Wednesday, 30 March 2016

No Offense But Stop Being Offended

The other week I wrote a letter to Jamie Oliver after his comments about breastfeeding being 'easy, more convenient and better'. I just want to clarify; I wasn't offended by what he said and I wasn't bashing him for his message. I was pointing out to anyone who agreed that it is 'easy, more convenient and better' that it is so much more complicated than we all assume unless we've done it.

But was I offended? No.

And we need to stop being offended by facts when it comes to our parenting. Claiming that breastfeeding is easy etc is not a fact. But saying that the UK has a very low rate of mothers breastfeeding beyond six months, or that breast milk is the best thing medically for your baby is fact.

We can't pretend it's not just because it doesn't fit with our model of trying to be the perfect parent.

Formula companies are allowed to advertise but whenever anyone says breastfeeding is a good option, they get shouted down as if to be pro-breastfeeding is to be anti-formula feeding.

Of course this is not the case. And any 'offense' is simply the bodyguard of our insecurities. It is there to protect us from feeling vulnerable about the most precious things and the most important job of our lives. I get that. I've been there. And to worry that you're not doing the best by your children is almost heartbreaking. So we decide that we've been judged and that the other people are narrow minded so that we can, in our minds, remain superior in some respect with our open minds and hearts.

This isn't limited to breastfeeding.

When people suggest weaning your baby onto food at five months to help them sleep, they are not suggesting you are starving your baby. Nor are they suggesting your breast milk is not enough or that you are failing because your baby isn't sleeping through. They are trying to help.

When a fellow mum tells you she is not returning to work because she wants to be there for her children, she is not suggesting that you are a bad mother because you went back to work at 6 months. She is not suggesting you don't want to be with your children or that work takes priority over them. She is simply telling you about a decision she has made.

When a mum tells you she makes every meal for her children from scratch, she is not implying that the odd jar here and there will poison your baby. She is probably just bloody proud of herself!

Of course there are some people who ARE judgemental. But these people are probably strangers on the Internet or something. People you have never met and are unlikely to meet. People who you have no intention of ever meeting or knowing or befriending. And it's ok to explain your point of view and your decisions. But if we become judgemental back at them then we are just as bad.

And if we don't know them and don't care to know them, it doesn't actually matter what they think.

But let's not get offended by the comments of people who are just trying to help, who have made different decisions to us and who are proud of their efforts. If they are commenting respectfully then let's respect them back.

And lets stop being offended by comments which intend no offence.

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows
Life with Baby Kicks

Monday, 28 March 2016

My Babies Haven't Read The 'Sleep Rules'

Parenting rule number one: Don't. Get. Cocky.

I am a little bit embarrassed to admit that I broke this rule when it came to the Big One's sleep. He never woke for more than two feeds a night and slept through twelve hours at twelve weeks. He then consistently slept through, with the exception of a week in Portugal at 9 months and an hellish interesting weekend in a caravan at 13 months when his molars came through.

I attributed this to our unwavering determination to ensure a consistent bedtime routine. He would nap in his cot for every nap of the day. He generally fed and went straight back to sleep in the night. He fed every three hours like clockwork. I thought it was because we'd been so good about tuning into his needs and 'persevering' with napping in the cot.

What a load of b*llocks! The truth.... we just got lucky.

Because then Little One came along and we did everything the same. And by 'everything' I mean some semblance of a bedtime routine and that's it! First time around I took A LOT of credit for having a naturally good sleeper. So here are the 'rules' that my babies just haven't had the memo about:

#1 Put baby to bed drowsy but awake

The reasoning: If baby is fed or cuddled to sleep, they will wake in the night and expect the same in order to fall back to sleep. Sleep 'gurus' use the buzz words 'sleep associations' mostly to sound important I think.

The reality: What a load of sh*te. Our eldest fell asleep feeding until he was over a year and slept through consistently. Our youngest has, even from around four months, sometimes been awake after his last feed of the day and has been put to bed 'drowsy but awake'. On those nights? He wakes up more! On the nights he falls asleep feeding? He sleeps better. Go figure.

#2 Make sure baby falls asleep in his cot/Moses basket (basically wherever you expect him to spend the night)

The reasoning: Baby will be disorientated and then will need your help to fall back to sleep. I've actually read this before; "your baby falling asleep on the sofa in your arms and waking up in his cot is like us falling asleep in bed and waking up on the lawn."

The reality: Except it's not is it? It's like falling asleep on the sofa next to your partner and waking up in bed - equally (if not more) comfy and the place you're supposed to spend the night. You can't compare a baby waking up in his comfortable bed with waking up in your back garden in the middle of the night. Yes, he might need you to reassure him you're there but he wont be disorientated beyond all belief, lying on the grass, shivering and soaking wet (because, let's face it, this is Britain, so if you woke up outside, it would probably be raining). Cuddle your babies on the sofa if you bloody want then transfer them to their cot/Moses basket etc. Obviously don't transfer them to the garden.

#3 Sleep begets sleep

The reasoning: The more sleep children get the more they need.

The reality: Little One naps for two hours or more every day and has done since 8 months. Big One only ever napped in 45 minute chunks for the first twelve months. He was on two naps by 6 months. I think we've covered how both of them sleep. The first time Little One slept through was when he had spent nine hours awake at six weeks old. Sleep begets sleep my arse.

#4 Food will help your baby sleep through

The reasoning: Food will fill your baby up and when baby is full they will sleep longer.

The reality: Big One slept through at 3 months, way before the introduction of any food. Little One still wakes up around three nights a week, despite being fully weaned. Food does not equal sleep. Unfortunately.

#5 Give formula for the last feed and throughout the night

The reasoning: Formula is not as easily digested as breastmilk so keeps baby fuller for longer - meaning they wont wake to feed.

The reality: Utter nonsense. Big One was breast fed for double the time Little One was and barely had formula at night before sleeping through. Little One had formula from a lot earlier on. And I don't know if this has come across yet but HE'S STILL WAKING UP!

The conclusion to all of this: your baby will sleep through the night when they are ready. There may be things you can do to encourage them. But ultimately? They will sleep when they sleep.

Hopefully before he turns two*

*crosses fingers, toes, legs (definitely legs) and anything else possible. In the meantime.....caffeine.

This Mum's Life

Friday, 25 March 2016

Dear Nicky Morgan

You are a mother. Your son is how old? 8? 9?

Can you honestly, hand-on-heart, stand here right now and tell me that you think it is beneficial for him to be able to tell you what a fronted adverbial is? Is it useful for him to be able to identify an exclamatory sentence amongst a whole host of others? Does this make him more intelligent than the child who cannot explain it but who writes fiction which rivals that of J.K.Rowling? Or poetry which matches the imaginative genius of Michael Rosen?

I think we both know the answer. And I think if you stand here and say that, yes, knowing these things at the expense of using them effectively (i.e knowledge at the expense of application) is for the good of our children's education then I have to suggest you are not being entirely honest. (Don't worry, I've not forgotten that you'll be testing our six year olds in the application of their exclamatory sentences too - out of context and without purpose or meaning - but testing their application all the same). Id like to point out here that I know Nick Gibb is also responsible for a lot of the things I am writing about here and for a blind, unfounded enthusiasm for academies so feel free to share it with him. I just feel that writing to him is a bit of a lost cause. In this instance, I most emphatically DO NOT agree with Nick.

I am a primary school teacher. I have been for ten years now, with short breaks from it whilst I had my two children. My eldest starts school in September. And you know what I spent yesterday doing? Researching and ransacking the internet for where I stand legally on refusing to let him sit the SATs tests.

I don't agree with them on so many levels. But, putting aside my professional stance on this (which I will get to - don't worry), as a parent I am becoming increasingly anxious about the wellbeing of my child when, at the age of five, he is subject to a 'phonics screening' which assesses only whether children can decode words - real and nonsense ones (but few, if any, of the high frequency words which appear most repeatedly within our written language i.e the ones which help make our reading more fluent and coherent - go figure). I understand the idea behind decoding. But, again, it is a meaningless, purposeless activity administered completely out-of-context. Ok, so you give them an alien to denote that the word they will read is a nonsense word but that is a hardly a context for reading for meaning. And is that not what teaching reading is? Because one year later (when my August-born son is only six), you will expect him to sit with a reading booklet in front of him and answer questions which demonstrate his understanding of what he has read. For him to be decoding every word correctly will not be enough.

But the problem with the environment of education you have now created is that teachers are not trusted and are made accountable for everything. So what will happen is that year one teachers will focus so hard on decoding that they will not focus on comprehension. And then the year two teachers will be so concerned with comprehension and bridging that gap that all they will focus on is comprehension without extending decoding skills and without, here's the best part; teaching children to enjoy reading. And here's the craziest thing; all us teachers want to do is teach children to be confident individuals who are motivated, enthusiastic and enjoy learning. What the government is intending to introduce is completely and entirely at odds with our basic principles of teaching.

The goalposts are continually moving. Children who have been exceeding expectations in their year group are now 'average'. So what are those children who were struggling to reach expectations? And when are we supposed to bridge the huge gap you have created? Delaying the introduction of these things is not a solution - children will still need to catch up on at least a year's worth of work with no additional year given to do it. Children are not emotionless little robots. They know where they are achieving within their class, especially at the higher end of primary school and beyond. Do you remember what it was like to be a ten year old girl? Imagine what the crushing blow of being told you are automatically a year behind in your academic ability would do to your self worth.

I am a successful teacher and I have studied to GCSE, A and degree level without having any primary school SATs to endure. I did sit the Key Stage 3 tests which have now been abolished (if they don't work in Year 9, why are we still so adamant that they work in Year 2 and 6?). But even with this wealth of qualifications behind me, you know what the best part is?

I don't have a clue what a fronted adverbial is.

And I have no hopes that my six year old will be able to tell me in three years time.

So please. I'm not going to beg because I have too much respect for my self and my profession to make desperate pleas to people who have no practical experience of my job. But I am going to ask very nicely for you to really look at these tests and ask yourself:

Would my son's education be better for these tests? Would his self esteem and well being be boosted?

I hope you can see what most professionals working in education can see. And I hope the answer to the above questions is a resounding no.

And I hope this means you and your team can do the right thing. Not just for schools. Or for teachers.

But for our children.


A Concerned Parent and Teacher

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Dear Jamie Oliver

I may be being presumptuous here but I am assuming you have never breastfed. Or attempted to breastfeed.

I admire what you have done for school dinners and raising awareness of sugar in our diet.

But unless you have breastfed, I think it's probably best to stick to the facts on this one.

You see it's not just as "easy" and "convenient" as you say it is. And, no matter the experiences of your lovely wife or any other women in your life who may have found it so, you, personally just don't know.

You don't know what it's like to carry a baby for nine months. To endure, at best discomfort, at worst, immense  pain just to carry that baby and keep it safe.

You have no idea what it's like to have to stop wearing the things you like wearing, stop doing activities you liked doing, stop eating the foods you like eating and stop drinking the drinks you like drinking (and before you start banging on about alcohol, I'm mostly talking about my much-loved cuppa). You don't know what it's like to make these sacrifices to keep your baby healthy.

You can't begin to comprehend the pain of bringing that baby into the world. The unbearable-but-necessary, productively painful but nonetheless excruciating pain. Pain which is worth it a million times over. But very real, physical pain.

You can't know how it feels to go through all that and end up having major surgery. To be told you shouldn't lift anything heavier than a kettle despite having a baby who weighs more than a kettle and who you are desperate to cuddle and lift into your arms.

You will never know how it feels to, after nine months of discomfort, of worry, of excitement, of sickness, go through such an intense physical and emotional roller coaster simply in order to meet your baby. You may know the worry. You may know the excitement. You may go on a similar roller coaster. But the highs and lows just cannot be as extreme for the simple fact that the baby has not grown inside, and is not coming out of, your body.

You don't understand what it's like to go through this and bleed for a month. To have stitches. For it to hurt every time you use the toilet. For it to hurt every time you sit down. Or stand up. Or walk more than 300 yards. Or climb the stairs.

You don't know what it's like to go through all of that and then look after a baby. I know you're tired too from the sleepless nights. I know you're exhausted from making sure the house is clean and the older kids are looked after. I know you want to spend time with the baby too.

But you have not given birth. Your body has not contracted almost to breaking point. You have not had surgery. You have not been sewn back together only to immediately have to care for your child. You are not bleeding. Or lactating.

You are not the person asked "how are you feeding him?" by every visitor, whether family, friends, midwife or health visitor. Or worse: are you breastfeeding? You don't know how it feels.

So let me tell you: it feels like a test. Like there is a right answer.

And as someone who has just gotten off the most exhilarating, terrifying and exhausting roller coaster ever, you are not in the mood for a test. To be told you are wrong. You want a cuddle. Praise for being washed and dressed. A much-longed-for cup of tea.

Some people take it all in their stride. Some don't. We are all different. Babies are all different. We have different strengths and we all learn things differently. Breastfeeding is natural. But we still have to learn how to do it. Babies have to learn how to do it. And sometimes it is not "easy". Sometimes it is hard.

And sometimes we don't want strangers coming round to support us at a time where we feel pained, exhausted and vulnerable. We don't want someone telling us we should be doing it different and physically manipulating our bodies when our bodies have already done so much.

We just want to rest whilst we can. We want to look after our baby. We want to cuddle him and watch him sleep. And love him. We just want to love him. But we also need to love ourselves and look after ourselves.

And sometimes that means making a decision which is best for everyone - physically, emotionally, physiologically and mentally. Not just medically.

Dear Jamie. I know you mean well and you make a cracking pasta dish. And breast is best nutritionally for our babies. We know that. And to support breastfeeding women and to want to help those who struggle is commendable. Saying it is "easy" and "convenient" is not.

You can never speak from a place of experience when it comes to breastfeeding.

So maybe stick to the pasta, and the facts, in future.

Pink Pear Bear

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

One Day You'll Sleep

Five in the morning is your 'get-up' of late
Which of course, means it's 'get-up' for me
But I'll cuddle you now until the sun has come up
Because I know that One Day You'll Sleep

Sometimes you'll wake for four hours at night
But I suppose a full night's rest can keep
So I'll cuddle you now until you drift back off
Because I know that One Day You'll Sleep

When I'm tucked up in bed and then you start to stir
Sometimes I feel I could weep
But I'll cuddle you now 'cos I can't bear your cry
And I know that One Day You'll Sleep

Naps recently are a thing of the past
A whole night asleep is a dream
So I'll cuddle you now so at least you can rest
Because I know that One Day You'll Sleep

I know there'll come a time when you sleep through the night
And snooze without making a peep
So I'll cuddle you now whilst I know I still can
Because I know that One Day You'll Sleep

Run Jump Scrap!

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Gift of You

I have always adored quotes so I was looking for a very apt one for Mothers Day. Something which summed up how children can change your whole world for the better just by being in it.

I was Googling 'children as a gift' and different variations when I stumbled upon a gorgeous poem about adoption. I found it here and it seems to have an unknown author (which is a shame because it's a beautifully worded poem).

I loved the whole play on words of giving life as a gift and life giving children as a gift and so I tweaked the last two lines slightly to come up with my own quote:

Happy Mothers Day everyone :)

Proudly linking up with

Cuddle Fairy

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Dear Mum. I Get It Now

I know you felt perpetually tired. Even when you had a full night's sleep, I know you were still exhausted from the challenge of raising two children.

I know you sometimes held us in the middle of the night and cried. I know you felt helpless and desperate because we wouldn't sleep. I know you felt like you were the only person awake, holding a crying baby at 3am.

I know you had days where you felt like you were winning at being Mummy. When we were not having tantrums and we were sleeping through the night and not throwing food on the floor in restaurants. I know you felt like you'd cracked the parenting thing.

I know you had days where you felt like you were failing at being Mummy. I know you may have sat on the stairs and cried as I had a tantrum because I wanted to pour boiling water into your cup of tea at the age of three.

I know that you worried about us constantly. I know that you slept on our bedroom floors when we were sick. I know that if smartphones had existed when I was two, that you'd have been Googling ways to bring my fever down, to stop me vomiting, to help me sleep.

I know that some days you were super pro-active in making sure we 'did things'. Baked or painted or went to the park

I know that some days you were so tired and fed up that you couldn't be bothered and you settled on crisps for tea and The Raggy Dolls as entertainment.

I know that you made sacrifices for us. I know you stopped buying things for yourself because we needed pyjamas and new shoes.

I know you shouted at us sometimes. For reasons we deserved (when I cut my own fringe at age 5 and my sister's - she was 3), and sometimes because you were just so frustrated that we wouldn't do our teeth after you'd asked us seven times.

I know you sometimes got frustrated with Dad when he was at work and you were stuck at home with us all day. But I also know the warm fuzzy feeling you felt when you heard him reading us a bedtime story or giving us a bath.

I know that sometimes you wanted to go to work.

I know that, when you went to work, you just wanted to be with us.

I know that you cuddled us when we were hurt. I know you desperately wanted to make it better.

I know you read us stories. I know you sang us lullabies, despite having an horrendous singing voice.

I know you felt guilty. About everything. Treating us fairly. Working. Shouting. Crying. Watching too much TV.

But guess what Mum? I don't remember any of it.

I don't know any of it because I remember it. I know it because I do it.

I get it now.

Now I am Mummy and I do all of the above. I work, I shout, I cry, I bake, I paint, I sing (badly). I am tired, I make sacrifices, I read stories. I give cuddles. I feel guilty.

But my own memories are my consolation.

Because I only remember doing shows for you and Dad in the front room,. Holidays, sleepovers, car journeys listening to The Beatles (Cornwall) and Simply Red (Wales). Playing in the garden on Summer days. The personalised birthday cakes. Dancing lessons where you passed on your amazing talent. Making my clothes (I did not appreciate some of them but all is forgiven for that Forever Friends jumper you made me in Year 6). Doing my hair every morning. Watching Heartbeat on a Sunday evening.

I get it now Mum.

And I love you for it.

All of it.

Because I know it was hard and you did it all anyway. And I think you are amazing for doing it all. Which I suppose kind of means I must be amazing for doing it all too.

And I now realise how lucky I am. To have someone who loves me the way I love my own children is an extraordinary feeling.

And you Mum, are an extraordinary person.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Dear Eldest Child

Dear Eldest Child

I recently wrote a letter to your younger brother. I felt like he sometimes gets the rough end of the deal. He doesn't have a nursery - just a cot shoved in the spare room amongst the washing drying on the airer. You have your own huge bedroom with your pictures of Lightning McQueen and furniture we bought specially for you, right down to the lightshades and the height chart.

But, as I said in my letter to your brother, these things are not important.

What is important is how Mummy treats you. And that's why I'm writing to you now.

Because I'm sorry that you've had to grow up quicker than your brother will probably have to. You've had to take on responsibilities that, on reflection, might be too much for your two and half years (the age you were when your brother was born).

Sometimes you race around the house and I'm frustrated because you knock your brother over. I tell you to calm down and slow down and that you should be looking out for him and being aware of where you're going. And then you apologise and I remember that you're only three.

I realise that I should be immensely proud that you want to play with your brother. That you understand the need to say sorry to people. That you've never exhibited jealousy towards your brother. That yesterday, when I asked you to stop squashing him before bedtime, you explained that it was simply because "Mummy, I just love him so much."

So next time I tell you to calm down, please tell me; "Mummy I am only three. I am playing. I am being a child." Because, though it goes against everything I (as a mummy and a teacher) believe, I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I forget. You are three. And you deserve to bloody play.

I'm sorry that when we drop you off at nursery, we end up giving you a quick hug whilst we try and prise your brother from around our necks. I'm sorry we keep saying "look after your brother at nursery", even though you still need looking after too.

I love it when you get to the door first when we pick you up and we can cuddle you and scoop you up like you deserve before your brother comes in and monopolises our attention by crying (because he's missed us and he can't tell us yet!) But I am crazy boastful about the fact that you help him put his shoes on and carry his bag to the car for him, showing him kindness and care, despite him taking all eyes and attention away from you. You understand why we have to put you down and scoop up your brother instead of you and I feel like high-fiving myself that my three year old not only gets it but supports it.

I'm sorry that sometimes you end up playing on your own whilst I chase your brother around the house, trying to stop him eating play dough, sucking Febreeze from the bottle and climbing up the stairs. But it makes me ridiculously proud that you understand. That you tell me "it's ok Mummy. I know you have to stop him hurting himself."

I almost burst with love when you tell me that we can play Playmobil when your brother is napping because it has tiny little bits and he might eat them. That, at three years old, you understand that we do things to keep you both safe, is extraordinary to me. It makes me feel like Daddy and I are actually doing a pretty shit hot job of raising you into a wonderful human being.

In a way you have had to take a back seat since your brother arrived. But in another way, you have had to leap in to the front and take hold of the dual controls. We have suddenly expected you to be 'grown up'. You are not grown up. You are three. You say things like "I love you more than poo," and have found huge shared amusement with Daddy in the whoopee cushion you won together at the arcades the other day.

I need to remember this. Because I don't want to rush you in your growing up. There is so much time for that. I want you to continue to marvel at spider webs on rose bushes and get excited when a bus drives past.

I want you to continue to be you in all your three year old glory.

Because, darling, I love you more than poo.

My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

Pink Pear Bear
A Bit Of Everything