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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Cardinal Parenting Sins (and our dirty little secret).

Before I became a mother, like the rest of the childless world, I found certain behaviours by parents seriously annoying. I rolled my eyes, complained to other non-married’s, laughed at them behind their backs, and generally tried to ignore certain situations as best as I could. Don’t they know how irritating they are? I would wonder often.

Now that I have my own son, I see where I was confused. The big unspoken about secret is, there are just some ‘parent’ activities which we know no-one else finds interesting or amusing, even when they have kids of their own, and yet we just kind of… do them anyway.

Putting our babies ‘on the phone.’

If they are in fact a baby, they cant speak. We know that. We know that the best case scenario is that the caller might hear a slight gurgle or a coo, which we will then interpret as “well done! you said hello to grandma you clever thing!” Meanwhile, the caller probably had an actual reason for calling rather than to listen to absolute silence. If the child in question is a toddler, it is probably slightly better, but still, as a mother of a 2 year old, I know that even I have trouble understanding him face to face most of the time, let alone on the phone to someone else. And yet somehow, I find myself passing the phone to my son to have a ‘chat’ more often than not. At least I have the decency to use speaker-phone so the caller can at least cut short the fascinating interchange when they stop feeling polite.

Sharing identical photos.

This is Sammy on the swing. And now Sammy next to the swing. And OH, look at this, he’s trying to climb back into the swing, isn’t that adorable?
No, probably not. But we can definitely see a difference between baby aged 2 weeks sleeping with her eyes shut, and baby aged 3 and a half weeks sleeping with her eyes shut.

Loud kid shows.

You’re in Starbucks, not your living room. The rest of the world doesn’t want to hear what Peppa and George are up to, let alone your own child mimicking the lines back verbatim. We appreciate that your kid isn’t running wild underneath our table and knocking hot drinks into our laps, but seriously-if they cant sit quietly without a noisy smart phone, why are they in this restaurant in the first place? I can now answer this one. I also used to be of the opinion that there was a child-friendly age for adult haunts, and a distinctly un-friendly age, which is where all such outings should cease immediately. I probably even wrote a blog to that effect about a year ago. But hey, we must all admit we are wrong sometimes, and I am willingly eating humble pie on this one. While I still think it’s appalling when toddlers run riot around ANY adult serving place, (kid-friendly or otherwise) I also now know the mutant-human I become if I am not allowed the minimum amount of adult conversation on a weekly basis that doesn’t take place around strangers’ evil kids or whispered during a baby music class. If this means that someone has to sit a couple tables further away so they aren’t distracted by Fireman Sam…? So be it. Just be grateful I’ve given him the show to watch in the first place. And that you get to go home and leave it behind.

Stories involving bodily functions.

No. Stop it. All of you. Even your spouse probably doesn’t want to hear about this, but at least they are forced genetically to be involved and somewhat interested in matters pertaining to your offspring. At an absolute stretch, best friends who are also parents can be involved. Woman sitting near you at soft play? Absolutely not. This one I am not guilty of. As a general rule, if you need to start the sentence by saying “Sorry if this is TMI…” it probably is.

You don’t mind if he….?

Presses the lift button/ the pedestrian crossing light/ the self service tills, etc etc.
No, not at all. If he can do it as quickly as I would do it myself. Do I want to wait by the side of the road for the longest 15 seconds of my life while he stands up on tip-toes for almost long enough each time to reach the damn button? I could be across by now. (Not to mention the dirty look I get for not waiting for the green man in front of impressionable children if I dare to dart over the crossing while your child is messing about.)
Even as a parent myself, I doubt I could stand patiently sharing the same lift space as a child who has been ‘allowed’ to press number 4, and has actually pressed all the numbers from zero, making our journey pointlessly and frustratingly longer.
And I hold a special place on my list for something I will never be guilty of. Parents who let children scan items on self-service checkouts. Lets be honest, most adults cant use those efficiently, so why are you delegating the task over to a ball of dribble while I stand here waiting to use the till?
Having said all this…. Even while I remember the angry feelings I had pre=parenthood, I do think it’s adorable to let R press the lift/crossing buttons, and I do kind of ignore pained smiles from other people in the vicinity when I do so.

So don’t worry folks, next time you see one of us committing one of these (or many many other) cardinal parenting sins, just remember: We are not oblivious. We know we are alternately boring you half to death or driving you up the wall. We’re just doing it anyway.

Hope that helps. 😉

happy meal

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.

Four’s a Crowd

Me and my mother don’t really argue any more. We have ‘near-fights’ instead. They are similar to how women generally argue, ie: it doesn’t seem like we’re fighting, but we are. Women can be smiling, laughing, talking in an un-serious tone, and yet be having a huge fight at the same time. It’s all about the subtext. So it is with the two of us. We’ve got really quite good at not ignoring each other, or storming off in a huff, or shouting in public any more. But we still say mean things, or start a controversial topic knowing it wont end well, or say things in a sing-song happy voice which we know will grate on the other’s nerves. All part of the process, we’ll get there eventually.

Today we had a ‘near-fight’ about something which I think people will have  opinions over. So I’m going to throw it into the public domain and see what I get back, even though I know some people may disagree with me.

While out and about running errands together, I mentioned what we’d done at the weekend. By we, I mean myself, my husband and our 1yo. We went fruit picking. I didn’t say anything else. My entire sentence was “We went fruit picking at the weekend.” I’m not sure what I expected as a response, maybe “That’s fun-where did you go?” or “How nice, what did you pick?” or “Did R enjoy it, was he old enough?” etc. Basically I was just starting a conversation, and sharing-as I’ve heard people do with their parents once they’ve left home and lost the teenage secretiveness. Maybe I wanted to tell her how we went home afterwards and made strawberry ice cream together, or how the blender woke up R in a frantic state and it took an hour to get him settled again.

I didn’t get to say any of the above however, because the response I got was so negative. “Oh…. I would have loved to go fruit picking.” 

What can I say to that? Should I have said I’m sorry? Should I have said “next time we’ll invite you along then”? Should I have ignored the comment entirely and just carried on with the ice cream part?

Obviously I did nothing like the above, I got irritated and asked why she would answer like that, (putting her on the frightened defensive) and told her how the 3 of us rarely get a chance to go out as a family together (making her feel excluded of course) and that it’s not like every time we go out the house I think how lovely it would be if my mother joined us (making her feel like I dislike her company) and gave her a list of answers she should have said instead (making her feel condescended to). Her response was “you have so many lovely outings, and I have nothing.”

I did all the wrong things, and by the time we parted company, things were stilted and awkward, and ‘near-fight-like’ and no progress had been made. But I don’t think I’m wrong for the underlying point. Surely it’s fine for C and I to take our son out for family day-trips or outings just the 3 of us, without worrying about her not being there? It’s not our responsibility to invite her along every time we’re doing something she might also enjoy.

It’s not that we don’t ever want our parents with us. We spend lots of time together, and I told her that it would be lovely if she thought of something fun to do, and she phoned us up during the week asking if we wanted to do that on the next available day we all had. (she never would.) But nevertheless, if we make a plan, and carry it through, and have some much needed ‘the three of us’ time, I’m not going to feel like I have to keep it a secret because anyone else may feel left out. Especially when it is something that can so easily be replicated again anyway.

I know that at some point in our lives, our parents are meant to stop looking after us, and we start looking out for them instead. For some, it starts earlier than others, and certainly some of the older generation have more of a ‘life’ than others and so need it less. But I think we can only take responsibility for them so far, even if we do empathise with their loneliness. If a person chooses not to ask for what they want, or not to find the means and drive to do the activities they enjoy, it’s not up to their children to do it all for them. And it certainly doesn’t seem fair to make your kids feel bad for having that ‘get up and go’ which they themselves lack.

Pacifying thoughts

The topic of dummies, or pacifiers, is a strangely heated one among parents. I recently had a conversation with a friend who claims to be from an ‘anti-dummy family.’ After thinking about this concept for a while, I have to say, I’m a little bit stumped.

I think most people agree that after a certain age, dummies are detrimental to a child. Teeth, speech and the normal development of a babies mouth, all need the ability to move freely without the hindrance of what past the age of a year basically becomes a plastic stopper. I see so many parents misusing this object, using it to effectively keep their kids quiet when they are too busy to give full attention, or avoid working out what is actually bothering the child.

It might come as a surprise therefore, that despite that strong view, I am a huge fan of pacifiers. And I don’t really understand why in young children anyone isn’t. In all baby books that I’ve read (which is a few- 9 months of pregnancy is a long time folks) they talk about the babies innate sucking reflex which we are all born with. For some babies, it isn’t very strong, and is fulfilled by nursing or drinking bottles. For others, they quickly find their thumbs or hands, or a favoured toy, and the need is satisfied with those. Some babies however, have such a strong instinct to suck, and gain comfort through sucking, that they want something all day long.

My son was born with a mighty sucking reflex, and after 4 weeks of being a human dummy, I had had enough. Society had made me into one of I’m sure many “anti-dummy people” who actually don’t know much about it at all. I had heard that it would interfere with feeding, (not that it was going so brilliantly anyway) and that it damaged teeth and speech and made your baby feel unwanted. I knew with the certainty often felt by people who actually dont know anything, that if I gave him a pacifier, I would spend months and possibly years bribing him away from it, and teaching him to sleep again. So whatever current hell I was in, what was the point?

But at 6 weeks, when I realised that our baby was spending 20 hours of the day either feeding from me or with one of his parents pinky fingers on the roof of his mouth, I took a trip to the local supermarket and faced down the literally ridiculous choice of baby soothers available. (By the way, if everyone is so anti-dummy… who is buying all these?)

And then, I got educated. After reading what the ‘experts’ had to say about the pros and cons of using a soother, I gave R a dummy during the day, and tried my best not to let him use it to help him fall asleep (although I did give it to help him resettle in the night). I offered it when I wanted to stretch out the gap between bottles, but never before checking that any other reason for his crying wasn’t satisfied. Lastly, at about 5 and a half months, after 2 nights in a row where he needed it to fall asleep, I Took It Away. At six months, he remembered for a few days, and then forgot that it ever existed.

And here is what really confuses me. I hear so many parents saying that they either cant give a dummy or cant lose a dummy because they “cant take it away” from their child. But it’s a baby! You’re the parent! All they know is what you do. If you are really doing it for your kids best interest, surely you can choose a time and stick to it. Yes, we had a hard couple of days while he adjusted to not having it, and learned new ways of setting himself, but by six months, a baby no longer has a sucking reflex. So they might love it, want it, cry without it, but they simply dont need it.

A child of two or three is a whole different ball game. Not only is it by now doing more damage to your toddler than the good it was doing to your newborn, but it must be near on impossible to take away. Toddlers, unlike babies, have opinions and great memories, and I would imagine can drive you mad for weeks or months demanding you return what is rightfully theirs.

My point I suppose, is that once your feeding is established after a month, and before your kid is old enough to get stubborn between 9m to a year, surely a pacifier is simply just whats on the tin; something to help comfort and calm your baby if they need it. While I used to be firmly swayed by their bad rep, I’m now happily in the “where’s the harm?” camp.

These are all only my thoughts, and what worked for us, so please don’t take anything personally as I know I’ve chosen a controversial topic. As a mother who started off ‘anti-dummy’ I just thought I might provide a happy compromise for those parents who are currently walking around the house rocking a baby with their pinkies indisposed.