be overshadowed by Motormouth who is much more exuberant and dramatic, showing instead that she is determined and not to be swayed once she’s decided on her course. I will admit that sometimes I wish she was a little more compliant, especially when I’m trying to get us all out of the house in the morning, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that sometimes the only way I’m going to win is by getting her to think that my suggestions are really her ideas in the first place. Either that, or I’m going to have to grit my teeth, grin and bear it and put up with a her wearing purple trousers with a green T shirt and her brother’s yellow socks.

That and be grateful that the one thing she isn’t really fussy about is what she has to eat.

Yet.

Shh… Don’t Ask

I'm forever blowing bubbles... left-handed.

I’m forever blowing bubbles… left-handed.

Disability.

It’s a bit of a funny topic when you think about it, and one children are quite happy to broach in that innocent yet blunt way they have. You can be walking down the street when they’ll see someone and that piping voice will ring out at full volume with any question that pops into their heads.

Why does that lady use a stick?

Why does that man use a wheelchair?

Why does that grown up need someone else to look after them like you look after me?

In other words, the sort of questions that tend to go through our minds with varying degrees of complexity.

The trick is how to bring our children up with a positive view of disability, to satisfy their curiosity without making someone who has different abilities be anything less than they are – real people with real talents, likes and dislikes who just happen to have an extra dimension to their lives.

It’s something we’ve been able to experience from both sides. The Other Half is an amputee and one of his pet hates is when parents get embarrassed and try to shut their children up when all the kids want to know is what happened to his arm. He’s quite happy to explain it. He’ll crouch down and ask them what they think happened, then he’ll tell them about a bus accident and how the doctors couldn’t save his arm and had to cut it off.

He’s not ashamed of it.

He’s not embarrassed by it.

And there’s no reason that anyone else should be embarrassed by it.

He does have his own unique way of dealing with parents, or children, who have a negative approach. I remember one occasion when, whilst we were on holiday in Hawaii, two children pointed at him and said “Yuk mister, what happened to your arm?” He looked at them, looked at the water, pointed and said “There’s sharks out there!” We’re not sure if they went swimming after that or not. Five minutes later, two more children asked the same question in a totally different, non-judgemental, way and he explained it in his usual fashion. The parents thanked him for being so open and patient with their children afterwards.

Of course, not everyone with a disability will feel the same way when approached by small, curious children. They might not want any intrusive questions, but, by and large, our experience is that, when children ask the question, it’s for the same reason they ask why the sky is blue, why leaves fall off the trees in the autumn, or why hedgehogs hibernate in the winter; they genuinely want to know.

And people are usually OK with explaining it.

The problem is, with so many views about disability and the fact that society itself isn’t quite at the point where disability is accepted as something natural that can happen to people the same way people can have darker skin or blue eyes, it can be difficult for us as parents to show our children a way through the minefield of learning about people’s differences whilst still respecting them as individuals.

We’re trying to help them understand that someone who has a disability may need to do things in a different way, or might need a little help with certain tasks, but that isn’t too much different from them needing help with zipping their coats up or me needing help with sorting out the flipping heating system. It’s not that we’re trivialising the support some people need, just trying to put it into a context a five-year-old can understand.

In the meantime, we’ll answer his questions or let others answer his questions.

And we’ll try to emulate his open-mindedness when it comes to the world, and the people, around him.

Tiny Teachers

Siblings Together

Siblings Together

 

Motormouth has a new role in life.

He’s recently taken on the role of teacher when it comes to Mini.

He’s consciously making sure she’s included in his games, even if she is a little too young to really understand what’s going on. The fact that she will slavishly copy everything he does goes some way to helping in this. With a little nudging, he’s also making sure she gets some of the interesting jobs as well. It’s really noticeable when they’re role playing, which Motormouth has a tendency to do a lot of, whether it’s playing doctors, running a café or rescuing dragons from lava, he’s adept at creating entire universes that work on Motormouth-logic. He’s also very good at bring others into his fantasy worlds, giving them characters, complete with back stories, to take on. I’m still getting to grips with the various alter egos he’s assigned to me over the last couple of years, whether it’s Dashi from Octonauts, Penny from Fireman Sam or Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon. It could be worse – poor Mini gets to be Fishlegs. His dad is Stoick the Vast (I think that must be something to do with the beard).

It’s more than just another person to play with though. It’s a way of him reinforcing what he’s been learning at school himself. He works through his homework story books with Mini and he’s even sat her down with a pad and crayon so he could teach her her letters. Admittedly, he makes me learn my letters more often, but she’s not left out of the schooling entirely.

Underneath all this is a strong feeling of protectiveness. He will try and teach her how to cross the road safely (unfortunately she’s not taking to that quite as quickly as Motormouth did). If she falls and hurts herself, he’s the first to go running (provided he’s not been involved in it, of course). To be fair, she will do the same for him. They’ll give each other a hug when the other is upset and quite often I’ll find them snuggled up together on the settee, under the same blanket, thumbs in mouths (their own) whilst they watch How to Train Your Dragon, Masha and the Bear or Fireman Sam.

What is particularly striking is his generosity towards his little sister, the person he could so easily be jealous of. He’ll share his food, often giving her over half of whatever delicacy he has, rather than the token amount, and sometimes we don’t even have to ask him to share with her. He’s certainly better at sharing his food than I am.

And, most importantly, he’ll share his time.

It puts me to shame.

Because he does it naturally, as something that’s the right thing to do. He doesn’t have that feeling of almost smug satisfaction that we can (and I’m speaking from personal experience) feel as adults sometimes as we earn virtual brownie points for being “good people”.

Which made me wonder, when do we get more attached to things than we do to people?

When do we learn to become more grudging about sharing, so much so that often sharing becomes a conscious choice rather than an automatic action? When we first learn to talk, one of the first concepts we learn is mine. It’s my teddy. My blanket. My dinner.

Then we grow out of it.

And I don’t think we realise we’ve grown out of it until somebody reminds us.

Motormouth has taken on the role of teacher and mentor to Mini.

But I’m sitting at the back of the classroom.

I’ll Be Watching You…

People watching

People watching

Mini has taken up a new hobby – people watching. Well, strictly speaking it’s not a new hobby since she’s been doing it pretty much since she was born, but it’s certainly one she’s pursuing with a single-mindedness that is a little unnerving.

I know all children are natural people-watchers, after all, it’s how they learn. But Mini seems to be taking it to new heights. She’s two and a half now and by this age Motormouth was more interested in talking and taking things apart. Mini is the quiet one, just absorbing everything and listening.

And of course, watching.

Motormouth still asks why people do things, usually at the top of his voice when everything, and I mean everything, else is quiet.

Like “why has that man pushed in front of us in the queue?”

Or

“Why is that woman making us walk through smoke by standing in the shop doorway with her cigarette?”

Don’t you just love children not having the same filters as us?

It sums them up really, Motormouth the talker and Mini the watcher.

Speaking of which, she has so much more freedom to watch people more closely now she’s mobile.

And she’s fascinated by emotions.

Which is why, the other day, she went and stood by someone else’s table when we were at a restaurant.

Did she want to go to the play area with Motormouth?

Oh no.

The seven year old having a meltdown was much more interesting.

Despite our best efforts she kept returning to the table to stand and watch with a quizzical look on her face. Every so often she would look back at us, point to the screaming, tearful boy and say “look”, just in case we were missing the event. She was genuinely fascinated by the whole thing.

The poor mother, I did try and send her fellow-mother vibes that we understood and that we’ve had our own public displays of unhappiness from noisy children to deal with,, but I think she was a bit too distracted to notice.

I can see why Mini was so intrigued by the screaming boy though. In our house tantrums are just as common as any other abode with children under the age of… oh… twenty five or so… but they tend to be short-lived. It’s rare that we get a sustained bout of hysterical screaming.

Mini cries when she shuts her fingers in something or someone tells her no. She really, really hates that word. Motormouth cries, well, at everything else. (I have checked the books on that and apparently it’s normal.)

I hope Mini never loses that interest in what others are thinking or experiencing and that she can use that to become more empathetic and tolerant towards others.

In the meantime I think I’ll have to settle for trying to get her to be more subtle during her observations.

Dragon’s Tears

stoick*** PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE SOME MAJOR SPOILERS HERE ABOUT HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 ***

I took Motormouth to the cinema for the second ever time a few weeks ago to see How to Train Your Dragon 2. He’s a big fan of the first film, and the TV series, and it’s a special treat to snuggle together while I read the books to him. We were both looking forward to having some son/mummy time together, although I suspect he was looking forward to his packet of sweets even more.

The film was good with the standard of animation we’ve come to expect from the series but there was one thing that took me totally by surprise – *SPOILER ALERT* – Hiccup’s dad, Stoick the Vast, dies.

Yep. Stoick.

A major character.

Dead.

He does it in a heroic way of course, saving Hiccup, but it’s a death from which there is no coming back. No dragon magic or sleight of hand that will help him get up again. It’s permanent.

Motormouth has lost someone he genuinely liked and cared about. And Hiccup, someone he cares about even more, has lost his Daddy.

He cried (Motormouth that is, Hiccup was a little more stoical about it all.)

He (Motormouth) sobbed his heart out for the rest of the film. And during the walk across the car park. In fact, he was near inconsolable for the whole drive home.

This was a BIG EMOTION.

They don’t really tell you about all the things you need to do as a parent. You take it for granted there will be messy mealtimes and stinky nappies, some cooing and cuddling, and more messy mealtimes and stinky nappies, but it takes a while for it to sink in that YOU are the one who needs to teach that tiny human how to interpret and express their emotions.

This all the while most of us (and certainly me) are trying to cope with our own emotions that have suddenly got more complicated with the insertion of a person whose welfare and happiness are so firmly placed ahead of our own. We have to teach them that not only will they have a reaction on an emotional level to different situations but those reactions are normal and there are accepted ways to express that emotion.

It’s a double-edged sword. We want our children to empathise with others, to understand the emotional bonds that can exist between people, and to modify their behaviour so they can have positive relationships with those around them.

We want them to have the imagination to understand the problems they encounter and be able to make the intuitive leaps that allow them to be creative and inventive when facing everything that life throws at them but…

This same imagination is what allows them to identify so closely with the characters in films and books that, when one of them goes away forever, it’s like a bereavement. No. It IS a bereavement; they have lost someone they care about. Add to that the ability to take those intuitive steps and we have a boy looking at a friend who has lost his father, so who’s to say Motormouth can’t lose his own father? Maybe not to an evil Viking’s thrown weapon, but loss is loss.

Do I regret taking him to see the film when it made him so upset?

No I don’t.

Why?

Because I’d much rather he had the opportunity to experience these feelings and learn to deal with them when he loses a fictional friend. That might make it just that little bit easier for him to cope with losing someone in the real world.

Would I let him watch it again if he wanted to, even knowing how upset it’s likely to make him?

Absolutely.

And I’ll be there with him for every frame, answering every question and returning every hug and squeezed hand because parenting isn’t just about the happy things and, in a weird way, it can be more rewarding helping him deal with the big bad emotions than the big happy emotions.

Because nobody can do it like a parent.

My First Day at School by Me, age 44 ¾

The Loneliness of the School Playground

The Loneliness of the School Playground

So much is written about a child’s first day at school, and rightly so, but it can be easily forgotten that it may also be mum and dad’s first day at school for a long time. Decades in our case (well, technically only a few months for me, but I’m not counting education as an adult because it’s so different).

And it can be just as nerve-wracking for us.

Children will have their own concerns. Will they see their friends? Will they make new ones? What if they’re the only ones struggling with the buttons on their coats or putting their wellies on the wrong feet? Will their teachers be nice to them or will they keep telling them off?

In Motormouth’s case he was, oddly, really worried about being bitten by one of the other children.

And it’s only right that we are there to reassure them, to give them a comforting cuddle before we say goodbye to them in the classroom doorway, or that wave to remind them they need to put their book bag away in their drawer so it won’t get lost.

But who is there to reassure us? Especially those of us who are, like me, a bit of an introvert?

I mentioned this to the Other Half, who struggled to understand why I was so worried, everyone was in the same boat weren’t they? This from the man who is on first name terms with half the parents already after just a week or so. I know two grandparents by sight, one mum and one dad. No names have been exchanged yet. This is even with the supposed advantage I have of having picked Motormouth up more often from school than the Other Half.

He’s not an introvert. The Other Half that is.

Or Motormouth, come to think of it.

I am.

I’m hoping I’m not the only one who pulls out my phone to answer imaginary texts that are so time-sensitive I have to ignore the world around me. I’m the one who stands in the corner towards the back of the playground so Motormouth knows where to look for me as he files obediently out of the classroom with 30 other children, all looking identical, with grins lighting up their faces as they see parent or grandparent waiting to hear all about their day. (What did you do today son? Nothing.)

I’m the one watching, with my hazel eyes just a bit greener than usual, as little knots of parents form, talking about their kids. I tell myself it’s just because their kids have been to the same playgroup or they live in the same road. I tell myself that it’s not a clique really, and I ought to be brave enough to say hello and join the group.

I’m not very good at listening to myself.

Perhaps it’s made worse by the fact that it’s a village school. Most of the children live in the village. We don’t. We chose it because it’s a good school with good inspection reports and the parents of children who have been there told us the school worked for them. That their children were happy there and learned a lot.

I’m telling myself to start just one conversation with somebody where I exchange names with someone. Hopefully it won’t be someone who is just doing the school drop off as a temporary measure, someone who will be absent from the playground forever in just a few weeks.

Then I look at Motormouth as he runs around the playground, part of an endlessly changing group of children who tag each other, stopping for a quick dinosaur impression here and there.

That’s when I think again, I’m not the one who matters. In the big picture, the one that’s a portrait of Motormouth, he’s the one who needs to feel comfortable coming to school. To feel that he has to make the most of those few minutes before the classroom doors open or we start to trail out of the gate towards home. To cram in as much as he can before he enters the more ordered world of the classroom.

In the meantime, I’ll stand there, one of maybe half a dozen parents who aren’t engrossed in conversation with other parents. One of those grown ups who switch their attention from their phone and whatever random question they’ve put into their search engine of choice, as the classroom door opens and children start to emerge, clutching their water bottles and book bags.

I’ll wait for him, for his face to light up when he sees me, just before he pulls a clown face and jumps around. I suspect he’s slightly embarrassed by the attention.

I should go now. I don’t want to lose my spot in the corner.

Bee Baw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When do the lights go down, Mummy?

When do the lights go down, Mummy?

Well, today we reached another milestone with Motormouth.

He saw his first film in the cinema.

We told him we’d take him a couple of days before if he was good and, bless him, he tried so hard, despite Mini’s attempts to make him stray off the straight and narrow. In fact, it’s been quite weird for it to be her that’s the naughtiest rather than him. He remained resolute in the face of sibling sabotage, not reacting when she was pinching him (her latest habit which we’re trying very hard to break), pulling his hair (he really does need a haircut) or slapping him on the back.

To be fair, they have had their times when they played nicely together. I know they did.

I wrote it down in my diary.

Back to the film. He wanted to see Planes 2 – Fire and Rescue (and, I have to admit, I was quite keen to see it; any film that has ACDC’s Thunderstruck in the soundtrack has got to be good.) We bought the tickets as a special treat before he started school. It was a very special treat as it turned out – £14 for the two of us and that was just for the tickets with him under 5!

We went away and amused ourselves for an hour and a half when we found out that the showing we originally wanted was 3D. (Please cinemas, if you’re going to list all your showings in one place, do let us know which are 3D and which aren’t.) Motormouth is too young to watch 3D and I really didn’t fancy trying it with varifocals (yep, I am that old – calling this blog the Trials and Tribulations of a Mature Mother might have given you a clue in that department). Having seen the film now, I’m really glad we didn’t, since Motormouth found some parts a bit scary and they would have been even worse in 3D. Anyway, we got the tickets, wandered around, came back and went into the cinema.

Motormouth was on form, at least with his questions. We had everything from where the music was coming from, to the best tally system to use when counting the lights, to the names of every single film character in the adverts, all liberally interspersed with “when are the lights going down?”

I think the poor father behind me must have been worried that he was going to keep it up for the entire film.

He did, but to be fair to Motormouth, he did learn to whisper his questions.

He did suddenly develop a fastidious streak half way through the film, which is odd since it’s usually Mini that stands there and demands to be cleaned.

“Mummy, I’ve got sticky hands. Have you got any wipes?”

“No.” I silently berate myself for not chucking a pack into my bag.

“But I’ve got sticky hands. I need a wipe!” I’m very conscious of the the volume rising.

“Just wipe your hands on your T shirt!” Not generally accepted parental advice but he usually does it anyway. To my relief he does it and quietens down. In the meantime, I’m thanking whatever gods exist that I bought him dolly mixtures for the film and not anything chocolate.

A few minutes later… “Mummy, I’ve got sticky hands. Can you lick them clean for me?” I won’t go any further, suffice it to say that there are some sacrifices you are forced to make as a parent.

Finally we could concentrate on the film again.

I have never seen him sit still for so long, even allowing for the fact he climbed onto my lap when the hero got into real danger, or so quietly. He was totally engrossed. He stayed awake the whole time (unlike the little girl behind us who was carried out by her dad at the end, still fast asleep).

It also fittingly carried on the theme of the week that Motormouth has adopted – fire and rescue. Everywhere we’ve been he’s been running around calling out “bee baw bee baw”, which apparently is the correct sound for a fire engine. Motormouth gave me appropriate instruction on that this morning. We’ve had the sirens on in the car park, in the supermarket, around the restaurant where we were supposed to be meeting the Other Half, pretty much anywhere he went, we’ve had sirens.

He’s also been sliding down poles.

Literally.

Sometimes he’s even asked for help. I don’t think the toddler parking sign in the local supermarket will ever be the same again. I think the staff were a bit bemused as well.

And every day he’s had to wear red, or at least his reflective vest and builder’s helmet (he broke his fireman’s helmet). Well, almost everyday. He had to change his T shirt before we went to the cinema today – he’s almost as messy an eater as his father, so he went for the camouflage look.

We’ve got another Motormouth/Mother day tomorrow and we’re going to watch a film. This time it’s going to be with popcorn and snuggled up on the settee. The cinema experience is great but a little too expensive to do too often.

What to watch though? Monster’s Inc. or Despicable Me 2?

Choices, choices.

The question is, what catchphrase do we want to be hearing for the next week?

By the way, Planes 2 has some nice touches for us adults and does a particularly good homage to ChiPs, complete with Eric Estrada’s vocals.

Oh yeah, and there’s ACDC.