Thursday, 22 November 2012

Thursday, 1 November 2012

On the move!

Ctrl.Alt.Parent is on the move.

From now on, you'll find us here.

Hope you'll come and visit soon.  x

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Chat chat chat

A little while ago, my friend Margaret (remember her from the Blessingway?) and I were in a big store in the Big City, looking for some fabric to make a window blind.  Margaret's baby was in his pram, keeping quiet, Alt.D2 was sitting in my shopping trolley, amusing herself with something probably entirely inappropriate, and Alt.D1 was talking.  She was talking the hind leg off a donkey.  No, more than that, off the donkey, down the hill, round the corner and back again!  My head was buzzing, I couldn't make a decision, I just needed two seconds of QUIET!

I turned to Alt.D1 and asked her:
"Are you on fire?"
Silence.  Puzzled look.
"No, Mummy."
"Then it can wait just one second, can't it?"

Margaret creased up with laughter, Alt.D1 was a bit confused (and therefore quiet for about 30 seconds), and the decision on the fabric was made.

The day before, we had been doing our grocery shop, and I had forgotten my list.  Trying to recall what we needed, I explained to Alt.D1 that I needed a tiny little bit of quiet inside my head to think about the shopping, but all I could hear was her chattering, going in my ears and filling my head... could she please stop talking for a moment so I could work out if we did, in fact, need soap or cheese?!

Of course, I think she is lovely, she really is, and the incessant crying of her early months gave way pretty quickly to real words and coherent conversation.  At 10 months old, she was pointing at a friend's dog calling "dog dog dog dog dog doggggeeeee" and pushing her breakfast over the edge of her highchair to the waiting jaws of her new best friend and biggest fan.  From then on, the words just came tumbling out of her mouth.  Now, at rising four years old, she will say to me "Mummy, we've had this conversation before" (the implication being that she knows how it ends and she doesn't like it!) and I swear if she could, she would raise one eyebrow as she says it. 

I have always talked to both Alt.D1 and Alt.D2 as if they could understand what I'm saying, even from day 1.  Eventually (like now) they can understand, and they can talk back.  I really believe that Alt.D1's (comparatively) early verbal skills saved us from the worst of the terrible twos.  "Use words, please!" I would ask when the bottom lip started to tremble and the foot started to stamp. 

Now she is big enough to verbalise most things, and smart enough to figure out how to get us to understand when there are gaps in her vocabulary.  Last week we went to the local Wetlands Centre, where we are members, for Alt.D2's birthday.  We had a great time, and I said we could come back again another day, because we've got a special ticket that lets us in whenever we want.  Walking back to the car park, the conversation went along these lines:
Alt.D1 "You are a loud person, so you can come whenever you want"
Me "I'm not that loud!  I was quiet looking at the baby moorhens!" (We all were - they were very cute)
Alt.D1 "No, you are a loud person!"
Me "Am I?  I was trying to be quiet."
Her (getting a bit frustrated with me) "No, Mummy, I mean you are a welcome person, you are allowed to come back whenever you like, because of the special ticket!)
Me (feeling a bit stupid for not understanding in the first place) "Oh. Yeah. I am.  You're right."

Sadly though, the "Use words" trick doesn't always work now.  She uses the words, we still don't comply with the request, and the tantrum is thrown.  Sometimes it's thrown with a fair amount of force, too.  Even with the big words that little girl has, sometimes they are not enough to express the injustice of "No, sorry, you can't have a third chocolate biscuit just before tea time."  

Sometimes my own communication skills could do with a bit of work, and sometimes I am not quick enough off the mark when it comes to saying the right thing to diffuse the situation.  I have just re-read the first chapter of the really excellent book "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  I read the first chapter about 8 months ago, when Alt.D2 was still quite little.  I haven't managed to get back to it until now, and this time I am going to commit to it a bit more.

The book was recommended to me by my health visitor when she came to visit me at home one day.  She's one of a rare breed of health visitors.  She is non judgmental, and actually very nice. She suggested that if I could develop the way I communicated with Alt.D1, I might be able to catch the difficult situations before they took hold.  She realised that I was busy with the new baby, and that Alt.D2 was (naturally) playing up due to the fact that I only had one pair of hands.  She was bored by the baby and wanted my attention.

It was a bit like a light being switched on, and at the same time a reminder that as parents, we have a responsibility to put ourselves in our children's shoes from time to time.  We, with the benefit of years of life experience, have the ability to imagine what they might be thinking.  They have not yet developed empathy, and they sometimes don't even understand their own emotions, let alone the effect they are having on ours

So in truth it is actyally helpful that Alt.D1 is such a talker, however tired my ears might be.  Considering we just got home from an eight hour round trip to North Wales in a small car with a big chatterbox, they are pretty tired right now.  She can (and does) articulate her feelings, which helps me to help her.

She says funny and lovely things, and I hope she never changes.
But it is so nice and quiet round here when she's asleep!

Edit:  I've just re-read this post and it sounds like "My child is so clever..."  It really wasn't meant like that, honest!   :)

Monday, 27 August 2012

Shades of something sinister?

Ok, so I thought it was about time for a book review...  Everyone seems to be reading them, and far be it from me to pass judgment without having direct experience, so I borrowed the trilogy that they are all talking about, and in between trying to get AltD2 down for her naps, I spent some quality time with Mr Christian Grey.

I was shocked, I tellya!  But not particularly by the sex, the whips and chains, not even by the repetetive language or confusing use of British English in Seattle.  

As I read on, I became increasingly frustrated by the protaganist Ana.   She was supposedly an intelligent girl, but she repeatedly demontrated a complete lack of realisation to what the heck was going on.  The plot, for those who have managed to be safely under a rock for the last six months, involves a naive university graduate who falls for a troubled millionaire with a penchent for elaborate gadgets in the bedroom and a natty taste in interior design (flogging bench, anyone?).  Can she soften his heart?  Can she "save him" from himself?... can she change her abuser?  Because ultimately that's what he is.  Maybe Ana should have checked out "the Couple Connection" before she got in too deep.

I found myself almost shouting at the character when, on honeymoon in London, and left alone for an afternoon while her husband attends a business meeting, the most interesting thing she can think of to do is stay in the hotel room and shave her pubic hair off.  So much for "I've always wanted to visit London!".  Bristish Museum, British Library, maybe the V&A, but no, instead she reaches for the bic disposable.  I think the term is #facepalm !

The sex scenes are repetetive and I found myself skipping past them towards the end.  In fairness, without them the books would be a far quicker read! 

The hope of course is that EL James' readers are sensible enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality.  If not, and certainly there will be some who are not, then some of the scenes, including one where Christian asks Ana to resist him, give a frighteningly damaging message to impressionable readers.  This is, as described by Clare Phillipson, director of women's refuge "Wearside Women In Need", an abusive relationship portrayed as a love story.

But at the end of the trilogy the author has written an epilogue. Reading that part was when I got really angry.  

Two years down the line, Ana and the millionaire are married with a child, and have one on the way (I'm fairly confident I'm not giving too much away here, after all, it's pretty much the plot of Twilight).  The following passage is reproduced here without permission and solely for the purpose of this critique:

"What is it?"  Christian tilts my chin back.
"I was just remembering Ted's birth" [first child]
Christian blanches and cups my belly.
"I am not going through that again.  Elective caesarian this time." [NB this is CHRISTIAN SPEAKING, not Ana]
"Christian, I -" 
"No, Ana.  You fucking nearly died last time. No"
"I did not nearly die."
"No."  He's emphatic and not to be argued with, but as he gazes down at me, his eyes soften.  "I like the name Phoebe," he whispers, and runs his nose down mine.
"Phoebe Grey?  Phoebe... Yes.  I like that, too."  I grin up at him.

So by way of a bit of background, "Ted's birth" involved a caesarian after 15 hours of labour.  The mother has been resisting a c-section, the doctors are not impressed, and when she finally agrees, there is much eye rolling all round.  "About time."  says Christian Grey.  

I was interested and surprised when I did a little bit of research into the author of "50 Shades", E L James.  She is English, and has two children.  The reason I was surprised is that having had two children, she is more than likely to have come across women who have undergone an emergency caesarian with their first baby.  For many women, there are health concerns that require subsequent childen to be born also by caesarian section.  However, for most of the women I have met where their first baby was a C-section, their hope for subsequent births is that they might be a vaginal delivery.

I was lucky in that both of my children were born by (fairly uneventful) normal vaginal deliveries.  I think Ana, in the passage above, would agree with many mothers who say that to have a VBAC [Vaginal Birth after Caesarian] is something they would really like to be able to do.  She's trying to argue with her husband for a VBAC and he is an inconsiderate, controlling idiot, in denying his wife the opportunity to bring their child into the world in a way where she has control of the situation.  She denies that she almost died - she has no medical reason for a C-section to deliver her second baby.

50 Shades has been criticised all over the media for many things, but as far as I can see, nobody has mentioned the way Christian's control over Ana extends to the delivery of their children.  I thought she was supposed to be intelligent, I thought the premise of her character was that she refused to be his submissive... apparently not, after all.

For information on abusive relationships and domestic violence, including how to spot a controlling, abusive partner, see and

If you would like information about VBAC, here are some links that might be of interest:
Quickfacts (US site)

And if you'd like to read the 50 Shades Trilogy, and make your own mind up about Ana and Christian, there are plenty going on ebay!

I would love to hear your comments.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes you just have to go with it, right?  We can plan whatever we like, make arrangements and sort everything out in advance, and then the kids arrive... it's all steam rollered and you kind of have to start again!

My life changed quite a bit last January (2011) when my job was no longer available to me.  Despite first reservations, it has turned out to be for the good in the long run.  It wasn't what I'd planned, certainly wasn't what I was expecting, but actually, so far, it's all working out ok.  You can't buy back the time you have when your children are small, and AltFather and I know that the benefits of me being with them at home are going to far outweigh the cost of the things that we are going to have to go without to allow that to happen.  I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity, which I know isn't available to everyone, and isn't the choice that everyone would make, but I love it.

Every day is full of the unusual, often preceded by a small voice telling me:
"Unfortunately, Mummy..." in that funny grown up way that AltD1 has of speaking.  She's so serious!  This blog isn't usually all about what I have been doing with my day, but last Friday was an amazing day I just wanted to share.

AltFather had the day off work, and we made a trip to a fantastic local outdoor Lido.  Olympic size main pool, heated and sparkly, with two children's pools, a fountain and icecreams.  If you're ever in the area, it's well worth a visit!  We swam and we paddled, jumped in and out, splashed and sploshed in the sunshine until our heads were heavy and our eyelids drooped [and that's just AltFather and me!] and it was time to go home.  

AltFather fancied a bike ride so we dropped him off half way and I drove home with my sleepy girls in the car.  Small snores emanated from the back seat almost as soon as the engine started, and they carried on all the way back to our house.  And so they continued from AltD1 as I carried her in and transferred her to the sofa.  AltD2 pottered happily on the carpet.  She had woken refreshed, her batteries recharged in the manner of a Nokia mobile phone - just enough from her 15 minute snooze to keep her going for a while more.  After about an hour, the doorbell rang and slightly muddy AltFather had returned.  The girls were both awake, we were all a bit hungry, it was a beautiful balmy evening...

AltFather dashed through the shower, we scooped up a blanket and two small girls, popped them in the car... and headed up to the Common for fish and chips and this:

"It's rather lovely to be going out after bed time, isn't it?" AltD1 could barely contain her excitement!  It was spontaneous and spur of the moment, but one of the best days of the summer so far.  I'm so glad we just went with it!  Shame the late bedtime didn't lead to a lie in the next day, but ho hum.

All too often I find myself muttering under my breath the parental mantra "This too shall pass, this too shall pass", often in response to an explosive and passionate moment with AltD1, or a strange and unexplained babyphase from AltD2.  The thing is, it will pass, all of it, the bad and the good.  What we'll remember best are the things like exciting evening picnics of fish and chips on the common after bed time, or the fact that Mummy was able to spend the summer before AltD2 arrived just doing stuff with AltD1. 

Even if it's unexpected or unplanned, it might just be for the best in the long run.  Because life is the long run, and it will all be ok in the end - and if it isn't ok yet, then it isn't the end!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Words of Love

I am working on a project for AltD2's birthday which is coming up at the start of September.  I suppose this kind of follows on from the creativity post, although you'll have to wait and see what it actually is.  What I want to share today has more to do with the content.

When I was younger, there was a cheesy and (usually depressing) segment on Radio 1 called "Our Tune".  Simon Bates would read out listeners' letters in a Serious Voice.  Soothing music would play in the background.  Invariably the couple had split up, the dog had died or some other tragedy had befallen the writer.  The feature would culminate with a sentimental, meaningful song. [Hey, wow, I just googled and discovered it is still on!]

You have probably figured out by now that I am hinting that I have a special song, an "Our Tune" I suppose (but without Simon Bates and a long-lost goldfish), for each of the Alt Daughters.  Not sure I have one for AltFather, unless you count the first dance at our wedding, which, incidentally, was Dido's "Thank You", and not the Eminem Stan version, you may be pleased to hear! 

So I thought I would share these songs, and how they came to be.

When AltD1 was born, we spent a few nights in the hospital, getting to know each other, working out what was what, struggling a bit with feeding, and starting our life together.  She was being fed expressed milk alternating with formula from a bottle.

'They' said to me:
"Someone else should give her the bottle, not you, so she doesn't get confused." 
My role seemed to be to hitch myself up like Daisy the cow to a turbo powered pump, and when I wasn't doing that, I was holding a very loud small pink thing while AltFather prepared the next bottle.  In between, I would have a go at feeding her myself, although it wasn't working very well.  She got frustrated and I got sore.  She yelled every time I picked her up.  Once, when she was sleeping, I lay on my bed and looked at her in her plastic tank on wheels next to me, and thought:
"I'm not really allowed to touch you, am I?"

It was then that a few lines from a song popped into my head:

"All I do is miss you, and the way we used to be... all I do is keep the beat and bad company... all I do is kiss you, through the bars of a rhyme..."

I was only "allowed" to touch my baby with something in between us, I felt.  The bars of a rhyme?  The plastic bottle, the swaddled flailing arms... handing her over when she got too worked up... it made me sob.  No prizes for the first to guess that this song (which betrays my soft rock roots!) is "Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits.
There are two other lines in that song that I couldn't get out of my head:

"I love you like the stars above and I'll love you till I die" (oh my goodness, isn't that just the truth?), and

"you exploded into my heart"  I just felt that every time I looked at her, my heart got bigger and bigger!

We came home from hospital eventually, and we got the hang of the feeding and the holding and bonding.  I put Dire Straits on the CD player and played it loud (not too loud I promise) as I rocked and bounced my lovely baby.  Sometimes I played it when I was just so happy to look at her and know she was mine, sometimes I played it when the hormones were raging and tears streamed down my face as I sniffed my way through the words.  It really became a song for me and her.

One day, AltFather came home from work to find us rocking out to the guitar solo (ok, me rocking out, AltD1 staring at me from her bouncy chair).  When he stopped laughing at my air guitar he hammered the air drums alongside me, crazy fools that we are, entertaining our perplexed three month old.  He told me that on the day we were married, as he walked to the church, that song was drifting down to the street from an upstairs window in one of the houses he passed... definitely a song for our new little family.

Nearly three years later, AltD2 arrived.  I had been worried before she was born that I wouldn't be able to love her as much as I adored AltD1.  It couldn't be possible, surely?  Then she stormed into my life and I was bowled over.  But not immediately.  It probably took me until she was 8 weeks old or so to make that unbreakable connection.  During that time there was a song I kept hearing on the radio.  All through my pregnancy it had been rising in the music charts and getting a lot of airtime. 

It's a Bob Dylan song, but now made famous (and sounding so much nicer in my opinion!) by Adele.  "To Make you Feel My Love".

The lyrics are presumably meant for a lover, but they are so pertinent and poignant for a new mother, even second time around.

"I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
No there is nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love"  

Once again - isn't that just the truth?  My hormone-laden self certainly thought so.  I've played it to AltD2, whispered the words to her in the deep dark night, and really, honestly, meant every word of it.

I would love to hear if you have special songs for your babies, or any special family members... please do leave me a comment and share the story.  You'll have to wait until September to see the finished (I hope!) birthday project, but I hope it's going to turn out really special.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Getting creative...

I am a little late to the party here, but over at Hobo Mama, they have been hosting a blogging carnival along the theme of Creativity.  The premise of a blogging carnival, I just discovered, is that you produce a post on a certain theme, together with a number of other writers, and all publish your pieces on the same day.  Loads to read on a specific subject, but all coming from different places.

So July's theme was creativity, and there were some very interesting submissions.  You can find the participants on the link above.

It started me thinking about the creative buzz there is in the Alt House.  This goes way deeper than the crayons and bits of tissue paper we find stuck all over the place.  The creativity in a three and a half year old is inspiring.  AltD1 just isn't inhibited in any way, (that is certainly true, and probably stories a-plenty for another time!) least of all when her creativity gets going.

One of my elder daughter's favourite ways to express herself is through her crazy, crazy wardrobe choices.  We have had some interesting selections.  There was the period during which she would only wear tops and tights (in October naturally), sporting them with wellies or sandals, depending less on the weather than on her frame of mind.  We once went to do the weekly shop with AltD1 dressed in a purple tutu.  On top of jeans, with a sunhat (mine) and oversized sunglasses (also mine).  She may or may not have been wearing wings, I can't remember.  We had a few funny looks in the aisles, but I'm pleased to say there were also a few admiring glances, too.

Someone once expressed to me that she was a little envious of her 2 year old who had gone to the library in a fairy dress.  Wouldn't life be more fun if we all wore dress-up on a daily basis?!  Does it make a difference that the 2 year old in question is a boy?  I do feel quite proud of my friend for letting her hilarious little guy be so self-confident in his pink tulle!  She too witnessed raised eyebrows, but I hope she continues to have the same confidence as her little boy does now.

I admire AltD1 for having her own style.  She can dress herself, and she chooses from clothes that I (for the most part) have bought for her, so I can't complain.  She is comfortable, and as long as she is dressed appropriately for the weather and vaguely appropriately for the occasion, I won't ask her to change her outfit.  Nor would I ask her to change herself. She dresses her own way and I hope she'll continue to do so for all of her life.  Just as I hope she won't feel the need to be the same as everyone else in her views and opinions, nor should she need to dress the same as they do.

It's more than just the unabashed confidence that I admire in small children, though.  They are not afraid to get stuck in.  

AltD1 loves painting.  For whatever reason, we tend not to do it at home (no child friendly paint... birthday coming up, must remedy that situation!) so given the opportunity at nursery or groups, she is straight in there, and very soon covered from top to toe.  Her favourite thing to do is hand prints, so you can guess where that leads!  Arm prints, ear prints, so on...  But secretly I would love to roll up my sleeves and squish the paint the way she does.

We are a pretty creative bunch, really, in the Alt House.  Small Person arts-and-crafts abound, with interesting shaped boxes being saved from the fate of recycling whenever castles, monsters or props for playing shop are required.  I am a stitcher and sewer, and AltFather is pretty handy with his work bench and a jig saw.  I still don't reckon we make enough of it though. Isn't it a shame that as adults most of us have reined in our creativity?  A three year old thinks "what shall I do today" and heads for the pavement chalks.  They aren't worried about their skills at drawing, sometimes AltD1 decides what she's drawn after it has come out on the page.  Actually I might apply that to dinner sometimes !  

We could all do with a bit of arts and crafts in our lives sometimes, in whatever way suits us...  just don't get me started on the glitter!  :)

Monday, 2 July 2012


After a brief hiatus, Alt.Mother returns, topically enough, with a blog post on technology...

I was stunned recently when Alt.D1 turned on my laptop, clicked on CBeebies and set her favourite programme going!  She's been pressing the pause button for a while, but whoah, that took it to new extremes... parental controls here we come!

We've been TV free in the Alt.House for about a year and a half now, and we love it.  There weren't really any ethical reasons behind it, it was just practical.  We came home from a trip away during which the analogue television signal had been switched off in our area.  A couple of weeks later we turned on the TV and it didn't work... we'd totally missed the switchover, and to coin a phrase, we thought "meh" to TV anyway.  So we gave it away and I cancelled the TV licence.  The people who came to pick it up via Freegle were delighted [recycling, see!], as were we - wow, loads of free time in the evenings instead of watching TV.  

Some people thought we were bonkers:  "What will you do?" they said. Others were concerned about our interior design scheme: "What will you point the furniture at?"

They needn't have worried though. We had tonnes of stuff to do, and the furniture just points at each other.  Most people don't notice the lack of big black box in the corner.  Maybe they think we have a TV room somewhere else in the palace house.

Whilst our friends and family looked on in mild amusement, either waiting for us to cave in or cheering us on from the sidelines, the TV Licensing Authority were a different kettle of fish.  When I said earlier that I cancelled the TV Licence, it wasn't quite that simple.  Oh no.  The thing is, they really don't believe you when you click the box on the website that says something along the lines of "I don't have a TV".  Are you sure?  Are you absolutely sure?  Uh, yes, thanks, I am sure!  I would love one of their inspectors to come round - what are they going to do, look under the bed in case I've stashed a 60 inch flatscreen Panasonic Viera?

For those readers not in the UK, I should probably explain about the TV Licence.  Here we have the BBC, which is funded by the unique method of a licence fee collected from every household which has a television and uses it to watch live television.  I never really had a problem with the licence, and I really appreciate the fact that I can watch TV without any ad breaks, (yes, NO ad breaks at ALL!).  Going TV free saves us £145 a year, but that wasn't really the reason behind it.

Eighteen months on, I've just had a letter from the Powers That Be asking me to check whether I might have forgotten that I do in fact have a TV and failed to mention it to them... well I have checked, and no, I still don't have one!

The sense of incredulous wonder is sometimes amusing when I mention we're Television Free.  The phone company rang me, trying to sell me their TV package.  As the agent started her spiel, she asked:
"What sort of things do you like to watch on TV?"
"Oh, I don't have one..."
"Um... err... what do you do?"  The autocue didn't cover that one, did it?!

Anyway, so we got rid of the TV.  No biggie.  Not really "turning into hippie types" (well no more than before, anyway!)

But I have been thinking a bit about whether television for kids is necessary at all.  In France, they have banned the broadcast of programmes aimed at children under three years of age.  The French authorities cite concerns for the children's development.  It's hard to tell really, but there are now at least three generations of people most of whom have grown up with a television in their home.  I'm not sure about stunting their development, but could it be stunting their creativity?  On days when Alt.D1 has been allowed unfettered access to the BBC catchup service, the house stays strangely and sadly tidy.  While I've been putting a crotchety baby Alt.D2 down for a nap, her big sister stays glued to the sofa.  It does make me a bit sad.

And yet, I do feel that it's important that the cultural references do not pass my girls by.  A friend told me once she had met a lady at a dinner party who didn't know who Winnie-the-Pooh was.  We couldn't quite work out how a person could get to their mid twenties and not know at least one incarnation of AA Milne's tubby little bear.  Even without a television, Alt.D1 knew who Iggle Piggle was as a child at nursery had a cuddly one... there's no escaping, even if we want to.  I remember fondly my own childhood television favourites, some of which can be found in online archives and most of which look really dated and low-tech now!  (Fingermouse, anyone?).  It is a part of growing up, so Alt.Father and I are not planning to take that away from our children. 

We do tend to surround ourselves with technology, though, if not television in the Alt.House.  I know that in the early days of Alt.D2, I would settle on the sofa to feed the baby, and reach for the laptop, balancing it on one end of the sofa and catching up with friends on Facebook.  My mum looked at me once, and commented that she had never even read books when feeding us as babies; she thought she had to talk to us all the time.  Well there's no argument that it helped me to become a good talker... I wonder if my babies will be good emailers in their turn?

I recently took a break from Facebook, deactivating my account for a week so I could concentrate on preparing for a family event.  It was an odd sensation, something definitely missing.  Friends rang me, some texted "What's wrong, hope you're ok?".  Strangely, I just felt relieved.  I have since gone back online, but I find I'm spending less time there, definitely for the good.

Which brings me to share with you the excellent blog of Rachel at Hands Free Mama.  I read her blog and felt ashamed of myself for sometimes shushing my children as I checked my online messages.  We live in a communication age these days, but maybe we could all just do with communicating a bit more with the people who are close to us.  And maybe that should be by talking to them!

It may be incongruous, but Ctrl.Alt.Parent is now on Twitter.  Follow me by searching for Alt Mother or #ctrlaltparent

Thursday, 14 June 2012

All part of the process

My two girls are the best things that have ever happened to me, without question.  They are better than chocolate, better than sunsets, better than dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean.  They are better than watching fireflies dance in long grass after a thunderstorm (yes, that, really!), honestly better than anything I have ever experienced.  But I can't lie to you and say that the days they were born were the best days of my life.

You can prepare yourself for childbirth, as much as you like.  You can attend classes with other parents and nod wide eyed as the teacher shows you the physical process step by step on large picture posters.  You can go to yoga classes and spend time in the company of other women all anticipating the arrival of their first child.  There are support groups and antenatal talks.  You can wince through Channel 4's "One Born Every Minute" while you tuck into your ice-cream and onion sandwiches (no, not that, really) but until you have lived it, you don't know what it's like.  You just can't imagine.

I know that some of you reading this are mothers, and I know that you might have been nodding along to that last paragraph.  But for those who aren't, I would just like to add that everyone is different, and the arrival of every child into this world is different for the baby and its parents.  I say parents, because in my experience, the births of Alt.D1 and Alt.D2 were most definitely shared.

Alt.D1 is now three and a half years old.  I can't write much about her birth, here.  I'm still processing it.  In fact, I think I will always still be processing it.  It wasn't the most pleasant thing I've ever done, but it doesn't affect in any way the love I feel for her, and for that I am thankful.  

I am thankful for the fact that after 27 hours, a healthy little baby girl was handed to me, and we were both ok.  The preceding time was nothing significant to me.  Hard work, sore, uncomfortable and exhausting, but so worth it.  Alt.Father was there through it all, and he still bears a lot of emotional scars from it, he would tell you himself.  

We actually did it!
It wasn't quite what we'd planned, having rocked up at our local Maternity Unit with sandwiches packed.  Alt.Father had assumed the role of Sandwich Maker and started buttering the bread at about the third hour.  I have no idea what happened to the sandwiches in the end - I didn't eat them, although I could insert a joke (maybe not a joke) about squashed day old sandwiches being better than the food at the Big Hospital, but hey, let's be nice.  ;)  When the contractions started, we had no idea what was ahead of us, despite the hours of classes we'd attended.  We just held on to each others' hands and hoped it would all turn out ok.

Which it did.  So that's alright.

But is it?  Is it really ok for me to be so dismissive of such a huge event in my life?  

Alt.D2 made a different sort of appearance.  She was speedy and well timed.  She showed her annoyance at the speedbumps on the 2 minute drive to the Maternity Unit.  Maybe she was just embarrassed that her mother had left the house in just a towel and almost without remembering to put shoes on despite the early morning drizzle!  I was out of the house for about 35 minutes before I had my second lovely girl in my arms.  She almost didn't give me time to think about it.  For that, I am thankful, also.

So the second time around, I was asked to write up my birth story for a local parenting magazine.  "Sure." I said, and duly typed up an account of the day's events.  I hit "send" on the email before I had read it through, and then suddenly it was in print in the next quarterly issue.  It was weird to see it there.  My experiences put down in black and white.  It made me a bit sad to think that Alt.D1's story isn't written down anywhere.  I tried to write it then, but it wouldn't come out.  "Least said, soonest mended" don't they say?

I live not far from the Maternity Unit (hence the 2 minute speed-bump dash!), and today I pulled over in my car to let an ambulance out, blue lights flashing, anxious partner in the following car, heading for the Big Hospital.  I felt quite emotional for the woman in there.  "You can do it!" I found myself telling her, "go on, girl, you can do it!".  Her plans were having to change, but her baby was on its way.  I hope that tonight that family is gazing at their wonderful new addition and that the blue-light frenzy is already all a blur.

Recently I have been talking to other mothers about their birth experiences.  There is so much pressure put on us to make plans and to have a perfect, natural birth, with resistance to pain relief seen as something to be proud of.  As one of my friends said, "Birth Plan, Smirf Plan" [you know who you are!].  It seems that so many of us are beating ourselves up about our birth experiences being different to what we'd hoped for. 
We need to talk it through with our partners, and with other mothers.  We need to process what happened, and we need to look at our beautiful children, whom we are so lucky to have, and say to ourselves:

"Whatever it was, it was worth it."

If you found this post interesting, you might also be interested in the Blog Carnival "Embracing my Birth Experience".  Look out for a friend of mine, Caroline, and her blog, which is featured.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Plastic Fantastic

Well we are just recovering from a trip to Legoland Windsor where a good time  was had by all!  Thinking we would be clever, Alt.Father's sister and I arranged the family reunion outing for 12 on a training day for her children's school.  Then they announced the bank holidays for the Jubilee, and the world and his wife decided to descend upon Legoland for the day!  Ah well, the more the merrier, I say.  Once you get over the audacious charges for everything from car parking upwards, it's a fab day out!  Anyway we, like most of the other people there that day, had spent supermarket coupons rather than real money on our entry ticket!  In our matching Team T-shirts, we tore up the park and had an absolute whale of a time!

Lego has a special place in the Alt.Household.  Despite my rant last week at their disgracefully sexist "Lego Friends" range, Lego can do very little wrong.  In fact, it's the main exception to the "no plastic" rule that pervades in our house.

I had never really thought about the impact toys can have on the environment before Alt.D1 was born.  I had rolled my eyes at the idea of the stacks of plastic junk in the house that "inevitably" follow the arrival of a small child.  We'd get used to it, be ruthless in handing things down, get a good storage system and live with it, I supposed.

Then I saw this video:

I watched it with tears in my eyes and determined that I would not be responsible for any more of that as far as I could help.  We already had reusable carrier bags, we already recycled as much as possible.  No way was I going to start gathering things which were destined for landfill or to be floating about on the sea one day just for the sake of a couple of years of playtime.

Plastic toys break.  Then what can you do with them?  You can't fix them, or reuse them for something else, or even recycle them, as the plastics they are made from are non-recyclable.  They are a drain on our oil reserves, and their mass production in China means they have thousands of miles of production and distribution under their belt before they reach the toybox.

Wooden toys also break.  But any rough edges and splinters can be sanded down.  They can be repainted, glued, mended.  When they are beyond repair we can use them to heat our home!  They can be home-made, they can be produced from sustainable sources, and they can be played with for years and years, mended and fixed between generations.

So before Alt.D1's first birthday I somewhat nervously emailed round the family saying that if they were going to buy her a present (and only IF, there were certainly no expectations!) we'd prefer not to have plastic toys.  I sent out the link to the video, and my weirdy alternative hippy request has been complied with, for the most part, for the last 3 years.  We've really tried to keep away from plastic toys, and we have mostly succeeded.

Yes, I know that lots of wooden toys are made in China too, many have been given bad press when their paintwork turns out to be poisonous.  Some are dull colours, some are uninteresting.  But that does not have to be the case.  Shop around, buy second hand, try making your own (little kids won't mind, although the older ones might!).  Educate your children as to why you made that choice.  Alt.D1 knows her toys can be mended, and she's happy with that.  

I would urge you to think about what you buy for your children to play with.  What is its lifespan?  What went into it?  Where will it go?  Is there an alternative?  There are so many beautiful alternatives out there that you may get bitten by the bug too.  We have wooden, fabric and knitted play food, wooden (and metal) cars, a wooden dolls' house, car garage, toy mobile phone and Noah's Ark.  We have home-made cloth baby dolls (not as scary as some of the shop ones!!), a hobby horse, dolls' crib and push-along walker.  We recycled and re-painted a wooden scooter for Christmas (much coveted, that one, she was delighted!).  We've got a wooden Wendy House, and metal mini gardening tools... our girls are so lucky to have so many wonderful toys and hopefully, they will last, and be recycled when their time is up.

So, Lego is the exception to the rule.  Its unbreakable, reusable, creative qualities have earned it a stay of execution in the Alt.House.  Actually, Alt.Father is a teeny bit obsessed with it, I think he was more excited than any of the 6 children who came with us to Legoland on Friday!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sky Blue Pink

Now that I have two daughters, I have "a licence to be pink" apparently.  Before Alt.D2 was born, I would look at the two options available in the shops and sometimes choose the one that would be more socially acceptable for a boy.  Alt.D1 wore a lot of red and green as a baby!  I always had half a mind on her future siblings, anticipating the re-use of articles by a baby brother who might not be too chuffed to be seen in a bright pink duffel coat...

Except actually, I'm not a "pink" person.  Don't get me wrong, I think pink is a pretty colour, just as blue, purple, orange and green are all pretty colours.  I just never felt the longing for pink baby clothes that many of my friends have expressed.  I can't understand the obsession that modern society seems to have with "pink for a girl, blue for a boy".  Why?

A friend of mine took her 4 year old son to buy new shoes in readiness for his first day at school.  Having been measured, he waited for the shop assistant to bring the shoes for him to try on.  He looked sadly at the proffered footwear;
"But I don't like black and brown, Mummy, I like pink and purple!"  He was eyeing up the "girls'" section and looking so doleful that his mother wondered whether she could actually get away with humouring him and buying purple shoes for school.  She decided not to.  Later, she expressed a little sadness that she had to feel the pressure to conform.  

None of us wants our child to be picked on or ostracised, but I have often deliberately chosen the "less girly" of two items, feeling as I have done so that I just want to give a kick and a prod to whoever it was that decided our society should be thus divided.

When did it start, though?  Pink used to be a colour for baby boys in Victorian times, but by the time I was growing up in the 1980s, it was definitely for girly girls.  But, at the same time, we still had this:

  I love that image!  She's so proud of her lego thingummy, a truly unisex toy, and what she's wearing?  That's what I wore in the 1980s, too.  Mine were probably handed down from cousins (girls) or family friends (boys).  But my mother probably didn't even consider "were they girly enough?".  Oh, and shame on you, Lego for your new, super sexist "Lego Friends" range.  It makes me want to puke!  Yes, I do feel that strongly about it, don't click on the link if you're in any way averse to saccharine sweet... and as for the poor body images, don't get me started!

I recently needed a red top each for the Alt.Ds.  Plain, short sleeves, red.  I looked around the large shops in the Big City.  I noticed they ALL had boy and girl sections, but none had any "unisex" for children over 6 months.   Surely it's not just mothers of girls who are struggling here?  What if you have a boy and you don't want to dress him in sludge brown or sensible navy blue?  You're scuppered!  Make your own instead.

So, I have been following the brilliant website "Pink Stinks" and their campaigns against popular media and businesses that dumb down, exploit, stereotype and limit roles for young girls.  They see the effect it's having on boys, too, of course:  our children are growing up in a world where career advice is being dished out by a nauseatingly fluffy fairy, whatever next!?!  [Felicity Wishes]  Butterfly House Attendant?  Ballerina, Cake Baker?  How about Lawyer, Civil Engineer, Teacher, Medical Physicist, Farmer, Mother, or any of the other jobs undertaken by any of the real women that my daughters actually know?  Nope.
Take a look at the Pink Stinks campaigns - even if you don't have girls, I'm sure you will see their message.

Alt.D1 started nursery two mornings a week back in October.  By Christmas, she was refusing to wear trousers.  I took it up with the staff, who looked perplexed.  Later in the week, one of the nursery teachers reported back that she'd observed a group of girls playing dressing up.  One of the boys wanted to join in, but another child had said "You can't, this is for girls..." None of these children is over 4 years old, and they already have this idea so ingrained!  I was shocked, but then not surprised at Alt.D1's confusion over her wardrobe!

Thankfully, the wardrobe dramas are now minimal.  As long as she is dressed appropriately for the weather and the activity, I don't mind what she wears (and we have had some very, um, interesting, combinations, too!  Someone recently commented that her choice of clothes is what makes Alt.D1 who she is.  Absolutely.

She can choose pink if she wants to, just as she can choose any of the other colours.  Today she went to a party dressed as a mermaid (I was sad to veto her first choice of TIGER on the grounds it has been 35 degrees here for the last week!) and she had a great time.  Later on in the afternoon, she was running barefoot in the woods climbing trees with a little friend, and getting so excited she might burst at the prospect of a ride on a minature live steam engine.  Whether she wants to be an engineer, explorer, or in fact, a mermaid, she will have our blessings and encouragement ("Mummy, are mermaids wild?" - today's unanswerable question!).  

Besides, mermaids are green, not pink, right?

There's loads more I could say on this issue, and probably will, at some point.  What are your thoughts?


Thursday, 17 May 2012

Touching tales

The Alt.Family have been away for a while, taking some time out in the rain!  A very wet holiday, and uexpectedly without an internet connection... so, belatedly, here is the post that you should have had last week!

This video has been doing the rounds of facebook over the last couple of weeks, but just in case you haven't seen it yet, I want to share it with you now:


The baby in that film is so relaxed, there's no question she is enjoying all the sensations she's experiencing; the warm water, the gentle touch of the nurse.  I have never made the most of baby massage with my two, but having seen this, I wish I had done.  There's so much to be gained from the experience, for the parent as well as the baby,  I would think.

The skin is an amazing human organ, passing all sorts of messages to the brain.  Touch is important for babies and children (in fact for all of us, who doesn't like a hug?) for so many reasons.  In fact, Deborah Jackson dedicates a whole chapter of her book "Three in a Bed" to the importance of touch.  She points out that before birth, the child and its mother communicate solely through touch.  They rely, she says, "on physical contact for information".  Yet when a baby is born, we are almost afraid to touch it.  We are blinded by the apparent fragility of the newborn, and need to be reminded that this new little person has never before been "untouched".  

How scary that must be for them, how alone they must feel!

I suppose this builds a little on the idea of wearing your baby in a sling, thus mimicking the sensation of being inside the womb.  The baby feels secure, snuggled from all sides, and is happy to sleep and wake, and feed and sleep again, in something resembling its own familiar environment.  It really is like a massage from all directions!

When Alt.D1 was born, she was whisked away from me to a rescuscitaire on the other side of the room.  She'd been distressed during her long and uncomfortable journey into the outside world, and they needed to check her over.  I needed stitches, I was still uncomfortable, but I was aware of the importance of skin-to-skin contact for my new baby.  I suggested perhaps she could have that contact with Alt.Father, whilst I was being attended to.  I was met with a confused look from the midwife.  The baby was wrapped up so as not to be cold, and she waited to be put on my chest when I was once again sitting.  I felt a bit cheated, although she was nice and clean and not slimy.  She hasn't suffered through not having had immediate skin-to-skin contact, as far as I can tell, and we're a very cuddly household (as you can probably imagine!) so hopefully we have made up for it since.  

Alt.D2's experience was different, in that she was delivered straight into my hands and up onto my chest (very slimy, that one!).  I held her for a while, and then Alt.Father held her, also skin-to-skin, while I bathed and had more stitches (don't ever ask me about my stitches!).  Then we attempted biological nurturing, where the baby finds its own way to its first feed.  This was with limited success, but all the while giving Alt.D2 constant contact.  We weren't hurried to dress her immediately, and we all loved it.

I read a passage in "Three in a Bed" where the author describes being encouraged by writer Jean Liedloff to hold her young daughter up by her ankle.  I tried it with Alt.D2 (about 6 months old at the time) and she loved it!  She absolutely howled with laughter, grinning and dribbling upside down into her hair.  I mentioned it to Alt.Father, who looked a bit sideways at me, but later admitted he'd tried it with her at bedtime, and conceded that it did seem to make her very happy (weird child, loves being upside down!). So maybe we should be a bit braver in how we handle our kids.  I should probably put a disclaimer in here, shouldn't I?  People, be a bit careful, use your common sense, but have a good giggle - remember how much you used to love dangling head down from the monkey bars?

There has been much research into the health and healing benefits of touch.  Kangaroo Care for premature babies has yeilded amazing results.  This technique was introduced in the early 1980s in Columbia, a country suffering from high infant mortality rates.  The babies were placed inside their mothers' clothing, against their chests, where they remained for 24 hours a day.  Similar methods, where babies born early or with low birth rates are held by parents or carers for several hours at a time, have been introduced in many hospitals around the world.  It's hard to believe that premature babies were once kept away from the touch of their parents and nurses in the belief that risk of infection outweighed the benefits of physical contact.  

It seems that it works both ways, too.  The touch of her baby was enough to rehabilitate Australian coma sufferer Emma De Silva, whose husband and family had been told there was almost no hope.  Their incredible story can be seen here.  Get the tissues handy before you hit play, though!  What an amazing testimonial to the power of touch.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Normal service will resume...

The Alt.Family have been away from the furthest reaches of WiFi!  Normal Service will resume shortly - and look out for a bonus post mid-week.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in / my heart)

When alt.D1 was tiny, she cried a lot. She cried in the day time and the night time.  She cried when she wasn't being fed, she cried if she was left alone for a second. She cried if you tried to sit down when you were holding her.  We put her in the pram and we went for walks, mostly she cried, sometimes she fell asleep.  We paced the floor with her chewing on one of our fingers, we bounced, we rocked... you get the idea.  She was LOUD and SAD.

I would push the pram down the hill to baby groups, and they would hear us coming.  "Oh we heard alt.D1, she's git such a sweet cry!"  I would grit my teeth - it wasn't so sweet at 2.30am,or 2.50, or 3.20...  People arriving after us would say "We knew you were here already, we could hear alt.D1, she's got such a sweet cry..."  Sigh. 

There were nights spent watching reruns on TV through cordless headphones while we wore tracks into the carpet trying to get her back to sleep.  There were days when nothing was achieved, having been spent trudging round town with the pram in an attempt to get her to sleep, and when that was achieved, I daren't go home because the eyes, those big brown saucer eyes, would pop open as soon as we crossed the threshold.

Then, when she was about four months old, we had a revelation.  We bought a sling and it changed our lives.  I am never more evangelical than when I am talking about my sling!  Seriously: Our. Lives. Changed.  

Suddenly, we could wrap up the baby, and within five minutes she would be asleep.  We could do the pacing around bit, or we could mow the lawn instead, baby in tow!  Dinner could be prepared; better yet, actually eaten whilst it was hot!  Wow - who ever would have thought!

I ordered the sling online, having tried putting Alt.D1 into a borrowed one at someone else's house.  We'd been given a baby carrier with webbing, buckles and straps, and although it was complicated to put on the wearer, Alt.D1 had liked it and seemed more settled.  She had fought it (loudly!) when turned in towards my chest, but on turning to the outside world, she had been absorbed and fascinated, and, it seems, sometimes bored to sleep! I had read on the internet about the risks of hip dysplasia in such kinds of carriers, and realised it wasn't putting her in the most comfortable position.  A different kind of sling, a long stretchy wrap which is tied to the adult, not involving buckles or straps was the answer.  And we all loved it.

She would sleep in the sling where you would never have thought it possible.  Suddenly our lives had changed for the better.  We had a portable child, and more to the point, a settled child.

Jean Liedloff recognised a huge impact on children's development when they are carried.  She calls it "the in arms experience" in her book The Continuum Concept.  Liedloff noticed that the babies of the Venezuelan people that she studied were carried by their parents all the time.  They were, as a result, easier to hold, because they were used to it.  They didn't fuss and stretch and go stiff as a board like Alt.D1 when I tried to put her in the car seat.  They didn't bend backwards in the middle, striking out towards the floor.  We noticed a change in Alt.D1 immediately we started to use the sling.

So, when Alt.D2 was born, we didn't need to think about it.  She went in the sling straight away.  I can't imagine how I would have managed with two small children without it, to be honest.  The baby would sleep, cosied up on my chest, and I could play with the big one.  I could prepare food, walk to town, play dragons and princesses, or hide and seek, while my baby was contented and snoozing.

Even now at almost eight months old, Alt.D2 loves going in the sling.  She's a bit heavy for the stretchy wrap, (although we both still prefer it if I'm honest) so now she's in an Ergo Baby Carrier, a more structured version, similar to the traditional "mei tie" carriers used by asian people for many many years but with a modern twist.  She can go on the gront or the back, and everyone's happy.  She can even nurse in there (obviously not on the back though!!)

Alt.Father is pleased to wear the sling, too.  I deliberately chose a plain navy colour, which just happens to match his favourite jumper.  In town one day, two teenage girls did a double take in the market while he was out shopping with Alt.D1.
"Oooh, I thought that man had two heads!" one said to the other.  Alt.D1 was peeping out of the sling, apparently suspended from her dad's top!  He's even had one on the front and one on the back on more than one occasion!

There are more benefits than just the practical.  In the early days with Alt.D2 I was finding it hard to really appreciate her.  I was bonding more slowly than I had with Alt.D1.  But by wearing her on my body for long stretches of time, hours while she would sleep, wake, feed and sleep again, all without being parted from me, our bond strengthened immeasurably.  She was always within kissing distance, our hearts close together.  She was comforted by the sounds she had heard within the womb; my muffled voice and my heartbeat.  I got to learn her ways, the rhythms by which she lived, and her cues for hunger, tiredness, and so on.  We enjoyed what has been termed "the fourth trimester".  I now have a happy, confident almost-eight month old, and she and I are as in love with each other as we could possibly be.

So as I said earlier, I am positively evangelical about babywearing.  I will enthuse to any new parents, or parents-to-be about how a sling changed our lives and saved our sanity.  You can borrow slings from local "sling libraries" before you invest, and there is a host of different designs, patterns and colours to choose from.  Among some friends of mine, slings are talked about in the same way and with the same enthisiasm as the latest designer clothes.  We are "sling geeks" if you will!

Carry that baby, you won't regret it.

The title of this Post comes from a poem by e e cummings: 

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)