The challenging toddler years…

Is Tom actually a toddler anymore? Or does three count as a preschooler or something instead? Either way, he’s a far cry from the adorable 13 month old he was when I first started this blog and an even further cry from the tiny newborn in the picture on our desk.

To say that I have found the toddler years challenging would be a major understatement. Tonight, to take a fairly average example, I have told Tom off for hitting his (3 month old) sister, endured a whining marathon because I turned off the TV, and had a relatively lengthy argument about whether or not he had kissed his sister good night (He had. He just wanted to put off bedtime as long as possible so was insisting he hadn’t made the kissing noise, so it didn’t count). All this between 6.30 and 7.00 pm.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the bones of this boy. He’s bright and articulate and funny. He does crazy dances and tells me long stories and makes his dinosaurs pretend to take naps. Life wouldn’t be worth living without him. But he is also argumentative, willful and infuriatingly cheeky. No one can press my buttons the way he can.

Deep down though, I know the problem isn’t him. He’s a very normal toddler. If anything, he is actually more on the well behaved side, at least according to everyone else who knows him. The problem is me. Lack of sleep and the constant work of parenting a young baby are making me impatient, snappy, and sometimes scary-shouty. Instead of remaining calm and establishing firm limits, I’m losing my temper, shouting, and acting like a child myself. None of which helps Tom to behave well.

Something needs to change. And since Piper doesn’t look set to start sleeping better anytime soon, it isn’t going to be getting more rest…

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Parity, Penises and Parenting: A Post for International Women’s Day

I spent most of my late teens and early twenties insisting I wasn’t a feminist. I didn’t see the need. From my safe, privileged bubble it looked as though that war was over. And I’d bought into the myth that feminists are man-haters who think women are better than men, rather than just equal to. Essentially, past-me was an idiot.

As I got older, entered the workplace and learnt a bit more about the world, I realised that the fight for equality between the genders was very much not over. Even in the UK, where we have made huge strides, women take home less money than men and make up a greater percentage of those earning only the national minimum wage. Almost 80% of senior management posts worldwide are held by men. Meanwhile, 1 in 4 women are subjected to domestic violence in their lifetime (source for all of these stats). Clearly, there is still a huge problem. And that’s even before we look at areas of the world where ‘women’s rights’ is a phrase that simply does not apply.

One of the simultaneously most empowering and most scary parts of being a parent is when you realise how much power you have to shape the views and opinions of another human being. And if we all raise our kids to know in their bones that men and women are equal, that skin colour has nothing to do with a person’s worth, and that who you choose to take to bed is only the business of you and that person (assuming everyone is legal and consenting of course)…we won’t have to have these conversations anymore. Equality will be a given.

Sometimes I think that this must be more straightforward for parents of girls. Not easy. I see nothing easy about having to challenge the endemic and often unconscious sexism that women encounter all the time. But the need to challenge that view, to provide strong female role models, to do your best to bring up an empowered woman who knows her worth…that need must feel pretty urgent.

I don’t have a daughter though. I have a son. My boy is white, male and middle-class, growing up in a world where being white, male and middle-class makes you one of the privileged ones. This makes the need to provide examples of female empowerment feel a little less urgent. A little less relevant. Which is, of course, a dangerous attitude. Because equality between the genders (and I include every possible permutation in that, not just the classic male/female) will only come when everyone believes in it. It’s not a battle that can, or should, be won by women alone.

As always in parenting, this is a matter of balance. Tom was born with a penis. This is a biological fact. And, regardless of whether he grows up to be a straight man, or a gay man, or a trans woman or any other of the wonderful variety of things that humans can be, being born with a penis is going to form a big part of his identity. So the last thing I want to do is make him feel guilty about that. I’ve spent most of my life feeling obscurely guilty for the fact I was lucky enough to be born into a well-off family…as though it was something I chose. I don’t want that for him.

So how do we do this? How do we raise a son who knows that women and men are equal, without making him feel guilty for being born a member of the sex who has historically been dominant? (this is a genuine question by the way – we have some ideas but are not exactly experts…)

He’s only 18 months, so the more in depth conversations are going to have to wait until his vocabulary expands a bit (somehow I don’t think ‘car’ and ‘doggy’ are going to cut it). At the moment, our approach to this issue mainly revolves around not labeling behaviours as typically male or typically female (Tom loves cars for example. And also tea parties and dancing and housework. Sometimes all together).

We are providing him with toys from both the blue and pink sections of the toy aisle – and boy does that bit of marketing make me angry! We are on the look out for stories with strong female characters as well as strong male ones (any suggestions very welcome). And we are trying to model equality in our marriage. Both Mr Techno and I go out to work. Both of us have days where we are home alone with Tom. Both of us cook. Both of us do housework. Both of us do DIY. I’m more likely to do the clothes wash and he’s more likely to handle power tools…but we are getting there.

I guess we just keep talking to Tom. At an age appropriate level. Challenge sexism wherever we see it. Provide examples of both women and men who step outside of accepted gender roles. And make sure he continues to grow up around men who are comfortable in who they are without needing to put down women (or anyone else) in order to feel powerful.

So here is my #PledgeForParity for International Women’s Day: I will not only call myself a feminist, I will raise my son to call himself one too.

Suck on that, past-me.

PS. If you’d like to see some amazing women who are proving that the construction industry isn’t just for men…head over to the SPAB’s Vimeo Channel where my colleague Ali has been putting together videos showcasing women working in building conservation – from architects to building surveyors to stonemasons. And check out the SPAB’s careers advice page whilst you are at it to see how your daughters, or sons, could develop a career working with historic buildings (I wrote it, so you know it will be brilliant).

PPS. This post is linked up with Lulastic’s International Women’s Day link up. So head over there to read more: http://lulastic.co.uk/activism/feminism/international-womens-day-2016-blog-link-up/

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The Importance of Physical Play

It is no wonder toddlers need to nap. Tom is a constant ball of energy, every moment he is awake. He bounces and climbs and runs around. He dances, pounces on his blankie and, just when you think he’s going to stop for a moment, he’s off again, marching down the corridor whilst kicking a balloon and singing his own peculiar version of head, shoulders, knees and toes (he can’t do any of the words and only manages ‘knees and toes’ and ‘mouth of the movements). I love every moment of it.

I had a perplexing conversation with a mum I know a few months back. She was lamenting that her 18 month-old son didn’t yet have the attention span to sit through an entire tv show. I tried to be sympathetic (because I’m a pushover), but what I was really thinking was ‘why?’

Why would she want her kid to sit still? I couldn’t be prouder that mine is in perpetual motion. Granted, a bit of peace and quiet is nice sometimes and if Tom was a less good sleeper I might feel differently. He’s pretty good at independent play too (RIE completely to credit for that), so it’s not too overwhelming.

And anyway, physical play is pretty damn important. Despite the scary figures on childhood obesity, I hope that most of us don’t have to worry too much about our kids being fat at Tom’s young age (he’s currently 17 months old). But encouraging physical play, ideally outdoors, is a way of building good habits right from the start.

There are a bunch of other benefits too. Physical play helps kids to learn about their bodies – what they can do and what they can’t. They develop their muscles and gross motor control. They learn to judge risk. They develop better balance and coordination. And they gain important experiences that teach them about the world – because, despite all our intellect and our technology, humans are still physical beings in a physical world.*

Physical play with other people can also be really important. Tom loves to be chased, to be picked up and spun around, to use me or Mr Techno as a climbing frame. He loves when we pretend, very gently, to wrestle with him. He loves me nuzzling him with my head. He isn’t great at giving kisses still but will rest his head on mine and stare into my eyes in a physical motion that is just as loving.

There’s a great exploration of this in Larry Cohen’s book ‘The Playful Parent‘. I didn’t necessarily love the book – it mainly explores play as therapy and seemed to miss some of the joy of playing just because, not because it is a teaching moment or a way to work through big feelings. Though of course play can do both those things too. But I did like most of the book and it had some really thought-provoking things to say about the importance of ‘rough-housing’ – there’s a summary here.

So hurray for running, jumping, wrestling and dancing. And for what they teach our kids.

*Sources and further reading:

http://health.act.gov.au/healthy-living/kids-play/active-play-everyday/benefits-regular-physical-activity

http://www.nature-play.co.uk/identifying-play.html

http://www.early-years.org/parents/docs/learning-through-physical-play.pdf (warning: opens a PDF)

http://www.skc-ecd.ca/documents/pdf/Bulletins/Parent_Series/Parenting_2011-04.pdf (Another PDF)

http://www.kidspot.com.au/Toddler-Development-The-importance-of-active-play-for-toddlers+6069+26+article.htm

 

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When Clocks Stop, Fun Starts

I have to admit to being ever so slightly controlling when it comes to time. Much as I would love to be an instinctive, child-led, responsive parent, I tend to have half an eye on the clock throughout the day. And, though I think that a daily routine is important in helping both children and adults feel more secure, eat better, sleep better, and manage change better, I do find that our routine has a tendency to err a bit too much towards the strict schedule side of things, which I am less comfortable with.

This week though, everything has been different. This is because my watch battery has run flat and I have been too disorganised busy to sort out a replacement. I would have thought that I would be lost without the constant reassurance of knowing what time it is, but in fact it has been rather freeing. It’s not as though I don’t have access to other clocks – there’s one on my phone, one in our living room, one in our bedroom, and one on any computer I happen to be sat at. There’s even one in Tom’s room. So I still have a vague idea what time it is, but am less able to check every minute and plan our day down to the last second. Which means we are operating much more to a nice gentle routine, and less to a military-style schedule.

Tom and I spent a lovely day together last Wednesday. It’s usually our family day, but Mr Techno has been busy with the opening of the new restaurant and has been around less during the week than usual (we did get him over the weekend instead though, which was both unusual and lovely). So I really wanted to make it a fun day for just the two of us, which are far and few between now I’m up to four days of work.

I put Tom in the sling and we headed to the playground in Millfield Park, which has the most amazing sandpit. Or I thought it was amazing at least. Tom was more interested in the ramp up to it – he was so proud of himself for being able to manage the slope and went up and down it over and over again. Then we played hide and seek around the little house for a bit and he had a go on the swings.

We left the playground and walked up the path back into the main park. Which caused a bit of an argument. Tom was absolutely adamant that he wanted to go play with the cars. No, not toys ones, the fast, dangerous, very big ones on the road. Unsurprisingly, I was not up for this plan, so a few minutes were spent picking him up, carrying him away, having him scream in anger, and then chasing him as he ran back towards the road.

Usually our day out would have ended at this point, with me checking my watch and deciding we had spent long enough outside. But with no watch to give me an excuse, I stuck it out longer than I would normally. And I am so glad I did. Because the running-chasing-and-carrying-away turned from a tantrum-causing event to an amazing game. I’m not entirely sure how it happened – one minute Tom was arching his back and having a shout every time I picked him up, and the next he was running away giggling and waiting for me to shout ‘I’m coming to get you’. Which was his signal to stop dead still and wait for me to come grab him and spin him round in circles. We played for at least an hour, until we were both exhausted. It was lovely.

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Lent and the Year’s Intentions

 

Today is the first day of Lent and I have been considering whether I should give up or take up anything. My mum and sister always give up chocolate, and I have joined in a couple of times. But I always feel that giving up something like that kind of misses the religious connotations of the period. Instead, I am going to take up being thankful. It is something I try to do anyway – recognise the blessings in my life (which are many) – but focusing on it specifically for a set period will hopefully help me appreciate what I have even more.

I don’t especially intend to share moments of thankfulness on this blog – there’s enough people out there keeping thankfulness diaries already. But you may get an update a few weeks down the line.

Lent also feels like an appropriate moment to re-visit my intentions for this year:

Be Mindful of Food Choices

Avoiding meat for most meals and making more considered food choices is going ok, but is probably the one I have been doing worst on. I have slipped up a couple of times and ordered things with fish in at restaurants, because I forgot I wasn’t supposed to. And Mr Techno always provides a meat-based meal when he cooks on Tuesday evenings. And there was a pack of bacon open in the fridge that needed eating, so I did add that to my pea and goats cheese salad. But I’ve still managed to cut way down on meat consumption, going from eating it almost everyday to just once or sometimes twice a week.

We’ve also made the switch to getting milk and juice from our local milkman. Along with the veg box we have had for years, this is helping us reduce our reliance on big supermarkets and cut down on packaging waste. Hurray!

Buy Only Secondhand Clothes

Tom is beginning to grow out of his 12-18 month wardrobe, so I’ve been having to buy him a whole bunch of clothes. So far we’ve scored everything we need secondhand, though I may need to get him some vests new, as I’ve been struggling to find enough in the right size. He needs more pjs too, but is otherwise set for the next few months and I’m pretty confident I can find him some secondhand (it is lack of money, rather than availability, that is holding me back currently).

I did get a new pair of walking boots at the very beginning of the year, but have allowed myself this as a) it was Mr Techno’s Christmas present to me and b) I really needed a good quality, good fitting pair which is difficult to achieve secondhand. With luck these will last me at least 10 years, where as a secondhand pair would be unlikely to have so much life left in them.

I’ve also developed a minor obsession with wearing men’s vests over leggings, but have kept to my promise and bought a few on ebay rather than getting them new. I tried to take a selfie to show you my favourite, but my selfie skills are sadly pants, so you will have to do without. I know this will be a great disappointment!

 

Get Outdoors Everyday

And, of course, we are still getting outside everyday. I don’t think we have had a single day this year when we haven’t got out, even if it is just the walk to nursery, or a potter round the garden (sometimes in the dark with a torch just before bath and bed). My new job and our lack of family time recently has meant we haven’t explored as many new places as I had hoped, but we have discovered a new park and gone on a trip to Epping Forest, so some progress has been made. We also have a camping trip in Wales planned for this summer (I have to go anyway to run a course on repairing old floors and the site we are using is right on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, so was far too good to pass up!)

 

Anyone else giving something up for Lent? Or taking on a new challenge?