Monday, 3 August 2015

We've given up TV so you don't have to; here's what we've learnt.

Six long weeks of summer stretched ahead of us and already I felt like my kids' eyeballs were rotting from too much telly. Last week was a new low.

The littlest was ill. She wanted me to cuddle her to sleep for an afternoon nap. I plonked the oldest in front of the iPad and took her upstairs. It soon became clear the nap wasn't happening, but she was too tired to play and ended up curling up next to her brother in front of the screen. Half an hour won't hurt, I told myself.

But half an hour turned into an hour. Almost without noticing it, I'd emptied the dishwasher, loaded and unloaded the washing machine and swept the kitchen floor. Oh! The freedom! Check me out: Getting. Stuff. Done.

Still. I probably should've turned the telly off at that point. Except I was starting to feel a bit ropey myself. Cup of tea. Bit of a sit-down. Before I knew it, I was slumped sideways on the sofa being lulled into Peppa-trance. By the time my husband came home that night, we'd clocked up a week's worth of squeaky voices in one sitting and were dead to the world apart for the occasional oink.

That night I was full of big questions:

Is Peppa even a pig at all? Or is she a bossy cow?
Is there any job Miss Rabbit can't do?
Why do they need to lie down when laughing?

But  mainly;

*Whisper it* Could all this telly be bad for my kids? And me?

I don't mean in some long term, neurocognitive, socially-stunted, obese way. I mean like, right here, now. Cos whilst it seems that the iNanny is great at stopping them crawling up my leg while it's on, the second I turn it off it's like a Cbeebies apocalypse; all high-octane whining and primary coloured rage.

It's almost like the telly steals their imaginations, turning them into consumers who need to be entertained rather than masters of their own fun. A couple of hours of Peppa and suddenly the enchanted-fairy-castle-headquarters I've optimistically constructed out of sheets in the lounge is just 'a big boring mess, mummy'.

Not to mention the mummy-guilt. Every time I hear Peppa splashing in muddy puddles, a small part of my outdoorsy, crunchy earth mummy fantasy dies. We should be outside splashing real puddles, right? The real crunch came when my little one fell over when we were at the woods the other day and cried for Peppa instead of me. Gutted!

Something had to change. So I've decided to turn off the telly during the week, just for a bit to tame the addiction. I'm not getting precious about it. If we're at someones house and it happens to be on, I won't be shielding the kids eyes or anything. And we'll still be flicking it on as a treat at weekends. But in the week we're going unplugged. Ekkkkkkkkk!

We've only been going a week and the first few days were definitely the hardest. Here're a few things we've learnt already:
  • I'm as addicted as they are - telly has always been my crutch for getting things done. For the kids, it's more about boredom and tiredness. Finding 'down-time' alternatives and 'time-out' for me takes time but they are adjusting quicker than I am.
  • Puzzle books are our new go-to for the four-year-old; Where's Wally, dot-to-dot, maze puzzles and animal scrapbooks are his new favourites. He's also deeply attached to his Dinosaur Dictionary. Who knew there were 15 dinosaurs beginning with Z? Not us till we turned the telly off.
  • The 2-year-old is even more adaptable. She constantly amazes me with her role play and imaginative games. Cue terrible mummy guilt that I hadn't noticed this before.
  • We're reading a lot more stories. It's starting to rub off on the 4-year-old and he's starting to 'read' to his sister when I creep away for a cuppa.
  • They are playing together more and there are fewer rows. I didn't realise arguing over what to watch was such a big flash point.
  • They are getting better at playing by themselves while I get things done. 
  • They talk a lot more. Not TO each other and me. More AT each other and me. At the same time. Good and bad on so many levels. 
In summary, I have noticed a big improvement in their behaviour. Saturday, Sunday and Monday are definitely our low points of the week, which coincides with the screen time we allow them at the weekend and the hangover afterwards.

So with mixed emotions, I'm so glad it's Tuesday tomorrow. Only 4 more days till Saturday...

And then the fun began...

Sunday, 12 July 2015

We Need To Talk About Clingy Kids And Independent Play

Ever feel like you're throwing yourself into a bottomless pit of need?
Ever feel like the pit is so wide and deep, you don't even touch the sides?
Ever feel like no matter how much you give, your child still has more to take?

This is how I feel with my son whenever we attempt Independent Play. 

Today's effort went like this;

'Mummy, I need you to play dinosaurs with me.'

'Honey, we've had a whole morning together. We read your dinosaur dictionary. We made a triceratops out of loo roll. We made your dinosaurs a picnic and ate it at the park. I think you can play by yourself ten, teeny-weeny minutes'.

'No.' (Crazy head-shaking.) 'NO! NOOOOOOO!'

'Honey, I need to do some jobs* (*Make a cup of tea,) and some work** (**Muck about on Facebook). 

'But I neeeeeeeeddddddddd you'.

'You're fine, honey. Take your Iguanodon to the garden, make a jungle'.

'Primordial swamp, mummy. Iguanodons need swamps. And snacks. And mummies'. 

Oh yes, I'm responsible for the emotional demands of Iguanodons as well as children round here. Dino-sized guilt! 

Luckily, I was recently offered the opportunity of a consultation with Onna Alexander. A co-founder of the Pikler UK Association. Oona has twenty years’ hands-on experience working with children and families - first as a teacher, then guiding parents and young children as a group leader. About ten years ago she came across the work of Dr Emmi Pikler and, having now done extensive training in Pikler’s approach, she gratefully acknowledges Pikler as her greatest source of inspiration.

I could have talked with Oona all day and would've loved to have heard more about Pikler, but we only had 45 minutes: the dinosaurs were still hungry. Luckily Oona had some quick-fire myth-busting techniques to help me rethink my whole approach to independent play.

Myth Number 1
My child needs me to play with him. 
Nope, according to Oona. All he needs is to feel a strong loving connection, which will empower him to play on his own. 

Hang on, he's Velcroed to my leg. A pretty strong connection, no? Thing is, the tighter he clings, the more I'm forced to - and there's no nice way of doing this - peel him off, one white knuckle at a time. Before long I'm locking myself in the loo just for 2 minutes of alone time. Strong feelings? You bet. Loving? Not so much.

Apparently it's a matter of baby steps. The first being sitting and watching him play, without taking part. When the role-play demands kick in (Roar, mummy, roar! Like I'm roaring. At you.') I'm to remind him I'm enjoying watching him without joining in.

What about when he plays hardball? You know, when he can't reach the exact shrub the triceratops wants for lunch, or find the exact moss the T-Rex fancies sleeping in, and the tears start squirting? Oona calls this 'getting creative' and advises me to remind him I'm enjoying watching him solve the problems for himself without joining in, thus volleying the imaginary ball back into his hands. So no more dreaming up ever-more intricate and fantastical scenarios in an attempt to capture his imagination, then. Step way from the prehistoric soap opera, Jude. 

Myth Number 2
It's my job to play with him.
Of course having fun with our children is all part of bonding and being a parent, but our real calling is to support our children's journey towards becoming independent, says Oona. Sounds simple, but this was a big revelation for me. I'd always felt like I should play with my kids on demand and felt guilty when I said no. But Oona's words made me realise that by stepping back, I'm not taking something away, I'm giving him something better; the opportunity to become more self-reliant. 

Keep telling yourself that when the tantrums kick in, Jude. Oona has tips for this too. 

Myth Number 3
I need to solve his tantrums.
Typically when I force the Independent Play issue the Red Mist descends and I quickly fall back on the ye olde parenting favourites of explaining, distracting and redirecting. 'I can't play now, I'm on the phone. Diplodocus is hungry. Go make him a leaf salad.' Unsurprisingly, this never works. Salad never solved anything.

Oona's take is that rather than trying to palm my son off with alternatives, I'd be better off  
acknowledging his feelings and letting him know he's been heard whilst still sticking to my boundaries. Give me exact words, I begged, knowing this would be tricky when the dinosaurs were charging. She had me write these down;

'It sounds like you really want me to play with you,'
'You're telling me you want me to play.'
'You wish I could play with you now.'
It's going to be hard for you to play without me.'

That's it. No justifying or rational explanations. No trying to solve the problem or distract him. I'm just to repeat these phrases and be with him till the tantrum burns out, without giving in. The idea is that he'll be soothed by my presence and feel heard, while I get to stick to my boundaries, guilt free.

'Even when he's butting me with his Raptor and threatening extinction?' 'Yup,' Oona continued. 'You can still hold him and cuddle him when he's cross. Use phrases like ''I won't let you break that/ hit me/ hurt your sister,'' but don't send him away or demand he stops. Let the tantrum burn out and you might find he has a moment of softness and opening up when you can reconnect.'

Ekkkkk! All sounds pretty exciting and revolutionary. I can't wait try these techniques out with my son. And his dinosaurs. Listen out for the stomps and roars....  I'm hoping for a dino-sized improvement.
And then the fun began...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Gym Instructors; No Match for a Gym Buddy.

I was fed up. What I wanted was a friend. My best friend, Anna, to be precise. That and a few glasses of wine, my body weight in chocolate, maybe even a holiday in the sun...

Nothing like a spot of PND to make you reassess your life balance. Much as the nightly glass of vino was doing a grand job boosting my serotonin, I had a nagging feeling there must be a healthier way off the tablets. Had she not moved away, Anna - an awesome Personal Trainer - would be kicking my mood into touch with one of her hardcore workouts and massage/ torture sessions.

We used to go to the gym together all the time. Back when she lived the other side of town rather than the other side of the world. Back before we had kids and were averaging more than quarter of an hour to ourselves in 24. Motivation wasn't a problem then. We'd chat on the treadmill. Gossip over the weights. We even had time for a cuppa and some carb-loading afterwards; all very pampering.

Then we had kids. Pampering became more about the brand of nappy we used than anything else.
Besides, Anna had moved away and I'd lost the only person I knew who could get my arse off the sofa.

The only time I broke a sweat without her was when the kids dragged me onto the trampoline. At least it worked out my pelvic floor. Clench! But it was doing sod all for my serotonin levels. No wonder I was slamming doors and hiding in the loo when the kids did my head in.

I think it was Anna who told me that when you're stressed or angry, the body releases flight or fight hormones. If you don't burn them off, you just stay stressed long after the moment has passed. Throwing toilet rolls and kicking the cistern wasn't cutting it. I was going to have to join a gym. On my own.

Enter the gym instructor. Tanned. Neon leggings. A bag of lettuce she snacked on like crisps. We were not gonna be friends.

She wouldn't let me hide in the changing room cubicle when I'd signed up for her class.

She didn't buy my delaying tactics when I spent most of the 'warm-up' untangling my headphones.

She wouldn't let me lurk in the back row till I found my groove. 'Beginners at the front where I can see you, please.'

She had no mercy when it came to floor-to-ceiling mirrors. 'Beginners at the front where you can see yourself, please.'

She had a tragic obsession with 90s dance tracks. And a Britney mic.

I had a feeling she wasn't that bright; always losing count of repetitions and taking ages to count to 12.

She thought I was just sweating when I was actually crying.

She said ridiculous stuff like 'don't forget to breathe,' when I was clearly hyperventilating. And 'find yourself a partner,' when there was only 3 of us in the room. (So I'd lost my Gym Buddy. Was she trying to rub it in?)

She wasn't shy about getting butt-naked and rubbing oil into her abs in the changing rooms.

She didn't even have the decency to go to reception for me when I forgot my locker combination after the shower, dripping wet, and wrapped in a too-small kids towel.

Basically, I hated her.

So it was weird that the more I started hanging out in her classes, the better I started feeling. Turns out, raising my heart rate still raised my mood. 20 minutes in, I felt the red mist rising off me like steam. Yes, it really, really hurt, and made me look and feel really, really hideous in front of someone who wasn't promising tea and gossip afterwards, but I won't be stopping anytime soon.

In fact, next I find myself getting teary and twitchy from being patient with the kids all day or snappy at the husband for being 15 minutes late when the kids have been screaming for 20, I'll be back for that gym instructor's 'Now, That's What I Call 90s' ASAP.

Lettuce though? Instead of crisps? She's on her own. I'll be raising a cuppa and some unrefined carbohydrates to Anna; still the best gym buddy ever. xx

Monday, 22 June 2015

Oglee Poglee Craft Workshop Review and Craft Box Giveaway!

Messy play. *Shudder* The mere mention of  glitter and glue used to have me twitching and reaching for the vacuum cleaner. Yes, I wanted to be cool, laid-back mama helping my children channel their inner Picasso. I just didn't want to do it at home... One spilt paint pot too far and the house resembled a crime scene; red hand prints on the walls, paintbrushes being brandished like weapons and a toddler in the corner inhaling Prit Stick. 

Which is why I was so thrilled to be invited to an Oglee Poglee craft workshop over half term. A chance to indulge the hooligans' craft habit and flee the crime scene afterwards. Get out of jail free!

I was more than a little nervous - in my experience, Glue + Toddlers =  'anti-social' behavior, but I needn't have worried. The leader, Claire, was well prepared with reassuring wipe-clean tarpaulings, aprons for all and a designated wash up area.  

The session began with a story about a fascinating made-up world starring the curious Oglee Pip and a chance to explore his box of treasures. The story was long enough to inspire the kids and introduce the 'Outer Space' theme but not so long that they got fidgety. 

Then it was time to roll up our sleeves and unleash creative chaos! My son went straight for the foam clay and got stuck into making an alien out of pipe cleaners and googly eyes. My daughter was transfixed by marble painting 'shooting stars' and 'meteors' on giant black paper. There was also shiny circles and textured paint to make planets - addictive stuff: so tactile! And a spaceship making area where my son got busy with matchstick 'nails' and a hammer. The younger kids loved the water play area with stars, planets and alien toys. And even the littlest fingers enjoyed squeezing drops of ink onto coffee filters to watch the colours make magic patterns.

I loved how Claire helped the children bring everyday materials to life - printing with lids, squirting with bottles and building with polystyrene. It was also fun to discover new things. The foam clay is a new favourite I might even bring out at home!

The session finished with a calming story and a biscuit before we left with our many creations. The kids also came away with a sense of pride in their new skills. The parents, with a new respect for the dark arts of messy play. Craft is no longer a contraband to be feared. It's just good unclean fun.

We weren't the only family think so. Ursh, Mum of Jack (4) and Charlie (4 months) said

'We absolutely love these workshops! The themes are great and well thought out and we get so much done in an hour, my little one is always asking me when the next one is whenever we leave. Good quality crafts used and overall a very enjoyable hour for both of us. Even my 4-month-old wanted to watch and see what was going on. Would recommend to anyone with young ones. ' 

Fancy joinning in the fun with your little one? Claire has generously offered one lucky reader a personalised Oglee Poglee Space Adventure Craft Box, RRP £17.99, jam-packed with everything you need to explore deep space, dodge flying comets and collect moondust. Each box also includes an Oglee Pip adventure story, a magic button and even PVA glue, so there’s no need to buy any extra bits!  

Don't worry there's no pressure to create a great masterpiece. Oglee Poglee Craft Boxes encourage ‘open-ended’ creative play. Each child decides what to make, thereby avoiding the stress of creating a picture-perfect craft. They can customise Oglee Pip’s story books, design their own creations and even take the magic button off on marvellous adventures all of their own.

To enter the give away visit my Facebook page here - if you enjoy it, please 'like' and share. Many thanks! Good luck!

Bring on the unclean fun!

Monday, 15 June 2015

I'm going to Britmums Live thanks to Pertz Leggings; the shape of feeling good!

So, Friday is a big day. I'm off to Britmums Live; the biggest blogging event of the year devoted entirely to a parenting audience and run by the UK's largest parent blogging network of more then 4K influential and engaged bloggers.
  • My name is Jude. I blog at - and no, I'm not an Earth Mother. I just wish I was. 
  • You can find me tweeting at @mmearthmother
  • I'm 5ft 2. I have dark short hair and blue eyes - and look like this;

  • This is my second Britmums and I'm in it for the long haul: I'm going both days.
  • I can't wait for The BiBs Awards Ceremony - lots of my blogging buddies are up for awards this year so I'll be on the edge of my seat, cheering them on. I'm also looking forward to meeting some new faces and discovering some new blogs. The Keynote Speech delivered by Deliciously Ella will also be a highlight. Ella's blog 'Deliciously Ella', is all about embracing healthy living and gets over six million hits a month! Her book has been the fastest selling debut cookbook since records began! Inspiring? Just a bit. 
  • I've been sponsored by Pertz Leggings so I'll be proud in my Pertz on the day. Pertz definitely deliver on their promise to give me 'the shape of feeling good.' Their unique design and fabric limits my ‘muffin top’, flattens my tummy and banishes the dreaded leg wobble, giving my thighs definition and support. Hello, canapes! Goodbye holding in my tummy and worrying about what I look like all day!

  • This year I'm really hoping to fire up my creativity and feel inspired by Britmums Live. I'll have been blogging for 2 years come September and sometimes I do wonder where it's all going. Events like Britmums help me refocus and remember that it's not just my lonely voice echoing around cyberspace. I'm part of a fab community! A day without the kids will also be a novelty.
  • This is my second Britmums so I'm by no means a pro but to the newbies, I'd say; relax and enjoy it! It is intense and there will be lots of hugging and squealing going on but don't be intimidated. Not everyone knows each other - and even the odd person who does will be up for meeting new people. That's what Britmums is about; looking up from our computer screens, making eye contact with the faces behind the avatars and reaching out to new blogging buddies. Look forward to meeting you! 
See you there! xxx

Monday, 8 June 2015

A Memo to Imaginary Friends

Dear Imaginary Friends

Apologies for the note, but pinning you down for a face-to-face is impossible when you're invisible.

As you know, I'm down with the kids, welcoming to their friends. But you're starting to take the non-imaginary mick.

Firstly, it's NOT O.K. to keep demanding REAL food. The clue is in the name. You are IMAGINARY. So are your biscuits, got it?

Also, hate to rush you, but getting out of the house is slow enough without you being left behind every time. Keep up!

Any chance you could work on the clumsiness? As if I haven't got enough cleaning up to do without you knocking over plant pots and upturning plates every two seconds. Enough.

Also, teeny bit annoying - and hard to take seriously - when you change the rules of our imaginary games every time you're not winning.

Take the shape-shifting. Are you a Rabbit or are you a Monkey? Or are you invisible? It's impossible to play along when I don't know whether I should be offering carrots or bananas. Or other invisible 5-a-days.

And that thing when you get all cliquey and leave out the younger sister? Not cool.

Any chance you could stop faking your birthday every other day? No one loves an attention seeker.

Also, I know you come from a parallel universe, so your sense of timing is probably out of whack, but on what planet is O.K to hype kids up at 7pm?

Lastly, that disappearing act. Terrifying. It must be great to take off at every tantrum, but would it kill you to take one for the team occasionally?

Believe me; you might be imaginary, but the struggle is real.

Yours, in real rage,


Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Calpol Headlock and other illness lows.

So I've been off-radar the last week or so, not only cos it's half term, but also because we've been in quarantine.

The two-year-old was the first to go. Sick in bed. For a clean freak who's already terrified of what her bottom can do, the whole horrible-stuff-coming-out-of-her-mouth thing was a scream.

Next to fall, catching us off guard nearly 5 days later was the big dude. Yes, there was vomit but his speciality was ranting delirious nonsense cos he refuses to take Calpol even in a head lock. What are people's thoughts on drug pushing a four-year-old? We resorted to fannying about with a fan all night instead. 

Yes, it was a worry, and I did feel for him BUT when it became clear he wasn't in actual danger, I won't lie, I almost started enjoying the family illness thing for awhile. Bodily fluids aside, sick kids don't half know how channel primal parenting urges to care and fuss and feel needed. Nothing like a whimpering child to make the heart squeeze.

The excuse to batten down the hatches and veg for a day was also a bonus. TV on 24/7? Totally legit. At one point when they were both snoozing in front of Peppa Pig, I think I actually read the paper with my feet up. Result!

The pressure of meal times was also off. Oh, the relief of not having to sit at the table, battle with cutlery control and coax healthy food into them 3 times in one day. Mummy's little soldiers mainlining Cheerios from the comfort of the sofa? At least they're holding something down, right?

Of course, it didn't last. I'd forgotten the natural evolutionary sequence of all childhood illness.

High temperature = High demand
High demand = High volume
High volume = Highly-stressed mummy

Oh yes and then, wine.

Calpol headlock.

More wine.

And then it was my turn to crumble. Now, I'm no drama queen (ahem) but what is it about kids bugs that make grown adults cry? The last few days are a blur of aches and pains and cramps and violent ejections. I think I might have slept on the landing one night. I have no recollection of what happened to the library book left at the side of my bed, but I had to wear Marigolds to remove it the next day. 

My stomach has finally made peace but I'm a shell of my former self, quivering over dry toast and wondering if I can risk a cuppa. Not to mention the cabin fever. We were supposed to catch up with friends at the zoo tomorrow but they've wisely ducked out in case we're still contagious.  

Meanwhile, my diarrhea has gone verbal and the kids are like caged beasts. If we make it to the zoo, I'll be the pale and glazed-eyed one jibbering to the keepers. My kids will be the maniacs galloping about with the animals, howling at the sunshine.

All back to normal then. 

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