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How To Grow A Community, How To Build A Tribe

When I think of community, I think of the border town where I spent my formative childhood years. We were a country at war, and my dad was a commander in the military, so we lived in an army house, on an army street, with a bomb shelter on our back varandah.

It was one of those streets where everyone knew everyone. We had dinner at each other’s houses. Street parties. The children played in the streets, we had a swing in the front garden. Someone else had a swimming pool. Someone else a tree house.

When the war ended we moved again to a lovely town on a lovely street. I remember a lot of grass. And I remember how lonely it felt. It took months to meet our neighbours. Even though they had kids in the same school, it took months for us to actually meet.

I also remember thinking as a 9 year old “This street needs a war. It needs an outside enemy to bring everyone together”. A war with an outside enemy never came, thankfully, but the idea has always stuck with me. How people rally together when there’s an outside threat – just look at natural disasters. Continue reading How To Grow A Community, How To Build A Tribe

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Nature or Nurture – and Eureka!

You hear ever again the argument: is nature or nurture the most important influence in childhood, or is it both? Yes, of course both are important, and the more research that is done the more we find how much the environment a child grows up in, not just physical but even more important emotional, will influence the child for life. Yet something important is still missing.

In a roundabout way, it provided me with inspiration for writing about the ‘third year’ in early childhood (in previous blogs I have written about the first two years). It came together with something else:

We’ve all had such experiences: sudden thoughts, inspirations, helping us find a solution to something. It turns out the Eureka moments have greater insight and accuracy than lengthy analysis*. A puzzle – it would seem to contradict our modern rational order of things! Something inexplicable happens – something new enters. Continue reading Nature or Nurture – and Eureka!

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The Comfort Habit

Recently I had a discussion with a health visitor about my 10 month old son’s diet and sleep.

I explained that he still regularly wakes up and that I breastfeed on demand in the day and night. “He doesn’t need milk in the night. He’s just waking for milk, out of habit”, she said.

I didn’t agree, I thought he was waking up and wanting comfort.

“Well yes, it’s the same thing’.

Again I have to disagree.

In my mind; and due to how we use the word, habit is seen as a weakness, a negative. I can’t think of any positive habits. A ‘drink habit’, a ‘drug habit’, a ‘smoking habit’ to name but a few. I don’t think you can label a 10 month old with a ‘milk habit’!

Comfort is completely different. To wake up and seek comfort seems to me the most natural and normal thing in the world. Sometimes when I wake in the night I snuggle into my husband for a cuddle, a soothing embrace which then helps me to drift back into a peaceful sleep. Why should my infant boy not want the same? It’s just that his comes in the form of a breast feed.

A close, comforting, bonding experience.

I don’t understand why we are made to feel by some health professionals, as well as much of society, that this is somehow wrong. A bad habit that we need to break. As breaking is what it would be…breaking a bond, breaking a special connection, one he will never have again. A comfort that provides him such stability, continuity and calm.

I wonder why it seems that we are often advised or told what our baby needs. When I was a first time mum this made me really doubt myself and worry endlessly that I was creating a rod for my own back and was setting myself and my baby up for a lifetime of challenging nights. As it turned out this thankfully was not the case, and this gave me renewed confidence when my son came along to go with my instincts. I once did a course and was taught that a parent is the expert on their baby, and the baby is the teacher. They let the parent know what they need and the parent, as the expert, responds to their baby’s needs.

I am thankful for this as I often think of it now. What is so wrong with providing a baby, toddler, child or human for that matter, comfort when they need it? I will continue to feed him during the night while he still wants me to, and one day I will look back on these days and wonder how they went by so quickly and perhaps miss feeling so needed.

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The earth in our back garden is full of treasure and I am like a beady eyed magpie forking through the soil looking for the next brightly patterned piece, another curious shape painted an old fashioned delicate hue.

It all started three years ago, on a family holiday at the Cornish coast, poring over shingle beaches, close to the water’s edge where the tide had lethargically been ebbing out. Here, our treasures are sea glass, polished smooth, semi translucent pebbles just right for holding in the palm of a little hand and turning over and over. If we are really lucky, a bottle blue or mermaid green piece – a prize longed for by our little people especially when a sibling manages to find one and squirrels it quickly away. We fill our buckets and label each one, bringing them home to create pictures. And we are hooked on treasure, me and my little magpies.

This spring, in the new house, we spend hours digging, moving plants and unearthing bulbs. The ground is an unexpected trove of treasure. I dig deep, forking the earth over and over in readiness for raised vegetable beds and my little helpers are keen to spot the treasure every time mamma turns over another forkful of soil.

The girls love the shiny pieces. They wash and polish them in buckets in the mud kitchen.

sun-56239_960_720The little fella is fascinated with their shapes and asks me if I think the pieces will tessellate. I stop digging and we sit on the edge of one of the  sleepers to look through his treasure. I tell him that they can also be called pottery and I share with him my own story of growing up in a pottery town, watching the delicate pieces being painted by hand. He loves his new word and lets it play on his lips over and over while he fingers the muddied pieces. I ask him where he thinks all the pieces came from and I expect a story in return of pirates and treasure like some of his story books. But the one he tells me is an imaginative tale of the old lady who previously owned the house and her precious tea pot that got broken, sending the pieces flying into the garden to be lost forever. He describes to me how she searched for the pieces but to no avail and he promises to dig for forever and a day to rediscover all of the missing pieces so that she will be sad no more.

It is a strange glimpse into the lives of two or three generations past, imagining families eating from the willow-patterned pieces which we unearth. The kilner jar on the kitchen window sill fascinates our visitors, full of an eclectic mix of pottery shards with vivacious colours and teraccota hues. It is a funny thing to get excited about, yet the history behind them sparks the imagination and there is something quite romantic about it all.

I think there is just that little bit of magpie in us all.

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An Open Letter To My Son, Who Is No Longer Here

To my first son Elijah

This month marks three years since you left us. Summer warmth is rising over the freshly dug garden and our new home feels big enough for a hundred children to play in. Yet there is only one little boy, rather than two, toddling around with bare feet upon the messy kitchen floor. I love him with more feeling than I ever knew existed within me, but every so often (in truth, its at least once a day) I feel the presence of emptiness. When I watch him play with his bricks and sand pit, there’s an outline of another child next to him, a slightly older child with brown hair, pale skin and large hands. You are that boy, and while I can feel you all the time, you’re not with us, and won’t ever be again.stack-letters-447579_960_720

We visit you a lot. At first, we would come and sit with you all the time. It was the only way to feel close to you. Even on our wedding day we drove to your resting place and celebrated with you. Had you been alive, you would have been at our ceremony as a page boy, no doubt wearing an oversized baby tuxedo with silly side-combed hair. I want you to know you were part of our wedding vows. We never stopped being your parents, and took amazing life lessons from your existence.

I often wonder what you’d be doing right now. As a three year old, you’d be into everything. I imagine you’d be energetic and curious, with a wild-streak that your Dad and I share. You’d be heading off to nursery with your favourite teddy bear in hand, creating marvellous finger paintings and building dinosaurs from play dough. I’m so sorry that that’s not how it is. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty, but I do.

We still pay you frequent visits and bring your younger brother for a family picnic every now and then. He learnt to walk on the green grass next to where you lay – the part that overlooks the city. That was such a lovely day.

You need to know that we are much better parents because of you. You taught us true humility and compassion. You taught us about real strength and resilience. You gave us perspective – an ability to view the world in proportion. Being pregnant with you remains a fond memory, all those peanut butter milkshake cravings must have fed you well! And believe me, the depth of love and grief that combined as one at your birth has altered every single part of me. It was a painful time, but when I gaze at photographs of you, my heart bursts with pride. You look so much like your brother, and I like to think I can see something of you in him too. For such a shortly lived life, you had a huge impact on so many people.

Do not feel forgotten. Life has had to go on, and it certainly doesn’t always work out the way we plan. Even though you’re not here anymore, I still watch you in our garden, picking flowers and playing alongside your brother, and I’m sure in the years to come, you’ll be with us for many special moments.

Just remember I’ll always be your mum, and regardless of how busy or sidetracked I get, I notice you in everything. No matter what, you’ll always be my baby.

Love Mum

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Siblings: When You Wait For Them To Bond

Sibling Bonds

It was not love at first sight. It was more along the lines of extreme distrust on first sight, but that’s far less catchy. My two year old boy, his legs and arms still chubby and his rosebud mouth set in a grim line, looked at his new-born sister and gestured roughly ‘Move dat.’ Only then would he approach the hospital bed to see me. In hindsight, it could have been worse.

I felt ripped, wanting to be with my son and knowing my new daughter needed me. I cried at night, holding him and whispering ‘I’m sorry!’ Later, I cried with my girl, stroking her soft hair and drinking her in, I couldn’t give her the time she needed either.

At home, my eldest spent days walking in wide circles around the small pink thing on the floor, casually commenting ‘the baby got fingers!’ but shaking his head ‘nooooooo!’ upon invitation to inspect said fingers more closely. The first time he held her we rallied around, nervous and excited at this, the first real proper contact!

Surely, our two beautiful children would recognise their bond. ‘The baby got mouth!’ he exclaimed before putting his hand inside it. The subsequent screaming of his parents and his baby sister did not help matters. I would even go so far to say as it might have scarred him, just a little.

I consulted my friends, and the internet. One friend said things like ‘the sadness you feel at losing the bond with your first child is only matched by the joy you feel as you watch them bond with their sibling.’ This sounded good. I liked it. Helpful Internet People said ‘Just wait, it will happen.’ So I waited. Then, I waited again. After that I did some waiting. Then, just to mix it up, I waited. I also told my friend her advice was crap. Continue reading Siblings: When You Wait For Them To Bond

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Why I Want To Avoid Competitive Parenting

Extreme examples often come to mind when I think about what ‘competitive parenting’ looks like. From pushy ex-pageant queens pinning false eyelashes onto tired toddlers, to the unforgiving world of child genius competitions, there’s a sub category of competitive parents who take measuring success to a whole new level.

But there are far more common examples too, many of which slip into our consciousness without much thought as to why it’s happening. How often do we hear the phrase “My daughter got all A’s on her assignments, how did yours do?” Followed by an awkward reply of “Well, mine got B’s, but I’ll get her to resit them all”. And it seems to start pretty early on too, with new parents becoming involved in how quickly their toddlers are meeting their milestones, how their 4 year old is ‘top of his nursery class because he got the most gold stars’ and is ‘so gifted with a violin we’re already applying for the top music schools in the country’ plus ‘look how tall he is, he’s bound to be the tallest in his year’. Continue reading Why I Want To Avoid Competitive Parenting

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Looking for Happiness

Modern life can be its own worst enemy. It’s easy to allow the pressures to consume us. Budget cuts, rising prices, growing children, changing relationships. So much of the world is borderline depressed. Focusing on the hardships, the unfairness, the cruelty can be simply overwhelming.

It robs us of our joy.

But choosing to focus on even the one moment of goodness in every day can turn our whole outlook around. All over the world projects have popped up to try to encourage people to focus on their inner joy.

We want to encourage mothers to find happiness, in a tangible way, for just a moment a day. We will do this together for 21 days – the perfect amount of days to form a habit of happiness. Continue reading Looking for Happiness

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Massaging Away The Differences

Having been an infant massage instructor for the last 2 ½ years I have been privileged to meet many parents and their babies. I feel touched to witness such an intimate bond and see parents from all walks of life learning this skill to take forward well into their little one’s.

As a parent myself I have attended my fair share of baby groups. In fact, with my first daughter I went to at least 6 a week. They were my salvation but also the place I would compare notes, establish if what my daughter was doing was ‘normal’ and a place to meet other mothers. However, they were also a place where, unwittingly, we would all compare.

Myself included. Asking one another if our babies were rolling/ clapping/ crawling/ smiling/babbling yet. And mostly if they were sleeping. The groups that offered me so much in one way were also a place where I often felt alone if my baby was the only one not doing any of these things. Another thing I noticed as my daughter grew was that there were hundreds of ways people chose to parent, and whilst at first these were discussion points, for example, “oh you don’t breastfeed?” or “you put your baby to bed at 9pm”. They also became judgements. I too was guilty of this. Imaging those who made different decisions to me to be ill informed or plain wrong. Sometimes these different approaches seemed insurmountable and almost like a barrier to friendships.

However, this was a stark contrast to massage classes. In these classes there are of course different approaches. Some mothers co-sleep, whilst others had babies in their own room from 2 months. Some mums breastfed on demand, others fed to a schedule. Some believed that cuddling a baby may spoil them, others felt that you cannot spoil a baby and chose to use baby wearing as a way of constantly having contact. Continue reading Massaging Away The Differences

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Pregnancy Preparedness: Is Natural Childbirth Right For You? Part 1

Pregnancy Preparedness Is Natural Childbirth Right For You

In a society inundated with quick fixes and convenience, it’s no wonder giving birth has become yet another commodity.  Although the act of making a baby can be done hastily, the gestation, however, requires around nine months.  Mother nature agrees with the hare, “Slow and steady wins the race”.  The baby will eventually arrive regardless of what you do, but how you prepare in the preceding months is entirely in your control.

The Bradley Method® of Natural Childbirth empowers pregnant couples to‘show up’ to their pregnancy and prepare for labour. Preparation entails a fun, far from arduous, 12-week course in which coaches and moms learn what to expect, how to stay healthy and low risk and the effective tools to achieve a natural birth.  Each week highlights a topic of paramount importance in preparing for natural labour.  Week one and two cover exercise and nutrition.  My favourite salient points of these classes are:

1. Do not worry about the amount of weight you gain.

2. Tailor sitting is a Bradley Method® exercise.

Yes, that’s correct, the Bradley Method® not only encourages mothers to throw out the scale, but also deems “sitting” an exercise.

Need I say more?  This is every pregnant woman’s dream. Continue reading Pregnancy Preparedness: Is Natural Childbirth Right For You? Part 1

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Encouraging Thankfulness In Children

thankfulness in children

I remember quite clearly being twelve, my mother had been in hospital for a long time. A family from school had been helping to care for my brother and I after school and overnight. So too had a neighbour who had lost her own young son, and whom we had only just met. An unexpected visit home from hospital brought my mother, stepfather, brother and I to the house of some wonderfully kind friends for Christmas, where we all opened Christmas gifts which had somehow made it to their house.

In amongst all the excitement of present unwrapping, both my brother and I were gifted hand knitted dolls, a girl and a boy, from our great grandmother, Nanna. These gifts were wonderful, even at the ages of nearly twelve and nearly ten. Our friend’s children felt less satisfied with their gifts and complained about the colours, the sizes and that things weren’t exactly what they had asked for at all.

Since becoming a parent, I have often pondered and have asked my own Mamma, how did she raise us to be appreciative, for us not to question gifts and to be so very thankful for what we were given? Some days, when I feel my own four children are less than appreciative of what we as parents help them with, but are also not quite so tolerant of their own siblings or of what other families struggle with on a day to day basis, it makes me question even more so how my own mother raise us to be thankful? There is a world’s difference between being able to say thank you and being thankful.

Encouraging children to count their blessings can mean that they feel happier about life in general, that they have greater self-esteem, hope and optimism; and moreover more positive attitudes towards school and family in general. Continue reading Encouraging Thankfulness In Children

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The Mud Kitchen

mud kitchen

In the Spring, when we move into the house, we take down the six foot fence which runs bizarrely though the middle of a flower bed and extends nearly half way down the garden. Daylight floods the garden and we find another two or three feet of land which is also ours, plus a hedge struggling to survive in the gloom. I cut back the hedge and save all the beautifully straight lengths of wood. I pack them tightly all together, tall and strong, in endless odd buckets rowed up along the patio. The children ask me what they are all for. I tell them I have a plan.

We find a long established and sturdy bay tree in amongst many other shrubs at one end of the old fence, near to the house. I shape and cut away all the under branches and make a space, a cosy hidey hole, a den, just big enough for my little people to get into. This space is part of my plan.

We are out the back playing, when my friend calls to say he is at a local wood store and there are pallets going for free if we would like some? He thinks he can fit two into the back of his car for us and drop them round. I am so excited. I have been trying to lay my hands on a couple of pallets for a while now. I have plans for them too.

The pallets arrive and they are so pretty, perfectly matching, easy to line up and nail together one on top of the other. I ask the little fella if he would like to have an insect house in his under the bay tree den? He and the girls spend hours bundling up the long, straight sticks, gathering just the right pine cones from my collection and stuffing each of the little sections of the pallet with extra things they scavenge from the garden. Our insect house is looking packed full and just ready for a whole army of little creatures to move into our under-the-bay-tree shady spot. Continue reading The Mud Kitchen

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