Sunday, 12 August 2012

Inspire a generation - but to what?

I have seen how the past two weeks of Olympic action in London have had an effect on my little one, and while it would be fantastic if her sporting interest could be harnessed and turned into Olympic champion material, the legacy from these Games that I want for her goes much deeper - I hope for a complete national attitude change!

But first, I have to say how her interest in sport has been wonderful to watch. I once left her on the sofa watching the Olympic rowing on the TV while I went to make her lunch. Suddenly I heard a little voice happily singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat!" She then ate all her lunch as I told her that people who win medals eat fish pie!

After watching the gymnastic high bar exercises and hearing her say "I want to do that", I have also caught her on more than one occasion launching herself off the sofa into a forward roll and telling me she is "doing "nastics" - I knew it was a mistake to let her watch that!

I had to turn over from the boxing and Taekwondo though, as it was far trickier to explain why people who punched and kicked each other got cheered - I think I mumbled something about it being OK if you had special equipment and a referee but decided that not watching it was the easier option!

Her latest "thing" is saying she is going to win a race, launching herself off the far wall, zooming over to me, leaping into my arms then taking a step back, bowing her head and asking for a medal.

I think that at the moment she is more inspired by getting something shiny than doing the work to get it - but still, it's a start!

I am sure that similar things are happening in living rooms, gardens and playgrounds all over the country - so, what happens now?

Money and sport

The thing is, where do you start. Yes - V has shown an interest in various sports but if she wanted to pursue them - where do you go? How much does it cost? And what if she discovers she can't do it?

Parents also need to be inspired - they may already be motivated by seeing endless gushingly proud mums and dads interviewed on the BBC - but they must also realise that you have to make sacrifices and spend years ferrying your offspring to and from classes and shelling out cold hard cash to pay for it all!

Putting more dosh into sport is a difficult subject to tackle. Yes, I agree that sport has many benefits to do with health and self esteem and it would be great to fund it to the hilt. But another part of me would prefer any spare cash to be paid directly into the NHS and more general education. Yes - having a more sporty nation may cut some NHS bills but athletes don't go injury free for long either!

Putting money into sport is like buying a takeaway - a nice treat when you've paid all the important bills first.

It's also all very well saying that there should be two hours of sport per week in schools - great, if it gets kids off their bottoms - but the largely non sporty side of me says I would prefer my child to have a choice. Try it definitely, but not be forced to continue. Not everyone is sporty and no one should be made to feel they have to be, or feel bad because they can't run fast or jump high.

The English graduate in me also thinks that those two hours would be better spent on spelling and grammar.

Inspirational attitude

So yes - while I am sure that a many youngsters will now be inspired to become Olympic champions, being realistic, few of them will actually make it - whether cash is doled out or not because talent and support come into it as well.

That's why, personally I hope that the legacy from London 2012 goes beyond sport, and that the determination and dedication shown by the athletes is the bit that is harnessed and moved forward. Everyone has a chance to take that on board.

The bottom line is, I DO want the younger generation to be inspired by the performances of our top athletes - but for their inspirational attitude and normality more than anything else.

I want my little girl to be dedicated and driven to achieve and to try and be the best without the incentive of tonnes of cash. I am a huge football fan but have felt rather embarrassed these past two weeks about enjoying a sport populated by people who often don't seem to care that much - as long as they have a wad of cash in their pockets and the other trappings of wealth.

I want my little girl to be inspired to look up to role models such as the likes of Jessica Ennis, Sir Chris Hoy, Mo Farah and Laura Trott rather than Katie Price or anyone from TOWIE.

I want her to admire people who actually put some effort into doing something and having the determination to see it through, rather than be famous just for being famous. Those who work hard for the love of it, when the return is the knowledge that they have done it, rather than just planning another wedding when they need attention or an injection of cash.

I would rather she had a poster of Tom Daley on her wall than Harry Styles. I'd like her to admire a boy who worked for his A' Levels and an Olympic medal at the same time - and achieved both, rather than one who sings a bit and goes out with a lot of women.

Sporty or not,  I would rather youngsters looked after thier bodies as if they were heptathletes, rather than doing binge drinking marathons.

Our successful Olympic athletes are great examples of how hard work and being healthy can also bring adulation and if the Games drums that thought into our youngsters, then that's the best legacy that these home Olympics could ever hope to leave behind.

After Mo Farah won his second Olympic gold medal he said: "Anything is possible - it's just hard work and grafting". Yep! That's about it! Couldn't have put it better myself. That's what we need to get across - the sport is a side issue.

Oh yeah - and while I'm on it, if the brilliant Clare Balding can inspire some better journalism / broadcasting in the future - then that will be an added bonus!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Olympics live

I have written before about me wanting V to experience the Olympics - or the "Lympix" as they are known in our house - and last weekend was her big chance as we had tickets for the football at the Ricoh Stadium in Coventry.

I have been to hundreds of footie matches over the years, so knew on basic terms what to expect for myself, but I had never been with a toddler before so this would be a whole new ball game, if you will pardon the pun!

I am pleased to report that it was both fun and relatively painless, and to be honest, it was only the Olympic element that caused any problems at all, such as they were, as watching the match itself was fine.

Being an Olympic event just made it a bit harder to plan as the list of rules and prohibited items made it all seem a bit daunting. A normal match it would have been easier to prepare for.

Mei tei

For starters, I would never have taken a buggy to the game anyway, but can normally work out a place to park where walking to the game wouldn't be too much of a trek for a 2.5 year old.

In this case though, while the designated car parks weren't far, it would have taken an age for V to walk, especially if we had to stop and look at every leaf and stone along the way, as you do!

The answer was a mei tei sling which Mr A wore to carry her on his back which worked well. We hadn't used one before and after getting over her initial confusion at what the hell she was expected to do - V thought it was a huge game! "Giddy up" - she kept saying, much to her father's annoyance! 

Once at the stadium, it was the security checks that were a little time consuming but as it was all for the best, I wasn't too bothered.

At the bag check, they took everything out, and placed it all in a see through plastic bag which was sealed until you got into the venue.

Pared down

I was pleased that I had pared my bag down to the bare bones and had removed half the rubbish I seem to think is necessary to have in a changing bag like the pile of forgotten, and therefore stale, wrapped baby biscuits which must have lined the base for months.

It's unnerving having some stranger analysing all your possessions so I narrowed things down to basically nappies and a change of clothes, a drink for V and the "small snack" we were allowed, according to the rules.

The guy checking, who honestly looked about 12, looked at my high factor suncream with suspicion and made me put some on. He did the same with the sudocrem so I smelt delightful for the rest of the afternoon.

Reading the prohibited items list beforehand, I was a bit worried by the liquid allowance of 100ml. I knew you could buy bottled water inside but I didn't think you could give mineral water to young children and I didn't want her getting too much of a taste for the other sugary juice drinks on sale inside.

I put 150ml of water in V's sippy cup to see if I could get away with a bit more but of course, I couldn't! I had to drink it down to 100ml. I put the cup down and stared at him as if to say, "look, I haven't keeled over, it's just WATER!" but my steely glare was lost on him.

He allowed the banana through without question - a far more dangerous weapon in my opinion!

Going in through the turnstiles, another eagle eyed security bloke spotted the offending pink sippy cup and stopped us again because HE had been told that you could only take baby milk in. NO other liquids at all.

There followed a few minutes of us remonstrating - our main argument being that "the other bloke said it was alright!" until he called in yet another man who confirmed that our precious 100 ml of water was legal!

Once inside I bought a juice drink to top it up, the sugar content of which probably added top V's already heightened excitement!

Pooey nappy

One thing I hadn't realised about football matches from my previous visits was that the baby changing facilities, even at the new modern stadia such as the Ricoh are non-existent.

We ended up in a cubicle in the ladies, changing a pooey nappy with us both standing up! It was a trifle fiddly and I'm sure we probably left stray poo somewhere, but it is only the home of Coventry City so frankly I wasn't bothered!

During the game itself V was as well behaved as we could expect of a little one of her age. She was fascinated by the Mexican wave and the green, white and red wigs and commented loudly on both, and joined in with the cheering and clapping with a massive smile on her face.

Yes, she got restless at times, but sitting her between us and folding the seat up gave her a little place to play and dance about to Take That and the Scissor Sisters on the tannoy. And when all else failed, games on the iphone stepped in.

Her commentary on the game - "daddy, that man kicked the ball too far", entertained the crowds around us and luckily the friendly atmosphere was quite unique in that I didn't hear a single swear word - a big relief as my daughter is a sponge and I didn't want her singing any version of The Liquidator or other tunes with some choice lyrics.

She saw two goals, the first of which gave her a bit of a shock as she had never before heard the collective cheers of a 28,000 odd crowd live, but by the second she was clapping and cheering with the best of them!

Back outside, we were fleeced at the merchandise stall but it had to be done, then on the way back to the car the heavens opened and V refused to keep her head down and her hood up, preferrring instead to turn her head to the skies and open her mouth wide to catch the rain water!

Soaked, tired, but strangely exhilarated we got back to the car and got home with relative ease!

On the whole, the event was well organised and buoyed up by this success we are now preparing for sailing on Saturday. A whole different kettle of fish awaits there but I will report back!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Blessing of the Expectant Mother

I recently came across a whole load of notes that I wrote whilst pregnant. It's a good job I just wrote them for my own personal record as I was a right moany old crow and my complaints about how sick I felt would have rubbed many people up the wrong way.

Particularly those who might have been trying for a child for a while, while I was in the incredibly fortunate position to have beaten the stats and be pregnant over 40. What an ungrateful cow I sounded!

However, there were some more interesting pieces, things that with everything that happened since - i.e. giving birth and concentrating on raising a child - I had all but forgotten about!

I've decided to rehash a few in a kind of retrospective, in a more sensitive way knowing what I know now, to show myself how I have changed and maybe, as part of the process, some other people might be interested too.

Massive change

One of the first pieces I came across was a very special evening that may seem a bit "whacky" to some, but to me at the time seemed exactly the right thing to do.

In times of crisis I always turn to religion, and although being pregnant could not be termed a crisis, it was certainly a massive change to my life. It was something I needed to get my head around for sure. It took a good few weeks for it to sink in and this particular event really helped.

As the saying goes, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic” and the first thing I thought of to do when I found out about my situation, other than telling my parents, was to pray. Although I have long been a sausage on the devil's barbecue, I do still go to church, although not every week, but I do have a faith and I still pray.

I did actually want to go to church immediately but I was feeling too sick and didn't want rivers of puke rolling down the aisles, so I did what I always do and that was to offer up words asking for spiritual help and guidance and the mere act of calling on a higher authority for help is definitely a comfort.

If you’ve been brought up with it, then religion is something that never leaves you – no matter what you might think.

Belt and braces

So when my mum suggested me having the “Blessing of the Expectant Mother” I wasn’t averse to the idea. It’s a kind of belt and braces thing – what harm could it do? I wasn’t even aware that such a thing existed but she had had it done when pregnant with both me and my brother, and things worked out OK so why not?!

So, at nine weeks exactly, my parents arranged for the newly ordained and absolutely lovely Father Alan to go round to their house for the event and she made blueberry muffins and bought special chocolate biscuits. These are essential items for a religious occasion it seems!

Sadly Mr A couldn’t make it as an important work deadline kept him in London. He was very upset but as both me and Father Alan pointed out, it was just as important for this child that he keep his job.

So there we were. The priest, my mum, dad, me and the muffins in their living room as a simple service was performed. I was blessed and a safe delivery was prayed for (something I had been doing since I found out I was pregnant anyway – but having a priest do it too somehow gave it more kudos!)

The blessing also recalled the role of Mary and being likened to her predicament made me, for one fleeting moment, think that I was carrying the Son of God! Alan also read out a beautiful Celtic blessing and the whole thing was wonderful. It was calm and relaxing and gave me a tremendous sense of peace.

Afterwards we chatted and ate the muffins and generally had a lovely evening.

Physically I didn't feel much better, but mentally and spiritually I definitely felt stronger. So, whatever you believe, surely whatever helps has to be a good thing?!

Thankfully I got the safe delivery I had prayed for and, when V was nearly five months old, Father Alan baptised her.It was a fitting way to welcome her into the church as he had kind of been involved from the beginning.

Father Alan has now left our parish but returns occasionally and always asks after V. Our family will never forget his role at the very start of her life and if in the future V wants to get married and would like a Catholic service then I will most certainly be tracking him down!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Flaming 'eck!

I realised this week that I was exactly the same age as V - almost to the day - when Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon.

I can still remember being in the living room watching it on a small black and white telly. I don't know whether I was watching it live or whether it was on the news but I remember everybody making a big deal of it.

I didn't know why. I just knew people were on the moon. I didn't realise that was an unusual thing to do, I expected to go there myself one day! But I knew there was something special about it for some reason. And now I'm glad I was allowed to watch as it turned out that it was a big thing - because no one has done it since.

The fact I can remember that is why I am very aware that it is highly likely that V will remember 2012. Her twin cousins being born, the Jubilee and of course the Olympics.

I am making sure I explain exactly what each event is, picking up souvenirs and taking her to what I can, so I felt that it was important that we go and see the Olympic Torch as it made its way through our city.

Mixed feelings

Now this was a big concession on my part. I have mixed feelings about it as in my job it has become the bain of my life. Over the past year, I have had hundreds of emails about it, ranging from where you should put the capital letters when writing about it to who is responsible for recording its every move at any one time.

It has even been hard telling V what the Olympic Torch is, because normally when I talk about it every other word is a profanity.

Part of me wanted to ignore it was happening but the stubborn part, which is most of me, thought I'd be damned if I was going to miss it after all the effort I'd put in to telling the world about it!

Plus, I had no wish for her to accuse me in the future of not taking her to see it so I needed photographic evidence.

Quite peeved

I had always chided my own mum for not taking up the offer of tickets to the 1966 World Cup final when she was about two months pregnant with me - so I hadn't even been BORN!

I remember feeling quite peeved when I found out because I wanted to be able to have said that I was there, sort of, even if only the size of a coffee bean, when England won it. Mind you, this was nothing to how my dad felt when he found out, some 20 years later! He didn’t speak to her for about three days!

I only let her off when I got pregnant and realised how ill she must have been feeling. At two months pregnant I couldn’t have gone to Wembley, or anywhere where you are trapped with lots of people and no easy access to a toilet!

But I had no such excuse not to see the Olympic flame, added to that, it was practically going past the end of our road, so it wasn't actually too much effort and frankly a bit churlish not to turn out!

So, in spite of myself, I was actually quite excited about it by the time I burst into the living room, announcing, rather over enthusiastically, "V, shall we go and see the Olympic Torch?"

"No thanks," she said.

"I want to go to Thomasland."

"Tough," I thought, but out loud I said, "Now, come on V, it will be FUN!"

She didn't look convinced but as she is two and I am - older - she didn't have a choice! So, the three of us went to my parents and walked from there with my mum to find a good spot on the route.

'Kissing point'

Thankfully I had actually READ many of the hundreds of emails I had received so I knew that if I saw a group of people standing in a taped enclosure, they were likely to be the friends and family of a torchbearer so that spot would be a "kissing point" of the torch and so a good place to wait.

I was right, so luckily after a 40 minute wait, when V was just starting to get antsy, she did actually have something to see! She had got bored of waving the little flag she was given, and bored of waving ALL the flags that we were given as well. She was even bored of ripping them up!

She was literally just about to kick off when the advance entourage started to come past and as this was lots of people in colourful clothes, singing, dancing and shouting, she was transfixed. Those are her three most favourite things to do!

She stared intently as the flame arrived and as it happened right in front of us, she studied the "kiss", the transference of the flame, hard. "Can you see the fire?" I said. She must have wondered what the HELL was going on. Why are people running in the street with fire - and then passing it to someone else? What was the point of that? You may well ask the same question.

She said nothing. Until she was back in her buggy. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she said, "Mummy. That was fantastic!"

So, job done. Not only had we all witnessed an historic moment, but V loved it. And she ate all her tea to boot. Olympic Torch - if you give my daughter an appetite, you can come past whenever you want!

I have to do it all again tomorrow albeit in a work capacity and without a toddler in tow. But come 2pm, when the flame crosses the border into Oxfordshire and out of my remit - I will be deleting a very large number of emails!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Just who are naps for?!

There is a popular misconception that babies and toddlers need to nap to rest their brains and regain energy. Wrong! Well actually no, that’s right, but if anyone needs to rest their brains and regain energy it’s their parents! Naps are also for US!

A nap is in fact a brilliantly designed natural piece of engineering that makes your child sleep when you are just about to drop. When you have read “The Gruffalo” ten times on the trot and you can’t see the carpet for Happyland. It’s a chance for you to rest before the adult's version of Cranky land replaces it!
With newborns, babies sleep between feeds which gives you a chance to regroup after you have spent the entire time worrying about whether they have had enough. It also gives you the couple of hours that you need in order to plan leaving the house.

With older babies, the nap is a bit of relief from finding the most stimulating ways of entertaining an awake, yet basically immobile, child without resorting to CBeebies. I can only do so many verses of “Wind the Bobbin Up” before starting to go a little bit crazy so my much-loved Danny Kaye CD was a lifesaver in those days. The Ugly Duckling was practically on a loop!
With a toddler, it’s respite from your house looking like it has been hit by a cross between Hurricane Katrina and a plague of locusts.

For a couple of hours, silence reigns, and there’s a chance for a HOT cup of tea, a bit of reading, a bit of Loose Women and, if I’m lucky, Doctors too, before heading back to the frontline of motherhood.
I say this from the perspective of one whose child has, for the first time ever, NOT had a nap today. And boy didn’t I know it! To cap it all, she chose a day when her dad was away for the weekend so there was no one to share the exhausting load!

She can normally nap for up to THREE HOURS in the afternoon so missing it was a major omission!
I am hoping against hope that it was a one off because we had been out for the morning and she slept for ten minutes on the way home, but although I put her straight in her bed, sleep was not forthcoming!

She was clearly knackered, having been zooming round Butterfly World, but in no mood to drop off when it was more interesting to recount, at length, how she had seen all the “beautiful butterflies coming out of their ‘coons’” (That’s "COcoons" - as we had to keep reminding her in the cafĂ© after getting some very odd looks!)
Given that we had been out all morning I opted to stay in, trying, and mostly failing, to at least get her to have some “quiet time” but as she is a child who doesn’t like to sit still I was fighting a losing battle. I have read countless children's books today, and retrieved toy animals from inexplicable places as some sort of typhoon hit her Little People farm at one stage and she literally recreated the "twister" scene from the Wizard of Oz, rendering herself dizzy.

We have been ballerinas and elephants, and in my case a combination of the two, and made up games with her new wooden caterpillar who she has inexplicably named “Jonjo”.
We have completed sticker books, recited the alphabet, drawn butterflies and annoyed the dog, who was quietly trying to watch the tennis. She was so tired that she was stumbling round like a drunk tryinkg to find his way home. Finally she succumbed and lay on the sofa in front of Ben and Holly while I made her tea.

The bonus was that when bedtime finally came round (very quickly after tea I have to say!), much, I suspect, to the relief of both of us, she was out like a light. Fast asleep before seven!
Now, don't get me wrong, I do want to say that we have had a lovely day, I have loved doing so many things with her, and I don't resent any of it, especially as a working mum - I am just knackered! I suspect I need her nap more than she does!

And don’t anybody dare say it’s because of my age, because name me the mother of a toddler who doesn’t get tired and I’ll point you towards a freak of nature.
As V is a 6am riser I am hoping that she might tag today’s nap onto her night time sleep, but it doesn’t work like that does it?! I am already planning tomorrow's itinerary!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Why I won't home school

As time goes on, I am beginning to think more and more about school. Time seems to be going so fast and it's not long before we will have to start seriously thinking about pre-school, as opposed to day nurseries.

At the moment our child care works - it is delicately balanced, but providing everybody is where they should be and is not ill, it's OK. How on earth we are going to manage drop off and pick ups when V is at school everyday is a whole other post.

Where she will go to school is yet another series of musings, but one thing that I have heard people talking more and more about recently is home schooling. Each to their own but personally, I have discounted this idea.

For many reasons I want to go to work. I enjoy my work for the most part, I want to retain a bit of me and as V gets older and less dependent on me, I will need to have something to do!

There is also the financial side of things, we want V to have whatever she needs and as many opportunities as possible and me working helps with that without a doubt - so - home schooling will not be an option.

But having said that, and despite my worries about the fact that SOME (and I stress SOME!) teachers I have come across can't spell, even if I felt I could give up work and teach her at home, I really don't think it would be for us.

Excuse list?

The following are my reasons - it's up to the reader as to whether they are a list of excuses to justify my continuing to work - I don't think they are!

Also, I think it is important to say that my views are not evidence based, purely my own thoughts on the kind of things that are hard to judge on statistics alone.

Firstly, I think it's important to say that I would and could never hand over all aspects of my child's learning to a school. We will always teach V at home and give her access to a wide range of experiences but I also see school as one of these experiences.

There is so much more that you learn from school than in the actual lessons.

V goes to a day nursery for one day a week and LOVES it - she is a very sociable being and I honestly don't think it would be fair to keep her at home with just me.

Apart from the fact that she would miss being around others, what I taught her would be tainted with my views on everything. I want her to be able to meet a wide range of people and also make her own decisions about what she thinks about things.

Yes - she will probably hear my views at home (I don't keep them to myself!) but by being at school she will hear alternate views as well and I think this is so important.

Plus - she will be an only child so I feel it's doubly important that she mixes with a peer group.

I don't think that home schooling groups would give her the interaction she needs or give her access to a wide range of views and backgrounds.

Hold back?

I have also never considered that school will hold her back. At two, she already knows all her shapes and colours etc, counts to at least 20 and can just about recite the alphabet. She also asks questions like "why is the sky blue?" but I don't think she will be bored at school as there is stuff I can't teach her and am not arrogant enough to think that I can.

I honestly don't know why the sky is blue - is it light refraction? I think I said it was the reflection from the sea! I would have to teach myself a whole lot more before I could even consider teaching her!

If I felt that school was holding her back, then I would supplement all she was learning with more at home - but then I planned to do that anyway.  Schools aren't responsible for ALL children's learning, they are already under enough pressure. She will learn loads at home with me, like she does now.

Plus I am rubbish at maths! I got my O'level (a PROPER exam!) but there's no way I could teach it to her!

I do believe that there are things that I will HAVE to do at home though. I see graduates coming into my line of work who can't spell properly, or construct proper sentences (and they are supposed to be journalists!). I have long been worried about the standard of learning things like this in schools and if I feel she isn't being taught this properly, then I will do it myself!

And woe betide any communication sent home with a spelling mistake in it. The offending item will be swiftly returned and marked with red pen and possibly, depending on my tolerance levels at the time, "Must try harder" written at the bottom. Teachers are SO going to love me!

I believe that you need to be able to express yourself properly in this life. I can help her with written communication, but even though she goes to groups, and hopefully will still do a lot of out of school activities in the future, a school is a vital part of gaining interpersonal skills.

And if you see spelling mistakes in this post - well, then it's another reason for sending her to school!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Banning pirate TV

I am struggling with pirates at the moment.

They are everywhere - Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Space Pirates, Aardmans latest film, cleverly titled The Pirates, pirate-themed children's parties, pirate-themed bedrooms. Why?

Why are we so determined for our children to enjoy watching the activities of criminals, let alone dress up as them or adorn their sleeping spaces with them? I await CBeebies version of The Great Train Robbery with interest - "Oh Mr Biggs, you're a very naughty boy, you must give it all back, hurrah!"

My beef is that pirates are not supposed to be entertaining, and while in many kids' TV programmes they are often portrayed as the baddies, they are generally seen as bumbling fools who rarely win the day, but in reality they were not cuddly characters, they were ruthless criminals.

Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. Beneath the romanticism that has watered down their history, pirates were / are violent offenders - and I just can't sanction them being plastered all over walls in our house, or stuck to a bedspread. You might as well have Fred West wall stickers. Or send them to a party dressed as Jack the Ripper.

What example does it set children if we let think thieves are fun? I am not blaming Jake and the Neverland Pirates for last summer's riots - but you never know!

Was I the only child of the 70s to see through Captain Pugwash? He was portrayed as pompous and stupid but still likeable and still usually won the day. I just wanted him arrested.

Mind you, despite being a pirate, he was rarely seen committing any acts of piracy - because if he did it wouldn't be suitable as a children's TV programme would it?! Aaagghhh!

I know that kids' TV isn't always realistic. I know that pigs don't really talk, or any other animal - or vegetable, in Mr Bloom's case. I know that there is no such thing as a Problem Blob, a ZingZilla Island or a Night Garden, but can accept them as fanciful products of the imagination. Making pirates cuddly or funny, I cannot. I blame Johnny Depp (but not so much that if he came round to my house I wouldn't invite him in!).

Yes, you may have gathered, I have a real bee in my bonnet about this which many people, including my husband, just laugh at. But I was delighted to find my brother spouting the same unprompted views at a family gathering so there must either be something in the genes, or there was some unmentionable "pirate themed incident" in our childhood that we have erased from our memories because it was so terrifying.

Thinking about it, my mum and her brother were named Wendy and Peter after J.M Barrie's characters in Peter Pan who took on the infamous Captain Hook, so this theory may not be so far removed from the truth!

I am, however, beginning to understand that when it comes to toddlers' likes and dislikes, what I like or want carries very little weight.

My two-year-old has developed a mind of her own and knows exactly what she likes. Animals are a big thing for her, as are certain TV characters - Peppa Pig, Curious George and the Numberjacks are her latest obsessions - and to be honest, if she wants her bedroom garishly tastefully decorated with any of these themes I would be more or less happy.

But if she ever asks for pirates, I will put a petulant foot down and consign them to my own personal Room 101 where they will find Rastamouse and Manchester United waiting for them. I'm sure they will get on famously.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hand's Up if you love Justin!

My days are nothing if not varied.

This morning I was looking at the pros and cons of a waste incinerator, writing about the amazing Alan Turing and shamefully getting almost excited about a story that isn't actually going to be very pleasant - such is the way of the journalist.

This afternoon I was bopping round the living room to pre-school idol Justin Fletcher's latest album Hands Up - on my OWN!

It had arrived in the post this morning and I decided that it definitely wasn't wrong to put it on BEFORE I picked V up from nursery. Just to check it was suitable obviously, because clearly there would be subversive lyrics on it wouldn't there?

Who am I kidding? I remember the days when I couldn't wait for Paul Young's latest album to arrive at the record shop, today I was genuinely excited that what is essentially an album of nursery rhymes dropped onto my doormat.

What has happened to me?!

I think if you have never had a child under five, the name of Justin Fletcher will mean diddly squat, but if you have, then he's likely to be a bit of a legend, the Brian Cant of his time.

Three years ago I had never heard of him but now I have joined that (formerly annoying) group who refer to "Justin" as if he is their own personal childminder.

He is known for his slapstick routines and a wide range of characters in programmes such as Something Special - which was created for youngsters with learning difficulties but loved by all and Gigglebiz - a kind of pre-school Little Britain.

He also won the first BAFTA ever given to a presenter of pre-school programmes for Something Special and in 2008 was awarded an MBE for services to children’s television.

He is in fact pretty ubiquitous on CBeebies, his latest offering being Justin's House, the first ever CBeebies programme recorded in front of a live studio audience of pre-schoolers (he obviously likes to live dangerously!) and where he and friends Robert the Robot, Dee Livery, Little Monster and various special guests get into funny situations around "his house".

It's so much fun that if Jim'll Fix It was still on the telly I would have already written in and asked to be his housekeeper!

His new album is simply a joyful collection of 20 of your little one's favourite tunes, plus some from when I was a little one too - with a pretty banging drum and bass beat underneath and Justin, who as well as singing, shouts encouraging instructions, guiding listeners through the verses and generally whipping me / the kiddies into a frenzy!

The Ibiza club vibe is surprising but welcome - in the car if I drape my arm over the steering wheel loosely and nod my head to the beat, the vibrations could make the outside world believe I was listening to something cool - if I close the windows tightly that is, so the lyrics to Incy Wincy Spider can't be heard!

Children's albums have certainly come a long way from Jon Pertwee singing The Three Little Fishes and The Runaway Train (classics though they are!)

There is also a Eurovision-esque feel to each tune and is a great album to entertain just one child or a party full of them, keeping them dancing, doing actions and singing along.

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Old MacDonald, Wheels on the Bus, If You're Happy and You Know It - they are all there, together with other classics from my old Junior Choice days like The Laughing Policeman, The Teddy Bear's Picnic and Nellie the Elephant.

There's also the less familiar title song (not to be confused with Ottawan's 80's classic) and the closing track Justin's Lullaby, a completely stripped back, well sung melody intended I guess to calm everybody down again!

For all my enthusiasm, it still had to pass the acid test - what would V think?

Fortunately it went down very well, so much so that she even forgot to ask for the Numberjacks theme tune which seems to have been ever present in the car for months now and was frankly sending me slightly crazy.

Her little face as that familiar voice came out of the speakers was a joy to watch, so for the time being it will stay in the car to make our journeys together more palatable and - shh - my solo journey to work quite a lot of fun as well!

I know how TV personalities from childhood can still have an effect on you years later. When I had to interview the aforementioned Mr Cant once, I could barely speak with excitement and awe, so I'm glad that Justin Fletcher is around now so that he can be the one that hopefully V remembers most, heck, he's better than flaming Rastamouse, but that's a whole other post!

In OUR house, Justin and his Hand's Up is a hit, it's making V happy and me fit!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Live and let live, yes. But up to a point.

Smoking while pregnant, drinking while pregnant, not eating this, that or the other while you're pregnant. It's a constant debate, subjects that the media like to jump on for their phone-ins and talk shows because they are topics which will ALWAYS get a reaction.

But I for one am sick of hearing the arguments. To me there are none. We are told that smoking, drinking and eating things like soft cheeses and pate while pregnant could cause damage to the foetus. So why do any of them? End of .... in my opinion. And any amount of crying on daytime TV won't change that, Stacey Solomon.

Guidelines are there to help those of us who have not undertaken the years of research needed to find out about the damage that various things can do. Other people have so it's worth listening to them.

I am all for live and let live - if that's what you want to do, then do it, it's none of my business - but I do find it hard to understand why on earth anyone would even contemplate doing something that could potentially harm the precious load they are carrying.

There are so many things in your body that are out of your control when you are pregnant, not least the actual gowing of a baby. It always amazed me that, somehow, without even trying, an actual person was growing inside of me, in all its complexity.

Whole organs, a nervous system, a brain - things that it takes medical people years and years of training and experience to even understand, my body was just naturally manufacturing - it's still something I find hard to get my head round.

Then there's the way that your body reacts to being pregnant. I have high blood pressure when not pregnant so when I was nourishing another human inside of me, that blood pressure was hard to control. It's horrible knowing that your body is doing something that you can't change. I was told to rest in order to help, so that's what I did.

Just about the only thing that you can control when you are pregnant is what you put into your body, so not shoving things into it that are essentially poison is to me a no-brainer.

OK, maybe I was an extreme because of the blood pressure thing, but I wouldn't even eat Christmas cake because it had been "fed" with brandy.

The most upsetting thing I saw was when I was in hospital at 33 weeks, under observation in case my high BP turned into pre-eclampsia. I spent days lying there thinking calm thoughts to try and bring my BP down so they would let me out, while two of the women in my ward regularly headed down seven floors so that they could have a smoke outside. There was often a little coven of heavily pregnant puffing women out there - it made me want to scream at them, which obviously didn't help my BP!

You wouldn't shove a ciggy in your newborn baby's mouth or offer them a pint as soon as he or she makes an appearance would you? So why do it before they are born?

You wouldn't knowingly feed them dangerous bacteria, so why even risk the threat of listeria from a bit of stilton? After all, it's only for nine months.

I understand that smoking is an addiction - as is alcohol in some cases. I know that it's incredibly hard to stop, but as someone who would do anything for her little one, I think that if you can't stop for them, then you never will.

And so despite my live and let live attitude to life in general, I still find it very hard to stifle a look of utter disdain when I see a pregnant woman with a fag in her mouth, a glass of vino in her hand or a hunk of brie on a cream cracker. Live and let live yes - but I think babies should have the chance of a healthy life too.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Naming baby

It is now just over two years after we named our daughter, and as I think she has grown into her name wonderfully, it is a good time to ponder on why we called her what we did.

This little person IS Verity, she couldn't possibly be anyone else. Her name suits her so well and no doubt I would say that now about any name we had chosen, but the fact that she wears it so well makes it worth re-visiting the decision process.

Naming our baby felt like a VERY big moment indeed, with a big responsibility on our shoulders.

I don't know if the older first time mum finds choosing a name any harder than anyone else. They shouldn't do because they've had long enough to think about it.

After all, many little girls (and boys of course!) will have thought about what they would call their own children since they named their first dolls and for me this was a long time ago. The thought that the time to do it for real was finally here was quite daunting.

Also, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be naming any siblings for her so this was my only chance to get it right!

Then there's all the other things you have to consider, including the potential for bullying, what the initials would be, all the possibilities for silly nicknames, and would it sound right in the responsible job we hoped that she'd one day have?

My husband and I had had "the talk". You know the one, in those early heady days of a relationship when you are planning a hypothetical future and you decide what ALL your children will be called! Although with us, the conversation was definitely more on the fantasy side, as we were both aware that children may not be on the cards.

Anyway, the result was that we both knew that we didn't want to use a name that was really popular because there were bound to be loads of them in her class at school or around her throughout her life.

We wanted something that was a bit different, that would make her stand out, but not in a weird way.

A boy's name was easy, we had always agreed that a boy would be named after hubby's late father David. Then have my dad's name James but put my grandad's name William in the middle as it was too cruel to name a child David James - the calamitous goalkeeper!

I did have little dreams that I could give a nod to Liverpool Football Club with a name. Ian perhaps, after Rush, my all time favourite player, and I would have loved to have had twins in order to call them Steven and Gerrard - and probably consign the poor children to a lifetime of bullying in the process.

David is a nice traditional name but definitely not over used these days so seemed perfect.

Then came our 20-week scan, Although you can never be 100% sure, it didn't show up any "bits" so we concentrated on girl's names.

I had always hankered after an Emily - after the Bronte. However, when you wait as long as me to have a child, you find that you know loads of other people around you who have called their little girls that - so out went Emily!

Still on a Liverpool theme I also thought about Scarlett or Ruby because they signified "red" - or Anne, short for Anfield!

This didn't go down well with my Coventry supporting husband though, and when he suggested "Ricoh" I kind of took his point!

In the end, we were looking through a baby name book and saw Verity and both liked it and kind of "knew" it was right.

I liked the fact it means "truth" which is something that's important to both of us, both in our relationship and our work.

There was another more obscure reason.

My nan, Kathleen, and her best friend Gladys never liked their original names so decided they would call each other by what they always wanted to be named. My nan got Gladys to call her Maxine and Gladys asked my nan to call her Verity and it always stuck in my mind as I never knew her as anything else.

My niece's second name is Kathleen, so I liked that Verity went with that and hoped that somewhere, nan likes it too!

Hubby liked it because it's the name of the original Dr Who producer - Verity Lambert - but as she was also the first really powerful woman in the media that was fine by me.

All we had to wait for then was the various celebrities who were due around the same time and hope that they hadn't had the same idea. Luckily Jennifer Ellision had a boy and Zoe Ball's daughter was named Nelly - NOT on our list - NOT on your nelly!

V's second name Alice is after Alice in Wonderland (the film was released just after she was born and we both liked the book!) We thought about it as a first name but I kept thinking of the song "Who the f*** is Alice?!" and I just couldn't do it.

We then added both of her grandmother's names, giving her four in total, because as we were only having one child we didn't want to upset anyone!

I still keep coming across names that I like and it's sometimes hard realising that I won't go through that process again but we are thinking about getting another dog so we can enjoy naming that instead.

However, I have promised hubby he can have responsibility for that but I will have to point out that I will NOT be calling out "McSheffery" in the park!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Working mum - is it worth it?!

It's Sunday night again and once more I am thinking about tomorrow, about dropping V off at my mum and dad's and heading off to work, and asking myself, "is it worth it?".

I am a journalist and on bad days, when people are quibbling and moaning about the slightest little problem as if using the wrong abbreviation will cause the world to fall apart, then I have to say "it's not" but for the most part and on balance, I think it is - maybe!

OK - so why did I return to work?

Well, there's the money of course. We decided that we could manage if I was a "stay-at-home-mum" but it would be tight, and in all honesty, we didn't want to live like that, or bring our daughter up like that when I had the opportunity to work.

So with the help of my parents, who have her two days a week, flexible working, and, just recently, a day at nursery - we manage.

People may say she would rather have me around than the money or material things, but what sort of "me" would I be? Which brings me onto the other reasons why I work.

Until maternity leave I had worked solidly, without a break, since I was 18, so nearly 25 years, plus during that time I also did two degrees, a BA (Hons) and an MA. When you are so used to working, it's hard to just stop because it is part of who you are. Whether that is a good thing or not is another debate but for me it was a fact that I couldn't change.

Besides, I like working, I like the adult banter of an office and I not only do I enjoy what I do - for the most part - but I believe that it actually does some good. Not in the same way as a doctor or a nurse but in its own way, it's important to investigate stories and tell the world what is going on.

Maybe it's another older mum thing? If I hadn't been working for very long before I became a mum, it might have been easier to give it up.

Much as I adore my daughter and love every second I spend with her, I would find it hard, I think, being at home all the time knowing that I wouldn't have at least one day at the cut and thrust of the "coalface" so to speak.

I am lucky in that I work on four days and do odd shifts on the other days so I do get to spend a fair bit of time with her during the week and because I work, I think I appreciate that time more and make the best of it.

Rather than drift from day to day without a real plan, which is what I know I would be like, we DO stuff together - be it going to groups, the farm village, soft play or just wheeling her round the supermarket in a trolley - which she loves.

I enjoy the little conversations the two of us now have together but there comes a point when you want a bit of in-depth discussion about life, and not just with other mums who, I have discovered, eventually bring the conversation back round to their offspring.

If I was a "stay-at-home-mum" I would probably be a combination of somebody stressed about money and frustrated that news was happening and I wasn't there to cover it - all of which would not make me a good mother.

And then, there's another very important reason. I think it's vital that V sees a mum who goes out to work to help to provide for her family. I was brought up in an environment where you worked - and if you wanted things you had to work for them and I want V to have that instilled into her as well.

It's not always easy. I used to work all hours to get stories done but now, if I have to go, I hand them over. Unthinkable in the old days, letting someone else finish off my masterpiece, but now I have other priorities and getting home to give V her tea is number one!

It's hard if she's not well. Thankfully, this doesn't happen very often, but I do feel bad leaving the office when I am perfectly well myself. Not because I don't want to rush to V and comfort her, but because I know what others might be saying because I used to say the same! I just have to put this out of my mind.

However, in some ways I think it makes me a better worker. I may not be able to work all hours God sends but I am more relaxed and while things still wind me up, I find it easier to let some things go because I know that in the wider scheme of things they are not important.

I think if I won a massive amount on the lottery, I know I would still have to work in some way, but it would give me the freedom to work for myself as a freelancer, where it wouldn't matter if one month I made a pittance - although it would need to be when V reached school age because trying to string a proper sentence together on the screen with a toddler running around is nigh on impossible!

I realise, reading back over this, that it sounds like I am wracked with guilt every day and that this is the justification that I reel out to myself all the time. Well, maybe it is?

The truth is I do feel guilty, I won't deny that, and sometimes colleagues may get short shrift from me when I am in a "why am I putting up with this when I could be reading The Gruffalo to my little girl" kind of mood.

I am a Catholic, I will always feel guilty about something, it's in the job description, but at the moment my reasons for working over ride that guilt. The moment that they don't, I will know it's time to stop.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Cutting off my right arm - I survived!

When I woke up at 5am I had that feeling you get when you know that you have something to worry about but for a brief moment you can't remember what it is - and then it dawns on you and you feel it first in the pit of your stomach.

It came to me as I was still remembering the emotion of the twins being born yesterday, today was a big milestone for Verity - and me - her first day at nursery.

We had decided to put her in a day nursery for one day a week as my shift patterns were going to be changing, and also because we thought she would benefit from it, but given the choice and how I felt this morning, I wouldn't have been doing it!

Firstly, there was the guilt of leaving her. Should I really be working rather than looking after my child for this one day?

Even though I knew I was working so that she could have whatever she needed, what if needing me was more important than anything?

I had been through all this when I first went back to work, even though we were able to manage by leaving her with my parents for a couple of days and using flexible working for the others.

Now I was going through it all again, but was suffering not only the guilt of leaving her, but leaving her with people she didn't know for the very first time.

She is not a particularly clingy child, she is fine when left with family and is quite confident at the groups she goes to but I had no idea how she would react being left where absolutely no one was familiar.

What if she hated me for doing this?

Then there was the fact that this was the first day of years of other people judging my child that will continue until she is at least 18 - and beyond - if she becomes that lawyer or vet that I am banking on.

What if she displayed some of the toddler traits that are beginning to rear their heads - everything she touches is "it's mine", and if you try to take it away there's trouble. We even sometimes have full scale throwing herself on the floor drama queen moments - but most of the time she is a very happy and amenable child but what if they only see the bad bits and think she is "difficult" or a whinger on just one meeting?

They would probably also be judging me. I found myself wondering whether I should change her trousers when she spilt a small drop of porridge on them at breakfast in case they thought I was a slummy mummy. I didn't. There wasn't time!

I then thought I should make a note of what she wore so that she didn't turn up in the same thing every week.

I also worried that they would judge me on the remnants of the bad teething nappy rash that she had last week.

Will they blame me for her fussy eating when I am tired of telling people that I have offered her anything and everything since weaning started but she just isn't that interested in food.

But near the very top of my list of worries was "what if she loses "toppy"? This is one of my old tops that she needs when she wants to sleep. If it were to go missing - we would be stuffed!

So with all these thoughts in my mind, I phoned them at the beginning of the week to confirm what we needed to bring etc and they began to prepare me for upset.

They said that as she was only going for one day a week it would probably take her a while to settle but not to worry as it was only to be expected.

They suggested I stay for a bit while they went through her routine etc with me so she could see I was happy chatting with them, then to go home and phone whenever I wanted.

There seemed to be no doubt that she would be upset as it was pointed out that leaving her with other family doesn't count as "being left" so she wasn't used to it. I take took their point but I had only been confirming that she hadn't just been with me 24/7 and is used to me working.

On the "toppy" front, it was suggested I cut it in half "just in case". Brilliant - why hadn't I thought of that before, instead of guarding it while out as if it were diamond encrusted.

n the end, I cut the arms off to keep safe at home, and then wondered if could cut my own arms off to leave with her at nursery for comfort as I felt I was losing my right arm anyway - why not go the whole hog?

So, armed with the change of clothes and the infamous "toppy" we set off. I explained to her that she would play and have lunch then mummy would come and get her.

I had a heavy heart, why on earth was I putting her in a situation where she was likely to be upset. I had spent 23 months trying not to do that so why was I walking straight into it now?

In the event, I could barely get her coat off before she was playing. She came over while I was talking to the manager because she wanted to show me things but basically she zoomed around excitedly, trying to play with everything at once.

I sloped off - I didn't/couldn't do the big goodbye - and phoned when I got home. She was still happy as Larry. I started to feel a little bit miffed.

I phoned an hour later and there hadn't been a single whinge or moan. She had been playing solidy and was completely happy.I was so relieved and delighted - but there was a small twinge of doubt inside me, why wasn't she missing me, is she THATfed up of my company?

We decided not to push it so I collected her at midday - after lunch and before her nap - so that she would leave happy. She didn't eat, but she doesn't eat at home so that was nothing new.

She didn't want to leave. She smiled at me when I walked in but the Railway Children-esque "Mummy, my mummy" never came, nor did the slow motion run to me with outstretched arms. Instead, she said hello but then ran past me and dived head first into a ball pool! When I asked her if she enjoyed nursery she proceeded to say "I want to see it again" all the way home!

So I am very, very proud of my happy, confident and independent little girl but does this mean I am now surplus to requirements? She didn't even ask for me FFS!

Don't get me wrong, I didn't WANT her to be upset in any way and I hope she continues to be happy there but a little "Where's mummy?" would have been nice!!!!

I know I would have been more upset - beside myself in fact - if she had cried at any point so I am really not complaining, I just hope that the fact she was settled is because she is happy and secure and not because she is bored of me!

Am I broody? Surely not!

OMG! I think I might feel a bit broody - although I don't think I have ever felt it before so I'm not sure!

Yesterday, my sister-in-law gave birth to twins. A gorgeous boy and girl (6lbs 14oz and 5lbs 14oz respectively) born by elective C-section. All is fine, the little girl was checked over in special care for a while as she was a bit wheezy, but she is out now and they are both doing well.

I visited them and got a very strange feeling, basically I feel rather emotional about it all and I am not sure exactly what these feelings are?

Firstly, they are gorgeous, and excellent weights for twins, really tiny, but both bigger than V was when she was born (5lbs 11.5oz) and I realised that I couldn't remember her being that tiny. Then I realised that I wouldn't be doing it again and as I cuddled the little boy and he opened his sleepy little eyes and looked at me, I felt a bit of a pang.

I know that all the reasons for us not having another are right and sensible. I am just shy of 45 and I was really lucky with V that with high blood pressure, I didn't develop pre-eclampsia or have a placenta that struggled, or for that matter get any other age-related pregnancy problems.

To try again would be pushing it, and at my age it might not even happen so I could just be setting myself up for a fall but I remember those first heady days with a newborn and the excitement of getting to know your new little baby and have to admit I felt a little envy.

But I think what really got to me though was a very special moment. I took my niece, the twins' older sister, over to the hospital in the afternoon to meet her new brother and sister and the excited and happy look on her face was priceless. "This is E, your big sister" said my brother, "she's going to look after you!"

I felt the tears coming as I realised that V wouldn't have that kind of wonderful moment and I felt bad that can't give her a sibling and just hope that she doesn't come to resent it.

So I think that maybe I'm not broody in the sense that I want to do the baby thing again - especially if I bring to mind how hard those first few months are - but I am just feeling guilty that I can't give V something when I always want to give her everything she needs.

On the plus side though, I can give her my full attention physically, mentally and emotionally and I know that another child would take some of my attention away from her - it would be inevitable - plus completely exhaust me so I wouldn't be an effective mother to either of them. I know that a lot of people have small age gaps but it's really not for me - or V!

Meanwhile, I can't wait for her to meet her cousins and I'm sure that there will be a similar "special moment" when they are first introduced. We bought V a toy baby doll for Christmas to get her used to the idea but as she is fond of "slam-dunking" it, I think we'd better keep an eye on her!

And at the same time, I am looking forward to lots of baby cuddles from the twins and helping out whenever and wherever I can. Hopefully I can be a bit more use now, than I was when they had their first as I know a lot more.

I am already planning what to say to V when she asks about a brother or sister and I think I will just tell her the truth.

She is already close to the cousins she has and I know she will love the latest additions as well so she won't be short of pals.

Of course, I could always try and persuade my brother to let me have one of his twins - but that is not an option - I've seen Blood Brothers - and that really doesn't work!