Half Term Horror

I am about to say some horrible things about children. Some of them may be your own children, some of them may be the kids of friends or neighbours. Just to be clear, despite what I’m about to say, they are all pretty much innocent in this particular rant. This angry diatribe (for that’s what I’m intending to write) is going to be at the very least 95% aimed towards Parents.

Let me also add the disclaimer that I know we are all currently in the difficult world of Half Term. From seeing our kids for a manageable several hours in a day, we are suddenly ‘blessed’ with their presence from 7am-7pm, and that’s if they’re good sleepers. It is really hard to find things to do with them all day every day, and because we all have the same problem at the same time, the mayhem is accentuated by the sheer number of us dealing with the frustration en masse.

(OH, side point. Genius idea just occurred to me. Enforced staggered half terms. Who would this NOT benefit?

1.) Nowhere would be busy for one isolated week a term, which would mean parents could actually look forward to time spent with kids.
2.) All employees wouldn’t be looking for childcare or taking holiday at once, making these situations more manageable in the work-place.
3) there wouldn’t be one random point where flights/ trips etc were more expensive, making it impossible to do family trips of any kind without crippling yourself in the process.

I’m going to move on now, but if anyone in the government is listening, please pass this on to an education minister of your choice. )

Despite the difficulties that the world of Half-Term is inflicting on us, I have to say (with my judge-y hat firmly on my head) some behaviours are totally unacceptable. The following all involve the under 5’s area at soft play where I was unfortunate enough to spend my afternoon. To make things fair, I am only going to list things which I saw today with my own eyes, exhibited more than once, by more than one family.

It is not okay to drop your two year old off, and then disappear off to the other side of the venue to have a coffee with your mates. Why is it suddenly my job to be wandering around the place (ignoring my own toddler I might add) because your kid is crying and you are nowhere to be found?

It is not okay to let your 6 or 7 year old into the under 5’s section, even if it is to ‘look after’ a younger sibling. No. That’s your job. When your six year old starts behaving like… er.. a SIX year old, ignoring your younger child to bound and play all over the area specifically designed for younger kids, scaring them off the climbing frames and knocking them over with enthusiasm, please don’t tell me that he’s just ‘looking after his sister’, because he isn’t! And he shouldn’t have to be. You should be in here, like the rest of us, rather than on the phone in the corner, and he should be in the over 5’s area, y’know, where OVER 5’S can play unrestricted? Your older child is not your baby sitter.

It is not okay to hear your own shoe bag number being called over the loudspeaker that your two hours are up, and proceed to SWAP bags unbeknown to another family so that you don’t have to leave! Believe it or not, I saw this THREE times in the space of my own two hours. One of the mothers in question seemed to be telling on the family she had stitched up! One mother even got her son to do the swapping. What on earth are you teaching your kids? That rules don’t have to be followed? That deception is a clever way to get what you want? That lying pays?

On a similar theme, it is not okay to tell your child to lie if anyone asks how old they are, (clearly not 4) or to let your kid sit at the top of the slide for EIGHT MINUTES while a queue of kids line up behind him and you coo “aww, he’s a bit frightened” from the bottom, or for that matter to shout “Yayyy!” as your twins climb up the slide so that no-one can use it. It is not okay to not be watching as your enormously bratty princess throws balls at my son’s face to “try and knock off his glasses” (ok that only happened once but I feel it’s worth a mention) or as your kids play a game self explanatorily titled “Jump on baby.”

I think we have an obvious theme here. Soft play is NOT free child care. It is a place that you can take your kids, and play with them. At best, parents would be interacting and initiating play with their toddlers, encouraging them to share and participate with other kids, and get the most out of a child-friendly experience.

But come on. Surely the least we can expect as fellow parents is that you simply show up and watch them.

softplay

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Big Kids Don’t Cry

All children cry. Obviously some more than others, and for varied reasons, but crying is a natural and normal part of a kids life. For babies and often toddlers who are pre-speech, it is the only way they can express how they are feeling, or tell you that something is wrong. For older kids, who have not yet learned to control their emotions, even ‘small’ events can push them to tears, especially if helped along by over-tiredness or unusual circumstances. Crying in older children can also be seen as useful as it leads to helping behaviour from adults and peers.

Apparently, until adolescence, no difference in crying behaviour is found between men and women, which suggests that it is at that point that people start discouraging tears. “Come on, don’t cry” “Cheer up” “Be a man” etc. With that in mind, as a definite adult, I feel a slight twinge of embarassment to admit the following.

I cry all the time. I’m not saying this to elicit any particular sympathy, and let me assure you that my life is pretty awesome most of the time. To make this clearer, I can remember at least three crying episodes induced by potatoes of varied kinds. There’s not much empathy to be had there is there? [Unless of course, you are an Irish farmer.] I cry like a toddler does, simply because I am sad about something, and generally over-tired most of the time.

With this in mind, when I read the somehow scientifically agreed fact that “women cry on average between 30 and 64 times a year” I have to tell you the following substantiated fact about myself. “If I didn’t cry yesterday I will probably do so tomorrow.” That makes my magic number about 182.5.

Shocking!

No need to call me up tomorrow friends to make sure I’m okay, because I most definitely cried yesterday. At soft play of all places.

I was playing with R in the under 5’s area, and was pleased as punch because he was showing some independence climbing up the steps, through the tunnel, over the bridge, (dont forget to hit the dangly foam bits) and up to the slide. At that point he would look with trepidation at the slide, shake his head and follow his previous route back the way he came, over the bridge, (hit the dangly foam bits) through the tunnel, down the steps (dont worry about other kids climbing up-just power through) and starting the whole process again.

Up until now at this particular soft play, I have done the course along with him, putting him on my lap for the slide part, and helping him ‘man up’ to become more and more able to go it alone. This was the first day where he ran ahead to climb up without a backwards glance. [nope, I didn’t well up from the emotion of it all. Stop guessing.]

Right by the tunnel, are a few larger than average steps, with harder than average mats on them, supposedly for older kids who are braver than necessary for the regular connected log steps. When standing, a toddler cannot fall, as the gap is too small, but when sitting …

R was sitting facing away from the gap by the tunnel, too cowardly to push past the other kids, and waiting for his own turn to go through the tunnel, much like a tentative early driver might let masses of cars into his lane, too scared to push forward. As I watched from below, in slow motion he shuffled himself backwards, and I knew what would happen before it did. He fell backwards in one movement, landing on his back on the next step, glasses askew and screaming with all his might at the shock. As I took the log steps two at a time, I watched him struggle upwards, causing him to fall again onto the next one! I grabbed at his hand, desperate for it to not happen for a third time, trying to squeeze myself into the toddler sized gap to get to my baby boy. (Imagine if this had happened a year ago, I would still be wedged in this evening. ;)) The look on my face must have been pretty freaked out.

And then it happened. All the mums started doing the worst possible thing they could do. Laughing? Shouting at me? Throwing ball pond balls at me? No such luck. They began to be…Nice.

“Oh don’t worry, he’s fine!”
“He just got a shock, he’s okay darling!”
“Oh poor you, here are his glasses, should I get him some juice?”

And here come the waterworks. I really think I could have held it together without all the kind words and sympathetic glances. But my own shock, mixed with his tears and fear, and off I went like Niagra falls.

And I can’t help it. It was all over with a packet of Florida Naturals and a kiss and a cuddle, (R calmed down pretty quickly too..) certainly forgotten about by the time we got to the car. But  when something upsets me, I cry!

I’m not sure what event in adolescence I missed out on that was supposed to teach me how to save my tears for the bi-monthly saddest situations in my year, but I pretty much meet my quota from watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Men on the other hand open the floodgates between 6 and 17 times a year. Given that R can pretty much reach that target by lunchtime, I guess he has some work to do to be considered a ‘real man’ by adolescence.

“I know my kid’s a brat, who do you think she learnt it from?”

I was asked recently if I would tell off someone else’s child.

Tough one.

This is one of those situations where I think it doesn’t make a difference how close you are to the person in question. If you don’t know them that well (or at all) then you’re the evil stranger who is telling off their child… But if you do know them, then what kind of friend / relative are you to be telling off their child?

Firstly, I would never dream of telling a child off for what might call ‘bad behaviour’ in my own kids. I’ve witnessed scenes like this, and no-one takes it well. I’ve seen adults commenting on other kids table manners, (I think it’s so refreshing that you don’t mind him talking with his mouth full!Play skills, (Don’t you think she’s had a long enough turn?) and language (Oooh, where did she learn to talk like that?) with disastrous consequences for the relationships with the parents in question. There is generally no reason at all to comment on someone else’s kid’s behaviour when keeping quiet would have no effect on your own children.

I would even say this is true when it is affecting you. You’re an adult; just try and get over the fact that little Timmy is kicking you under the table / drew all over your carpet / spat your lasagne onto the floor. But what to do when the behaviour is affecting your kids? 

I have always been of the opinion that most things can be said tactfully to the parents, and in agreement that parenting should be left to parents, not well meaning observers. I would say (well…hope) that in at least fifty percent of cases, especially when you know the person, parents know that kids all misbehave and will at the very least stop their child from hurting yours in that particular instance. If you still find it awkward bringing it up, you can always opt for vague statements/questions that make the other parent stop what they’re doing and notice the event occurring. These need a subtle degree of acting, and include:

  • Oooh.. What’s happening there? I missed it, who was playing with that toy first? (Translation: Notice that your kid just took his favourite bear please.)
  • Oh sweetheart, did you bump your head? That’s so strange, I didn’t see you fall over… (Translation: Because he didn’t. Your kid pushed him.)
  • How lovely that you can give -insert childs name- two biscuits, that would ruin my own kids appetite. (Translation: Pay attention you lax parent, she just stole my son’s cookie.)

But what about the other times, where you come across either complete strangers who don’t care about you and your kid, or parents who are just frankly bad at parenting? All parents come across other mums and dads who basically use soft play / libraries and the like as babysitting services, and are nowhere to be seen while their toddlers wreak havoc. There are even some parents who will watch with rose coloured glasses as their kids kick and punch their way to their favoured toys.

You can’t force them to discipline their child, but you cant really ignore the situation either once your own kid is old enough to point out the injustice. Apart from anything else, surely without getting some acknowledgement from the other side, you are condoning the behaviour in your own child.

First step always has to be try approaching the parent as above. I once was at a soft play with R, not long after he got his glasses. He was about 15 months. Another child, around 2 years old was following his army crawl around the area, pulling them off his face and laughing. I ignored it twice, and then (knowing how difficult it is to get a baby to wear glasses to begin with) looked for the mum. Spotting her, I gave her a friendly smile and said “Sorry! (why did I apologize?!) your little girl keeps taking my baby’s glasses.. do you mind to watch her?” which I thought was possibly the nicest way of asking that question humanly possible.

The mother scowled angrily at me, and replied, “Well, it was your choice to put your baby in glasses” and then turned away. I was actually flabbergasted, and felt absolutely no qualms in giving the little girl an evil glance and a slightly sharp “you mustn’t take his glasses, he needs them to see” the next time she approached him.

From then on, I always approach the parent as nicely as possible first, and then if they are entirely useless, have no concern in saying something to the child themselves.

So there we have it parents of the world. (Bearing in mind the golden rules so we don’t all get thrown in jail: Absolutely no touching, shouting or swearing at kids other than your own!) You now have my permission to tell off other people’s children, only when they are mistreating your own and when their parents are being brattier than they are.

This of course includes mine, I plan on ignoring R locally tomorrow if anyone wants to pop by and give him a good talking to.

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? 😉

Holiday Musings

Hello from our holidays.

We are in sunny Israel, (although it rained today-very pleasant actually) and are enjoying several blog posts worth of home truths about traveling with babies. All I have to say is there should be a new word for it, because it isnt called a holiday if you’re doing exactly what you do at home on a non-work day, just in another location. Because while it’s lovely having a day or two off work, it is not the same as a holiday.

Holidays (at least in my lucky experience) entail long lie-ins, late romantic dinners, spontaneous trips to exotic locations, exploring new areas and little if any responsibilities.

Someone should teach my son a little holiday spirit.

Lets tick them off one by one.

Lie in’s
We had a plan folks. London time. If he was two hours ahead of us for the whole trip, then he would always sleep in until 9, (laughable that this has become a lie in, but we were happy to accept it.) and he wouldnt get grouchy when he had to stay up later for family engagements. Well, he is thoroughly enjoying staying up until ten or eleven at night….and yet has been waking on the dot of 7 each morning! Blackout the room? Tried it. Our son has stolen someone’s early riser genetic make-up. Feel free to claim if you’re missing it.

Late romantic dinners.
Sigh. I even accept that he has to join us for the meals. But why does he just stuff the food into his face so quickly that we haven’t even touched our main course? And romantic? Sure, if having a plate of mac and cheese thrown on your new sandals is romantic.

Spontaneity
There’s only so spontaneous you can be with an 18month olds copious luggage in tow. The most spur of the moment we get is “Oooh, in three hours after his nap and his snack, lets hope he is in a good enough mood to let us drive to a pre decided baby friendly spot for a half hour excursion until he gets bored”

Exploring new places
Babies dont like new places. At least mine doesnt. So while it is lovely to spot the differences between the soft plays and baby gyms on this side of the world and the ones back home, it is hardly a massive change of scene.

Responsibilities
Babies are for keeps, not just for at home folks. They come with you everywhere! They still need getting up and changing and feeding and cuddling and looking after, and they will still get the chicken pox and ruin your plans of fun days out and carefree sunny activities. If anything, they are more confused and tired and out of sorts than ever, so the responsibility part of parenting kind of triples when not at home.

So it’s not that were not having a great time, because we really are. And if you other parents imagine a week of just Sundays you’ll know what I mean. I just think we should appeal to the Oxford English Dictionary for a new word for parents. Because ‘holiday’ seems to be checked in at the entrance to the delivery room.