Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The essence of calm

I've been thinking about this for a while, off and on. Mainly because, if you were to consider what the essence of calm is, you would probably look for the opposite of me.

It's not really a Christmas thought, but this Advent had thrown it into sharper focus.

I've always wanted to be one of those graceful people, the ones who are likened to a swan. Me? While my legs are paddling frantically under the water too, unfortunately you can tell by all the splashing. And my face is all red and splotchy. And I'm exuding a kind of mild panic and chaos that has most sane people avoiding me, lest they catch the 'do-too-much-in-not-enough-time-and-badly' lurgy.

After agreeing to do too much this Christmas, as usual, and having more than a few concerned texts post seeing me (you'd never ask to my face...)  checking if I'm ok because I 'seem a bit stressed', I've started to think about this from a parenting perspective.

On becoming a parent, I re-evaluated a lot of my less positive traits - bad language, bad temper, bad moods - because I didn't want my daughter learning these things as part of her 'how to be a human' study. And I definitely didn't want her developing her own bad traits as a result of my poor self-control.

That's all a work in progress on its own, and I seem to be adding more and more character traits to my list of things to do better. But what of the 'do-too-much' syndrome? The headless-chicken behaviour? I wonder now if that is yet another trait I need to try to improve on. Is an air of chaos really something I want to teach her?

In my last job, before having my girl, I had a wonderful CEO - a visionary, who inspired and motivated everyone. And who had everyone in a fluster the moment she walked into the office. To try and protect those I lead from the immediate feeling of stress that accompanied every new business venture, I made as much effort as I could to push away my own tendency to flap. I tried to be a buffer between the chaotic brilliance of the idea and the methodical carrying out of the tasks needed to make it all happen. This was completely counter-me, but it was worth the effort to act against my natural tendencies - my team was much happier.

So, if I was able to make this much effort for my team, my workplace, surely I should be able to pour much more into setting an example for my little munchkin?

The wonderful Susan Sarandon playing Marmee -
look at that wise expression!
I have often struggled to be the person I want to be. When I was younger, I used to imagine Marmee from 'Little Women' sitting me down and telling me that I was 'more intent on reshaping [my] dear little nose then on fashioning [my] character!' That said (to Amy, actually), I always related most to Jo, being louder and larger than life while wanting to be - no, wanting to want to be - gentle and ladylike, but finding my own character fighting against it.

Now, I'm a 'Marmee' myself, I need to be doing the telling, not being told. I need to be the example to follow, not the mess being gently corrected. Oh dear.

So I guess I'll add 'being calm' to my list of character traits to work on. I'll gently correct myself (or at least try not to berate myself too severely) every time I catch myself flurrying around like a whirling dervish and catching up, or repelling, people in my hurricane.

A graceful swan - without the hiss...

With plenty of perseverance, one day, I'll be a swan, and hopefully, my little one will see a calm, graceful Marmee to look up to and try to emulate.

However, that wonderful saying that it takes a village to raise a child is true, and I can't have every good trait for her to learn from on my own. So if my swanlike aspirations fail, I'll just have to direct her to the more positive role models for calm and poise that she's sure to be surrounded by, when my own model is flawed.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Gifts of love

Welcome to the December 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Greatest Gifts
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have suggested go-to gifts and gifting experiences for the holiday season for all your loved ones.

When I was little, we had plenty. It wasn't much, but it was all we needed.

My parents were young when they had us, which meant young in their careers too, and I know that my dad, who was away with the Navy a lot of the time, always had a second job moonlighting as a chef or a farmhand when he was shore-based.

Not THE dress, but it's similar...!
My mum used to make a lot of our - and her - clothes, and my dad was a dab hand with the sewing machine too. Handy at quite a bit, actually - he made my brothers bunk beds, and when our tiny two bedroom house got too small for a family of 5, he turned the end of the hallway into my very own bedroom. Seriously cool - it had a cabin bed and everything.

And that way of life is how I remember the best Christmasses I had.

My all time favourite Christmas present - I must have been about 5. We were excitedly gathered outside the lounge waiting for daddy to finish shaving (which I now know he did to build the suspense more, given that he's usually the first to be heard at 5am on Christmas morning stage-whispering 'It's Christmas - can we get up now?!!'). After what felt like hours, and was probably around five minutes, the door was slowly opened, and there, hanging on the curtain rail, was my Christmas present.

Bright red needlecord with a white cotton embroidery anglais border around the bottom. It was beautiful. It was the kind of pinafore that princesses wore (because everyone knows that flouncy skirts would get in the way on all the exciting Princessy adventures). And it was brand new, made just for me.

Wow. I don't remember a lot more of that day. I don't remember a lot of loss of my Christmas days over the years, or the gifts that many people carefully selected for me. But I remember every bit of that dress.

I'm not a fan of the way Christmas can get overtaken by gifts - not even specific gifts, but just a sheer volume of wrapped stuff which, come thank-you card writing time, we can barely recall. Don't get me wrong, I love presents. I love getting wonderful things that I can't justify buying myself, I love the exciting stack of colourful paper packages under a gorgeous-smelling, ornament-covered tree. But I don't want to trade that for the wonder of feeling so special to those around me that they wanted to give me something they had carefully and lovingly planned to be just for me. And I think, sometimes, we can be overwhelmed by volume, rather then specifics.

This year, my husband and I have been thinking up ways to ramp up the magic-factor for Christmas, ostensibly for our munchkin, but very obviously for us, as she just won't care beyond the mountains of tasty foods she can wolf down... Apparently self-opening doors to the lounge where the tree etc is waiting is our favourite. Why we hadn't thought of it before is quite worrying, it's an obvious must for any self-respecting household.

Said Wheelybug - available from many a place, I'm sure...
We are also making most of our gifts, partly for financial reasons, but also because there's something quite wonderful about receiving a present that you know has had time, effort, care and thought put into it. A lot of our friends and family are homemade Christmas fans too, and I'm sure a good proportion of our gifts will have been made rather than bought.

Our munchkin is getting a second hand Wheelybug, but she's also getting a handmade, slightly imperfect dress, because, 28 years on, I still prize that gift above every other I have been given, year on year. And that means, clearly, that there must be something a bit magical about a homesewn Christmas outfit.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon December 9 with all the carnival links.)
  • I Want to Buy All of the ThingsThe Economama discusses whether there's a way to buy all of the baby stuff she desperately wants for her daughter without spoiling her.
  • The "Collectors" and the "Concentrators": How Children React to Lots of Presents — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., at Parental Intelligence discusses two types of children who receive gifts: the "Collectors" who rip open the wrappings on their their presents and love to count them and the "Concentrators" who spend endless time on each gift ignoring the array of presents around them.
  • The Joy of Giving and Receiving — Ellen at Life With Lucien shares her three-year-old son's new favorite toy for imaginative play.
  • Books: Best Present Ever! — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses some of the many reasons why books are the ideal gifts for little ones.
  • 10 DIY Gifts You Still Have Time To Make — A roundup of 10 DIY gifts that don't take much time to make from Doña at Nurtured Mama.
  • Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaves - A Delicious Holiday Gift — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares one of her favorite recipes to make and give during the holidays. This Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaf is much anticipated by her friends and loved ones. Learn how to create this delicious gift from the heart!
  • Christmas gifts for dreamers — Tat at Mum in search shares her favourite books and resources that have helped her get inspired and move forward towards her dreams this year.
  • Natural parent's baby shower registry — Since she had everything already for baby #3, Lauren at Hobo Mama is amusing herself by building a list of essentials and a few fun fripperies for a natural-parenting nursery.
  • Gifts of love — Charlie at PeelingClementines recalls her favourite Christmas gift of all time and thinks about how to add this magic to her little one's first Christmas.
  • The Gift of Letting Go — Dionna at Code Name: Mama has discovered that when you're a perfectionist, sometimes the best gift is simply releasing yourself from self-imposed expectations.
  • Montessori Inspired Gifts for Babies and Toddlers — Rachel at Bread and Roses shares gift ideas that were a hit with her son last year and what's on her wishlist for this year.
  • Giftmas Ideas for KidsMomma Jorje offers an original gift idea that hasn't been overdone and is good for the kids!
  • Favorite CDs for Babies and Toddlers {Gift Guide} — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her family's favorite CDs for babies and toddlers, some of which were favorites of her children and are now favorites of her granddaughter.
  • The Birthday Turned Christmas Wish ListThat Mama Gretchen forgot to share her birthday wish list this fall, but she's still wishin' and hopin' a present or two will arrive for Christmas!
  • 8 Thoughtful Non-Toy Gifts for Baby — Is your family asking for hints for presents to give baby? Moorea, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers this list of ideas that won't overwhelm your little one with toys.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Brutal truths

My beautiful boy - looking like butter wouldn't melt
Today, my spaniel thoroughly defied me. I'm talking out and out rebellion.

For over half an hour he evaded my demands, sat blatantly on the path ahead, head cooked as if he just didn't understand the command we spent 18 months perfecting. When eventually he did decide to come, it was begrudgingly, and at the last moment, he sprung away with glee and we began the stand off again.

I struggled to keep my voice calm, struggled to focus on him and not the disgruntled noises coming from my sling, struggled not to either lose my rag completely or burst into tears. A little whiny voice in my head was complaining bitterly about how unfair it was that we had spent 18 months of exhausting, painstaking training to get to casual obedience, only for us to pop out a baby and watch our dog turn delinquent.

After a few moments of this monologue, I looked down at my munchkin. I looked at my Crazydog, so cute in his defiance. So lovable.

And my head went: Oh. So this is what parenting is going to look like. 

At which my heart sort of split into two personalities. One nodded sagely and acknowledged the great but rewarding challenge that my husband and I have taken on. The other let out an awful despairing wail. It wasn't pretty.

Crazydog and Munchkin playing happily
Walking home, Crazydog firmly on his lead and trotting meekly - even apologetically? - at my side, I had a little faith insight too. That this exhaustion we feel when we watch our dog / child / selves completely undermine all previous training / parenting / self-insight and bettering must be something God feels daily about me. Watching me make a mess of a fragile relationship with a crass word, lose my temper because I haven't asked for help from Him, feel resentment when I'm asked to lend a hand, but I'm 'too busy'. He must sigh, focus on me and repeat his command calmly, again and again until I get it.

This helped. If you don't relate to this angle of thought, please just brush it aside and know that if you have felt like this, so too have many, many other parents.

If you have a faith too, and can relate to God as your Father (I think He embodies mothers too in his nurturing role, but that's probably a whole other post / discussion), maybe this will help you too. Because in my struggles as a parent, I learned a bit more of God's heart,  understood a bit more that He really is the ultimate Parent. I hope that, by being a parent myself, these reminders on a daily basis might help me grow closer to Him. Perhaps I might get better at listening to His guidance too.

I have to admit that the day didn't really get better and, being a bit under the weather, I found it hard to relate to the more philosophical and calm part of myself. That said, she is still in me somewhere, even on the hard days, so she must be tempering the inner scream even when I don't realise it. And I can take a breath and ask for God's peace and calm when I don't have enough of my own.

I don't really have much of an idea how to morph more thoroughly into the sage Earth Mother I'd so like to be and away from the panicked, impatient mess that I too often am, but that doesn't mean I won't keep looking. And hopefully, asking for help along the way.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Great Indoors

Welcome to the November 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Indoor Play This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared ideas and inspiration to keep families happy and healthy while cooped up indoors.

Just 8 weeks postpartum, I cleverly broke my foot and wound up equipped with a cast and crutches for the next 3 weeks. After that I was able to hobble around a bit, and life got easier, but for those 3 weeks, the sofa was my world. Mine and my little munchkins'.

My husband would set me up in the morning with a flask, snacks, litre after litre of water, a nappy changing kit and a Moses basket, which until then our little'un had barely looked at.
Although small, our munchkin has never been one for staying still, or fond of repetitive activity, and for a few weeks I worked my brain hard to come up with ever more ingenious things to do on a sofa - climbing, parachuting, and pirate ships were all tried, as was spaceships and flying. We did a lot of reading in the obligatory 'voices', and played with various household objects each day, because everyone knows that they're much more interesting than toys. We folded laundry for long periods of time, hiding under it, twiddling different fabrics, looking at colours and patterns, and being hedgehogs under laundry leaves. (Yes, I know she was only small, and yes, it's true that some of these activities were more for my benefit.)

It was challenging. Very challenging at times. It was also the moment in parenthood when I first (repeat FIRST) got the 'I can't cope' wobbles. It did, however, set me up for creative cabin fever.
Sadly, now that the weather has turned, we can't just go outside and eat grass for amusement. Although this is a shame, it gives us an opportunity to try some more creative play, and, at the moment, we generally have to try to involve standing or walking in most activities.
We have therefore begun to practice yoga together. I was doing the odd bit when she was napping or had gone to bed for the evening, having no core left to speak of postpartum. However, a friend at Waterbabies, 8 month old Kamikaze Princess (her parents' name for her, not ours) was showing off her Downward Dog last week and I thought 'Why not?!'.

We have been doing 20 minutes a day for a week now (after 15 minutes she starts to get bored and I wind up practice) and so far it's quite successful. Mostly she climbs up whatever limbs I have touching the floor at the time. We play peekaboo in Cat / Cow, and Downward Dog. We do horse back rides when I'm in Cobra. And the nice calming breathing and stretching we start with, including a bit of twisting and some side bends, is inexplicably hilarious. I can't see her joining the Kamikaze Princess in any actual postures any time soon, but we have fun and I get a bit of a stretch and strengthen - which I'm in dire need of.

Some of our other favourite activities involve a brief foray into the windy, rainy or chilly outside armed with effective clothing and a cheerful inner vibe (essential), whilst carrying the promise of a hot Ribina on our return - for me. (That said, we've been ridiculously lucky with the weather at the moment, to the point where I'm getting a bit narky not to be covering myself top to toe in ever more chunky knitwear.)

We recently gathered pinecones from our local wood, and once dried out, we had masses of fun dipping them in bright paint, tying them with string and suspending them along munchkin's wall at varying heights.

OK, I'm lying. That was what happened in my head. I think that, for older mini folk, this would work well. But for us, I must admit, it didn't go quite to plan. To begin with, threading the cotton strings was more fiddly than hoped and, with hindsight, should have been done in Blue Peter style - 'and here's one I prepared earlier...'

I then made the catastrophic error of placing munchkin in her highchair sans food. Yes, you heard me - without edible yummies. Big mistake. She wasted no time at all in telling me that this simply was not acceptable and demanded food NOW. I tried to appease her with a yoghurt pot of paint to dip her pinecones in. She was uninterested. I moved the pot, popped to lay out some greaseproof paper to put the cones on and heard her delighted giggles behind me - a drastic change from the previous noises of outrage. I turned around again to see that her arms are longer than thought. Yellow paint everywhere, she was decorating her highchair, the tablecloth (oilcloth thankfully) and herself.
This is the moment I gave in, squirted extra paint on the table and put a few sheets of paper down to catch her creative thumps. We have an original piece on our fridge door now - the first of many, I'm sure.

I'm undeterred though - the art-attacks have worked outside, surely they'll work indoors??! - and in another month I'm going to give it another go. Probably stripped down, in the bathroom, with smaller pots of paint and without the string, but I'm confident that dipping pinecones into brightly coloured poster paint can't just be something I love - and with her obsession with colours, it's surely just a matter of finding the right atmosphere!

My munchkin getting her artist on:


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon November 11 with all the carnival links.)

Friday, 17 October 2014

Barriers to Babywearing

It's been a while since my last post, mainly because my little munchkin can now get herself to sleep all by herself, meaning I don't spend time surreptitiously typing on my phone in the dark. However, that's a whole new post in itself, and today I've been mulling over the barriers to babywearing.

Unsuspecting and minding my own business, I morphed into a bit of an avid babywearer myself, carting around my now 7 month old in various fabrics. Also, without really realising I was doing it, I've begun advertising strongly to those around me (just subtly of course - making slings of their own for friends who mentioned in passing that they might fancy 'trying' mine out sometime, or whipping them up on the sewing machine for any newborn due in the vicinity...)

But it's not for not for everyone, and inevitably,

 there are barriers to babywearing... 

I thought I'd look at some of them along with a few solutions. 

Being of the more - determined - ilk,  it never crossed my mind for one moment that I wouldn't get on with a sling. I started out with a stretchy wrap and lived in it, with my munchkin, for the first 4 or so months of her life. Looking back, there were the days when no matter how I tied it we weren't quite right, the days where she was too loose and I readjusted this or that bit of the wrap every few minutes. And of course, the inevitable moments where, having tied it on sans baby, driven for twenty minutes and then tried to post her in, we both ended up in a slightly sticky, flustered mess with reams of fabric everywhere combined with a general attempt not to become mudmonsters from whatever bog we were about to walk the dog in. These incidents didn't bother me particularly, or put me off wearing my munchkin, but I can see how they might if you were all for the easy life, had even less patience than me, or weren't absolutely convinced that this was the best way to transport yourself and your bundle. 

After the first few months, the weather got hot. For Britain, it was utterly ridiculous, and after making a thinner, lighter coloured stretchy wrap and discovering that we were still wandering around in a sticky, sweaty mess, I investigated my other options. This resulted in making a mei tai (there's a post on the whole why, how thing, if you're curious), and - again, looking back - we had a couple of rocky launches before our mission was a-go-go. It felt very different - less supportive and firm, I suppose, and I didn't tie the little sprite high up enough  me to begin with. Plus the body was a little long for her and I hadn't sussed that I needed to fold it from the bottom, so we spent our first walk getting a bit irate with each other, her squirming and squiggling around and thrashing her head to try and get it above the fabric (being a curious little'un) and me worrying that her bottom was about to fall out the lower bit of fabric and convincing myself that re-tying the shoulder straps repeatedly was going to fix all our problems. 

It didn't. We had to about-turn  home with her wailing and me wanting to. The dog was also less than impressed. A thorough YouTube session later (I'll post a few links at the bottom, though there a a gozillion videos...) and a bit of home-based wearing and we were in business. I barely use the stretchy wrap now, although my husband still prefers it by far. I am thoroughly converted to the world of mei tais - so versatile, superquick to put on and take off, easy to breastfeed in on the go and vastly cooler than the reams of fabric I was wrapping us in before. (Don't get me wrong, I still loooove my stretchy wrap. It's a wonderful snuggly cocoon with very little ones and a bit more weatherproof in terms of cover - I wore it today when it hoofed it down.) 

So, there are my first four barriers: 
1. It takes some getting used to - generally, and with each sling type you use. I can see how some might just decide life's too short... 
2. The type of sling you have might not work for you. 
3. The sling might not feel comfy. Even if you're wearing it how you've been shown - and it's a correct way.
4. It can be a bit hot and sweaty. Ok, a lot hot and sweaty... 

Babywearing in the home is a fantastic way to get cuddles, let you little one sleep snuggled up to you to their heart's content, or keep a clingy baby happy whilst still being able to get on with the housework, play with any other mini-people (or pets!) or generally carry on with life without losing contact with your bundle. This has been invaluable to me, as my munchkin was never a fan of sleeping anywhere without me, and with cloth nappies there has always been a laundry load per day to get done as a bare minimum in the housework stakes! 

However, for me it really comes into its own when you're out and about. We have a pram which was bought for us as a surprise gift, and lovely as it is, I never wanted to use it. (I've talked about why in other blogs - suffice to say that my protectiveness levels were astronomically high, and it surprised me more than anyone else when I admitted I couldn't cope when she wasn't glued on to me.) We also have a mad spaniel who can't get by on less than 2 hours of walking (or rather, crazed running) each day, and pavements are just plain boring, so we need to be cross country explorers in our family. Perfect when you can just strap on your baby or toddler and get going. 

We did just that from about 6 days old...Exhibits A and B:

But in Britain - and many, many other places in the world, I'm sure, it rains. Buggies have rain covers. Slings do not. 

5. When it rains, you're both open to the elements. 

You can get wet. So can your baby. Actually, I think I'll open this up to all weathers. Sunburn, windburn - all possible when you're out and about, let's be honest. Of course there are things you can do to stop these things being a problem (I'll go into my solutions in a moment), but it could really put you off, especially if you're not an all-weather person yourself. 

Finally, I'm going to admit it. I wear my wraps and slings a lot. I wear them right - for me at least; the little'un sits high and tight unless I've shimmied her down to feed her (and even then I contort myself so she's still higher up than a non-sling feeding pose - something that will render my bras ever more necessary when they valiantly try to support me post-feeding, I'm sure). We are snug as a bug, and our straps as wide as can be (I make my own wraps with wider fabric and my mei tais with wider straps to help with comfort for long-wear). I am generally told I have good posture. I am young (well, late twenties), fit, and healthy. And - here it comes - my back hurts most of the time. 

***Gasp!!! 'Did she say that out loud? Shhhh!'*** 

I think it could put off new parents pre-babywearing. I think it could put off even the staunchest babywearer some days, as their little'un becomes a bigger'un. It could be the biggest barrier of all. When she was mini, I didn't get any discomfort, and I might be the only one who feels this, so don't take me as gospel or anything. But for me, it's the thing I put up with because having my munchkin close enough to chat quietly to as we walk around, and watching her awed expression as she takes everything in, is priceless. 

It's not bad pain. It's perfectly bearable. It's a bit like the dull, persistent ache in the small of your back when you carry your bump inside instead of out. Or to explain how I feel to any of you chaps reading, like that solid, leaden feeling in your muscles a day or so after you've painted a whole floor of rooms in one weekend (surely we're not the only ones who've done that?). I get it in my lower back. And I get a tightness across my shoulders that feels like I should spend the next hour in the cat pose (yoga - arched back, tilting head and hips as if trying to make pelvis and head meet). And it's ok. For me, it's really ok. But I could definitely understand if, for you, it wasn't. So that's my final barrier for this blog post: 

6. It can make you achey. No matter what you do. 

I'm sure you can all think of many other barriers, but these are the ones that have cropped up for me, or for friends, over the past few months. I thought I'd share my solutions. Just like babywearing, they might not be for everyone, and just like each sling, the solution I've found might not be the one for you - but I expect there will be one out there that will suit, if you're wanting to find it. 

So, the solutions that worked for me... 

1. It takes some getting used to... 
You might not find this. You might be like me and so staunchly determined that what you've decided is right that you don't even register the niggles. But you might just not be too keen to start with. Does it feel a bit odd? Are you uncomfortable? Worried about your tiddler being swathed in a haberdashery? 

All I can say to this one is - why are you babywearing? Because if the reason you're choosing to wear your child, regardless of whether it's a parenting choice, a method of convenience, or born of desperation to appease a regularly inconsolable child, it comes down to the same thing. If the reason you're doing it matters more than the niggles you feel over whether it's working for you, keep going. Just for a bit longer. I was once told that a book deserves you to read at least the first 5 chapters, or 100 pages, before deciding whether or not it's for you. (I was about 10, and quickly decided that if I'd invested 100 pages-worth of time into it, I might as well finish the thing...obviously.) So if you're having a few doubts over whether babywearing is suiting you and your lifestyle, I'd really encourage you to just give it another chapter or two. Go on. 

2. The type of sling you have might not work for you. 
Alternatively, the reason you might not be feeling quite right might be that the sling you're using isn't the best one for you. There are so many, and finding the right sling for you could make all the difference. I prefer unstructured ones for the most part (buy some fabric and away you go), but a semi or fully structured option might be better for you. I don't like the buckle-y feeling of structured options too much because they interfere with my feeling that it's just me and my munchkin, which sounds a bit odd now it's out in the open, but there you have it. My husband finds the mei tai uncomfortable because he thinks it feels too unsupportive and loose, even when our girl is snugged right up to him and there's not a whiskers' width between the two of them or the wrap. A friend of mine can't stand stretchy wraps because of the hassle of hoicking and twisting metres and metres of fabric. If you were only to try one sling and it wasn't the one for you, it could definitely put you off babywearing completely, when all it really means is that particular sling wasn't for you. Maybe give another one a go? 

Playing around with a friend's sling, if they have different ones works well, and there's nothing wrong with trying on some different options in shops. When I was pregnant we did that, and took my teddybear along as a baby-sub. You couldn't possibly look any sillier, but it didn't seem to cause much of a stir, so we can't be the only ones. There are also sling swaps around the place where you pitch up with your sling, throw it into the mix and try everyone elses', then go home with the sling that someone else didn't get along with but suits you perfectly. Hey presto. 

3. The sling might not feel comfy. 
Given that slings have come into being to be the comfiest and most minimal way to carry your child hands-free, you can be pretty sure that it was designed to feel good. If it doesn't, it might be that you could do with finding an alternative way to wear yours. You need to work out the right way to wear your chosen sling - which means both the way it's safest and most secure for you and your bundle, and the way you are happiest and most comfortable with it. That might not be the way you're first shown to wear it, but you can almost guarantee that with most slings, there's more than one way to do it. YouTube, various blogs, and most sites that sell slings can all be mined for a million and one ways to tie your stretchy wrap, or how to modify your mei tai to suit a bigger / smaller child, to avoid their legs getting any red marks on, etc etc... I've lost track of the different ways to tie a back carry with a non-stretch wrap, and if one doesn't work for you, just try another, and another until it does. 

That said, often the reason for an uncomfortable sling is that it's not being worn properly - by which I mean safely. Wearing the child too low on your body will decrease the support both they and you feel, and is likely to give you back ache. Wearing it too loose again is likely to hurt your shoulders, back or both, as well as meaning your little'un is bouncing around, slipping sideways, falling out or has their head lolling dangerously whilst they're asleep. If in doubt, have a look at the recommended ways to tie your wrap and have a practice when your little imp is less impy than usual... It's amazing the difference a good tie can make. If you know full well that you've tied it right, it's always worth retying it. A twisted strap, a looped bit of fabric or your baby's bum having secretly slipped out on one side are all things I've found to make both of us feel wriggly. 

4. It can be a bit hot and sweaty. 
Ok, a lot hot and sweaty.  I'm a... warm... person anyway, and I can get a bit sticky and bleugh outside even in the middle of winter. My munchkin appears to have inherited my thermostat, and at 8 weeks, you will have found us often both stripped off, attempting a feed to calm her whilst lying down on the cool bedsheets with the window wide open. The weather warmed fractionally, and every walk we took, no matter how few clothes we wore, wound up with her telling me in no uncertain terms that being hot was not ok. Which, understandably, used to worry me a fair bit. We resorted to her in a vest and me in a thin t-shirt, never wearing coats unless it was pouring down, and draping a white muslin over her head whenever she was sleeping. I kept to shade, and would stop for water and a brief rest whenever I could feel myself getting hot - regulating my own temperature was the best way I found to regulate hers. 

My other solutions? As I've said, firstly I made another stretchy wrap out of thin white jersey (careful to make sure it wasn't too stretchy - a lot of the thinner fabrics have more stretch which I personally think is unsafe to use in a wrap  as it's a lot less secure and can loosen around your little'un as you carry. (I should point out that I haven't explicitly researched this, though and I'm happy to be corrected if you know otherwise.) Finally I made a mei tai - essentially opting for a wrap with less fabric over me and my munchkin, allowing her arms and legs to be open to the air and leaving an air gap all around her. It's still snuggly, but both of us were able to dress for the weather in it, rather than walking around in our swimmies all summer. 

Ultimately, my solution is to find a way to keep yourself as cool as you can, and it might be that changing to a different style wrap helps that. Whatever you do, you don't want to let your baby overheat, and that should be your priority - but that said, a bit of sweat never hurt anyone, and if it's hot outside, you're going to sweat anyway, I would have thought. Why not do it with a hug?! 

(On a slightly vain note, it did initially bother me that my clothes sported dark bands all over them when I took the sling off. It doesn't now. But we all know the tricks to minimise sweaty armpits tells, I'm sure - just follow them and it'll help down-play your sweaty back and / or tummy if it bothers you!) 

5. You're both open to the elements. 
We have had sunkissed cheeks where my girl's sunhat got a little small before I noticed, wind-roughened skin on her legs where her trousers rode up while we were walking, and rain drops on her face because the umbrella lost out to the wind. Solutions are obvious really. In the sunshine, I don't like using SPF a lot on my munchkin's skin, so I mostly go for thin cover-up materials, and use a bit of SPF 50 where I can't keep her covered. (Now that it's dimmer I don't worry about that, though; a bit of sunshine on the skin helps keep that vitamin D up.) Sunhats, wooly hats, cotton in-between hats, hoods - you name it, we wear them. My recent knit is some legwarmers to keep her lower legs cosy as they stick outside the mei tai. I invested in an aged 3-4 year old cagoule to help with the rain, which I stretch over the outside of the wrap once she's inside, and tuck into the fabric straps. The hood goes over her hat / hood to keep her dry and the wrap is covered by its own coat, whilst my coat is a little bigger than it needs to be, and just about poppers up under her bottom to seal us in. Her coat bit sometimes comes untucked so I'm thinking of sewing some ties to it so I can strap it around my back like a mini apron. I've written a whole blog on babywearing in the rain here

And this is us in action...

Ultimately, I love that my daughter is exposed to the elements. She giggles and licks the rain when it lands on her face. She has never flinched or hid herself from any weather, sunny or stormy. I love that she is learning about weather, temperatures and seasons just by dint of being outdoors. I can completely understand wanting to keep a child toasty and dry inside a covered pushchair or pram, but I personally feel like she is learning more of life by being in it, rather than sitting in a cosy plastic bubble. If you don't feel this way, then my homemade solutions probably won't help much, but if you're keen to get out and about in it, I'd like to share something I once heard from someone wise (I have no idea who they were): 
'There's no such thing as bad weather. Just bad clothing.' 

6. It can make you achey, no matter what you do. 

This one? I can't help a lot, other than to say that for me, it's worth it. Totally, completely worth it. I'd encourage you to work on your core strength, if you don't already. Babywearing from day one means that you're body is slowly strengthening in the right places as your tiny bundle grows into a bigger bundle, and if you've just been pregnant (just the girls here, obviously!), you've already started those muscles from carrying around your increasingly large bump all day. Gradually building your core will help postpartum generally, as well as for babywearing. Yoga and pilates are great, but many exercises and sports help strengthen your core muscles, so however you choose to do it, do it. It will help. 

Finally, a good stretch every day, or several times a day, is my lifesaver. A bit of cat/cow posing when I'm playing on the floor with my munchkin, or leaning forward and letting my body weight drag my head towards the floor before rolling up slowly both really, really help. If you have a partner who's willing to pummel your back occasionally, that helps too. 

My parting thought here has to be that for me, even if I was struggling to find a solution that worked - and I'm sure we'll get to them in time, I've not been doing this long - I'd want to keep trying, and I hope I've encouraged you to do just that. There are more pros to babywearing that you can shake a fluffy cat at, so if you're interested, have a look at the research. I'm going to leave you with my little unscientific pros list: 

My own top pros to babywearing: 
  • An ever increasing bond with my little'un 
  • Being able to chat to, sing to, and listen to her all the time 
  • Feeding her brain - the amount she seems to take in as we wander around is just incredible! 
  • Speaking of feeding - breast-feeding on the move is always a bonus 
  • Being cuddled while I vacuum. And stuff. • Travelling super-light! 
  • Being able to cover any terrain, easily 
  • Getting back into shape post-pregnancy, but... 
  • Not having to worry about anyone seeing me before then - because I'm obscured by a baby!! 

Links to wearing mei tais:

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Babywearing in Britain (read 'the rain')

I didn't set out to be a babywearer. I bought a wrap in my second trimester because, renovating our home, I thought it would be a good way to carry on working hands free, just strap it (the baby) on and off we go. (Anyone who is also a parent will be stunned to know this hasn't really happened.)

I didn't like the ones with fabric between the baby and parent as I thought that, if I had one that held them as close as possible, it would keep them happier. So we got the Flo wrap from Mamas & Papas when it was on sale and that was that.

Nothing could have prepared me for the insane, hormones-plus need to protect my bundle. Speaking to other parents, not everyone has this, (you're possibly lucky), but I felt panicky if or little girl was anywhere but on me or my husband (where I could see him, to start with). The wrap meant she never had to be anywhere else.

For the first 6 weeks or so, my insides would clench whenever anyone except me or my husband held her. Whilst I did battle with those clenches to ensure grandparents were - gasp - allowed to hold her, it doubled up as a magic forcefield when we went out, keeping all those loving, adoring coos the other side of our cocoon and meaning that no overzealous relatives or friends could take her for cuddles then whisk her off out of sight (particularly useful at church).

The munchkin decided from day one the sleeping anywhere except on us was a no-no so the uses continued. If she needed to nap, into the wrap she went, and I would do housework, bake, or walk the dog. In the early days when she basically napped non-stop, this was a lifesaver.

It got to the point where I felt naked if she wasn't with me, like when you take off a favourite necklace. Also, my paranoia that she would spontaneously combust if she wasn't attached to me was calming down but still very much present. I got all wobbly the first time I put her in a buggy and felt nervous the entire 10 minutes she was in it - nervous like at the start of a rollercoaster ride when you're going up slowly and it's making that clicking sound (without the knowledge that any second it'll get all exhilarating). Roll these things together, combine them with an inordinate amount of love for the munchkin which required regular snuggles, and that was it, I was a babywearer.

That would all be fabulous if it wasn't for our glorious British weather.

This summer has been irresponsibly warm for England with hot, humid days for weeks on end. It started late April so I bought a length of thinner, lighter coloured fabric and made a new wrap.

Then, as July came around, even this was still very hot-and-bothered-y so I made a mei tai (thanks to Hobo Mama and Grunts & Grumbles for the patterns and how-to's I used to create my modified pattern - I'll put links at the end). It turns out, as an aside, that making mei tais is really addictive and I've started making them as gifts now too...

Anyway, that hot weather had now gotten wet-and-hot. So now what?! Well, whilst an umbrella is fine in a light drizzle, in a dog-walking deluge it just doesn't cut it. My first idea was to make a new mei tai out of oil cloth and add a hood, but her little legs would get wet...Cue a brainwave (my dad's actually, I can't take credit).

So the munchkin now has an aged 4-5 pack-a-mac which I stretch over the sling, once the little'un is safe inside, tucking it in around the edges, tying the arms to the sling straps and pulling the hood up over her head. I then put my mac on and pull the front as closed as it'll go. We look awesome.

And we are ready to face the British weather as a team until one of us decides we're big enough to announce that we can go out alone and have our own mac and wellies (because it will be her, I'm sure of it).

(How to make a mei tai :

Both of these were great starting points and then I sort of adapted from there but you could just go crazy and follow one of them properly.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Tick tock goes the renovation clock

Last year, we bought a house - our first house. Seriously exciting stuff. It was a bit of a fixer upper, stuck in a 60's time warp but with a lot of promise if you had the vision to see it. Which quite a few of our friends and family members didn't, but hey ho. We went for it, all in.

Our first weekend as owners, we opened the front door and pulled out the interior, from carpets and linos to cupboards and curtains. Doors came off, partitions were pulled down, layers of damp, horrifically patterned wallpaper was shed from the walls like a snakeskin. And that was when we realised just how much we had bitten off.

Actually, I lie. We thought we had realised. So we took one extra month's rent at our old place. We had the new place rewired, sprayed for woodworm, and enlisted a lot of help from family members with replumbing and deep cleaning.

Then we realised the extent of the work.

We had a month to replace the entire lounge and bathroom floors from joists and timbers to floorboards, tear down and rebuild two stud walls, and get the (cold) water working (hot water was a pipe dream). 

At the time, I was 6 months pregnant. Suddenly, into our lives came an enormous ticking clock, belligerently shouting at us to get a move on, or else.

Shockingly, clock ticking in our ears, we managed this bare minimum level of functionality and safety thanks to friends and family who gave up pretty much all their spare time, ando an amazing husband working every hour he could squeeze from the day. My own personal contribution included waddling around the place armed with a few tools and a notebook, scribbling PRINCE2-inspired product breakdown charts on various bare plasterboard walls and placing orders to Travis Perkins every other day.

We put our stuff into storage, which sounds really cool, like something out of a film, but basically meant that all our valued possessions went to live in a dank metal box. The storage guys even made me buy my own padlock for it. For the next couple of months, we camped out on a futon in the what-would-eventually-be lounge. Our kitchen was a kettle and a micro-convection oven, and our water supply came from a copper stand pipe hanging out of the bare stone of the back wall. Of all of us, our spaniel, just over one year old at the time, was the least willing to adjust and make the best of things.

During this time, we brought gas into the property (another story in itself), installed a boiler and central heating bringing hot water with it, redid the sofits and fascias (bye bye leaks), and performed complex surgery on the kitchen wall armed with a lot of research, some stone chisels, and enormous sheets of, essentially, bubblewrap for builders.

Finally, my husband took a bit of holiday before the holidays, spending the three days before Christmas learning to create a kitchen from scratch (no fitted flatpacks for us). On Christmas day, I prepped veg on a fixed wood work top, cooked in a gas oven, rinsed in a working (hot and cold water) sink and threw all the dirty plates in the working dishwasher. What a wonder he was.

We had done it - or mostly, he had, while I waddled around eating tomatoes and Haagan daaz and made encouraging cups of tea from our makeshift kitchen.

By the time our little girl arrived, the lounge was finished, bar the skirting and alcoving, her bedroom was complete, our bathroom and kitchen were functional - if not beautiful, - and our bedroom was reasonably livable in (plasterboard walls and hardboard flooring being highly sought after).

We agreed to take a 4 month break when our little munchkin arrived so we could enjoy those early days, (and not feel useless when we failed to finish the tasks we had at ourselves).

But now 5 months have gone, and our last month of renovating has been... Slow. Really slow. We dedicate evenings, weekends, whatever we can, but everything just takes so much longer with our little'un around.

And now she's starting to crawl.

Our days of trying to stop only the dog from eating loose plaster are now limited, and just as the clock was tick tocking loudly before we came along, it's back with a vengeance. And this time, I have her safety to think about.

It ticks louder and louder every time I look at her rocking back and forth on her knees, trying to work out what moves next. Every time she makes a little bunny hop then face-plants adorably and looks up grinning. Because soon she'll be wrenching the hot water pipes off the wall, picking and eating rotten plaster and loose nails, and splitting her head on the concrete steps in the kitchen.

Tick tock, tick tock.

It's not just marking the passing the time, it's marking the gradual increase of mummy-hysteria.

I'd best get downstairs and start pulling the grippy spikes out of the stairs.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rediscovering the interesting me

I'd forgotten how to get into this blog. I only ever managed a meagre number of posts owing to a busy life and an awful computer (which I still have, actually - my brave Thelma who has powered on through despite the onslaught of tablets, clever phones and the handicap of taking half an hour to boot up).

Recently, I discovered some new headspace in the form of swapping my crazy-busy and stressful job for a baby. I'm still crazy-busy but in a bizarrely calm way that lets my head do thinking stuff at the same time. So I decided to start blogging again.

Unable to find this one, I set up a new blog and wrote a post. I thought it was ok; not groundbreaking literature or anything, but entertaining and amusing enough. Then my husband read it while I was sleeping. The next day, he told me he read it. I asked for his verdict.
'It was... ok. Not as good as your old ones.'

I clearly had to find my old ones right then and there (it took a while) and that's why I'm writing here, because I managed to, but that's beside the point for this post... The question that plagued me from the moment I heard his comment is: 'Why aren't I interesting anymore?'

I'm slightly scared that I've inadvertently become one of those people whose only real topics of conversation or strong opinions relate to their children. I think this is an irrational fear. I think. I was never going to be that gal. Granted, two years ago, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of children, and stay-at-home-breastfeeding&babywearing-mum had never even crossed my mind, but surely these unprecedented choices don't have to mean they're the only things I can think of to discuss, right? I'm telling you now, if I'm not right, I'm going to make seriously sure that I will be.

Something that I loved - love - is cake. Isn't cake a wonder? Toss a bad day in my direction and I can show you the cake that could fix it. I looked at my last post on here before writing this. And I can now tell you two things:
1. I now know why I was getting every cold that came along,
2. Cake is no longer a viable answer to problems.

Turns out I have coeliac disease and before diagnosis my immune system was shot, my iron levels were non-existent and my stomach - which is meant to resemble a kind of sea anemone turned inside out - was shiny flat (I'm talking internals here or bikinis would look very, very wrong on healthy people).

Coeliac disease means no gluten. Not even a sneaky bit when no one's looking. And no gluten means no cake. No carrot cake with cream cheese topping according to St Delia; no squishy, squoochy chocolate brownies lovingly perfected by my husband; no giant slab of coffee cake from the Bell coffee shop down Bashful Alley in Lancaster. (Even though I haven't been there for years, it will remain the best cake place ever. If you and gluten are still friends, go there, now, and skip lunch. You know it makes sense.)

When my husband told me my blog was, essentially, boring, it made me feel like maybe I'm a bit gluten free these days. Well, I am completely gluten free, but I mean in the metaphorical, lacking exciting interest and fabulousness to vanquish a bad day kind of way. That made me feel sad. And sort of bleugh, like a really nothing grey.

However, last weekend, I made some berry and white chocolate muffins. I modified a recipe, changing my proportions, swapping out ingredients - I was a true domestic goddess, fit for a Bake Off final. (Ok, maybe not the final.) They were - to coin Ron - 'bloody brilliant'. I have also discovered Nigella's lemon polenta cake and created it to increasing degrees of success, (not that the first disaster didn't taste pretty epic - once I carefully removed all the burned outside sections).

These happy moments of cakey bliss, where I have eaten far more then my fair share on each baking occasion, have given me hope. Cake doesn't have to be off limits. In fact, it can still taste amazing, it just has to be different to the cake of my past. I have to look to the cake of cakeness present.

This hope, I have decided, can be transferred to my boring blog. Just because I am different to the Me of yesteryear doesn't mean the present Me need be dull. In the case of the berry and white chocolate muffins, I think they may even be better than the muffins of my past (which is saying something given that once upon a time I baked those scrumptious blobs of calories for a living).

These amazing gluten free muffins have inspired me. And so, from now on, I will attempt to channel said muffins, (by which I don't just mean bake and eat copious quantities - though I clearly mean that too), and will become an awesome version of myself. Because if cake can be scrummy and all-round fabulous in gluten-free world, I can be too, in Mummyland.

Hopefully I can do it without becoming muffin-shaped in the process, but I won't hold my breath.