The Usual Suspects of Rhyme Time

It’s been a while since I’ve observed and blogged a usual suspects post, but this one has been on my mind for a while. There are a few different types of baby and toddler groups that all mums who don’t work full time will try to frequent. The paid, term time classes tend to be quite structured and organised, they normally involve committing to coming every week for a term or more, and therefore you quickly get to know the other mothers and babies, as well as whoever is leading the group.

That’s not the kind of groups I’m talking about today. I mean the drop in, sometimes free, often council provided, in a library or community centre type of class. It may be called Rhyme Time, Stay and Play, Mummy and Me classes, Bright Beginnings, but you get the drift.

The availability of such classes is amazing, and I’m sure most new or first time mums would find it hard to cope without a cheap and local place to spend some time with other adults and their kids. Added to this, like any situation where you are in a closed space with strangers, there can be some interesting and entertaining moments to be found. So join me, and humour me, while I put on my judge-y cap and point out some colourful characters that I often see on mine and R’s travels.

The Awkward Assistant
I’ve seen it be a teenage girl on work experience, or a middle aged librarian. I’ve seen elderly ladies who should have long ago retired, or a guy who thought the silence involved in working in a library would mean he didn’t have to speak to anyone. But they all have one thing in common; they have no idea what they’re doing. Too shy to ask the bolshy woman why she’s taken two tickets for the group when she only has one child? Too nervous to stop a toddler from wandering out the electronic doors? Too incompetent to count the correct number of heads in a stationary line? You’ve found them.

The Lackadaisical Au-pair.
This type often moves in groups of the same species, and can be identified by the fact that they are rarely looking in the direction of the kids in their charge. They chat to each other mostly in their native tongue, which makes sense except it means that they normally have a bored looking baby spacing out on their laps. These type of groups are easy for them to go to, and therefore they continue to frequent them even when the kids are really not age appropriate for the activities provided. Spot a ten year old girl sullenly fiddling with a toddler jigsaw? I can guarantee you wont find her mother there.

The Awkward Child/Oblivious Parent
Oblivious parents are seen everywhere. They let their kids run off without supervision, they prefer to sit still in one place and hope the kid comes back, and they very rarely notice what’s happened in a tumble or collision.
Awkward kids are the kind that are just that bit too friendly, climbing into your lap when you’ve never met them before, or bringing you the entire contents of the Lego box piece by piece until you are crushed under the weight.
When you put these two together? Dangerous combo. The child is busy desperately trying to get attention from you, (how sad that they already realise there isn’t any point petitioning the parent) but you have your own kid to watch, and frankly-you didn’t come there to entertain someone else’s! Do you say something to the parent, who is nonchalantly scanning the room blankly, avoiding your gaze? Do you keep removing the kid who clings to you like a limpet, and start ignoring them too? If anyone knows the correct etiquette for that one-do tell.

The Bully
I know we’re supposed to believe that all kids are born innocent and lovely, and that everything they do that seems like pure evil is really just a phase… but I’m not too sure. Whether you want to believe that their shortcomings are the fault of the parents, or that they were born that way, there is something just not nice about that child. Nature/Nurture debate aside, why is no one telling that boy to stop throwing sand in everyone’s eyes? Why is the mother taking photos of her little girl snatching the drum stick and using it sword-like to poke other kids until they fall to the ground? And.. did she just laugh and point at the baby who is now crying in pain? Scan the room and watch the rest of the parents lead their kids by the shoulders to a different area, and don’t feel bad when you catch their eyes and silently thank heaven for your normal discipline issues.

Also to be found in such scenarios, is the Over-helpful Leader who asks just a few too many personal questions about your family structure, gives advice when it hasn’t been asked for, and keeps coming over to make sure you’re all having a lovely time. The Screaming Crying Kid, whose parents really need to just take him home, and stop him spoiling the activity for the rest of us, and Over-Indulged Child who has enough snacks and extra toys to draw jealous looks from everyone else’s kids (which is only going to lead to them asking us for non-existent treats and getting rightfully tearful at the unfairness of life when we turn them down).
Also on display for the lucky viewer, is Freakishly Bright Girl (its always a girl) who rotates her appearance and skills, but can be found doing any of the following list: Walking at 7 months, Chatting full sentences at a year, naming and choosing colours at 18 months, using the building blocks to make a replica of St Paul’s Cathedral, etc etc. She is usually accompanied by Smug Parent who obviously doesn’t realise that not only do none of us care that our toddlers haven’t memorised the periodic table yet, but also that their kid isn’t even that cute. more annoying.

Please do share if you think of any others!

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Carousel Conflict

I don’t mean those big merry go rounds you find at travelling fairgrounds. The ones with the giant horses that go up and down which are fun for about twelve seconds before you start to feel nauseous. I mean the teeny tiny kids sized ones you find outside of supermarkets and in malls, meant to placate your kids into thinking the grocery shop or browsing excursion was in any way meant for their own amusement.

We have a couple such rides at our local shops, and R is completely at the right age to find them fascinating. I often see small babies placed on them, with parents looking eagerly at their little nonplussed faces, camera phones at the ready, while the baby in question continues sucking its hand or gazing into the semidistance in total disinterest. The parents-unwilling to admit they just wasted the extortionate sum of money paid, start pulling faces and making noises to elicit the desired smile or giggle. When successful, and photo snapped, they consider the job well done and no doubt head off to develop the photo and frame one of many pictures in every parents home which basically depict a lie. Ruby had so much fun on the merry go round today-just look at her little face!

Slightly older kids have the opposite problem to poor bored Ruby. Too much excitement. When R was about a year, he loved the rides probably even more than he does now. But all that excitement, expressed mainly with clapping and bouncing, meant that he was constantly on the verge of falling out of the mini seats as they went round and round. (Why are they open like that? How much could they possibly save by omitting doors in the design-and surely any saving is offset by lawsuits anyway?) It basically meant I had to dance like a moron around with him as it rotated, holding him up or filling the gap so that he didn’t land on his head every 4 seconds. Fun for R? Maybe. But far too few photo opportunities to prove what a fun mum I am, and certainly no fun for dizzy ol’ me.

I am pretty certain that in a few months time, he will pass the age where he enjoys monotonous music and repetitive motion, and the rides will be boring once again, so I am taking as much advantage as possible of these few enjoyable weeks where I can snap away to my hearts content while he smiles and makes happy noises and presses the buttons and turns the steering wheel correctly and has a whale of a time for about 45 seconds and what can reasonably be called the cost of a small property.

But this precious time is being spoiled for me by the pure evil of The Other Parents.

I can guarantee you that they have a plan. When I get to the shopping mall, they are nowhere to be seen. The aisles are empty of pushchairs, I can hear no whining or pleading in my earshot, and there is certainly no one waiting for or participating in a ride. But they are there. Skulking in the dark corners of the shopping centre, these parents wait until they hear the clink of the pound coins falling into the machine, and then jump out with their toddler, avoiding all eye contact, and placing their kids onto the adjacent seat.

NO. For those unfamiliar with the concept, normally the rides have about 3 seats, which all move together. By putting in my coins, I have paid for all three seats. They are mine. I own them for the next minute. If you want to use one… it is not only polite, but it is only legal to ask me first! And to pay me half of what I have put in for that matter. If I wanted to give your kids a free ride I would have offered. You might say why does it matter, I’m not using all three seats, but I think anyone with a toddler will attest to the fact that they may in fact want to change seats midway, possibly multiple times. All of which is besides the point, it’s the principle, you just haven’t paid for the ride!

Why do I feel so awkward telling them to cough up or get off? I know that it is unfair, and I know that they are trying it on by either avoiding eye contact or giving me those brazen smiles. I also know that if I just summoned up the courage to say “that will be £x please” they would probably all stump up the cash. But it’s just so embarrassing asking actual strangers for their money. And as it is normally quite a small amount, it makes me look like the tightest person ever!

This is becoming one of London’s most heinous parenting crimes. And yet it is an increasingly socially acceptable form of thievery. Well I’m not putting up with it any more. The next parent that carousel-jacks my son is getting asked straight out, to dig deep or move on.

If I can summon up the courage that is.

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.

Restaurant Etiquette: The “No-no’s”

Kids in restaurants. I witnessed a spirited debate on this topic recently, and as always, would love to get my two cents in. (By the by, do Americans say two pennies in?)

It is a sometimes unfortunate fact of life, that once you have children, you are never alone. They follow you to the bathroom, they share your breakfast, and can generally be found clinging to your legs as you attempt to continue with life as you vaguely remember it. So it makes sense, that unless you are surrendering completely to the whims of the tiny humans, they will sometimes need to be in an eating establishment with you. However, if you are there, chances are that the eatery in question is open. Which means that other people are there also. And therein lies the problem.

Because you know how adorable it is when your LO makes that high pitched squealing noise that he just learned this week, and you’re busy storing the exact words she is gabbling to a stranger at the next table so you can recount the episode to your other half that evening, and you’re definitely super proud of your kid for getting almost a whole spoonful of that macaroni cheese into their mouth and swallowed.. But everyone else? Here’s a secret. They want you to go home.

Unless the restaurant in question is one of those where your seat comes with crayons to draw on the tablecloth, and there is a mini play area in the corner, it is not child friendly enough. Even if it is cheap, or not particularly fancy, that does not equal “Oh, my kids can run free in here.”

Some people are blessed with the kind of children who will sit at a table, or be placated with food for long periods of time. This means that you can often squeeze a quick lunch with a friend into your day. Congratulations. You are in the minority. For those of us who dont, restaurants are simply not an option most of the time. When with our kids, we prefer to meet our friends at the library, or walking around a shopping mall, or at one of our own houses.

I’m going to give all the parents I see in restaurants with their kids the benefit of the doubt, and say that you must all be blessed with those former types of children. (You’re not.) But I know, that even the best behaved of children have off days, or days when they have ants in their pants. As a parent, this should not be a surprise to you. Theyre kids. Why would they want to sit and listen to you gossip and catch up with a friend? Why would they want to people watch from a highchair when there are so many new things to intefere with, only metres away?

In my opinion, as you obviously cannot pick and choose when your kid decides to throw a tantrum, you only have two choices when all hell breaks loose. You can either quickly pay, apologise to your friend and leave the restaurant, or you can excuse yourself with your kid for a few minutes, and take them on a walk outside the door, or for a run around in the mall play area, or whatever is nearby, and then try again in a while. Although it may seem obvious, here are just a few of the things you CANT do. (All of which I have seen so many times in public that it seems to have become the norm.)

  • Let them ‘cry it out.’
    Babies in restaurants are notoriously difficult. You thought they would sleep, you thought the bottle would tire them out, you thought they would fall asleep on the walk there.. Disaster, they are still awake, and don’t want to be lying in a pram while you stuff ravioli in your mouth as fast as you can. People around you are paying for the environment as well as the food. Unfortunately, whether it means your food gets cold or not, you should be rocking the pram keeping your baby quiet, or outside the shop, apologies once again to the friend, soothing them properly. Crying it out techniques are for home, where only your own ears are being assailed.
  • Let them ‘run off some steam’
    How how how can you sit there talking to your lunch date while your toddlers are running in between other peoples tables and chairs? I don’t care if it is a Michelin starred eatery or a Pizza Express, this is not appropriate restauraunt behaviour. If they need to move about, it is your responsibility to be with them at all times, and not ‘watching from across the room’ with them, but actually physically standing holding their hand or looking after them. After all, I’m pretty sure you would be the first to complain if there was an accident.
  • Let them ‘go chat to strangers’
    I’m sure your daughter is gorgeous, and very intelligent for her age. But if I’d come out to talk to a toddler, and hear her sing me twinkle twinkle little star, I would be scouting out the local playground, not ordering steak and chips. Obviously it is cute for a minute or two when a child smiles or waves or repeats something funny, but again, your kid = your responsibility, you should be removing her from my table ASAP. Apart from anything else, weirdo’s and child snatchers have to eat sometime too.
  • Let them come out to dinner
    If it is 9pm at night, of COURSE they are being little terrors. They are exhausted! Time and time again I see children who sometimes arent even old enough to know whats flying, sitting around a crowded and noisy restaurant table with their famillies, late into the evening, when they obviously should be asleep. Special occasion or otherwise, there are always babysitters available, and your child should be in bed right now.

There are many other problems which are certain to arise when taking kids out to eat, and we cant pre-empt them all. Even the most organised mum, who has brought extra snacks, crayons, entertainment, a sleepy kid, an extra bottle, or all of the above, can be caught out. That lack of freedom to just socialise when you want, just comes with the territory of motherhood. When looking across the room at a flustered parent, trying desperately to soothe an angry and bored toddler, I don’t blame her, it’s really hard!

Who I do blame however, is the parent who doesnt realise it is simply time to go. The one who is willfully ignoring her running or shouting progeny, or spouting one-liners such as “Oh, he’s just a kid, what do you expect?”

You’re right. He is just a kid. But contrary to your behaviour, you’re actually an adult.

I’d love to hear opinions on this one! Agree/Disagree? Any other inappropriate restaurant behaviour I’ve missed?

Language creates reality.

I went out on a playdate this week with a friend and her son. Although they are a few months apart, they are at similar stages, and it was really cute to watch them playing together. By together, I mean in the same room, as babies of this age seem to entirely ignore each other as much as possible. But still, cute.

Our boys are on different sides of a year and a half, and until recently, neither had shown any interest in walking. Given that this is not late and not early, certainly for me the difficulty of a still crawling child was more in how heavy he is to lug everywhere, and the necessity to take a buggy or a husband with for even the quickest and easiest of trips.

However, while we were out, another mother, standing nearby and observing our lightning fast crawlers, asked how old our kids were. Upon hearing our answer, she replied “Gosh, all these late walkers!”

Er.. Do you want a slap?

At the time, I settled for walking away, mentally adding another face to my “Wow I don’t like you” list. Today, it’s progressed to annoyance and the need to vent. Ok, so your kid walked at 13 months, well done you. It doesnt make you a better mother, and it doesnt make your kid any cleverer. It doesnt mean anything at all in fact.

A statement like that, however innocently meant, can only serve to make another parent worried about their own childs development, and especially in a situation like ours, entirely pointlessly. 18 months give or take, is not a ‘late walker.’ We all worry enough about our kids and the milestones they are hitting. Is this too early? Is this too late? Are they doing things well enough or quickly enough? What we need from other mums, is support. And often sympathy.

How strange that if she had said “Gosh, he must be getting heavy!” The same message would have come across but I would not be annoyed at all. Rather than hear a self-congratulatory jibe at my son, (who is clearly wearing glasses, so clearly would have some delay anyway) I would have heard another mother empathising with me and engaging me in normal mummy chit-chat.

In any area of life, the things we say to one another are so important. Language creates reality. What we say to others gives them a new outlook on what is actually happening and what they are dealing with. You comfort a person, things actually become better for them in their eyes. You argue and lash out, and a new truth settles in a friends mind. If this is true of any situation, then how much more so when we are talking about our children-the most precious things in our lives, and possibly where we need the most reassurance? Yesterday, R became for that second a “late walker”, a baby who wasnt as quick as another, or as capable. I dismissed it, and chose to instead focus on disliking the speaker, but a different person could have walked away worried and concerned.

When I became a mother, I automatically joined this special group made up of parents.Even without an introduction, we can smile at each other across a coffee shop, strike up conversation on a bus ride, and give advice to each other about all manner of topics. Without being in this club, and enjoying the support it brings, the last 16 months would have been nearly impossible. Being a part of this group is therefore a priviledge. Why abuse it?

Standing Man!