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?

Literacy and Outdoor Play

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I have a friend who is a primary school teacher in a fairly typical inner city school. In fact, she is not just a teacher, but also head of literacy, despite only having been a teacher for three years. She is passionate about engaging kids with books and that just shines through when you talk to her.

A few months ago, we were chatting about the importance of reading to kids. She told me about reading the Gruffalo with one of her classes. She hadn’t got past the first page when one of the kids interrupted. To ask why it was dark in the forest. None of the other kids could work it out either.

Why? Because these are kids who have never played in a wood.

They don’t know that trees block out light to make forests dark. They have no personal experience to fit these stories into.

I don’t think anyone would deny that learning to read is important. But my friend’s experience shows that outdoor play is a key part of fostering a love of books. Kids need to experience the physical world in order to let the imaginative world of literature take shape. To learn that trees cast shadows. To learn that grass swashes and mud squelches (especially when hunting bears).

It works the other way too. Books can provide a framework for creative outdoor play. Tom and I have hunted bears (well…ok… multicoloured plastic crabs) on the Walthamstow Marshes and enjoyed windy day play with Carol Thompson’s Wind

Experiencing firsthand the wonders of nature is integral to encouraging literacy in kids. And vice versa. Plus, who can argue with a love of books and a love of nature as worthy things to nurture in our kids?

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Green Is Not a Parenting Style

I read a lot. Mainly fiction, but also autobiographies, anthropological studies, and books on sustainable living. And, since Tom was born, about parenting.

I tend to be drawn towards books and magazines that focus on being a ‘green’ parent. I subscribe to the Green Parenting Magazine, and I have recently been given two different books with ‘green parenting’ in the title (The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting by Zion Lights and The No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting by Kate Blincoe). I read blogs by parents aiming for a more sustainable life.

Mostly, these books, magazine articles and blogs are good. Sometimes useful, sometimes funny, sometimes informative. But there is a worrying underlying assumption in many of them and it has been annoying me more and more as time goes on.

The assumption is this: that being a green parent means being an attachment parent.

It’s all over the place. Especially in the Green Parent magazine. This assumption that anyone who wants to take care of the environment must also want to breastfeed, co-sleep, and baby-wear. That you can’t want to live sustainably and also use time-outs. Even the Zion Lights book, which is not very long, dedicates the entire beginning chapter to telling people that they should take the attachment route. And never, ever, ever think of doing any kind of sleep training. (The Kate Blincoe book, incidentally, has a brief mention of baby-wearing but otherwise is refreshingly free of judgement on parenting style. Read it. It’s very good).

Now, if you’ve read my parenting posts before you will know I do some of these things with Tom. I own more slings than I should and aim for empathetic, gentle discipline over time-outs or scolding (not always successfully). But that is to do with how I feel most comfortable parenting and what works best for my family. It has nothing to do with wanting to be green. Being a green parent should be about trying to reduce your impact on the environment and teaching your kids to do the same. Recycling? Buying second hand clothes? Using cloth nappies? These are things I do which make me closer to being a green parent. Owning four slings? That doesn’t make me green, especially considering I also own a buggy. And I’d like to think the fact that Tom has never slept a single night in our bed doesn’t make me not green either. Nor does introducing a couple of bottles of formula a day when I went back to work when he was 6 months old (we already owned the bottles, proving breastfeeding is not always waste-free, and recycled the formula cartoons. We are still using the scoops as toys for water or sand play).

And that is my worry. That parents who want to reduce their impact on the planet, but who don’t (or can’t) breastfeed or baby-wear or co-sleep, might read these books and articles and be turned off the whole idea. Because it ends up being part of the realm of ‘that’ kind of parent. Which is ridiculous. We all need to think about what we use and what we throw away. Especially when we are raising the next generation. It has nothing to do with which parenting style you prefer and everything to do with being mindful of your choices and how they affect the world around you. And raising your kids to do the same.

So regardless of how you approach parenting, please don’t think you can’t also aim for a greener life. Because you do not have to be an attachment parent to be a green parent.

 

Life with Baby Kicks

Can Sick Kids Play Outdoors?

IMG_0331After a lovely weekend in Suffolk, we came back to real life with a crash on Monday, when Mr Techno got a call to pick Tom up from nursery. Poor little man had a temperature, was off his food and generally not his happy, bouncy self. Mr Techno had the day off anyway, so was able to pick him up and take him home for cuddles and naps.

By the time I got home from work, Tom was looking much better and his temperature was back down. He had a very flushed little cheek though and we’ve noticed his canines pushing through, so we guessed he was probably teething. He was fine first thing on Tuesday and ate his breakfast as normal, so we assumed all was well. I headed off to work, and Mr Techno took Tom for his first Nature Club session.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I had a text from Mr Techno telling me that Tom had been very grumpy at Nature Club and had then fallen asleep midway through the session. So either the teething was causing him more issues than we thought, or he is sick.

Straight off, I should say that we wouldn’t have taken him to Nature Club if we had thought he was actually sick, rather than just teething, as passing on germs to other babies is not exactly good behaviour. However, it has got me thinking about whether we should be keeping Tom inside if he is unwell. Logically speaking, I can’t actually see any reason why he should have to stay indoors – of course he should be kept warm, but if he is well wrapped up outdoors he’ll actually be warmer than he would be in our not-very-warm flat. Fair enough he may not feel like running around and will probably prefer to snuggle in the buggy, but do we really need to keep him in?

Like all responsible parents when faced with a medical question, I have turned to Dr Google for the answers. And come up with a bit of a blank, at least when it comes to an actual medical opinion. What I found instead was various forums and blog posts from parents who either advocate letting sick kids play outside, or who are horrified by the thought. So it seems we are left to trust our own common sense on this one, which is, quite frankly, terrifying.

First of all, I thought about how illnesses are caused. And since we no longer live in Victorian times, we are fairly clear that they are caused by viruses, bacterial or fungal infections, genetic issues, or autoimmune conditions. Not being out in cold weather. Having said that, I did wonder whether our immune systems might work less well when we are cold. A cursory search on Google Scholar didn’t turn up conclusive evidence either way – the best I could find was a study from the 1970s that seemed to indicate a reduced immune response in fish when the water is colder, but how applicable this is to humans is questionable. Lets just say that it is miserable to be ill and miserable to be cold, so ill people probably shouldn’t have to be cold if it can be avoided. Having said that, it is perfectly possible to be warm outdoors in winter, as long as you are suitably dressed.

Second, I looked into the claim that fresh air helps prevent sickness. According to this site, a Swedish study found that children who attended a forest school had 25% less sick days. I’ve seen this quoted before, but couldn’t find the original study (which is presumably in Swedish anyway). So I don’t know that this is true. A similar claim is made in this article from an actual academic journal, so there may well be truth to the claim.

Essentially, I could find nothing to say that being outdoors would make Tom worse, and a few things that indicated that being outdoors might help fight illness. So we will be continuing to get outdoors with Tom, although probably shorter trips, with the buggy to hand if he needs to curl up and sleep. We will, however, be keeping him away from the park and other places where he would be likely to infect other kids until he begins to get better. Because that is just good manners.

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