Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Most Precious Smile

There are no smiles. Eyes that open up occasionally but look into the distance, unfocussed. Teddy bear plasters that hold the canula in place on her hand, her foot. A theatre frock with farm animals. A baby on an adult stretcher in A&E.

I cling to the things that are the same. Her longing for touch, for the soothing rhythmic suckling. Her feeds are prolonged for comfort until she drifts off to sleep again. It's impossible to lay her down in her cot, she wakes the moment she touches the sheet, aware that she is no longer cradled by me. Two nights spent in the breastfeeding mum's armchair, the only luxury in this hospital room, spent rocking and nursing her to sleep. Then a kind nurse offered to arrange the bedding so she can safely sleep in my visitor bed. We both got some better quality sleep, only to be told off in the morning by the doctor. I'm too fragile to counter her, and she was gentle so I decided to let it go. Still, I can't help but feel that if it hadn't been for having her in my bed in the first place, she may no longer be with us now.
I trace the pattern of veins on her eyelids, the gentle pattern her hair draws on her head. I look at her with an intensity that is spurred by the fear of losing her, the panic that every look at her may be the last, that she may just slip through my fingers.

Tomorrow she'll be 11 weeks. For most of the 10th week of her life I feared she may never make it to 11 weeks.
She did.
She smiles, generously handing it out to everyone. She even giggles. There are no words to describe the preciousness of this smile. I tease it out of her every waking minute.
Her smile is my world.
She's back.

We are still in hospital for another week so blogging will be suspended while I catch every one of these precious smiles.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Parent engagement - room for improvement

The nursery is trying to engage parents, and it's an interesting experience seen from the other side. Having two hats on is sometimes quite useful, and can be enlightening. It's also awkward - as someone who works in the voluntary sector close to a parental engagement project, you know the theory and policy and practices underlying the attempt to engage with parents. The theory is that educational outcomes improve if parents are engaged in their children's education, especially if this happens in the early years - because parents are their children's main educator and the input of an early years centre/school is minimal in comparison.

So my older daughter's nursery is trying to engage me, alongside with all other parents of course. I'm on maternity leave, so I have time on my hand, an interest in getting a bit involved in the nursery too, which makes me a very easy target. What I'm about to write is not about a specific nursery, it's meant as constructive criticism which could be useful for any early years centre wishing to engage parents in a meaningful way.

My daughter has been attending this nursery for about 9 months now. When I drop her off or pick her up, there is hardly an acknowledgement of my person. There is no feedback volunteered, even when she had displayed separation anxiety in the morning - no reassurance even that she had a good day. Now that she's in the big room, parents are expected to drop off and just leave, they don't enter the room, the staff don't even bid the time of day to either parent or child. The interaction is by newsletter and through a wall which is filled with information on what children have been up to. I'm ok with that, it gives me a fair idea.

So far we had one item of written personalised feedback, which looked rather meaningless to me. We've had no one-to-one feedback (although her key worker in the first room was quite good at informal feedback). A parents evening was scheduled but cancelled. There was a fund day in the summer which was nice and I felt obliged to support it (it also raised funds for the nursery) but I didn't really get anything out of it for me or my child.

Then there are letters sent to me through my daughter. Reminders about sponsorship forms, the toy fund donations - neither of which are donations, which the wording of the letter makes more than clear. In fact the wording seriously pees me off, it's patronising and threatening, as well as disrespectful.

A parent group was offered, on a weekday morning at 10.30am. I was the only parent who turned up. Apparently, the idea was to get feedback from parents. Hm, that was a fail then.

I offered, now that I have a bit of time, to share some of my daughter's culture through exploring German festivities. This was welcomed but instantly I was reminded of all the rules and regulations in relation to child safeguarding (which I know too well, if only they asked me before starting the litany!). I got a general sense of an attitude that is reluctant of exploring new opportunities, where a "we can't" is more easily uttered than a "let's see how we can do this".

Then there's a bookbug week, where parents are invited to read stories with their children in the nursery. I can see where they're coming from, knowing from various primary school teachers that some children start school without ever having seen a book or having heard a story. I went along, to be interrupted while I was reading a book to my daughter (I thought it was about reading books?) to be told how important it is for literacy development to regularly share books and how to incorporate it into a daily routine, a routine which in itself gives security to the child. The tone was patronising, though I also noticed that the nursery teacher wasn't entirely comfortable in her role. All the parents who were there clearly do read books with their children, because if you don't, would you bother coming to this event? If you yourself had low levels of literacy or weren't confident to read books to your children, would you not shy away from such a public display? Would you in fact know about the event, not being able to read the newsletter? Just wondering. It felt daft to be told such basic advice, and I'm sure the other parents felt much the same.

I commend the efforts of the nursery to engage parents, but as it stands, I have a feeling it's not very successful. I suggested to run the parent group just after drop off at 9am so that parents with commitments don't have to lose too much time. But it's not about getting some parents involved in this group - parental engagement is about creating an ease of interaction between nursery staff and parents, which isn't there.

-To start with, I'd recommend to start with a brief exchange with parents at the start and end of their child's day. Be friendly, and get to know the families a little over time.

-Once you know the families, explore real opportunities of exchange and sharing. Think about what parents can add to the education of all the children. Pursue how to do this in a creative way. Don't find excuses why something is too complicated, instead acknowledge the rules but work with them.

-If you want a parents group, explain to parents what the remit of this is, and what they or their child gets out of it. Parents have busy lives and don't want to waste precious time. If you need MY participation to tick YOUR box, I'm likely not to turn up.

-Improve written communication to parents. You see, I may forget the toy fund one month, but I really just need a gentle (even spoken) reminder, not to be told off as if I don't care about my child!

-And as for sponsorship, oh please don't expect me to go around my neighbours to collect money for my child's Christmas present. It's not my neighbours' responsibility or interest. Just tell me what you want off me and I'll pay up, just don't call it sponsorship and give me a form.

-I also don't like giving to charities that I haven't chosen myself, animal charities are already getting enough, why don't you support a children's charity, being a nursery?

-If you knew me a bit better, you'd know that I don't need told about how good sharing books is. Tell me something I don't know, like how to deal with a whinging pre-schooler who won't feed herself. The reading books bit I'm quite good at, it's the other stuff I could need a bit of help with.

-Treat parents as equals who are effective contributors to their children's education, not as people needing educated about how to raise kids.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Decopatch Vase

The presents I like best at Christmas, whether received or given, are those where a lot of thought has gone into and those which are handmade. In an ideal world, and maybe in years to come, I'd like to have a handmade Christmas, where all I give and decorate has been made by me or someone else (i.e. bought on etsy or folksy).

Of course, the reality is that we're all busy and something has to give. I have less time for crafts than ever but I still sneak it in here and there. My approach is to do as much as I can myself (which is rather little), and above all, not to get pressurised into doing more than I can manage, and stick with the stuff that I find easy to do.

Which is why I'd like to share an idea for a handmade present that doesn't take much time or effort, but looks beautiful. The technique goes by the name of decopatch. You will need an item to decorate - any blank surface will do (a plain glass vase, a mirror with a decent sized frame around it, a picture frame, a box, a reused glass jar, anything goes really - Ikea has lovely and cheap basic items that you can decorate, such as vases and mirrors with a decent sized frame that can be decorated), decopatch paper (it's thinner than normal paper), PVC glue, scissors, a paintbrush and decopatch varnish. The last item on the list is the most expensive one but it will last you and make the finished product more durable. It's not essential though.

I get my supplies from Damselfly on Great Western Road in Glasgow, who also run craft classes in decopatch (this is not a sponsored post, and I'm sure you can get supplies through many channels, but I like to support local shops which have done me well).

Cut the decopatch paper into different sized and shaped pieces.
With the paintbrush, apply a layer of glue to the item you want to decorate.
Glue the decopatch paper pieces onto the item, brushing it with the glue. Make sure to overlap, you can also add second and third layers (because you apply glue while brushing the paper flat, further layers will stick). Feel free to add decorations, like a cut out flower from a different decopatch paper, sequins etc.
Let dry for a few hours or overnight.
Apply the decopatch varnish with a brush.
Done. One present ticked. If you can bear to give it away that is.

You can decorate vases:
Glass jars and make them into candle holders:
Or even your toilet seat. The technique is so simple that pre-schoolers or older children will be able to help.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Chickened out

Well, I chickened out. Last week, I didn't take the girls outdoors on Thursday, even though our destination was just around the corner. There was gale force wind, hail storms, more than saturated ground.

Cubling would have been fine, she has all the gear.

I have not. Let's face it, I'm one of those adults who never learn. I have waterproofs, but they are a) a size or two too small (after 2 babies and little exercise and many cakes in between) and b) even if they weren't, they won't fit over a sling with baby in it. And a pram doesn't go so well in the great outdoors (plus I can't find the adaptors to fit pram onto the carriage anyway - it's been 31/2 years and one house move... so pram is definitely entirely out of use at present).

Worry not, I've got the solution and my eye on a coat that will keep both Snowflake and myself dry and warm when be-slinged. I'm still hoping for a slightly less extreme weather forecast for this Thursday as I won't have this magic piece of garment just yet.

And, let's face it, we spent two days indoors and ended up shouting rather a lot at each other. I lost my cool a few times and didn't like it one bit, and neither did Cubling. The beauty of the outdoors is that kids find stuff to play, they see, talk, comment, play, explore, splash, run, dig, draw, laugh, stop, observe. All by themselves. Indoors, while I'm dealing with baba, Cubling gets bored and demands attention, attention I can't give her all the time. Organising craft activities while also looking after Snowflake - I'm still working on it, but not quite there yet.

You see, going outside is actually making parenting two easy.

:: this post is part of Outdoor Challenge Monday, which is hosted by 5 Orange Potatoes. If you would like to participate, just head over::

Sunday, 14 November 2010

daddies in tummies and babies in cars

Overheard today:
- Which tummy did you go in daddy?
- it was granny's tummy.
- but you're a big boy now!
- yes, I am.
- you're a daddy now!

We spent the day driving to Edinburgh. 50 miles and time and time again, it takes hours. On the way out, it was due to traffic, on the way back, it was due to the little one. Snowflake doesn't like car journeys (understatement of the year); she must be the only baby who doesn't. Today I most definitely feel like avoiding all unnecessary car journeys,. take the train to locations where this is an option, and plead with friends to visit us in the meantime rather than subjecting the four of us to the ordeal of screaming baba. It ain't pretty, y'know.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Oops, how did that happen?

Shoot scheduled posts. I realised yesterday that my title was utterly inappropriate - a post on remembrance day on my daughter's developing memory, big oops. My excuse is that I only get time to write posts occasionally, and I write them by the bulk (err, 2 or 3 at a time if Snowflake sleeps long enough on nursery days) and I didn't realise that it was scheduled to go up on remembrance day.
And yes, we remembered and paid respect, even though Cubling would not be silent for 2 minutes, that IS asking for a bit much. She tried though.

On the topic of oops, how did that happen? - here are my latest knitting endeavours. Well, latest is stretching it a bit. I started the Owlet jumper on our trip to Skye in August, and finally I finished this winter jumper for Cubling.

You may be able to see from the photos that it is on the small side. Far too short, a bit too tight. I knit it following size 4 (or was it even 5?) years... Just as well we have a younger princess waiting to grow into it. Which leaves me without a winter jumper for my big girl. The plan is to knit her another owl - a bit ambitious, maybe I should knit it big enough for next winter. I'm a bit baffled though by her reluctance to even try this one on. She can't possibly already be getting too old for mummy's knits? Does she not know that knitting is groovy???

Continuing on the knitting fails theme, this is a picture of Snowflake in her winter beanie:

Yes, I do swatches.

And this is Snowflake in a cardigan I knitted a while ago, and hurray, it fits:

Ok, everybody refers to her as "he" when she's in it, it may need some pink embroidered flower. Not that I care, I'm so seriously sick of light pink that I think she looks just adorable in this jumper, and I'm so pleased that it fits just perfectly. The knitted cat and mouse come courtesy of J. who also blogged about the lovely gifts she made for Snowflake. And her knits are definitely knitting successes!

PS the Beanie pattern and lots of other fab hats can also be found in A Hat in Time, which is a book I pulled together last year and sell in aid of Save the Children's work. I still have about 20 print copies left, and you can also buy it as a pdf download through Ravelry or Lulu. The book makes a great stocking filler for any knitter ;). To get your print copy, please use the "order copy" tab here, or email me blog at cartside dot

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I remember

"I don't wanna go. I don't like fireworks."

I should have listened to my girl. She remembered well the panic Glasgow Green's firework display induced in her last year. Her memory is amazing and goes back not just a year, but in some instances longer. I treasure the things she will remember, and wonder if there always has to be an element of fear.

So Cubling remembers a trip to Cumbrae, when we cycled around the island, and saw a rock resembling a face, which when shouted at, gave us an echo. She remembers it's close to her grandparents, that we took a ship there, that we cycled and that there was also a rock crocodile. She remembers shouting at the face and that it's scary, that she doesn't want to see it again.

Then she remembers the fireworks and made it clear she doesn't want to go again. We went anyway, to a smaller, local display, and she reluctantly agreed to come along (only after we promised that the fireworks weren't going to be as big and as noisy, mummy ones, not daddy ones in her words - can I add that mummy usually shouts louder than daddy?)

So she was happy running about and playing with her light toy, a piece of plastic tat that I reluctantly bought her. Just as well I did, because as soon as the lights went out and the first firework lit the sky with a bang, she burst into tears, panic stricken, seriously distressed. All reassurance was in vain and we had to leave the event. At least the light toy was a pleasant memory to be had of the evening. In her own words, she'll not go back next year, "not when I'm four, but when I go to school" (that'll be 5 then).

Lanterns are ok though, they don't bang. She explained to me before we went that she'll use the lantern to collect leaves - as she did last year. And so she did. Lanterns make perfect leaf containers really. The next day she used the leaves to cook soup. Yummy. Leaf collecting in lanterns, at last a memory that doesn't involve fear. I'm relieved. Delighted too, because it demonstrates how the marking of seasonal festivals provide lasting memories for children and parents, shared memories that will be retold again and again, a bit like I'm strengthening my own memories by blogging about these special moments.

At the end of the parade, Cubling sang at the top of her voice "Mein Licht ist aus, wir geh'n nach Haus'" (my light is off we're going home) and switched off her lantern.

(And I remember it was as difficult to take a decent photo at the St Martin's lantern parade last year...)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fallen leaves

Today, as the last leaves fell off my tree, I'm still treasuring the colour and beauty it brought me all year. It showed Cubling when spring came, and how autumn transforms the leaves in one last celebration before the long winter. Late last autumn, I planted this tree with Cubling, which was my birthday present from my sister and parents in law, and a year later I say goodbye to the last leaf, gather some for crafting and pressing to make its memory last into the winter, while we await for it to blossom again.

(Photos were taken last week, when it still had a few leaves left)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A special present - Urban food growing Tuesday

My mummy friends gave me an extra special present - a plum tree.
It doesn't look like much right now, it's autumn after all, but I can't wait to see what it'll look like in the spring.
I've read up all about plum trees and know that this one is a great variety for small spaces and semi shade. So it should grow well. Now I only have to decide whether to plant it in the front or back - probably it'll be the front as it has good soil (though less sunshine) - our back garden is either built up or a lawn, not much potential for growing a tree, even if it's a small one.
4 weeks to go until I can dig!

I've also come across a fab network of food growers in the UK. Definitely worth checking out and joining.
If you grow your own in urban spaces, please add a link to any blog posts about your efforts/experiences in the Linky tool below.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Taking the playgroup outdoors

It was a difficult decision to take a break from my favourite forest kindergarten, where Cubling explored the wilderness of Pollok Country Park on a weekly basis with her good friends and great teachers. However, you only get maternity leave for a year, and as I work almost full time when not on leave, I just want to spend more time with Cubling in this window of opportunity. At the same time my enthusiasm for outdoor learning is undiminished, so the decision to take a break from the forest kindergarten was only made when I found out about Nurture in Nature, an ad hoc group of parents who take their children outdoors twice a week.

It's a great idea and shows what you can do yourself, without an organised childcare setup (and I appreciate that it may only work for non working parents). The group consists of parents who like me value the opportunities that outdoor learning gives to children. And the idea is beautiful in its simplicity. Twice a week, the parents and children meet up at 10am at an outdoor location (which incidentally is also easy to get to by public transport, thus reducing the need for a car) and the children are let loose to play. They play with each other and things they find. There may be some occasional activities that parents initiate, but mostly it's the kids who with their own creativity come up with what they want to do.

A group much to my own liking. It costs nothing, apart from the bus/train fare to the location. Because a parent is present, there's no need to register with the Care Commission or go through any police checks, which means there's no complex administration. The parents just do it. It's effectively taking a playgroup outdoors.

So, from last week, I'm able to offer Cubling (and Snowflake who I take along of course) the joys of the outdoors in company with other children. And as a plus, it's even with mum.

What did we do? Well, we discovered a wood, trees, sticks and the beautiful autumn foliage. We found a swing, logs to balance on, jump off from and sit down on for a picnic lunch. We found a wooden board and built a bridge over a burn, crossed it, and crossed it again. Built the bridge in different locations and balanced it on stones. We then dared to cross the burn on foot. We splashed in extra deep puddles (it's been a rainy week in Scotland), collected sticks and drew in the mud. Cubling got to know new children and told me all about what you can do with leaves, puddles, sticks, logs, water and more. We got very soaked, very cold, very tired and very happy.

:: This post is part of outdoor challenge Monday, which is hosted on 5 Orange Potatoes, where you can read many post on how to incorporate the outdoors in your child's life. You can also sign up to take part.::

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: me-time or a birthday treat or making felt

As a treat for my birthday, Mr Cartside took the girls to the park nearby while I learned how to felt:

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Normality of Breastfeeding

I live in a place where breastfeeding is the exception rather than the norm. It came as a surprise to me when I was first presented with this fact, about 10 years ago, when a friend of mine had a baby and was the only new mum in the 13 bed ward who was breastfeeding. I also remember being asked in a questionnaire why I chose to breastfeed - and that my reason (because it's the normal way of feeding a newborn) was not an option.

It makes me wonder if the low breastfeeding rates in certain places may be related with formula feeding being perceived as the norm, and if re-establishing breastfeeding as the norm may lead to improved breastfeeding rates.

One example where formula feeding was established as the norm was when someone decided to base the growth charts on formula fed babies. This has since been changed - so this time around, Snowflake is measured against growth charts of breastfed babies (and following her line spot on) while Cubling was measured against formula fed babies (and kept dropping as time went on, giving me a lot of worry if I was doing the right thing). Although these charts gave me worry with Cubling, I never questioned them. But now that I'm more relaxed about weight gain, and can see my own different attitude and how the new chart gives me confidence that things are going well, I realise how crucial this change is. Hopefully it will give confidence to many breastfeeding mums, and more than that, demonstrate that the norm against which baby growth is measured is that of a breastfed baby.

At nursery, Cubling has been learning all about babies. It's been a great theme, just at the right time. She comes home and continues the role play with her favourite teddy (she's not into dolls as such, her teddy is her baby, it's a girl and her name is Snowflakes middle name). She tells me all about why babies cry, that they can't walk yet, that they visited the baby room and how proud she is that she has a real baby at home. She'll change nappies, wipes teddy bums, dresses teddy for bed and outdoors. And she's filling up bottles to give milk to teddy.

Mummy cringes. All my nursing and my daughter at 3 years already fills up bottles (of the breast pump at least, but bottles they are nonetheless).
I cringe even more because when I dropped Cubling off at nursery one day, and Snowflake was crying (I didn't get the timing of feeds right), a nursery teacher passed and asked Cubling if her baby sister needed a bottle.
Bless Cubling, she just retorted by saying "no!" and pointing to her breast.
What it shows though is that at nursery, the message given out to our youngest is that the normality of baby feeding is the bottle (filled with formula, why else would you measure milk?) - possibly out of a false sense of prudishness (I'm guessing). It's an opportunity lost, an opportunity to re-establish the normality of breastfeeding in an area of Glasgow where the rates are bound to be doddling around the 10% mark.

And I'm particularly disappointed because this is a nursery that prides itself in its eco status, it's environmental awareness and does generally so well in these areas. Shouldn't this not also translate into some gentle encouragement of the message that breastfeeding is normal? It's not about promoting breastfeeding, just about treating it as the norm, to which there will always be exceptions.

Have you experienced situations where breastfeeding wasn't/isn't treated as the norm? Should I take this up with the nursery?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Lantern making time!

Well, it's this busy time of the year for us again. One celebration follows the next and we struggle to keep up. One thing is for sure though, no half German household is complete without making a St. Martin's lantern! If you want to find out a bit more about St Martin's Day, a festival celebrated in many European countries, head over to Red Ted Art's blog (and you get another lantern design too!). Last year, we had used an imported kit to make a mermaid lantern. Nice one, Cubling was into mermaids, but the kit was not ideal for a 2 year old. This year, we opted for an easy version that Cubling could help with more.

It took a few minutes to make. All you need is an empty 2l plastic bottle (transparent), scissors, glue, paintbrush (to apply the glue), semi-transparent paper, some wire and a stapler. Optional: cardboard of various colours to make lantern into an animal lookalike.

Cut the semi-transparent paper (multiple colours) into pieces. Cut off the top of the bottle. Apply glue to the outside of the bottle with the paintbrush and then stick the semi-transparent paper pieces onto the bottle - overlap is fine, use as many or little as you like.

Staple the wire to the top of the bottle.
Then you should have something like this:

Optional: you may want to add cardboard pieces to the bottle to make it into an animal - just cut out eyes and other features and glue to the lantern. I haven't done this yet but will do before the big day (I hope anyway), so no picture, sorry.

Get a lantern stick (that's the tricky part, they don't retail in the UK, Maggie over at Red Ted Art has some alternative ideas in the comments section) and you're done! Now all you need to do is practice your St Martin's songs, find a German expat group and walk the walk!

We are lucky that here in Glasgow there is a big St Martin's celebration, organised by the Kinderclub. It kicks off with lantern making this Saturday 1.30-3.30pm at the Hopkins Building (£3 which covers materials) and is followed by the short service and procession at University Chapel on Sunday from 6pm (with play afterwards, this is free). Anyone can come, you don't have to be German to take part in this event - it's always a great atmosphere and very well attended, and the lanterns - well, you'll get an amazing display of lantern making.

image from



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