Friday, 29 April 2011

Vamos a la playa

How better to spend Easter Monday than to take advantage of good weather and proximity to the sea. Did I say before how I love the fact that we live so close to both the sea and the hills? I grew up far from mountains and even further from the seaside, and I still find it such a gift to be able to head to the beach for the day.

So Snowflake was introduced to beach life by expert big sister, who showed her periwinkles, how to pop seaweed and how to build and destroy sand castles. Unlike the sandy play parks in Germany, Snowflake enjoyed the sand this time. Phew. We came home tired, full of sun and with a bucket load of shells (and lots of sand which still keeps popping up everywhere). I even managed some beach knitting and a nap in the sun.

We were at Portencross, near West Kilbride, where there is a small castle which is now accessible during bank holidays and school holidays.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

We're not good with languages, or are we?

Every language teacher knows that motivation is key to language learning. It works on so many levels - why do we want to learn a language, how strong is our need for being able to speak the language?

If I got a pound for every time I heard someone in the UK say "we're not good with languages in the UK it's a shame, isn't it" I'd be rich. You see, it's simply not true. There is no country or nationality that is "not good" with languages. We're all pretty much the same on average and can learn second, third or seventh languages. The only thing that makes a difference in success in language learning is motivation.

In the UK, the general motivation for learning languages is low. This is not shameful at all, it's a fact. The main trade partner is the USA. English is the language of the world, of the internet, it's the lingua franca in many countries. It's a fact of life that you can get by speaking English only, so there's no real motivation to learn another language. On top of that, there is limited exposure to other languages, this being an island surrounded by water not other countries.

Compare this to my childhood. We had TV from Belgium in French and Flemish. Pop music in English. I listened to BFBS because near us were a good few British army bases and I thought British radio was the best thing since sliced bread. My best friend was Spanish, and there was an Italian, Turkish and Polish girl in my class. I grew up only 100 km away from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. We went on holiday to Spain and Yugoslavia (Croatia now). Languages were everywhere.

So, my motivation to learn languages was high. The motivation in the UK to learn additional languages is low. I knew the theory. My daughter is the reality: Surrounded by media in English, people in English and with a mum who loves English and now speaks it more fluently than German, why on earth should she be motivated to learn/speak German? She knows that mummy speaks English too, so there's really no need to speak German. There's a need to understand mummy, so that works well. But speak? You must be kidding.

Hence I came up with a 10 point plan. And the idea of a longish trip to Germany without Mr Cartside.
Interestingly, Cubling started speaking fluent German as soon as we arrived in Germany. Just not to me. It was hilarious, after 4 years of hard work, she was giving me the cold shoulder linguistically. She spoke German to Opa, his partner, all my friends and all German children and blissfully lapsed back into English when she met E., another bilingual child who lives near London (and who incidentally understands German perfectly but doesn't speak it). Need I say that they bonded instantly although they'd not met before?

Upon our return, Cubling told me that I now need to speak English because all around us people speak English too. How observant. How true. How impossible to argue with.

Yet we've made a breakthrough. Cubling now realises that German is useful and that there are people who do not speak English too (like mummy). That there are children who speak German (I still remember the lightbulb moment when she watched a German TV programme and she saw children speaking German - before, all our TV time had been German animation).

And, amazingly, she now speaks much more German to me than before. She no longer rejects it and is much more compliant repeating sentences in German when she gets carried away speaking English. I've even heard her role playing with dolls in German.

Creating real motivation and needs to speak the minority language is crucial, and I think this is particularly the case if you live in an English speaking country because children will pick up that English is such an important and useful language. It is always hard supporting the minority language, but it's even harder in an English speaking country.

German, in Cubling's mind, is still "the other" language, which becomes apparent when she refers to children who are bilingual as "German" even if they are French, Lithuanian, or Urdu speakers. Yet she also shows a definite interest in other languages, asking me if I speak them and wanting to learn a few phrases. This in itself is to be celebrated, this early curiosity and interest in languages if nothing else.

There is something else though: The two weeks in Germany have renewed my motivation to continue with our bilingual home. Nothing compares to all of a sudden hear your child speak the minority language almost perfectly. I'm one proud mama.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

When I'm a big woman, I want to marry...

Cubling is obsessed with getting married and weddings. It's really quite adorable, she loves dresses, dances and parties and that's what marrying is about, as I blogged about before.
So today, for the Easter egg hunt at her aunty's house, she declared that she was the princess and her cousin the prince and they would get married!

I blame the nursery. I spotted a crafted wedding cake with William and Kate on it, and a box of collected cherry blossom leaves which Cubling explained were for sprinkling at the wedding. I asked her who the people on the cake were and she said she didn't know, but surely some sense of prince and princess has entered her mind. Of course, being totally enthralled with Disney princesses (who always end up marrying don't they) adds to her fascination.

On our journey back, she deplored the fact she didn't get married to her cousin today after all. Once again, she declared her love or her little sister: "But when I'm a big woman, I want to marry Snowflake!"
We explained that you cannot marry your sibling. "But who can I marry then?" "you can marry any young man you love", daddy explained helpfully. "But I love you daddy!"


She proceded to suggest she should tell all our unmarried friend that they should get married. Getting wed is clearly the ultimate life goal in the mind of our 4 year old.

Her best Easter present was a mug of Disney princesses incidentally. She wants all her juice and all her milk out of this cup from now on.

I have a feeling that we will have to watch the royal wedding. I find it rather ironic - back when Prince Charles and Diana got married, it was my mother who made me watch it. Looks like this time it'll be my daughter... They'll make a royalist out of me yet.

Happy Easter!

Friday, 22 April 2011

How did you name your child?

Babies & pregnancy at

Oh how we struggled to find just the right names for our children.
It went something like this:
Me, trailing lists of baby names, books on the subject, top 100 baby girl names and baby boy names of about 20 countries or so. I obsessed. I had to find the PERFECT name. The one and only. Easy to pronounce, slightly unusual, not too unusual, international and all that.Mr Cartside just listened and vetoed.
When suggesting names I liked to Mr Cartside, invariably, he seemed to not like the ones I liked best. And when he liked one I suggested, I wasn't sure I liked it any more. At least that was my impression, some severe case of reverse psychology.

With Cubling, we knew we were having a girl. When I went into labour, we still had a list of about 15 baby girl names. Many of my favourites weren't even in because they had been vetoed by dad-to-be. I named Cubling in a drugged daze; I generously (for once) picked the name I thought Mr Cartside had favoured (Just that he may not in fact have favoured it, it was just my impression).

When we were expecting Snowflake, we didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl. Well, we still had that list of unused baby girl names and over the years, I couldn't get one name out of my head. Fortunately Mr Cartside liked it too so we were sorted for a girl.

But a baby boy name? Could we agree on one? It was all in vain. There were no arguments mind you, just an inability to find a name we were both really keen on. Take Alan or example. I think Mr Cartside suggested it, but I'm not sure any more. All I know is that initially I didn't like it so much, but did put it on the list, then really got into it, thinking it may be the perfect compromise, not my favourite but a lovely name, only for it to be vetoed in the end, with great disappointment on my part, I'd really grown rather fond of it. As for the obvious names we both liked, each seemed to be taken by about 3 or more children already (there are a lot of Finlays and Calums running about) or Rafael Nadal was getting a tad too popular for our liking. For obvious reasons I fancied Raul (pun intended), but with the whole Raoul story in the news I didn't even suggest it. Or did I? Well, it wasn't on the list that's for sure.

Just as well we had a girl then.
When we registered her name, we both eagerly read the 2010 list of top 100 Scottish baby names displayed in the office. We were surprised that Snowflake ranked rather high and that all the boys' names I liked were really rather popular.

And I had thought we were going for the slightly unusual. How wrong. We're just your average Scottish family, and our name preferences influence by what's popular right now.
Maybe Snowflake will share my plight of having more than one namesake in her classroom. Little chance of that for Cubling - though her name is well known, it's not currently popular.

With both names, I love their meaning. They are international and easy to pronounce in many countries. For middle names we used names of loved ones no longer with us.

PS we did involve Cubling in the naming game, just she wasn't playing and came up with ideas such as Snowflake. Silly isn't it?

How did you pick names? Did you consider their meaning or anything else that had to be just right?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

A trip in words and pictures

We went to Germany for almost two weeks. Just the girls. It was an adventure. It was full on German immersion. And wasn't I surprised to hear my big girl speak fluent German to everyone? She kept it a big secret, but yes, she can speak German!

We came downs with a cough bug one at a time, Cubling first, needing emergency hospital admission (it turned out to be nothing serious, but I'm not taking any chances anymore), Snowflake next, keeping me awake two nights listening to her every breath, then me and finally Opa.

We went to the zoo. Cubling couldn't believe that we went to see real live animals, rather than the usual stuffed ones in the "Museum" (aka Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum).

We went to the woods.
We played on swing parks, the street, with water, sand and cherry blossom leaves (how well they attach to the buggy wheels after a rainshower!).

We visited lots of people, saw new babies for the first time.
Snowflake was scared by a hippo opening its jaw.

Cubling was scared of a shy tiger.
E's daddy was scared of a pile of giant cockroaches.
I was scared of the fairground ride I went on with Cubling.

We picked daisies and blew dandelion clocks
We saw a 5 day old elephant baby.

Cubling met lots of German kids and one English-German girl who she instantly bonded with big time.

We watched the Schuetzenfest parade.
We went to the fair.
We went up an old windmill in Zons (note to self: I really should update the English Wikipedia entry).

Cubling went on her first pony ride.
We ate a lot of ice cream, and Broetchen with egg.
We were hot a lot and got dirty feet from running barefoot.

Snowflake rolled a lot across floors and refused to eat any food.
We saw lots of flowers, leaves, ants and even wasps (one may have stung Cubling).
Cubling asked the pilot not to bump and he complied AND showed her the cockpit.
And the best part of the trip was running into daddy's arms upon our return.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Child's food or how not to become obese

As parents, the learning curve is steep and it doesn't stop when you think you may start to have it sussed out, like 4 years in or something like that. Recently, food has been very much on the agenda, and three very different trains of thought seem to be converging.

There is an interesting contradiction in the whole business of feeding children. If you're a breastfeeding mum, all your parents' eyes are on weight gain and you are damning yourself (even if health professionals don't) if it doesn't follow a chart. Oh the worry I had with Cubling. So much so, that once we started solids, I made sure it was a very high calorie version and she went from skinny to very chubby in just 3 months.

Then there's the whole debate of increasing levels of childhood obesity, so much so that a recent topic on Call Kaye was a debate on whether gastric band operations should be offered to children as young as 14. An interesting point was made by a caller who deplored that weight gain in children was no longer checked regularly, so that obesity is often caught when severely bad eating habits are very strongly established and exercise is becoming less of an option to tackle the surplus energy the body is given.

There are many reasons for childhood obesity, and while some are known (we all know what foods are good and which ones aren't, don't we?), some others are more elusive.

Reason 1: This is one that I only found out about recently, due to taking part in the Optigrow Infant Feeding Study. Apparently, baby's metabolism is set in the first 10 days of life. If fed on formula, the risk of later obesity is much higher than if fed on breast milk. What annoys me is that nobody ever informed me about this. All the breastfeeding information I got from the NHS was summarised into benefits, which were all nice but not very convincing.

When you decide which way you would like to feed your baby, it's presented as a choice where you weigh up pros and cons. The thing is though that many reasons to breastfeed are not really explained in detail. I usually don't trust reasons that don't give me an explanation. The "why" is important to me and convinces me. I'm still finding out more about the benefits of breastfeeding, and realise more and more that there are two reasons why people do not breastfeed: New mothers often don't know enough about the benefits and make an uninformed choice, or they do not get enough support. Then there's the group who does get all the information and support and makes an informed choice - which is fine. It's just a shame if breastfeeding isn't happening for lack of information and/or support.

Now there's a new "urge" to breastfeed to reduce levels of obesity, which have long term health impact and also cost the NHS money. Low breastfeeding rates translate to health inequalities in later life. In principle, this is all good and well, surely there's room for higher levels of breastfeeding (in some parts of Glasgow less than 10% of mothers breastfeed at the 6-8 week appointment) - but it takes more than an "urge". I saw a request on Netmums for a young mum to be for baby stuff, including bottles. I responded and offered a few things (including bottles) but also said that breastfeeding would be cheaper. The response by the friend was, oh she's only 17, she doesn't have a clue. I understand that, I didn't have a clue really at more than twice the age and the NHS breastfeeding workshop at 38 weeks of pregnancy was much too late to really have an impact on feeding choices (and the support to tackle my breastfeeding problems was well meaning but didn't actually improve things). I just feel that nobody should feel they don't have a clue about what should be the normal way to feed a baby, and I'm still mad that even with all the information I did get, I didn't know enough when I first became a mum.

Then there's the issue that breastfeeding support workers and initiatives are getting their funding cut. Urging to breastfeed without the support is simply not enough. I won't happen. Without the support I had, I would have given in after 2 weeks. I didn't have great support, but it kept me going at least. Cut that, and your breastfeeding rates will plummet.

Reason 2: There is an ever growing availability of unhealthy and cheap fast food, particularly in the poorer areas. When I started weaning, everyone told me that making your own baby food was way cheaper than jars. I still doubt that. I also doubt that I can make a dinner for the price of a ready made meal. Convenience food, unhealthy snacks, fast food, are all over the place, ever in your face and it's hard to say "no" even if you are health conscious. My suggestion to tackle the problem: tax the nasty ingredients. There is currently no tax on sugar, making sugary foods very cheap. The only thing that keeps me from buying yet another chocolate bar (and eating it within seconds) is price. I know I wouldn't buy it if it doubled in price. Same goes for ready made meals and the like.

Reason 3: People have lost the skill to cook. When I was a child, my mother cooked most things from scratch. I was fortunate to learn some skills from her, though I didn't show much of an interest and could have learned so much more. Later I learned from my au pair families and thanks to a great hall of residence where we cooked together occasionally. Yet still I'm not particularly confident that I can cook from scratch. Which is why I'm all in favour of basic cooking skills being taught at school - not as an elective subject but for everyone. Because really, what better life skill can there be than being able to feed yourself?

Reason 4: And this is where I got caught in the act: Creating negative food associations. Call it the battle of the dinner table. For months, nay, years, we've been battling at dinner time. Cubling takes forever to eat, and only threats or promises of desert will make her finish her dinner. This is with food she likes and with food she doesn't. She's not a particularly fussy eater (apart from refusing to eat fruit), she just won't feed herself. We've tried it all. Or have we? I once read that the principle of feeding kids should be that the parent controls WHAT comes on the plate, and the child controls HOW MUCH they eat. On Call Kaye it was pointed out that children don't actually overeat on decent food, they only do so if sweat/fatty food is offered and also if the parents insist on the child finishing the plate. Oh I'm so guilty of the latter. I hate wasting food. I still have that growth chart worry from her breastfeeding days. The comment also firmly put me into Cubling's shoes: How did I feel when coerced into eating food? I had to finish my plate too, made to eat meat, and what good did it do? I'm an overweight, chocoholic vegetarian now! How did it happen that I just copied the food politics that I hated when I was a child?

By age 4 apparently, bad food habits are created. But we can change, can't we, after all, she's only just 4. So it's back to basics: I offer, she eats or leaves. All without coercion, with calm and fun. Hopefully we can still patch the bad start, and do it all so much better with Snowflake...

How about you? Is your dinner table a battlefield?
And what do you think is the best way to tackle rising levels of childhood obesity?

(Brownie Point if you spot the movie reference in the title ;) )

Monday, 18 April 2011

How Germany saves energy

Let's be fair though, Germany also saves some energy where the UK doesn't. As Martin rightly pointed out in the comment section, insulation goes a lot further in some countries, Germany being one of them. In recent years there was a lot of house building going on and the specifications are much more energy efficient than anything available in the UK. Last year, when we visited Munich, the plane landed into a sea of solar panels. It seemed that every single house had solar panels and new houses are built with efficient (as much as it pains me to use this adjective with anything relating to Germany) insulation and many also come with some form of renewables.

Compare this to our post victorian mid terrace: single glazing, lots of windows, uninsulated loft and drafty floorboards. The suggestion to turn down thermostats or the gas boiler for the central heating is met with a sarcastic laughter, because when it gets cold, so are we. We can't actually get the house warm in winter.

We jumped at the offer of the Energy Saving Trust to conduct an energy efficiency assessment. I even contacted them directly to explore ways of saving energy and maybe even installing renewables. The problem we encountered was that while we got lots of leaflets through the door and were able to request a visit, nothing much actually happened. I think I completed their questionnaires about 4 times (online, twice over the phone and face to face), but never got further than a promise of a visit/call/loft insulation (none of which actually happened). As to getting some feedback on whether or not we could install renewables - all my requests seem to have petered out into thin air. We have not had a visit, and I can't tell myself if solar panels are a viable option (I fear not).

And as far as loft insulation is concerned - we went through our energy provider who was very quick (with some hiccups, but nothing serious) and got it done and dusted.

Unfortunately the house is too old for cavity wall insulation, and the windows may be single glazed but they are lovely and original, so we'll be sticking to the thick curtains for now. Insulating the floorboards may still be a good plan for next winter, but beyond that we're stuck with the make of the house. And the hot water bottle.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

How Germany says no to nuclear power

Hurray, the anti-nuclear lobby says.
Thing is, in a country where there are lots of people, energy is in high demand (after all, every household seems to have an electric toothbrush and a fancy 500 quid coffee maker amongst rather a lot of other electrical gadgetry), and at least one quarter of that energy is provided by nuclear power, the big question must be: How will the energy need be met?

Well, it's back to coal, oil and imported nuclear power (from France most likely). The latter is a joke, as if it mattered if a plant here or 100 miles further west blew up. And a return to coal and oil makes me shake my head because of the short-sightedness of such an approach. I'm not a fan of nuclear power, but I'm less of a fan of power provided through fossil fuels.

At the same time, local pressure groups are demonstrating against power lines, pylons and wind energy, and call for the scientists to come up with something that doesn't need these features of our energy hunger. "You scientists are meant to be clever, just come up with an alternative, will you." (Someone really said this, I'm not making this up).

Shit, I'm glad I'll be out of here again tomorrow. It all rather does my head in.

The whole debate about not wanting nuclear power, and not wanting renewables at one's doorstep (I'm sure nobody wants a coal plant on their door step either) of course ignores the elephant in the room. Everybody is great at complaining and demanding, nobody actually questions their own energy consumption. There are endless discussions about the price of energy, taxation of petrol (still less than in the UK incidentally) yet as far as I can tell, very little reassessing of why on earth we all need our electric toothbrush, expresso machine, estate car, and the computer on all day. And that's just the obvious stuff. I'm sure energy consumption in the business sector could make an even bigger difference if consideration was given to what is necessary and what isn't. We can't have it all: cheap energy and no nuclear, no coal power stations and no wind power. It's an equasion that simply doesn't work.

And really, my coffee maker and milk foamer work a treat without any power other than that of my hand, and I'm pretty good at brushing my teeth too. Even though admittedly, I have to work on the "leaving the computer on all day" bit. Therefore, if you don't want nuclear or other power stations, or pylons or windmills, why not try using less energy instead of protesting without having alternatives?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Friendship is...

Being able to ring her doorbell after 2 years and one new addition to the family each, and rather than coo over our prospective new baby girls, being able to ask for a pump without her even batting an eye.

And I couldn't help but wonder what the neighbours and the decorator were thinking if they noticed me standing at the sink relieving myself of rather a lot of excess milk.

(in case this is a scenario to put you off breastfeeding - I'd like to counter it with 101 reasons why breastfeeding rocks, just to set the balance right. I've not had a nursing strike in 2 1/2 years so am rather perplexed myself by the situation)

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Hard Lesson

Snowflake is hitting the 7 month mark. This past month should be all about our weaning journey and yes, maybe it is, just that somehow, she's still as good as a milk baby. Short of force feeding her, she won't take solids. It's all a bit disconcerting because when I introduced solids last time, Cubling went to 3 meals a day in the space of a week, loved most foods and it was all good (which of course is overly simplified - she does not touch most fruit, and still demands being spoon fed on occasions).

This time, it appears that all attempts of introducing solids fail, in spite of being relaxed about it and having a wider variety of approaches available.
So I've tried baby rice and baby porridge. Only to be faced by a tightly shut mouth and desperate attempts by Snowflake to wrestle the spoon out of my hands. Oh, and the bowl. So she gets a spoon and I try again. She wants the spoon that I hold, sticks it far into her mouth until she gags. Gets the bowl (how does she do it, she gets it every single time!), pours contents over high chair, herself and everything in general.
It is impossible.

Thankfully I can just turn to baby led weaning and pretend I'm one of the cool gang. In theory, because if I'm perfectly honest, I hate the mess of baby led weaning with a passion. Some say it's the lazy way to weaning. Hm, I thought so initially, but then realised pureeing wins over washing the floor and high chair after every single meal. I'd rather do a neat spoon job.

What makes me inclined towards baby led weaning is that I can either force the food down my little girl, or let her have the say about food intake, especially as she seems to be keen to be in control herself. If respect is at the core of our interaction, forcing her to take the spoon is more than sending the wrong message. But then I see her gag rather a lot, and for the past few day, I have also seen her bring up all her solid food with the gagging, and I'm not so sure anymore.
Mention baby-led weaning in Germany and nobody has heard of it. So I can't get  much in the line of advice from my friends. It takes a lot of confidence in an approach to go with the flow to the extent that at 7 month hardly any solid food makes it into baby's system (which of course I can tell by what comes out the other end), ginger nut biscuits being the exception to this rule.

My mantra so far is that if a baby needs food, they will take it and that eventually we all end up eating solids. Maybe she acutally doesn't need it yet. There seems to be a physical lack of readiness - she's more than keen to pick up (she even has the pinching figured out) and put in her mouth, but she cannot sit up yet or chew the bits sufficiently for them not to cause gagging. I know that some babies refused solids up to 8 months, so we still have another while to go.

Once again, letting go of having control is what being a mum is teaching me. And it still is a hard lesson.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Little Miss Blether is sick

The sun is shining, my nose is running. It must be spring in Germany.
Although I'm used to travelling at this time of the year, once again I forgot:
-antihistamines and inhaler, so I'm sneezing and coughing away
-sun hats for the kids, meaning that I have to buy them to add to their collection of sun hats bought in Germany
-suitable clothes for 20 degrees plus, because I simply can't imagine it could ever be so warm in April that my Scottish summer clothes are too thick. They are.

To start off our holiday, Cubling took sick. Since Snowflake fell ill with Meningitis and I didn't suspect anything seriously wrong with her at the time, waiting a full hour before phoning NHS24 and talking them into her not needing an ambulance (how wrong was I), seeing Cubling with a distant stare and unresponsiveness triggered me to call an ambulance.

Of course it was a bit hasty (though to be fair, the emergency doctor recommended transfer to the hospital, so it wasn't just my call) and she turned out to be fine. Well, relatively.
At the hospital I could see those looks implying she's mad that mum to take her here for a bit of an infection, until she did the collapsing, not responding, staring and rolling eye thing again and discharge was postponed for another hour. See, told you so.

Then they managed to mislay the European Health Card between ambulance and hospital, and I still don't have it back. So I may be faced with a private treatment bill, which, considering the ambulance turned up with 5 people, surely will be hefty.

Cubling was very sick for two days, greyfaced, feverish, sicky, no appetite, coughing and above all quiet. Little Miss Blether gone all quiet, something must be very very wrong I tell you. Loving mum that I am, I met up with a friend and plonked her on a chair at a restaurant. She stayed there all the time and friend and I had a really long chat. How unusual, how wonderous.

Main thing of course is that she is well again, though now Snowflake has the coughs again, after a week of a break. Little Miss Worry that I am, I've had two nights of almost no sleep listening to her every breath, holding her up so she can breathe a tad more easily.

And then there's the issue of getting about to see people, but that's another story altogether...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

March Carnival of Bilingual Parenting

The March Carnival is late but it is out! You can find it at Multilingualmama:
A fab collection of post on raising bilingual kids.
And ideal to keep you entertained while blogging on this platform is going to be slow going while we're enjoying the sunshine dealing with a rather ill pre-schooler in Germany.

At least in relation to bilingualism, all the effort of the past 4 years seem to finally have paid off. My older daughter has been transformed into a fluent German speaker. And she still speaks English to me (shakes her head in dismay). She even managed to deal with everything in the hospital easily (I'm Mummy super panic and overproteection and had her checked out in hospital for what is a bad but not serious infection. That's what not spotting meningitis once does to you).

I'll excuse myself while I deal with puke and fever management.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

And off we go

The bags are packed (I think).
Tomorrow morning, I'll go on an epic journey to my place of birth.
With 2 kids, one buggy, one car seat and two large bags that somehow pass as handluggage.
To take a taxi, a train, get a lift, catch a plane and get another lift at the other side (though Snowflake may impose her will to not travel by car in the dark yet again).

Without Mr Cartside.

I'm not quite sure how I'm going to manage. I guess I've got a mouth to ask for help, that should come in handy.

I can also foresee a tantrum by Cubling because I've removed the items she sneakily keeps putting into the case. She won't be happy, but I'm simply not going to take a box of a magnetic fairy dressing up game. There are limits. She may though wear the flowery girly skirt that her auntie got her for her birthday even though it's not exactly perfect travel attire.

And off we go...

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Gone swimming

Did I ever mention that I hate swimming pools?
As if it wasn't bad enough when I was a school girl. It could have something to do with being the last in my class to learn how to swim aged 9. Or being blind as a mole and rather water shy. I still prefer not to swim where I can't stand, and a snorcheling trip in Cuba taught me that I acrophobia can even kick in when floating with a rescue ring in reasonably shallow coral waters.
More than not being the best swimmer, I could never figure how to jump into the water - jumping off boards? You must be joking, I was so flipping scared. Head first? Why??? Still the teachers made me do it in front of everyone else, apparently to mark me, instead they made sure all my class mates saw how utterly rubbish I was. PE always had a feel of public humiliation for me, and swimming took the biscuit in that respect.

Then there's the smell of chlorine which makes me rather queazy; the dampness of the body that can't be gotten rid off and makes it impossible to stick clothes back on. Water getting in my nose. Being splashed. Being ducked. Tiny changing rooms. The floor which is a mixture of water and muck.

No, swimming pools never had much attraction for me and I only tolerate them when I have a full line to myself, and as means to an end for some fitness or to feel light again in the later stages of pregnancy (which both times led to even worse pelvic pain after the swim, so the relieve was very shortlived).

But Cubling had been pleading with me to go swimming again. I'd delayed a family swimming trip for quite a while because of Snowflake's dodgy immune system. But at 6 months and with all vaccinations done and dusted, even though delayed through illnesses, there were no more excuses I could find.We all want active kids, it's good to take them swimming, right?

So we arrived. Snowflake had just fallen asleep. Cubling was so excited she got changed herself without any delay. Wow. Now, who's going to change me? Ok, managed that. Snowflake next. Wake baby, baby not happy. Change baby. Baby not happy. Wait for Mr Cartside to deal with the mountain of clothes and the lockers while negotiating that no, Cubling can't go in the water yet because it's 1:1 and I have two kids just now. I feel a dribble of wetness on my legs. No I'm not in the shower yet and nobody splashed me. It can only be ... pee. Thank you Snowflake, that was lovely. I thought that cloth swim nappy would work, em, better.

Toilet, shower, playing musical chair with Snowflake. Finally, pool. Kids loving it. Mental note: Snowflake once again demonstrates how different her personality is from Cubling (the latter HATED the pool as a baby, much to my delight).

20 minutes later, Snowflake cries, does her Flamenco hand movement which means "had enough". I take her out while Cubling stays in with Mr Cartside. Dry her, dress her. Half the stuff in other locker. Try finding locker. Last number on armband-key is illegible. Try about 5 lockers. Finally find the right one though key doesn't turn. Mentally curse all keys and lockers and swimming pools. Locker opens, hurray. Take out all I need to dress Snowflake. Dress her, put her in car seat, she wails. Realise she not just tired, but quite possibly due a feed. Which translates to impossibility to happy baby in car seat. Notice that I'm still soaking wet, unshowered (did I mention I hate the smell of chlorinated water? No way I'm getting out of here unshowered even if it means leaving baby to cry). Being soaking wet is not conducive to picking up dressed baby to settle her, or to feed her in the changing room. Make mental note that it may be more advantageous to dress mummy first next time.

Go out to pool and admit defeat. Hand Snowflake to Mr Cartside, who now swings car seat and lets Cubling play in the baby pool by herself. And is promptly told that this is not admissible. Fortunately, Cubling is happy to play fishing from the rim of the pool. Have shower, get dressed. Can't get clothes on because still damp. For all my attempts to get dressed as quickly as possible, it takes absolute ages. Try to stay calm because at least Snowflake isn't crying so loud that I could hear it, surely that's a good sign.

Grab car seat with baby (who isn't actually screaming), massive bag with clothes, baby swim seat, Spencer bear (did I mention he had to come too?!) 3 jackets and try not to collapse or throw up (one jacket is in my mouth and it doesn't like the sensation. That's the mouth, not the jacket, though I wouldn't blame the jacket if it didn't like my mouth). Decide that there is no point in being so vain as to blow dry hair or even brush it, it's ok to be scrummy mummy.

Collapse on chair in cafe. Relax, feed Snowflake who promptly falls asleep. Realise I'm ravenously hungry and wonder why I always get so unbelievably hungry after just a few minutes in the pool. Pat on the back that all my shouting was internal and both kids are still smiling.

Seriously wonder why the kids love going to the pool.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Between the sunshine and the storm

Outside, the sunshine and the storm are shaking hands.
It feels a bit like the inside of me. Some days are beautifully sunny. We have fun, we laugh, we hug, we play and make.
Other days, our wills go in different directions, like winds blowing apart and creating a storm. A vicious circle starts that often ends in an adult version of a temper tantrum.

I'm not proud of it, but more than that, it's not the person I want to be or even think I am. It's like looking at a stranger lost in a wave of emotion. It's above all not the mum I want to be. It brings back painful memories of behaviour like a stuck record, impossible to break through and change. I hear the ever repeated phrases of my own mother coming out of my mouth, and a widening gap develop between me and my child. She, the spirited girl, is defiant. She dodges any control I try to impose on her. She is not a child to be controlled. I've reached a point where it's not just her behaviour that worries me, but my own too, and where I have to admit that it's not some outside influence creating defiant behaviour, but that it's my own making.

Something has to change and today marks the first day of this change.

I've read a lot about what is happening. In transformational analysis, I learned that communicative interaction is shaped by our experience and that you have to know your buttons and make an attempt to overcome them. I always saw myself as an obedient, shy child with a fraught mother-daughter relationship, who was ever keen to please. Until my dad described me as the same defiant child that I now see in front of me. And then memory kicked in. Memory of anger, slammed doors, frustrations, and my defiant behaviour being ignored so it would go away (which it didn't). Suddenly I realised that I find myself trapped in the communicative patterns that I myself was brought up in. A different level of empathy with Cubling materialised. She is me. I am her. I know how she feels. 

I found myself parenting through threats and rewards, through coercion even. It is most certainly not the way I ever planned to parent my children, so what had happened? How come I hear my own mother speaking through my mouth (who in turn was speaking with her mother's words)? Even though my parents didn't do a bad job at parenting, it's just that I want to do a better one because even though I turned out ok (I hope anyway), my confidence levels were always low and I wasn't a particularly resilient child, so I'm keen to at least try to do things differently.

Another cause for the current situation is that when I realised that Cubling was a spirited child, all the advice was to set clear boundaries and be consistent. I believed it and was convinced this was the way to go. Just that Cubling couldn't care less about boundaries, her curiosity and intensity takes the better of her, it is quicker than any consideration for "boundaries".
To put it bluntly, trying to control her curiosity and intensity is impossible. Boundaries only lead to confrontation, anger, defiance and evasion. She now lies. She insists I tell the untruth when I don't. Those weapons are pretty effective because there's nothing I can do about it - the ultimate control is hers.

As for me, levels of stress have sored and many a day I was unhappy. There was a gap between wanting to enjoy this precious time of maternity leave and being the parent I want and hope to be and the reality of being so stressed out that I wished I wasn't just at home.

Something has to change. And though it's hard to change behaviour patterns that are so deeply rooted that they go back to my own childhood, I believe that change is possible. So:

On my weekly trip to the library, I addressed the stress issue first. Found out that you need to identify your triggers, your buttons that stress you out. I've done some watching of myself, some reflection of what causes my frustrations.

As to Cubling, I asked her to tell me when she didn't like the tone I was using to speak to her. And she does, she is not fearful to tell me that she doesn't like me to be annoyed, tense or angry. Her telling me, and putting a name to the underlying emotion of my words, helps me to understand what is happening - both to me, and how it affects her. It also helps me to change.

I resolved not to use any threat, reward or coercion to control her actions. Instead, I listened, explain reasons and consequences (and only allow natural consequences) and ask for her cooperation when I need her to do something.

Today, I managed the first full day without a single shout, without a single attempt to control Cubling. And we had a fabulous day. We were a team. There were only smiles.
It was actually rather perfect.

(Moss and squirrel, because Cubling likes them)



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