A Festive Country Weekend

Though London is fun at this time of year, I am always pleased when we get the chance to escape the city for a day or two and get out into the countryside. Mr Techno and I have a great group of friends from our university days, and we all try to meet up a couple of times a year for a country weekend.

Usually we have to rent a cottage, but we got lucky this time as one of the girls’ parents were on holiday and kindly offered us the use of their house whilst they were gone. Her dad is an apple farmer and they have this great, old house in Kent, with more than enough room for all of us.

Mr Techno picked Tom and I up from nursery on the Friday evening and we headed straight down, arriving just half-an-hour after Tom’s normal bedtime. The timing was perfect, as he went straight down to sleep, so we could concentrate on catching up. We are the only ones of this group to have a kid. In some ways it is good – Tom has a lot of very indulgent adults in his life – but it does mean that the others aren’t really aware of the needs of small children. We are lucky that Tom is such a good sleeper, so we do at least get to enjoy adult time!

On Saturday, we were all very excited to go on a proper country walk. In fact, we were so excited that we decided to go on two walks.

The first was a wander around the farmland, which took about an hour. We all went, including the four dogs. Mr Techno and I quickly realised the buggy wouldn’t be able to cope with the terrain, so we ditched it. Tom walked some of the way, and then we took it in turns to carry him.

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Of course, we had to stop off to visit the horses.

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And the chickens.

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And the ferrets. Tom was less sure about the ferrets – they tend to be a bit bitey. He took shelter leaning against Mr Techno’s legs.

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After lunch, Tom went down for a nap. Mr Techno and a couple of the others stayed home, whilst the rest of us headed to Bewl Water for a longer, very muddy walk.

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After all the walking, we definitely felt like we had earned some food. We cooked up a big Christmas dinner. Tom went to bed and the adults enjoyed the food, wine and company. Knowing I’d have to be up early, I flaked out just after midnight, but some of the others were still going strong at 3 am.

Needless to say, Sunday was a rather subdued day. I had to get up at 6.30 as usual with Tom, so had a quiet start whilst everyone else…recuperated. Once they appeared, we had a lovely lazy morning, grazing on leftovers and reading newspapers by the fire. Tom and I did escape outside for a while as well – he had started chasing the dogs around the house and clearly had some energy to burn!

We headed back to London after lunch, thoroughly refreshed by time away from the city with some great friends.

Homemade Christmas Decorations

One day, I will be the kind of mother who plans ahead at Christmas time. All the presents will be bought and wrapped weeks in advance, and we will decorate the whole house on the first of December, with the carefully stored decorations that we have used year after year.

One day. But definitely not now. Because I only decided at the last moment that we should decorate the flat this year, and then refused to actually buy decorations, it has taken us quite a while to get anything up. However, stage one of operation Christmas Decorations is now complete, so I thought I’d share a progress report.

A couple of weekends ago, Tom and I started the process when we went foraging for some decorations. A few days later, whilst I was at work, Mr Techno and Tom went to buy a Christmas tree. They were under strict instructions to get the smallest one they could find. So, of course, they came back with something that takes up a third of the living room And a wreath for good luck.

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With something to actually decorate, and paint and glitter having finally arrived, Tom and I got started on the decorations. We began with the baubles – made from sycamore fruit we had gathered in the park.

We made two colours, gold and red. The gold ones were spray painted, but, because I was put off by the non-eco-friendliness of normal spray paint, I opted for fabric spray paint instead, which claimed to be non-toxic. The sycamore fruit took quite a while to dry as a result, but they looked great.

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Tom wasn’t allowed to help with the spray painting (toddlers and spray paint seemed like a receipe for disaster), but got involved with painting the red ones, which we did with normal poster paint. It took a lot longer, and the effect is not quite as good, but I still think they came out looking pretty decent.

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Once all the paint had dried, I attached tied knitting yarn around the stems of the fruit and hung them off the tree.

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The baubles came out pretty well, but the tree looked a bit plain with just the one shape. Fortunately, I have been saving toilet roll tubes for months, knowing that they would come in handy some day for a craft project. Stars for the tree seemed like a perfect way to use some up*.

We started by painting the tubes red with the same poster paint we used on the baubles. Tom was pretty good at getting the idea that the paint needed to go on the tube, but wasn’t so clear on the idea of covering the entire thing. Still, he did a pretty good job. I did the other three whilst he worked on his one.

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Guess which one is Tom’s…

The next stages are a bit more fiddly, so I waited until Tom was in bed for the night and the first layer of paint was dry. I gave each tube a coat of glitter paint, then left them to dry whilst I had dinner. Once they were dry, I cut each tube into rings – each about two cm wide. This gave me five rings per tube, with a tiny bit left over. I then glued the rings into a star shape, using my little craft pegs to hold them together whilst they dried (normal pegs would work just as well, but I’m a sucker for miniature things!)

I left the stars to dry overnight, then hung them on the tree the next day.

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To be honest, I should probably have painted the inside of the tubes too. Still they turned out pretty well. I’m going to make more over the next few days, with Tom’s help of course. Then all we will need is a big star for the top.

In a way, I’ve quite liked our gradual approach to decorating this year. It’s a little bit like having an advent calendar, except Tom gets to see what new decorations have appeared each morning instead of opening a little door. So maybe I’m not in such a hurry to become an organised mother after all…

*The idea for the toilet roll tube stars came from this site.



Understanding Schemas

Sometimes I think how hard each day of parenting is depends not on our children’s behaviour, but what is happening in our own heads. If I am calm, well rested, and in a good mood, I can handle any amount of tantrums, whining, or limit-testing that Tom decides to throw at me. But if I’m stressed, or have slept badly, or am distracted by other things, the smallest thing can have me at breaking point.

Sometimes, how I see a certain behaviour can have a big effect too. If I see Tom’s constant desire to press the buttons on the washing machine as a threat to my authority, then I lose my temper. If I see it as a schema – a necessary, uncontrollable urge that is a natural part of his development – then I can calmly redirect the urge to something more appropriate, such as the keys on his little keyboard or the buttons on the remote (which hasn’t had batteries in for about 6 months now!)

I’m very thankful that I found out about schemas early on in Tom’s life. In fact, I can’t remember where I first encountered the idea. But if you are looking for further information, the Nature Play website has a great section on it.

In psychology, a schema is defined as ‘a cohesive, repeatable action sequence possessing component actions that are tightly interconnected and governed by a core meaning‘ (source). More simply, this means a set of actions, such as putting things into a container, or dropping bits of food off a high chair, that crop up repeatedly in a child’s play for a time, whilst he or she works out the connecting principles (that small things fit inside big things in the first example, or gravity in the second). A list of the common schemas and how to give your child opportunities to explore them can be found on that Nature Play site and in this article from Cathy Nutbrown at Sheffield University (NB: opens a PDF).

Tom, at the moment, is very involved with working out an enclosure/container schema. This means that he spends a lot of time putting things into containers and taking them out again. He especially wants to investigate putting water into containers and pouring it out again – and this can be a bit irritating, as his favourite way of testing the principle is to pour his cup of water out all over his food. And his lap. And the floor.

If I didn’t know about schemas, I would be very cross about repeatedly having to clean up puddles of water after every meal. But because I know he can’t really fight this urge to experiment, I simply take the cup away before he can pour it out, saying firmly ‘No. Water in your cup is for drinking’. And then I find other ways for him to meet the urge, by providing lots of cups and scoops at bath time and letting him do plenty of water play during the day.

There’s a quote from Norman Vincent Peale: ‘Change your thoughts and you change your world’. I think it must be true. At the very least, it has changed my parenting.

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The Power of Silence

Tom is now fifteen months and is gradually beginning to say actual words, in amongst the sea of babbling. So far we have ‘goggy’ (doggy), ‘herro’ (hello) and ‘b-b’ (bye-bye). In addition to mama and dada of course. He used to say ducky too but seems to have stopped. Maybe duckies aren’t interesting now he has discovered trains.

It’s wonderful to think that, in the not-so-distant future, he will actually be able to have a conversation with us. Even just being able to tell us what he wants would be useful, instead of the random point-and-guess game we play a lot at the moment.

Having said that, it has been oddly restful spending time with someone who can’t yet talk. While I do the dutiful thing and chat to him a lot, there have been plenty of quiet moments where I haven’t felt the need to fill the silence with words. And Tom can make himself pretty well understood with gestures and expressions most of the time.

It also has helped me to cut down on using a phrase I hated hearing when I was a child; ‘What’s wrong?’ Obviously there is no point in asking, as he can’t tell me anyway. Instead, I have been learning to listen and watch before jumping in with words and questions. Once I think I know what the issue is, I might quietly say something like ‘you seem to be frustrated because you can’t get the blocks to stack’ (or whatever is appropriate to the situation). But sometimes it feels more natural to stay quiet and offer physical comfort or silent support, depending on what he seems to want from me.

We had a lovely moment in the park the other day. It had been a busy weekend and I think Tom was a bit overwhelmed by the parade of relatives he barely knows. So when we went out on Monday, he didn’t toddle off to play as he normally does. Instead, he asked to sit on my lap. We shared a long, quiet cuddle, both of us gazing out at the nature that surrounded us. Because we were outside, I wasn’t distracted by the chores or screens that call my attention away at home. I could just sit and give him my full focus. It was a wonderful moment of quiet connection. After about five minutes, he asked to get down and trotted off to investigate the green gym equipment, perfectly restored.wpid-imag1586.jpg

I just hope that when Tom is talking properly, I can still remember to watch, listen and stay quiet when he needs me too, instead of jumping in immediately with questions.

 

Weekly Report: W/c 30.11.2015

What is it about December? The month clicks over and instantly my calendar is full. Every weekend and every Tuesday night (my Tom free evening), is now taken until after Christmas.

We had a pretty busy first week, though we started slow on Monday by meeting up with a friend for a rather windy walk over Walthamstow Marshes and up past the reservoirs by Coppermill Lane. Having had a good long walk in the morning, it seemed ok not to brave the now rainy weather and stay indoors in the afternoon for some screen-free play.

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Wednesday was a rather sad day, because we had to go to the funeral of a friend’s mother. I did have a slight wobble in confidence shortly before leaving, wondering if it was actually appropriate to show up to the funeral of a non-family member with a toddler in tow. The friend in question is one of Tom’s godfathers though and I had no one to leave Tom with (Mr Techno was working), so we went. Tom behaved pretty well, though he did ‘chat’ through a few bits of the service. We stood at the back and I took him out about fifteen minutes before the end when it looked like he might start crying. We had a wander round the cemetery waiting for everyone to come out.

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I think it was the right choice  to go – Tom struggled towards the end but didn’t really know what was happening and we were able to be there to support his godfather, who gave a really beautiful eulogy. His mother was an amazing woman and it was wonderful seeing so many people come to celebrate her life and support her family. A very sad day but also a hopeful one hearing about a life so full and so well lived.

Thursday and Friday were work/nursery days, so Tom and I walked to nursery and back as usual. The wind was pretty strong both days and Tom struggled to keep his balance, so he didn’t want to stay for long in the park on our way home.

We had a lazy start on Saturday, as Mr Techno wasn’t starting work until midday, so we spent the morning at home as a family. After Tom’s afternoon nap, we headed out into the winds to forage up some Christmas decorations for the flat.

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On Sunday, we had our first Christmas party of the month, heading to Oxfordshire to the home of Tom’s great-grandmother (Mr Techno’s maternal grandmother). The whole of that side of the extended family was there and I think Tom was a bit overwhelmed by the parade of great-aunts, great-uncles and various cousins. Though he was very pleased to see his cousin Rose, who is just five weeks younger than him. They get on so well and I’m really excited to see them both enjoying Christmas together when we all gather at Mr Techno’s parents’ house in Suffolk.

We did manage to escape into the garden with the numerous family dogs between courses – a three course meal with coffee is a lot for toddlers to sit through! Some fresh air and a run around ensured good behaviour for the seated parts of the meal. Fortunately, Tom crashed out in the car both on the way there and the way back, as the journey took us about 3 hours.

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A busy week and a very worn-out toddler by the end!