Literally Ten Minutes

Working in publishing, I obviously like books more than your average mum. Working with children, and having a 1 year old myself, I am also obviously more invested in kids and their needs than the average publisher. Loving to read myself, I am eager to instill a love of books and reading in my son. His first gift was a ‘bumper book’ to go around his moses basket or his pram, and since then he now has a plethora of board books, buggy books, sensory books, lift the flap books, story books, cloth books, musical books and picture books.

So how can it be that 1/3 of UK children do not own any books at all?

The issue of literacy in Britian has finally arrived in the papers and on our screens, with shocking statistics such as the one above, and horribly amusing stories becoming front page news. Last year, the boy who got in trouble on ‘bring a book to school day’ was famously reprimanded because he brought the wrong kind of book. He announced that it was the only book they had in his house. The title? The Argos Catalogue.

I find it quite difficult to understand why there is such a problem with young kids and books. We are not talking about how many children eat their vegetables, or go to school without kicking up a fuss. The fact of the matter is, kids love them! They love being read to, they love looking at their own books, and they love being interactive with flaps and sensory pages, and most kids even enjoy learning to read. Once you’ve got to that age, surely the hard part is over. The kids are either used to being around books and reading, or not. Difference in personality means that obviously for some children this instills them with a love for reading, while for some it may still be a chore, but the groundwork is laid. On top of this, even if your children find reading itself hard, they would still enjoy being read to.

All I can surmise therefore, is that the literacy issues in this country are to do with parents. Whether reading is simply not important to them personally, or they struggle to read out loud accurately and confidently, or it’s just never crossed their minds, parents aren’t reading enough with their children.

For those who think reading isnt that important, I’ll summarise all the studies I’ve read right here in one easy paragraph. Reading with your child for ten minutes a day, starting earlier than the age of 2, has been proven to improve memory skills, language development and comprehension, speech patterns, listening abilities and creative and imaginatory play. Starting from a young age also gives your baby comfort, stimulation, and a better bond with you, and a bedtime story has even been shown to provide better general sleeping patterns and through the night sleeping at an earlier age.

If you’re embarassed, practice makes perfect. Your baby doesnt care if you’re the most confident reader. If you don’t have any books, or don’t know which ones to get, your local library can help with loads of great titles for each age group. If your child doesnt seem interested, persevere, and get excited about it yourself! What your kid wants most is the attention and interaction coming from you. Dont worry if they crawl or run away, their patience and listening skills will improve with time.

It’s a great time of year to make some new years resolutions, and if one of them is to spend more time with your kids, pick up a book, and thank me later.


How many calories are in this asprin?

A little bit of everything in moderation. This time of year, with new years resolutions flying out of everyone’s mouths carelessly, it is easy to get carried away with goals and hopes for the year ahead. My new years resolution started in November, with my healthy eating and getting into better shape kick, and it’s actually going really well.

However, I started it because I felt very strongly that I didnt want my son growing up with the same bad habits as I have. Whatever the reasoning, my own mother didnt have those worries. She talks of how my grandmother had very little idea about calorie content or healthy choices, perhaps because she grew up in wartime, or after losing her family in the Holocaust, simply had more important things to worry about. A story my mum loves to tell is how her mother would cut a large slice of cake, and offer it to one of her family, Upon being told it contained far too many calories and was bound to make the eater put on copious weight if consumed, she would lift the cake in her hand, testing the physical weight, and announce “Light as a feather!”

Amusing. Two generations later, not so much. My own family cannot plead ignorance. We are beaten to death with statistics of obesity in this country and abroad, it is hammered into us how important getting your ‘5-a-day’ is, and we are all aware that if Calories > Exercise = Not fitting into that new dress.

We have the knowledge. My parents generation had it also, but somehow, in my case, it failed. I struggle with the same eating patterns as my mum does. When I grew up at home, it was perfectly acceptable to finish supper and then go decide what snack to munch on throughout the evening. A packet of biscuits was rarely left unfinished once opened, same with a stack of pringles or a box of chocolates. One was never enough.

And so my ‘healthy eating’ or weight loss kick, or whatever you want to dub it, is more complicated than everything in moderation. Because that very idea battles a lifetime of bad habits that are far harder to shift than my weighted hula hoop. Indulge in one doughnut on the first night of Chanukah, and I’ve found myself craving one each day. Open the snack cupboard which I’ve ignored for 6 weeks, and suddenly I find myself being gravitationally pulled in its direction each time I enter the kitchen. For me, going cold turkey is the only way to keep it up. And once I do that, it becomes easy.

I stop thinking about junk food and eating between meals, and focus my attention on what to have for breakfast lunch and dinner instead. If I know that food for the day stops at 9pm, I’m not even envious when I see C reach for the minstrels bag at 9.30. It’s about changing my mindset.

And with it, I think I’m changing the way I feed my son. I’m much more reluctant to reach for the cheerios because he’s being a pain. I don’t hand out treats every time I go in the kitchen with him. I focus on making sure he has what he needs at mealtimes, which include a mid morning and mid afternoon snack, and because he doesnt see me eating at other times, he doesnt want anything either.

Regimented? Yes. And I’m not saying it would work for everyone. Some people need to know they can have that 2 squares of chocolate at the end of the day, or make the exception because it’s a special occasion. But those people tend to have healthy eating habits ingrained already, and have just overdone it over the festive season, or had a change in situation which led to less activity or attention to meals. Not to belittle their efforts, but I think it’s a much easier battle, because it’s only against the food they eat, rather than the lifestyle and habits which theyve adopted.

I hope that because of what I’m trying to do, that when my own grandchildren start their ‘healthy eating kick’, new years resolution circa 2052, they are those type of people.

Tree? Check. Santa? Check. Presents? Check. Let’s light those Chanukah Lights.

I have nothing against Christmas. Why would I? As an orthodox Jew, It’s basically a non-event for me. Some years I don’t even remember what day it is until I try to go buy something and realise the outisde world looks like a better version of 28 days later. I even have lots of favourite things about the Christmas period; Starbucks gets all red and white and makes up new and delicious drinks, people seem to get a whole lot friendlier, and I’d never complain about having some time off work. Above all, I’m glad that the non Jewish world has a time of year where they can spend some quality time with their famillies, and I think the spirit of goodwill to all men and being generous to others is a lovely sentiment, especially when done well.

But it isnt for us. We’re Jewish, we have more than enough of our own holidays to celebrate. With incredible opportunities for fun and enjoyment for kids of all ages. Why are so many Jewish people encroaching on a Christian festival?

I’m not talking about famillies who have one Jewish parent and one Christian. That’s a whole other topic, one I’m certainly not venturing into any time soon! I mean famillies, who range from entirely irreligious to what I would call orthodox, who seem to indulge in what’s being dubbed Chrismukkuh, (Thank you OC.) and which is more and more frequently being glorified by Hollywood and TV characters alike.

You know you’re Jewish, you’re proud to be Jewish, your kids may or may not go to religious schools, they certainly have religious friends, you’re often seen at synagogue, and yet somehow, you are proudly displaying a xmas tree in your living room. You’re looking for the least busy time to take your kids to see Santa, and you’re ‘stocking’ up on stocking fillers and crackers.

I probably have a strong opposition here, but I think this is at best unnecessary, and at worst, extremely dangerous.

Unnecessary, because however much you argue that Christmas is not a religious festival anymore, and that it has been secularised to the point where it can do no harm, our kids just dont need it. Judiasm is such a rich culture with so many festivals and celebrations, and Chanukah is at the same time of year! They dont need to feel left out from their non jewish friends, they have something just as wonderful to talk about and look forward to. You want to spoil them with gifts? Great-no need to put them under a tree. You want to take them on a fun outing? Use your bank holidays wisely and have Chanukah outings to wherever you please. Even if you do use the queuing time for Father Xmas to explain to your kids that this is for Christians and not for Jews, but you’re indulging as a special treat, the very best you’re going to come away with is a child who thinks you do things that you arent supposed to do. Then spend the remainder of their childhood telling them what they should  and shouldnt be doing, and see if those mixed messages get you very far.

On the other hand, if you dont tell them that Santa and all the trimmings aren’t meant for Jewish people, then what are you saying? That it’s ok to celebrate both? That you believe in both? Or that it’s fine to celebrate something even if you dont believe in it?

Increasingly, I see parents mxing the two holidays in the oddest ways imaginable. I had a kid who I teach tell me that he has to be as good as possible, otherwise “the Maccabee Soldiers wont leave any presents under my Xmas tree.” I’ve heard people who dub their holiday props “Chanukah Bushes,” call Santa “Chanukah Chaim” and there is even a tree ornament called “Happy Bagel.”

Genuinely, I don’t get it. Unless you dont care if your children remain religious and committed to your faith or not, how can you dangle something like Xmas in front of them at their most vulnerable age and not expect them to come away at best confused.

I’m sure there are plenty of stories of those of you who had trees and stockings and maybe even a full Christmas dinner and have come away faith unscathed. But whatever your arguments for this odd mash-up of religious observance, you cant say it isnt risky.

Ask him 14 more times, he’s very intelligent really.

My son has the cognitive understanding of a baby. I’ll try again. My son has the cognitive understanding of a younger baby than the baby age which he actually is. You’ll agree, that sentence isnt as emotive.

Our language specialist tells us he is currently on par with a sighted child at the age of about 8 or 9 months. Not so bad you may think, as that is approx a 5 month delay. I havent been worried, seeing as if I had a 5 month delay, I’d be acting like I just turned 24 last week, and I doubt I’d be exhibiting such seriously immature behaviour thatr it would be noticable in any area of my life.

To an adult, 5 months is nothing. To a 14 month old, it counts for a serious portion of life. I once told a 4 year old that I was 20, and they laughed. No verbal response, just such incredulity that anyone could actually be that old, that it triggered an uncontrollable outpouring of mirth. If you think of 5 months in terms of percentage of life, you can understand where the concern stems from. If I was acting like a 16 year old, people may be legitimately worried that I wouldnt be capable enough to deal with the whole marriage/baby/career thing. (Although, I think I may have been one of the few 16 year olds who was actually ready.) In the last 5 months, or third of his life, comprehension wise, I am told my son has somehow missed out on key stages of langauage development, and that this is certainly not something to take lightly.

  • Does he say ‘mama’ and ‘dada’? Nope.
  • Does he come when beckoned verbally? No.
  • Pass you items you ask for? Nuh uh.
  • Follow any non signed instructions? Er.. No.
  • Show you items with a famillar sound? Never.
  • Make up his own words for things? Not that I’ve noticed.
  • Turn when you call his name? YES.. er.. I mean, yes.. yes, he does that one.

And so the exercises begin. Over the past two weeks, I have changed my attitude, simplified my language, and asked my son the following questions approx 17,000 times. The first day, I didnt get much of a reaction. Judging it by today, I have noticed a marked improvement. We may still have a while to go.

1. Where is Ima’s nose?
Day 1: Blank stare.
Day 14: -Excitedly reaches out towards my face and points out my mouth-

2. For Ima? (while he is holding an object)
Day 1: Blank stare.
Day 14: He gives me the object, and then tries to eat it anyway.

3. Can you see your car?
Day 1: Blank stare.
Day 14: -Looks around, passes me his cup- (Cccccup.. gettit? I’m excited, dont burst my bubble.)

4. More food? Or no more food?
Day 1: Blank stare.
Day 14: Shakes his head merrily.. (But I’m not sure it means no more food.. it has also been correctly interpreted as “May I have a drink?” and “Would it trouble you terribly if we used a different spoon?”

In addition to those, he sits down when I say sit down, he finally gets upset when I tell him no, and I think he’s starting to understand the ‘point’ of pointing.

I’m happy. It may not be much in terms of conversational skills, but it is so much more than we had a month ago. We feel like we are finally communicating with him in a real way. Even the little that he understands gives him a new and exciting ability to interact, and another little baby sized step towards independence.

Santa isn’t coming if you dont eat your spinach

As parents, we all try to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong. As people, we all do things which are both. Some by mistake, some on purpose, sometimes we go out of our way, oftentimes we just take advantage of a present situation. Either way, our lives are filled with both good deeds and wrongdoings.

But where do we draw our own personal line?

Even acts which we would all agree are giant nono’s can be seen differently if we change our perspective slightly. I think we all agree that stealing is one of the big ones. Don’t take things which don’t belong to you, is drilled into us from a young age. R isn’t quite there yet, helping himself to other kids toys, items from strangers pushchairs, food from other kids hands.. It’s a work in progress. But I can see how he is confused. Here us adults are, thieving at every turn.

Who? Me? (I hear you gasp.)

Movies? Music? Grapes in the supermarket? We all take something which doesnt rightfully belong to us. On my gap year, one of our favourite apartment bonding games was “who can hide the most toilet rolls under various items of clothing from the nearby college back to our bathroom.” Whether we’re slipping office supplies into our bags at the end of a day of work, or hacking into each others bank accounts, arent we all guilty of some kind of stealing? Combine this with the dictum we give our children to share our toys and treats with others, and there is no wonder they are left baffled as to what is theirs and what isn’t.

Let’s try another. Lying. Apparently in normal conversation, we tell two lies every ten minutes. Incredible. Whether we are above or below average for this statistic, it still leaves us with a lot of bearing false witness to account for. We ask our kids to always tell us the truth, but at the same time to be cautious of other people’s feelings. Yet even a child is aware that there are some truths people dont want to hear, however nicely they are dressed up.

Do I look fat? Does this suit me? Do you think he’ll call me? Did I do something wrong? Often we are faced with questions that just don’t need to be answered truthfully, and situations in which the stone cold truth will do more harm than good. If we add to this, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, explanations of dead pets, or fabricated excuses as to why they cant have treats or toys, you have to ask: Are we eroding our children’s ability to trust us, even while we ask them to become trustworthy people themselves?

Perhaps we are just giving our kids black and white rules to live by until they are old enough to understand the grey areas. Dont steal…things which really count as stealing. Dont hurt animals…unless they’re insects and really annoying you. Dont lie…unless it would be awkward to tell the truth, or it makes your life a lot easier. Dont be nasty… unless they really deserve it and/or you have something clever to say.

Like I said, where is your personal line?