Imagine if you asked the Zoo for a pet… And then they said yes.

There aren’t many books that were firm favourites a quarter century ago when I was a toddler, and still are today for me to read to my own son. But Dear Zoo is a classic for a reason. Bright colours, fun and educational flaps (made before flap books were commonplace or even seen as helpful to children and pre-schoolers) and a whimsical storyline, it’s almost enough to make us parents not mind reading it for the 17th time in an evening. (Almost.)

This Autumn marks 30 years of the best-loved children’s book, and I was lucky enough to be invited along this afternoon to Pan Macmillan to meet the man himself and enjoy a party in celebration of the anniversary. We had so much fun!!

Before we went, I was nervous that R wouldn’t be old enough to behave himself nicely and take part properly. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My baby boy was nowhere to be seen. In his place was a confident toddler who swiftly began colouring the adorable Dear Zoo worksheets in with chunky crayons, brought me various Campbell classics to read, (I’m Hungry, Spin and Say, and his personal favourite-Oh Dear!) and most incredible of all, joined all the other children in sitting in an ordered huddle to listen to the storyteller. Just watching him emulate the older children and join in the activities would have made the whole experience worthwhile alone.

But it didn’t need to! From scanning the room I know I wasn’t the only adult there who was enjoying the interactive storyteller’s rendition of the classic a little more than we were supposed to. (This is for the kids right?) I practically burst with pride as R got 3 whole animal noises correct as the story was told. A huge step up from the ubiquitous “ssssssss” we were being given a few weeks ago.

Rod joined us for a Q and A session, and was charm itself. Hard to believe that this man was fully trained in Science and knee-deep in research before his love of painting brought him to children’s books. Imagine how different so many of our bookshelves would look! R spent the Q and A throwing Rod a Dear Zoo anniversary balloon back and forth, probably to the annoyance of the rest of the guests. Rod however was patience personified, and for once I didn’t try and get mother of the year award by making him stop. It’s Rod Campbell! And my son is playing catch with him!

Not much has changed since I was a kid, and party bags were always my favourite part of any birthday. This one was pretty awesome, with limited edition dear zoo mugs, board books, a gorgeous photo frame, puzzles and activities galore, as well as the piece de resistance, the brand new Touch and Feel version of Dear Zoo itself. I have to say, I was very excited to see what they had done with it, and the book doesn’t disappoint. Great varied sensory ideas on each page, and very different from the original. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was R’s reaction. He was unimpressed to say the least! Because it is such a favourite in our house, he knows the book back and forward and upside down. He spent the whole time I was trying to read it to him getting more and more frustrated that he couldn’t find the flaps! It annoyed him to such an extent that he couldn’t listen to me telling him to touch the furry or sticky or bumpy bits, and he ended up shuffling off my lap and finding another book instead.
My point I suppose is that the touch and feel version is a GREAT present for someone who doesn’t already love Dear Zoo, or perhaps a slightly older child who will appreciate the coolness of comparing the two versions and getting something different from each one. For a slightly OCD partially sighted toddler who likes things to be exactly how he remembers them… don’t even go there.

Rod signed books and was happy to take photos as guests mingled and healthy snacks were ignored by children who know better than to accept carrot sticks when there is birthday cake to be had. And we had a truly fabulous time! Arming our goody bag and our balloon puppy (it is the perfect pet after all) we left the party with matching grins. This book isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, I have a feeling I’ll be itching for an invite to it’s 60th anniversary party!

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Do the French hate their children?

I’m a big advocate for children’s literacy. I believe that we all should be reading to our children every day, and that once they can read themselves, this should be encouraged with every tool a parent has to use, bribery and corruption included if it becomes necessary.

However, if I lived in France I think I would have a different opinion on the matter. I definitely wouldn’t be letting my son loose in a public library very often.  I stumbled across the following examples of literature from across the pond, and (with thanks to 22words) just had to share!

The Weight of Sorrow.

Two authors and a publishing house all agreed that this was an appropriate message to be sending to small children. If I wanted to show my son that the world is a sad and heavy place to live in, and that he could one day develop sad eyes like the half man half mountain above, I would let him read non fiction. No-one needs books describing what a miserable place the world can be. Especially not children.

Revenge of the Rabbits

What was that sweetheart? You want a pet? Sure! Mummy and I are completely supportive of that, we’ll go have a look at the pet store this weekend! I’m the best? No worries darling. … Oh by the way, completely unrelated, we got you a new bedtime story. 

Lily’s Thief

Obviously the usual “don’t accept sweets from strangers” or Topsy and Tim have a visit from the Policeman weren’t strong enough messages for our foreign friends. Instead, watch a innocent young girl get carried away in her pyjamas by a giant angry running man. Maybe your child has red hair or special blue slippers too? She can identify with Lily and be much less frightened if she ever gets kidnapped herself!

The Day Daddy Killed his Old Aunt

Doesn’t this sound like the title of a serial killers testimony in court? I’m not sure if this is a memoir, or whether they got actors in for the front cover… but if it’s the latter, what are the chances they told the kids parents what they were modelling for? Don’t pretend you aren’t a little intrigued as to the plot-line of this one.

 

The Visit from Little Death

What is the problem? Do French children settle too easily at night? Do they laugh themselves to sleep so loudly that it’s keeping all the adults awake? Are they so very happy with their lot in life that parents think they wont cope in the real world? How can these books get the approval of not just agents and publishers and book stores, but the writers themselves? Oh yes, I write children’s books. Mainly horror aimed at toddlers. It’s wildly popular. Why don’t you try them out on your kids and see if we can start a trend. And don’t worry about bad dreams;  the French are already a step ahead in preparing for the inevitable.

My First Nightmare

On Mini-breaks, Mini-bars and no Mini-me in sight.

I just got back from a truly lovely night away with C for our 4 year anniversary. We left after putting R down to sleep, had dinner in a fancy restaurant, stayed at a nearby hotel, and came home mid morning. It was as decadent and thrilling a treat as 2 weeks in a 5* resort ever sounded pre-baby. (not that I ever stayed in a 5* resort pre baby. Roll on retirement.)

A fancy meal and a quiet hotel are special luxuries for most, even if there are no kids in the picture. And I’m sure I used to enjoy hotels for more than just the absence of babies. But the best parts of our 15 hour nano-break can all be linked back to the lack of tiny feet pattering on the lush carpet which I could eat complimentary biscuits over with no worry about the needless hoovering.

  • The packing.
    We took one small bag. With one change of clothes. Not 3 vests, 3 t-shirts, a jacket in case its cold, a spare pair of trousers, 2 pairs of socks in case he jumps in a muddy puddle because he thinks he is peppa pig, a hat and sunscreen as well as a coat and the raincover (thanks UK August) and the buggy and assorted toys and games and books and music CDs and playdoh, and snacks and back-up snacks.
    About 3 minutes before we left the house, I said to C, Oh-I haven’t packed. Hold on. I reached into my closet, made my choice, placed it on top of his spare shirt, and we left the house.
  • The thinking ahead.
    Travelling with a baby is no small feat, and it probably leaves most people more tired than if they had just stayed at home. You basically have to go through the entire holiday in advance hour by hour and think of any event which might occur so you can have a plan in place for it. Even then you find you haven’t thought of everything. Silly me, I haven’t brought plug cover protectors and for some unknown reason the plug sockets have inviting flashing lights on them. Thanks to whoever added that extra bonus feature, sincerely, parents everywhere.
  • The sheer grown-up-ness of it all.
    A true treat to walk into a hotel room and scan the room for the mini-bar thinking Ooo, I wonder what deliciousness lies within, as opposed to I hope there’s room for R’s milk in that tiny fridge… How lovely to ask for a deluxe room so that you can enjoy the space rather than squeeze in a travel cot. And how enjoyable it is to listen to music without headphones, or watch a movie outside of the bathroom because the lights and noise aren’t going to wake anyone up, even at the advanced hour of 8.45pm.
  • The morning.
    Once upon a time, I used to sleep. I slept recreationally as well as for health purposes. I slept sometimes three times a day, I could have slept for England if someone had the genius to make it a sporting event. It is a true testament to how much motherhood has changed me that I am about to brag about this. Today I woke up at 8.45am. And lay in bed until about 9.15. And then got up to the sound of… nothing. I got dressed at my leisure ( and all my clothes matched), had a slow and peaceful meal where no one threw Cheerios at my head, read a few chapters of my book, had a languid conversation with my husband that made total sense and was all in one sitting. I then looked at my watch to find that it was still Monday. Not only that, but it was about 10.30. Just to be clear, that amount of productivity and relaxation normally would take 3 days.
  • The simple not-being-at-home of it all. 
    Walking across a room without cursing at a piece of Lego crippling your feet, or stepping in an unexplained pool of suspiciously sticky liquid. Having time to yourself where you can move from one spot without fear of waking a child, or go to the bathroom without the grinning face of a toddler thinking it’s some kind of game for his own amusement. Eating a piece of chocolate without needing to share, making a cup of tea without checking where the kid is so you don’t spill boiling water on them (frowned upon apparently). Conversation!
    The list of delicious examples of things to escape is probably endless.

Which brought us to wonder (condescendingly) over our breakfast this morning…. Although it is clearly obvious why we opted to leave him at home for our nanobreak, why did we ever bother going to hotels before we had him? Aren’t all homes practically hotels pre-children? 😉

The Warm and Fuzzies

Me and my son had a moment this evening.

A moment can happen at any time, and with any person. With a partner or a spouse, it reminds you what made you fall in love in the first place, and brings you somehow closer, even if you didn’t think there was any space left to bridge. With a friend, it normally teaches you something about yourself as well as them, cements the relationship further, gives you reason to trust them even more with your thoughts and feelings. A moment normally comes when you least expect it, without much warning.

I’ve had plenty of experiences with my baby boy over the past two years that have made me smile, or laugh, or even cry tears of joy or sometimes relief that he is ours, exactly the way he is. But I wouldn’t say that we’ve had too many moments, where I just wish the world would stand still and let me remember that fragment of time exactly how it is in my mind at that second. If I could give my son some memories of his first years in this world, tonight would be one of them.

Try not to lose the emotion of the moment while I set the scene.

I was eating a chocolate digestive biscuit. As anyone with children will know, if am eating a chocolate digestive biscuit, so is R. I broke off a small piece and handed it to him, and within a nanosecond it was in his mouth and forgotten about as he reached out for a second piece. When the second sliver followed suit I knew I had to choose a different route to go down. I broke off one more small piece, about the size of a thumbnail, and handed it to him slowly, clearly telling him “No more! Last bit!” 

He looked at me. He looked at the biscuit seriously. His look said it all. This is the last piece of biscuit, possibly forever. He looked back at me and smiled. He clambered up next to me on the couch, leaned back so that his damp freshly washed head of hair was lying in the crook of my arm, and began to eat.

I say eat, but nothing was chewed or swallowed. He licked at the chocolate, sucked at the sides of the biscuit, and kept stopping to pass the small piece back and forth so he could lick his fingers clean. He had no inhibitions about making little baby sighs of pleasure as he savoured the immense treat he had in his tiny hands.

He lay there for 40 minutes. I haven’t had a cuddle that long with my son since he was 6 months old. It was not just the best 40 minutes of my day, but a front-runner for best 40 minutes of my adulthood. And I just watched him. Chocolate smeared onto my couch, I didn’t move to wipe it away. He licked the couch, I didn’t say a word. His newly bathed arms and face looked like Augustus Gloop after a swim in the chocolate rivers of Willy Wonka’s factory, I smiled lovingly in the way only a mother can be delighted by their child’s sticky mess. Cleaning I could do later. He was so happy.

At the end of the 40 minutes, he sat up, grinned at me, and passed me the now non-chocolate digestive non-biscuit. I picked him up and he snuggled into my shoulder while I sang his goodnight prayers and songs to him quietly. I placed him down into his cot with his baby bear, and he rolled over and closed his eyes instantly.

A lesson from my son today, I hope I can learn to savour an experience the way he savoured that thumbnail of chocolate biscuit. At the very least, I hope I can remember this moment again the next time he screams for two hours before settling, or spends the witching hour between supper and sleep-time throwing toys at my head. I will make the most of this deliciously warm and fuzzy feeling, as that ‘next time’ will probably be tomorrow.

War, apparently.

Can anyone think of something more passive-aggressive than a parent secretly hiding  ice cream in her child’s freezer, and then not mentioning it, when they are both on a full on diet?

While I’m aware that this is more amusing than pure evil, suggestions for an appropriate retaliation would still be great.