The Hamma Bead Solution.

As you may well know, I’m a big Hamma Bead fan. They keep my eldest daughter occupied for hours which can only be excellent. The only problem with Hamma Beads is that if you have a very prolific Hamma Beader in your family then storage becomes a problem. So thanks to some lovely ladies on Twitter I was inspired to create what’s known in the wider world as a Hamma Bead Wall. Sounds glorious doesn’t it? Well it is glorious because it stops them being chucked into a toy box and being broken into hundreds of pieces. It also gives said prolific child a chance to enjoy the work of their hands every single day.

So without further ado, here is Maisie’s Hamma Bead Wall of Joy! (I added “of joy” to make it sound a bit more fabulous. Hope you don’t mind.)

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Just to put it in context, we have a lot of work to do…
And er… Please ignore the woodchip. Thank you.

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6 Serious Childhood Conditions Triggered by Over-use of the iPad.

Ok, perhaps not entirely serious, but it’s as a result of these “conditions”, that things have a’changed in our household recently. Ignoring a fairly major blip over the Christmas period, we have put rules in place regarding screen time for the kids. Most families I know implemented these rules ages ago, but I’m a bit of a hot mess organisationally and it’s taken me until now to sort things out.

I think it’s important to point out that I’m not anti-iPad, I really enjoy my iPad and spend much too much time on it. I also feel that sometimes it’s the most astonishingly useful device when you’re out and about or on a long journey and you need to keep the kids entertained. I just think there need to be boundaries so that it works for the family not to the detriment of it.

For some reason, the iPad or any other gaming device for that matter, has an almost mystical hold over my son. Although my girls quite like to play computer games (joining up in Minecraft is a particular treat for them) they just aren’t as interested as Sam. Maybe this is an age thing, but it seems to me that the sort of games that boys tend to prefer, trigger the following serious conditions.

1. Rage-a-tosis. When my son has been playing on the iPad for a long period of time he turns into a snarling, snappy, rude and aggressive brat. Normally, he’s an incredibly sweet-natured little chap, so this is very out of character. The phrases, “Can I just finish this battle?” Or “But I’m in the middle of a match.” Quickly turn into,”I’m not coming until I’ve finished my match!” “That’s so unfair! You never let me finish anything! You HATE me!!” and then into, “ARGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”, or “GRAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” with a flourished collapse on the floor to full dramatic effect. Most annoying.

2. Zombi-osity This is the scientific word for whenever a kid is in a mid-game mong and turns into a Zombie. They can only see the game, they can only hear the game, they can only feel the game. These senses therefore become null and void for anything other than, the game. The consequence of this is that by the time I’m on my fourth, “Dinner’s ready, can you come and sit at the table please!!” I’m furious and irritable and ready to throttle him. Not a nice compulsion to feel towards the fruit of my womb and not a great starter for ten when it comes to creating a loving family atmosphere.

3. Invisibilityism When my son is on the iPad, he sort of disappears. I don’t see him and I don’t hear him. For all intents and purposes, he’s not with us. He’s in his own, very addictive, very solitary little world. I find this quite disturbing. Well, when I actually stop and think about it I find it disturbing, because what I usually do is just enjoy the silence and the lack of screaming that he inevitably provokes in the girls.

4. Anti-empatica Otherwise known as a total lack of empathy. When I’ve managed to prize my son away from a marathon gaming session, it’s quite clear that he behaves differently towards his sisters. He’s more abrupt, rude and mischievous. Normally I’m a fan of a bit of mischief but I’m not a fan of that strange post-game mischievousness which has an edge of nasty that none of us want in our lives.

5. Nagalotus Where children pester you for what they want until all your defences are worn down and you’d chew your right arm off for a bit of peace and quiet. If kids who like to play computer games feel even a moment of boredom, they ask to play on their device of choice. This doesn’t tend to happen once though. Oh no, me hearties, I’d say parents of a computer addicted child have to bat aside a constant drip of requests throughout the day if the children are not at school. It’s not surprising if we eventually give in, the nagging is non-stop and at the end of the day peace is soooooo lovely.

6. Flopaboutitus The condition that seems to strike after a particularly engrossing gaming session. For some reason when my son has just finished playing and is in the midst of a post-computer game fog, he becomes sort of mopey and sulky. It’s a bit like watching a teenager in love, mooning around and obsessing about the object of their desire. What is it about these games that’s so addictive? I feel the pull myself with Pet Rescue Saga, so odd and so pointless.

So, in response to this I’ve laid down the law and declared that Sam can only play on the iPad for an hour a day when we’re at home. That still seems like quite a lot of time actually but it seems that just having the law in place manages his expectations and therefore his reactions. He knows when time is up and he’s ready for it, so somehow in his brain it’s not so bad.

I have to say, the change to our family life is extraordinary. I actually see Sam now and it makes me realise how distant we had become with each other. The kids also really enjoy playing together. The girls adore their big brother and are delighted when he wants to play with them. The house is certainly noisier and messier, but there’s a feeling of camaraderie that isn’t there when the iPad dominates. It’s also very satisfying when they’re using their imaginations and laughing together and sorting out their own disagreements. It reminds me of watching lion cubs play fighting and rolling about, it seems like their play is teaching them “stuff” that they’ll need later in life. Not sure what that “stuff” is exactly but I’ve got a feeling it must be better than Zombi-osity…

A gently staged picture of Sam doing some maths, which he does almost constantly now that he doesn’t play on the iPad as much. Ok, that’s not true.

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The, “Do It Yourself”, 2.5-3 Year Development Assessment. Seriously??

I recently received a sheet full of Parental Prompt Questions, regarding the development of my three year old. I was expecting a letter from my health visitor asking me to make an appointment so my child’s development could be assessed by a PROFESSIONAL. I was NOT expecting a DIY questionnaire that doesn’t even have to be sent back.

One of the reasons these developmental assessments have always been so important for our children is because they are a great opportunity for a health professional to check our little ones are safe and thriving. A health visitor can subtlety check for inappropriate bruising, see if they look afraid or malnourished, check the home environment and also get a visual on whether or not their carer is coping. If Mum, Dad or Carer is suffering with depression or even being abused at home then the assessment is an amazing opportunity to identify a problem and offer a lifeline.

When I first saw the letter I was outraged and assumed that the form was a cost cutting excercise. So what on earth is going on? Well, I spoke to my local Health Visitor who explained the situation to me. It turns out it’s a way of coping with a backlog of over a thousand visits that have to be made by 2, part-time health visitors. Apparently, the times when your child is visited by a health visitor have changed. Any babies born now will be seen when they are, 10-14 days old, 6 weeks and 2 years old. The reason we got a form rather than a visit is that Izzy’s birthdate got caught up with a bunch of others who fell between the cracks when the new visiting ages were created. My family was deemed to be fairly safe so a questionnaire was sent instead of an appointment to try and ease the backlog.

The woman I spoke to obviously loves her job, but apparently lots of Health Visitors based in cities burn out from the overwhelming nature of what they come across in their job. Simply put, recruiting and keeping Health Visitors is very difficult and there is a huge shortage of them. So what does this mean? Unfortunately because there aren’t enough health visitors in Cambridgeshire, there will be kids that slip through the net. Kids who were fine at their last check may now have had a change in their family circumstance meaning their “safe” family dynamic has changed unnoticed.

The thing that infuriates me the most about this form is that you don’t even need to send it back if, “…you are happy with your child’s development.” From receiving the letter, it took me 10 days to read it properly and fill it out and I’m a fairly functional mum. If a parent who is barely coping or even abusing their child gets that letter, what are the chances they’re going to take the time to carefully fill it out and send it back with their concerns? Would someone who isn’t coping be in the right frame of mind to use this form to reach out? Would an abuser want to highlight any problems the child might have so attention would be drawn to the family? There isn’t even a number to call or an email address to use, the entire thing is completely reliant on snail mail, not ideal if your desperate.

The form is meant to give parents the chance to assess their kids themselves and get in contact if they feel anything is wrong. In theory this is fine but there are also plenty of children in “safe” homes where the parents have simply put their heads in the sand. We don’t always want to face the fact something might be wrong with our kids and sometimes it takes an outsider to state the obvious. Because of a manpower shortage, it could be years before these kids get identified.

This is not meant to be a rant about my local Health visitors, they have always been fantastic, the problem is there just aren’t enough of them, they’re not valued enough and they have much too much to do with the time that they have. But isn’t it sad that such an important job, one that is designed to protect us and our children is so undermanned? There have been so many cuts to health visiting services and unfortunately the people doing the job have so many targets and so many budget restrictions that I’m not sure how they’re ever going to be able to do everything they need to do. Come on Dave, spare a thought for our health visitors, they may not bring millions into the budget but they can save our families a fortune in health and safety.

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Maisie Draws…

…cat.

Since I’ve removed, “The Many Faces of Maisie Moo”, Maisie has started to enjoy drawing and wanted to put some of her art on my blog. So as of today “Sam Draws”, will become “Kids Art Gallery” and will be a lovely reminder for me of all their drawings. Thankfully this will also mean I don’t have to keep the thousands of art pieces (kids are very prolific aren’t they…?) hanging around the kitchen table.

I love this little cat, I found it crumpled and folded up in her book bag and think it’s a little treasure.

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How to keep an 8 year old boy occupied – ideas needed!

You’ve gotta love school. Teachers are amazing aren’t they? They get our children to sit down quietly and learn things and craft things and play in the playground. By the end of this first half-term though my two school-goers were completely knackered, they needed a rest at home with mummy and I was really looking forward to it. In fairness, the first three days of half term were lovely, the rest were… challenging.

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At the beginning of the week we went to see Nana and fed the ducks.
 
 
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We went to the Botanical gardens for food and a play.

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…and we wandered around Wandlebury with some friends. The weather was glorious and we all just made the most of being outside.
 
 
 
 

It was soooo freakin dreamy! Then, it got chilly and a bit rainy and quite a lot less fun. Strangely, being stuck inside with an energetic eight year old boy Is not very relaxing.

Something has changed since the summer holidays, Sam has suddenly become a big boy. Playing with his sisters is not as much fun as it used to be, playing on his own with his toy figures just doesn’t hold his interest as it used to do. All he wants to do is do something sporty or spend hours on the iPad. I have to admit it was a relief to get him back to school – at least they know how to keep him occupied!

Although all this growing up stuff is normal and good, it’s a bit of a nightmare from a, mothering during the winter months, point of view. Now he’s back at school, I absolutely don’t want every moment he spends at home glued to a small screen. It’s not just the fact that he’s pretty much absent from us when he’s playing these computer games, it’s the subsequent anger he sometimes flashes when it’s time to finish his game and do something in the real world. Somehow TV seems quite wholesome in comparison to computer game time and it’s a never-ending battle to try to keep him occupied with other stuff. He can’t do a club every night, he’d be exhausted and now it’s getting dark, football after school isn’t really an option, so how do I keep him away from his screen obsession??? Really, how???

Even during Isabelle’s birthday party he (and most of the other kids) retreated into the living room for a mass Minecraft session. For them it was brilliant, the idea of all wandering around the same virtual Minecraft world was about as fabulous as it gets. image What about wandering around the real life garden together? Not a chance! After the treasure hunt and a brief bounce on the trampoline by the smallest ones, the garden became redundant, even though it was gloriously sunny and mild! For us parents it felt as though we’d simply put off the inevitable. It was easier to just let them do that than listen to their relentless, “when can we play Minecraft?” mantra.

When Sam’s not playing on the iPad, he ends up complaining that he’s bored, teasing his sisters and making them scream. When his sisters are screaming, I flip. Something happens in my brain that turns me into a wild-eyed, roaring bear. I don’t like it and neither do my poor, cowering children. What do we gather from this? We gather that he needs to be occupied.

As of Tuesday, he’s only allowed to play on the iPad when I’m putting his sisters to bed. So far so good. This is mainly due to the fact that he did swimming one day and went to a friend’s house today. What the heck do I suggest as an alternative for the rest of his life at home? In reality I don’t have the time to entertain him, I’ve got to sort out dinner, do baths and put two out of three kids to bed. I’m pretty much hoping that without access to the iPad he’ll come up with something else to do himself, I just a have sneaking feeling that even when he does find something else to do he’ll still pester me to let him play on it.

So, someone, anyone, tell me what to do with this lovely bored boy. What did boys do in the olden days? I want him to have downtime after school that doesn’t include technology. Please, parents of boys, any ideas and advice will be gratefully received and promptly passed on!

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My beloved, yet bored son.

How Time Flies…

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I came across an old photo album the other day and it only contained pictures of Sam as a baby. These were the days before Maisie and Isabelle, days when Ferg and I looked YOUNG! It was astonishing, I looked enviously at my own skin and my non bag-laden eyes. I wish I knew then that I had nice skin, I’d have enjoyed it a bit more.

Anyway, looking at the album, made me feel all nostalgic and warm, remembering how simple it was with only one child, how happy we were with our little chubby baby. We felt really grown up and even though it was only eight years ago, I looked at us then and thought about all the lessons we’ve learnt and all the things that have happened to us and our families since then. When that photo was taken we didn’t know if we’d have the three kids we wanted, we didn’t know what the future looked like but as a little family we were ready to go through it together.

Parenthood changes you doesn’t it? Not only in terms of looking and feeling older (Darn you to heck, you sleepless nights!) but in terms of priorities. Before kids you can afford to put yourself first, after kids that’s just not an option. One thing I didn’t realise though, was that you also have to make a conscious effort to consider your husband/wife/partner when children come on the scene. I’m not saying that as soon as you have a child you forget about them, I just mean that other things suddenly seem much more important.

I remember quite clearly, how Ferg and I would sometimes play the, “I’m more tired than you game,” when Sammy was small. We would take turns trying to get him off to sleep and Ferg would wander around the spare room for hours trying to comfort him. In the end though, the hours of wandering around would eventually lead back to me for a final feed. I remember nursing him In the dead of night, delirious with tiredness and struggling to ignore the excruciating pain of non-stop breastfeeding. I’d look at my sleeping husband and think, “I’m obviously more tired than you Ferg, I definitely win!” I’d imagine of all the opportunities he would have for a rest, on the train to work, lunchtime… Er… on the train home. In reality, we were both exhausted. Was it Ferg’s fault that he didn’t have breasts to feed the baby? Was it his fault I didn’t want the baby to be fed with formula? No of course not! That was our decision. At the end of the day, whether or not you’re more exhausted than your partner is irrelevant. When you have a baby, you both get really, really tired and struggle to function in the same way as you did before having a baby.

It’s sooo easy when you’re super tired to be snappy and argumentative. Little grievances can turn into big grievances, especially after a day alone in front of Cbeebies, feeling like nothing more than a tiny person’s milk-bitch. If you’ve given up a career or even just put it on hold, then resentment can easily worm it’s way into your relationship if your other half is off at work with their identity firmly still in check. At the end of the day, it’s mentally, physically and emotionally hard work having and looking after a baby. But it doesn’t get any easier by allowing resentment to creep into your relationship.

I remember a woman in my friend’s NCT class who decided to leave her boyfriend when her little boy was just a couple of months old. She had to do everything on her own. She did it brilliantly by the way, but it did make me stop and actively thank God that I had Ferg and that he’s a great dad and a loving husband. I thought then, “This is hard, but I’m really glad I’m doing it with Ferg.”

So eight years down the line, with three children all over two, we feel like we’re coming out of a tunnel. Don’t get me wrong, the tunnel has been great, if a little intense, but, we REALLY enjoy the relative freedom of having slightly older children. We recently celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary by going away for 2 whole nights. Nana and our besties looked after the kids and we wiled away the hours with spa treatments, eating good food, walking and chatting. It was glorious to be alone and not worry about cutting up food, wiping bottoms and defusing tantrums, but it was also just long enough to start missing our little terrors.

These days, my chubby baby Sam is now a lean, sporty big brother who looks after and winds up his sisters in equal measure. Life is more complicated now, but it’s fundamentally good and were still happy. I’m determined to actively treasure it and be thankful for it. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so show your nearest and dearest know how much you love them today.

An Update on The Status of my Breastfeeding Antics.

You may or may not be interested to know that I have finally given up breastfeeding Izzy. In total, I fed her for 34 months. My first ever midwife once told me that breastfed children are very clever, if this is true then Izzy’s going to be a genius.

I pretended to give up in August this year but really gave up mid September. This came about after Fergus, my very pro-breastfeeding and tolerant husband, began to hint that it might be time to consider life without a baby/almost fully grown child stuck to my boobs. I knew that when Ferg began to think enough was enough that maybe enough really was enough.

By this stage we were down to just one marathon feed at bedtime. I would love to say that I was reluctant to give it up because my breasts were heavily laden with milk and the desire to nurture my last child just overwhelmed me, but there was barely any milk left in the old dears by then. No, the fact is that an hour long breast-feeding session gave me the chance to have a ruddy good read.

Oh the joy! The other two kids were downstairs silently watching telly, (they knew better than to invoke my wrath by interrupting “Izzy’s bedtime routine.”) and I was lying in bed, snuggling my very snugly Izzy and reading a good book. Does life get any better?? Any Mum knows, that a bit of quiet time where you get to do something you love, is a very precious thing. So precious in fact that I was extremely reluctant to give it up. The idea of losing my little oasis of peace and calm in an otherwise hectic and full day was quite frightening.

Anyway, one day, when Izzy said she wanted, “dudu”, as we called it, (Bit embarrassing, but at least not as bad as “bitty”) I just said no. I told her she was a big girl now and didn’t need it any more. It was awful! She looked up at me with her big, mournful baby-blues and seemed so confused and sad. My resolve obviously wavered but I stood firm. She kept asking for a few days or so and then stopped. Just like that, done. I was gutted, I’d secretly hoped she’d put up more of a fight and give me an excuse to start again. But of course she didn’t because she didn’t need it any more.

It’s usually such a joyful occasion when our kids reach their milestones, but sometimes it’s quite sad and signifies the end of an era. At least I can say with certainty that I gave this particular era all I had. Bye bye milky boobs, you’ve been super.

My little Izzy. So totally OVAH breastfeeding. Yeh, she is quite big and yeh it did look a bit weird.IMG_3061.JPG

Deep Breath and Relax.

I haven’t written a blog post for ages. The trouble is I had a rather unfortunate epiphany. One day after school, when I was writing a post and all three children were crawling on me and screaming, I realised that I was blogging to escape. By blogging I was actually just avoiding doing actual mothering. The house was a mess, meals were late and I was snapping at the kids when they wanted something (food mainly) because I was in the middle of writing.

It turns out my children expected me to do actual stuff for them. You know, cook, make sure they had clean clothes, get them to school on time, those inconvenient old chestnuts. I found that whenever I sat down to write a blog post or do anything at all on my iPad, the kids would just freak out. If I was standing up and being productive in a way that benefitted them, then they’d play beautifully and crack on with stuff. So, I decided to stop writing for a while and start actually responding to and interacting with my children. Weird huh? I’m very jealous of bloggers who manage to do it all, but in the end I’m not one of them, so there’s no point in sweating it.

So why are you blogging now? I hear you cry in outrage? Well, after 8 years of breeding and having at least one little person at home, Izzy, my smallest and noisiest child, has started nursery! I have real, spare time to do my own thing. Imagine that! So, the other day, I dusted off my laptop and started writing again, I found some old kids poems I wrote ages ago and am thinking of sending them off to some agents. (Please note that I am still only “thinking” about doing this, any actual doing is still a long way off…)

The good thing about my little blogging break was that I had a chance to think about what I want to write and learned some good lessons along the way. I’ve decided not to do product reviews unless I already use and love the product, (N.B. I will of course happily review diamonds, the new Volvo XC90 or any designer handbags) and to stop The Many Faces Of Maisie Moo. It turns out that Maisie became really paranoid about her smile and didn’t want to be in pictures anymore, (Nice, well done me.)

I’ve also had a chance to learn some decent mothering lessons. Here they are in all their glory.
1. Get up earlier. Turns out, it gives you more time in the morning, who knew?
2. Don’t ever sit down or relax when the kids are awake, it unsettles them and makes them wild.
3. Let the children play with play dough whenever they want. It keeps them happy for ages. I know it’s messy, but since I’ve learned how to sweep, mess is not horror it once was.
4. Let them ruin the play dough by mixing it up. (That one still makes me sweat but deep breathing and simply not looking helps enormously.)
5. Shouting doesn’t work. (I still do it, but whilst I’m doing it I’m thinking, “This isn’t working.”) Babysteps.
6. Wine doesn’t help. (Controversial I know, please don’t hit me.)
7. Don’t even try talking to another adult when there are children in the room. You can’t hear what you’re saying and neither can the adult your trying to talk to. I’ve discovered after eight years of tireless research that all children react very badly when they think you’re about to finish a sentence. That’s science.
8. If one of the children hates doing a club you’ve forced them to do then just let them stop doing it. Life’s too short. Having said that I’m sticking with Izzy’s ballet class for a little bit longer, as I’m sure she’s growing to love it.

The long and short of it is, life had been much less stressful and much more streamlined for the past few months. Let’s just hope that now I’ve started blogging again that I can resist the temptation to hide from the children whilst writing about what fun we’re having…

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Tiger Omelette

Tiger Omelette was created by accident when the only cheese I had left in the fridge was the Red Leicester that came with our Christmas Cheese Variety pack. Usually my kids refuse to have cheese omelette but oddly decided it was brilliant when I called it tiger Omelette.

Ingredients
A fifty pence sized blob of oil
One large egg per child
A splash of milk
A pinch of salt
Grated Red Leicester Cheese

Method
imageHeat the oil in the pan. Whilst it’s heating up, mix the eggs milk and salt together and then pour into the pan when it’s heated. Be careful not to let the egg burn by using a silicone spatula to go around the edge of the Omelette and scraping the bottom of the Omelette away to allow the uncooked mixture to heat and harden.

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Once the Omelette is pretty solid but still wet on top just sprinkle on the grated Red Leicester to create the tiger stripes and place under a grill until the top is solid but not brown!

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Once cooked just use the spatula to release the Omelette and serve! This is such a quick recipe and tasty too, we usually serve with fruit and raw veg so that it’s balanced but still really quick.

One last handy tip, we’ve discovered that our kids are more likely to eat raw carrot when it’s still carrot shaped. Kids eh?

Ta da!

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