Thank you for mistaking my girl for a boy

The above title is not meant sarcastically, I am actually sincerely grateful to all those people who thought my little girl was a boy. It really helped me think more about how I allow gender to define things like clothes or toys.

The first time my daughter was mistaken for a little boy was when she was a tiny pink bundle, only a few days old. Now when I say pink bundle I’m not referring to her perfect newborn skin, she was literally dressed head to toe in pink. We were just leaving the hospital and mama was feeling more than a little fragile. That was when an old lady decided to totter over and admire the ‘gorgeous little boy’. Thankfully my husband hadn’t just given birth and intervened before I could clatter her. He cheerfully (and kindly) chatted away to her while my dad hurried me into the car. Awkward new mama meltdown avoided. Still it is easy to mistake the gender of newborns, I figured these incidents would be less frequent as my little girl grew older.

Flash forward twenty months and my daughter and I have just had a lovely stroll around the supermarket. I was feeling proud and dare I say it a little smug.  This may sound odd but until recently my little rug rat has been prone to super hissy fits while shopping. I finally hit on the solution. No matter if you need one item or twenty grab a trolley and let her stand (never sit unless she asks) up in it. Cue happy toddler and relieved mama. We were on our way back to the car with herself carrying some chicken fingers (yes I occasionally serve my child processed food, shock, horror, call Social Services!), when an older gentleman smiled at her. “Ah he knows what he likes doesn’t he?’ gesturing at the chicken fingers, “Bet he can’t wait to get them in the oven.” I gritted my teeth in an attempt at a smile. Thankfully he didn’t linger perhaps sensing my mood. I know why this happened. It’s happened before. It was the fault of the navy coat.

Okay yes this coat had been purchased in the boys’ section and yes I do know a little boy who actually has the same coat. It was originally purchased as my husband had the great idea of dressing herself as Paddington Bear for Halloween (she refused to dress up) but I always dress her in it as it is cosy and the easiest coat to tackle her into. I don’t generally even notice the colour. But then I realised each time she was mistaken for a little boy it was while wearing this coat. What does this say about a world where we are constantly trying to avoid stereotyping yet the minute a little girl wears navy we automatically assume she must be a boy?

While shopping recently I found myself taking a closer look around the girls’ clothes section. The divide between boys and girls was very clear. Girls are adorned with flowers and princesses in pinks and purples while boys are covered with trucks and dinosaurs with catchy slogans encouraging bravery and strength. Girls’ clothes very much emphasise prettiness above all else. My daughter loves trucks and dinosaurs but I’m ashamed to say it never struck me to buy outside of the range of pretty dresses and flowery jeans. When we returned home I looked at her clothes and realised the navy coat was really the only non-girly thing we owned and this is a girl who spends most of her time in jeans rather than dresses. I vowed there and then that next time we went shopping we would not return home until we purchased a dino t-shirt! So thank you to every stranger who has mistaken my girl for a boy, you may well have helped her grow up to be a more rounded individual and you have certainly helped educate her mama.

A glimpse of the future

This morning I decided to venture out to get coffee with my little ‘baby’ in tow. As this ‘baby’ is now twenty months old and this is the first time I’ve ever taken her out like this, I expect this makes me sound slightly pathetic. But let me explain. It’s not like I’ve never taken her anywhere. We regularly go to the library, the park, the shop etc it’s just I never found the concept of sitting having a coffee with my toddler particularly appealing (see previous posts for reasons I may feel this way!). But there is a fantastic coffee/lifestyle shop near where my parents live that has a little play area down the back where parents can ‘chill’ while watching their little folk play. This seemed like a splendid way to spend a rainy morning. I could relax and my little munchkin wouldn’t get bored after five seconds leaving me with two options – a. inhale hot coffee and scald the roof of my mouth or b. spend so much time trying to entertain her I ended up with lukewarm or worse a stone cold cappuccino.

On first arrival I discovered I had forgotten the buggy which meant I would have to  manoeuvre bag, coats, coffee and toddler through the cafe until I came to the very back. After I ordered I tentatively set my daughter down and waited for the inevitable but she surprised me. She walked a little ahead of me, looking back to make sure I was following and then actually listened when I explained where we were going. As toddler behaviour goes (or at least my toddler) this was bordering on exceptional. Then we arrived at our destination. There was what looked like a convention of mothers taking over most of the area. There were no seats available close to the play area so I dumped my gear as close as I could and walked my munchkin over to the toys before returning to my seat. This location, however, suited neither of us. She was straining to see me, I was craning my neck to see her. Little did I know the table right next to the play centre was actually free. It was merely being used as a dumping ground for coats, bags and various hats, gloves and scarves by the group of mums sitting next to me! Within a few minutes a table became free literally right next to the play area. I immediately grabbed it.

My daughter stood on the sidelines, watching two older boys boss each other around and grab every available chair. My heart practically broke watching her little figure, standing so still and silent, unsure of what to do next. Suddenly I could see her in the school playground not knowing anyone, in college in a class of strangers, in work on her first day nervous and alone. I wanted to freeze time then or at the very least tuck her away, rapunzel-like, where I could always keep her safe. We might have to forego the hair-ladder (fine hair like ours doesn’t grow fast or I imagine take well to being used as a rope) but we would get by now that you can get most things online.

I knew I was being ridiculous even as these thoughts flashed through my head. I wanted her to thrive and make friends and enjoy life and to do this one has to have the odd uncomfortable experience or three. But as she grabbed my hand for reassurance and clung on while she watched, I was very glad she is still so small. Her father and I are the centre of her world and still have a level of control over what happens to her. This won’t always be the case though so I’m going to treasure these days while I can and instil in her the knowledge that no matter what mummy is always going to be there to hold her hand.

A little bit of heartbreak over morning coffee

This morning I decided to venture out to get coffee with my little ‘baby’ in tow. As this ‘baby’ is now twenty months old and this is the first time I’ve ever taken her out like this, I expect this makes me sound slightly pathetic. But let me explain. It’s not like I’ve never taken her anywhere. We regularly go to the library, the park, the shop etc it’s just I never found the concept of sitting having a coffee with my toddler particularly appealing (see previous posts for reasons I may feel this way!). But there is a fantastic coffee/lifestyle shop near where my parents live that has a little play area down the back where parents can ‘chill’ while watching their little folk play. This seemed like a splendid way to spend a rainy morning. I could relax and my little munchkin wouldn’t get bored after five seconds leaving me with two choices – a. inhale hot coffee and scald the roof of my mouth or b. spend so much time trying to entertain her I ended up with lukewarm or worse a stone cold cappuccino.

On first arrival I discovered I had forgotten the buggy which meant I would have to  manoeuvre bag, coats, coffee and toddler through the cafe until I came to the very back. After I ordered I tentatively set my daughter down and waited for the inevitable but she surprised me. She walked a little ahead of me, looking back to make sure I was following and then actually listened when I explained where we were going. As toddler behaviour goes (or at least my todder) this was bordering on exceptional. Then we arrived at our destination. There was what looked like a convention of mothers taking over most of the area. There were no seats available close to the play area so I dumped my gear as close as I could and walked my munchkin over to the toys before returning to my seat. This location, however, suited neither of us. She was straining to see me, I was craning my neck to see her. Little did I know the table right next to the play centre was actually free. It was merely being used as a dumping ground for coats, bags and various hats, gloves and scarves by the group of mums sitting next to me! Within a few minutes a table became free literally right next to the play area. I immediately grabbed it.

My daughter stood on the sidelines, watching two older boys boss each other around and grab every available chair. My heart practically broke watching her little figure, standing so still and silent, unsure of what to do next. Suddenly I could see her in the school playground not knowing anyone, in college in a class of strangers, in work on her first day nervous and alone. I wanted to freeze time then or at the very least tuck her away, rapunzel-like, where I could always keep her safe. We might have to forego the hair-ladder (fine hair like ours doesn’t grow fast or I imagine take well to being used as a rope) but we would get by now that you can get most things online.

I knew I was being ridiculous even as these thoughts flashed through my head. I wanted her to thrive and make friends and enjoy life and to do this one has to have the odd uncomfortable experience or three. But as she grabbed my hand for reassurance and clung on while she watched, I was very glad she is still so small. Her father and I are the centre of her world and still have a level of control over what happens to her. This won’t always be the case though so I’m going to treasure these days while I can and instil in her the knowledge that no matter what mummy is always going to be there to hold her hand.

Rules for releasing your inner toddler

Ever thought how much more fun chores would be if you behaved like a toddler. Follow my fun guide and you will be living the dream in no time!

1. Livening up the daily commute

The next time you find yourself stuck in traffic imagine that you are a toddler. Wow I’m driving a beep beep! An actual beep beep! Press random buttons and pull random levers! Pretend you are an astronaut zooming through space! Wave to your fellow commuters. Sure you may get some strange looks but hey you are driving a frickin beep beep!

2. Sweeping the floor

Look at me I’m sweeping the floor wow! And look this job comes with free floor snacks! Scoop up the free bits of chow as you zoom your brush around the floor (making more of a mess). Warning: this activity may elicit mild concern from your partner. Really they should just be happy you are doing your share of the chores right?

3. Unpacking the groceries and restocking the fridge

This is really only fun when you try to put each item in the exact same place. Once you figure out that this doesn’t work you have to remove the last item you put in and replace it with a new one. Continue until you forget what you are doing and become obsessed with a slice of cheese you just noticed. Snack on said cheese slice while your bewildered partner finishes the job for you.

4. Vaccuming

Enough said. Being in charge of something this awesome doesn’t even need a description. Remember to suck up everything, and I mean literally everything (wedding rings, loose change, etc.) that hasn’t been put safely out of reach.

5. Boring bank jobs

Forget boring! You get to use a free pen and look at all that free paper to scribble on! Ignore the freaked out looks of your fellow customers as you bang merrily away on the ATM (tip: try to do this during the security guard’s lunch hour).

6. Shopping for work clothes

Don’t try anything on. Simply seek out the brightest, gaudiest clothes you can find, ensure none of them match and accessorise with the biggest, sparliest jewellery (this works even better if you are a man). Watch while your colleagues gasp in admiration (or fear) as you walk proudly by.

7. Grocery shopping

Wow a trolley! Wow toys! Wow…oh wait I just remembered I’m a toddler so I hate grocery shopping! Scream the shop down and force your partner to shove sweets, magazines and basically anything you fancy at you in a bid to shut you up! Continue screaming until you have reached the carpark whereupon you will immediately shut up and smile.

And there you have it. Life is just more fun as a toddler.


Warning: following these rules may cost you your relationship, job or even health.

The Mystery of the Magnetic Letters

My daughter has developed a deep fondness for a small plastic farmer named Bob who must be told about any little incident that happens in our home i.e.food that somehow mysteriously ends up all the floor or who ate (yes really ate) the toilet roll! Each time this mysterious presences strikes my daughter cries ‘Oh no’! and runs for Bob as if he will somehow sniff out the culprit. Note she is never to blame and acts as shocked as her parents when such incidents occur. The latest occurence had Bob truely stumped…who had upended the the container of magnetic letters that sat on the edge of the easal simply tempting passers-by to knock it over. Sure a small, slightly mischievous toddler had been the last one seen in the vicinity but Bob is not one to accpet the obvious. Clearly this case went much deeper than that.

I was first on the scene having heard a loud noise in the kitchen. I rushed in. There stood my little girl surrounded by letters. ‘Oh no!’ she cried looking around in shock then ‘Bob!’ She ran to fetch him. I could only guess what his theory would be. She returned with Bob. He paid close attention to the layout of the letters in case any pattern might have emerged but it seemed random… our mystery suspect wasn’t up for giving any clues yet. I tentatively suggested that perhaps a certain tiny person might be under suspicion -Bob’s chilling unchanging expression told me all I needed to know. He would not rest until my daughter was cleared of all charges.

The case remains open and the letters have not been moved.

Go!!!!…or How I (accidentally) taught my child road rage

“Go!”

The other day I was jolted out of my red light daydream by my toddler! She was frowning with frustration and had removed her soother to urge me to get moving already mama! I was glad I was alone because it didn’t take any great leap of imagination to realise where this mini road rage had come from…yes guilty! Mama is not a patient driver.

Oh I tried to curb the habit, I bit my lip and muttered to myself, I sighed deeply and counted to ten, I silently gave people the finger when my daughter was looking the other way…but inevitably perhaps I couldn’t help myself. “Go!” I’d fume in a total rage when a driver was (slightly) too slow taking off at a green light. “Jesus Christ!” I’d roar then cringe when a pedestrian crossed at a dangerous junction. “Oh for f….sugar sakes!” I’d scream when someone (innocently) took a parking space I wanted. Little wonder then my 20 month old couldn’t deal with a slow driver either.

When my daughter was tiny I was much better behaved. I made great strides to be a calmer, more relaxed driver but then as we all know old habits die hard and as all us parents know your best parent behaviour soon wears off not long after the first birthday party…just when you’ll be needing it most! It’s ironic that when we are trying our hardest is when it matters least. My sister would watch her tongue very carefully when my daughter was barely a month old but now frequently slips up…just when language acquisition is kicking up a gear! I used to patrol TV watching like a Nazi officer, now it goes on whenever mama needs a rest…which can be quite frequently some days.

Let’s be honest none of us are perfect. There are things we do which we pray our children will never imitate. My ill-advised coke habit (cola not drug) being a major one. But yes there will be times when you find your child has inherited your freaky obsessive tidiness or her father’s perfectionism. All you can do is hope they find someone as crazy as them someday and live ever happily ever after in slightly dysfunctional bliss!

The following day my sister was driving us to town and stopped at a red light. Again this proved too much for my road warring munchkin. “Go!” she shouted. My sister looked at me and grinned knowingly. All I could do was smile and shrug. None of us are perfect but at least we are trying our best (most of the time!).

Things my toddler has taught me….

1. It’s okay to make a mess…and it’s okay to not clean that mess up straight away either! As a self-confessed clean freak (think Monica Gellar in Friends) I have been shocked by how much mess a toddler can actually create. She is in a room five seconds and there are literally toys everywhere. This has been hard to handle. I have to fight my instinct to tidy and just let her play. Messy place, in particular, is a struggle. I purchased a messy mat so that the rice, pasta, water etc would stay in one place…this was fairly naive of me! As I scrubbed at the yellow fingerprints on the carpet this morning and thought of all the fun we had I realised that it’s okay to relax my rules a little. No-one is going to judge me for having a slightly untidy house…and if they do then they are welcome to close the door shut behind them on the way out!

2.  Being a mum doesn’t always mean you have to be the ‘scary’ grown-up
When I first became a mum I felt so odd when everyone kept referring to me as ‘mummy’ or as my daughter says now ‘mama’. It felt unnatural and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. However, I’ve discovered the joy of the toddler years is getting to just be a big kid again. Now I can watch ‘My Little Pony’ on tv and blame my daughter, I can build lego houses and spend whole mornings having tea parties! Who knew this parenting thing could be so much fun!

3. Conversely there are times when it’s actually okay to be a grown-up. I spent my twenties and early thirties shirking the bounds of adulthood only to find that I hadn’t anything to fear really. Sure it would be fun for a while to live without responsibilities and commitments but I’ve found security in those things too. It’s comforting to create your own little family unit and tuck yourself inside it on days when the outside world gets too tough. It’s your job to protect that unit and you find yourself strangely willing to fight tigers to make sure everyone you love is okay.

4. Always dance like your toddler is watching. I came up with this little gem as my daughter giggled helplessly watching mama dance to ‘Let it Go’ from ‘Frozen’. I had always felt the phrase ‘dance like no-one is watching’ was high on the cheese factor but I kinda get what they mean now. However, I want to dance like my toddler is watching, get that high when you hear those peals of laughter as if you are the world’s greatest comedian!  

5. March to your own mama beat and everything will be fine. Don’t try to be like other mums, your child deserves to be parented by your own unique self. That’s not to say you should ignore all professional advice or blatantly throw the whole rule book out the window (hint: children actually do generally like some level of routine) but don’t let yourself be dictated to by parenting manuals or what Betty from up the road said she did when she had a young one. Be yourself. Your toddler will enjoy you just being you and hanging out with her. You don’t always have to be engaging in developmentally appropriate activities all day everyday. You can interact with your child however feels comfortable to you. And there’s more. It’s okay to sometimes let them play by themselves while you chill out with a magazine or chat to a friend. Children need their own space too. And boredom can be the best tool for seeding their imaginations!

So relax and remember there are no rules just snacks, stories and the occasional smelly sock or three!

To all new mamas,

Dear New Mama,

As the battle rages between me and my small (but freakishly strong) toddler I see her. She is moving ever so cautiously and ever so slowly. Her head jerks at any tiny sound, her body tensed for action. As she passes me, I let go of the cheese slices (to the delight of my little girl) and look at her more closely. There are the dark circles I remember so well and the slightly crazy eyes of a new mother. I glance into her pram as she stops next to me, the tiny bundle of pink skin and large blue eyes giving me a strange feeling of envy mixed with sympathy. I feel like hugging this woman and telling her it will all be okay. I feel like skipping with joy that I am passed that stage! A very small part of me wishes that gorgeous infant was mine. As she moves off I look at my own little scrap. She is trying to lift a carton of milk into the basket, her face screwed up with concentration, miniature muscles bulging! I realise how much more comfortable I am as a mother to a toddler than a mother to a newborn. Perhaps it’s a case of familiarity, perhaps I needed to grow into my role but I sense it’s something more than that.

I admit it I find newborn babies quite hard work and…yes sometimes they can be very boring too! Oh the horror of admitting it but oh the relief! Yes they are very, very cute and very, very delicious to hold and snuggle and smell. But when you’ve done all this, what do you do with the other twenty three hours and nineteen minutes of the day? Sleep? Not a chance, the minute you close your eyes the mewling will begin. Chores? But you are just too tired to deal with the mountain of puke ridden clothes (yours and the baby’s) and surely it won’t kill you to eat frozen pizza for dinner again? Day time TV it is, you don’t even have the energy to concentrate on a book or magazine. When you do venture outside you feel like you have escaped from prison, only it’s a prison you would really rather stay confined to as bringing this precious cargo out by yourself is lots harder than it seemed with your own mother in tow. There’s the (very) slow drive to the shop, the arranging of the car-seat in the pram (careful, careful don’t wake her) and the struggle to fit all the groceries in the cramped under-carriage of the pram (forget trying to juggle a basket while pushing your stroller, its not gonna happen!). It feels like an expedition and you don’t dare stay out too long.

Yes I remember those early days so well and yet they remain a blur in my mind, a tangle of anxiety filled moments broken every so often with an intense burst of love. New mums I applaud you, I know exactly how you feel behind the smiles and polite responses to the well-meaning – “sleep when she sleeps” or “forget about chores for a few weeks” while the dump that used to be your house becomes stinkier, stickier and ickier and you would cheerily kill the next person who tells you how tired you look.

Take it from someone who knows – this will pass. It seems an endless hell of feeding, changing and burping (I never knew I would be so pleased when someone burped) but it will pass! Trust me. And sooner than you think. For me it was when my daughter started to smile and interact with us that things started to feel more normal again. I felt like I was beginning to get a handle on things.

The new mum disappears up the aisle filled with diapers, wipes and dummies. Though I catch her glance longingly at the make-up aisle as she passes. I catch my daughter’s hand and stave off a meltdown with the well-timed offering of a rice cake. Toddlers I can do (most of the time) but to the mothers of newborns everywhere you have my admiration, respect and empathy.

Everything will be okay.