Parents: a soft place in a hard world

“You’re too soft on her!”

How many times have I heard this phrase? I imagine if I got paid every time it was said to me that I would be a very rich lady! Instead, the words just irritated me and eventually started to eat away at me.

I worked with children for many years and I was often described as “too soft”. At first it was said in jest then it became a byword for criticising my methods. When I first began to work in the early years sector I realised that, although we are all trained in much the same way, our methods vary widely. So it seemed that, yes, I was one of the ‘soft’ teachers; more likely to offer a cuddle than an admonishment. It is tough to stand by your beliefs when they are judged or held up as less than okay. It became tougher as the years went by. But, to me, it seems that childcare staff stand in for parents when they can’t be there. I tried to act in the way their parents would want their children to be treated.

I have left the sector since but now I have my own little girl. And what do I still hear? You are too soft! Sometimes it is said jokingly, sometimes gently, sometimes irritably. What has changed is my reaction to it. Now I just say so bloody what? Yes I am soft, too right I am soft! My daughter will too often have to deal with a world of hard edges, negativity and judgement. I want to be the one place in the world where she is welcomed and loved just how she is; where she will find praise not criticism, love not hate, warmth not coldness.

I believe in being firm and kind; offering a safe place for a child often works better than cold words of rebuke. When my child is all worn out, after an epic strop, her emotions vastly over-whelming, I offer a cuddle. That doesn’t mean her behaviour is alright but it means I am here for her, no matter how how far her temper flies. I believe it is our job as parents to provide a soft place, a safe haven for our children. This doesn’t mean being overly-permissive or spoiling them. It means showing them understanding when they can’t cope with life, kindness when they have lost their way and a warm hug when that tantrum becomes just too much.

Too often we rush in with harsh words or reprimands because it is seen as spoiling a child if we are too gentle. I have had days where the Tesco temper tantrum causes me to be stern and angry; under pressure from judgemental stares I rush to assure on-lookers that I can deal with this, I am a strong parent. But when did being strong mean you had to be hard as well? There is a quiet kind of strength in being the type of parent who teaches through gentleness, who talks to her child, who listens. Children respond better when they feel understood; don’t we all?

So yes call me soft. I will gladly wear that badge. I will wear it with pride.

We’re all going to the zoo…

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Last Saturday my husband and I decided to brave the zoo with our tiny lady. It’s a wonder we have never gone before but then I didn’t really feel it was worth the hassle involved until our daughter was actually old enough to appreciate that yes that’s an actual elephant! I am not the type to put myself through unnecessary hardships and I like to have some kind of pay-off in the end…you know like an actual reaction from the child! If I sound slightly bitter it’s because last year we ventured to an animal park with the grandparents in tow and she slept the whole way through it. She was awake to see the ducks…and that was it!

I planned the outing like a military excursion. There were two bags. One with extra snacks, pull-ups, clothes etc. I had another to carry with me, just the essentials (or so I thought). I was quite smug at how organised I was. This smugness was not to last. I should have known. Since the poor child’s birth I have been forgetting things; I once went out when she was teeny, tiny and forgot to bring a blanket. I had a whole heap of mama guilt after that outing; how could I forget a blanket?? The poor cold child.

But I digress. The zoo. We booked our tickets online thinking we could beat the queue. However, when we arrived the queue for online tickets was nearly as long as the one for people who hadn’t booked in advance. My smugness took a small hit here I’ll admit. However, I was pleased to note that the zoo was only pleasantly busy. There was room at picnic benches and lots of space to actually see the animals. We stopped for a quick sugar hit – hey you have to have treats on days out then my husband made up a brilliant name for the tiny lady’s buggy; he called it her zoo car. The backstory to this is our lady hates being in her buggy, she wants to walk. But the reality is a toddler is not going to last very long walking around a zoo and we were worried she would tire herself out before seeing anything. So the genius idea of a zoo car was invented. She clambered in and for about an hour all was well.

Then 12 o’clock hit. This is usually her nap-time. Spirits began to flag. She wanted to walk. So we let her out. That’s when I discovered she was soaked through. Her pull-up had leaked (and it never leaks!). I then had to confess I had left all the spare clothes in the other bag…back in the car! My husband ran the ten minute walk to the carpark and back. I stripped her down and got her nice and dry….five minutes later she pooped. Naturally. I was already becoming far too familiar with the changing room (kudos to Dublin Zoo it’s lovely and clean).

This change required two parents because guess what? The tiny lady was beginning to turn into a mini-beast and she refused to lie on the mat. Of course there was another couple next to us quietly and calmly changing a small baby. Meanwhile our little terror screamed and kicked while sweat ran down our faces and we fake laughed at her, ourselves and the whole situation though inside I felt like crying.

We decided lunch was the best thing to do next. After that well…we should have left. But we didn’t. My mama instincts were yelling to get the hell out of there but my husband wanted to show our daughter the giraffes. This involved a ten minute walk with a child who definitely didn’t want her zoo car anymore. It was also becoming hotter and more crowded with every step we took. The final straw was my girl kicking off her shoes then refusing to put them back on while simultaneously trying to walk on the grit laden floor. I grabbed her, signalled to hubbie we were done and literally pushed my way back out of the African Planes. That’s when B**** Ann-Marie took over.

B**** Ann-Marie made her first appearance on one long ago summer when I lived in London with a boyfriend (now ex) for two whole months. I learned quite quickly that in order to survive I would need to toughen up. Getting around on the Tube was a necessity and it absolutely terrified me at first. But after a few weeks I was an old hand at it. So much so that I would look pityingly at the tourists nervously moving their way around on the carriages and clutching their bags ever so tightly. The following year I returned with my mother for a visit. It was as if I had never been away. I think I may have scared my mother slightly with my hardened Londoner edge.

So London Ann-Marie came to the fore as I battled the crowds at London Zoo. I have never been so glad to see an exit sign! We still had one stop to make before we could head home. The shop, ever so cleverly placed next to the exit. A visit to the zoo wouldn’t be complete without a furry animal to take home so a little elephant was bought and promptly named Dumbo.

What a day. I can only imagine how people cope with little tots while on actual vacations. As we were driving away I noticed a couple with their six children (including what looked like toddler twins – yikes). All I could think was they must have better organisational skills than me.

Parent Hangover – enough said

I have been absent from the blog-sphere for the past while as I have been recovering from one of the more hideous afflictions of parenthood – the parent hangover. I haven’t been struck down by one of these in about a year so it took a few days to actually feel somewhat human again. Recovery wasn’t helped by a bouncing toddler who refused to sleep past 6am and the need to constantly make sure she was (somewhat) safe. Yesterday was spent shamelessly giving into her demands and bribing her when I wanted her to do something without making a fuss. I figured the only way to live through it was to take the path of least resistance…and this meant agreeing with everything my toddler had to say.

The morning after the night before, it came screaming back to me why I now, very rarely, drink. It just does not pay when you have to deal with a small child on very little sleep and a headache that would make you wish for death. They don’t understand why you don’t want to play cars or colour pictures or why you keep running to the toilet every five minutes. They don’t get why you need nap time more than they do. And they especially don’t get why having a temper tantrum in a public place could result in tears (yours not theirs)…though if they did it probably wouldn’t stop them.

The reason for the intensity of this hangover was that my husband and I were out on a date night. These are like precious jewels to us now. Even more thrilling was the fact that we were staying over-night in a hotel. We hadn’t done this in about a year and, as we wouldn’t be going away this summer, this would double nicely as a mini holiday as well. We were like two small children let loose in a sweet shop albeit one with bottles of wine and glasses of beer. We started early and finished late. We even chanced going to a local nightclub. We sobered up a little at the sight of those black stamps on our hands and I admit we left after about five minutes. Sometimes you have to realise you just aren’t into that scene anymore…and we were big players on the old nightclub scene back in the day. We even met in one.

I don’t remember much after the club…though I have a hazy recollection of wanting more drink. Thankfully the hotel bar was closed by the time we reached it and so to bed. Waking up the next day was not pretty and indeed I wasn’t much better the next couple of days either. Today I was overjoyed to wake up feeling back to normal again. I have vowed to go easy on the next date night maybe just dinner and a movie…a glass of wine with dinner rather than for dinner!

So Bloom…with a Toddler…thank goodness for parental amnesia

So Bloom….with a toddler….yes it did seem like quite a good idea at the time. Normally we are a bit reluctant to go too far afield with the tiny lady unless we are staying over somewhere for the night but she is about to turn two so we thought we would risk it. What’s the worse that could happen?

Indeed.

Well, spoiler alert we didn’t actually see any flowers. At a national festival of flowers and plants we didn’t actually see any. It might be some sort of record.

The day started off quite well. We timed our departure to tie with in with the all important toddler nap time and the tiny lady drifted off for the better part of the journey. Then we hit Dublin. Aided and abetted by the help of Google Maps we came very close to divorce on the M50. We circled round and round. Voices were raised. Tempers flared. The toddler woke up and wanted out. I began to regret leaving the house. But we made it at last. Or so we thought.

We ended up parked miles away from the actual entrance only to discover an actual carpark a stones throw away once we got there. We attempted laughing it off but there were lots of dark looks thrown at the guard who had kindly directed us in the wrong direction.

Finally, however, we made it inside. Toilets were a priority at this stage. I found them…well actually I smelled them first. A queue snaked out of each woman’s cubicle while the men’s were quietly idle. Wishing I was a man I queued at the women’s. Ten minutes later I felt a little more comfortable thought I did vow I would go liquid free for the rest of the afternoon. This meant abstaining from coffee which quite frankly I could have seriously used at that point. However, I didn’t want to spend our limited time queuing at the toilets. We figured with a toddler and two hour journey home we have two hours max to enjoy ourselves.

Food was next on the agenda. We found a fancy hot dog vendors and basically scoffed some down in about five minutes the toddler helped though she preferred her banana and baby bel. We then took a quick stroll through the craft area. By quick stroll I mean I literally stopped at one stall before the tiny lady tried to grab a handful of shiny jewels. We managed to stop her but we had to pay a price.  What followed was a five minute meltdown that ended in bribery and ice cream. I never realised quite how sticky toddlers can be until the tiny lady rubbed her ice cream caked hand all over the grass and then tried to give me a hug.

My husband tried to take a brief tour of the food stalls while I entertained the toddler but after two seconds she wanted her dada again. She wasn’t happy until we were all sitting down together on the grass; preferably with food in our hands. There were quite a few meltdowns when we tried to do anything other than what she wanted to do so the main area we got to see was the children’s area where our little monkey played with tractors and watched half of a Punch & Judy show. I can’t even honestly tell you what we else we really did beyond that and eating!

But it was the walk back to the car that truly broke me. My husband suggested he walk ahead with my coffee and the bag of assorted toddler/parent crap. I figured the tiny lady and I could stroll back at our leisure as we wouldn’t have as far to go. All was going swimmingly until a steward asked us to step off the foot path to allow cars to pass. Yes cars …on the footpath. Of course the toddler didn’t want to walk on the grass she wanted to walk on the footpath. She raved and ranted. I cursed the steward under my breath allowing myself the luxury of calling him stupid in her earshot which normally I would never do. I then had to carry her all the way back to the car with an ache in the pit of my back and sweat streaking down my face. At that point I swore I would never go anywhere ever again.

The car journey home confirmed my decision.  All the way home the sounds of Mama, Mama literally every two seconds.  I curled up in a ball at one point hoping that if she couldn’t see me she wouldn’t call for me – out of sight out of mind kind of thing. This did not even come close to working.

The day ended with the least nutritious dinner – waffles and spaghetti hoops -this meant no fighting and very little washing up.

Of course we all know that with a bit of time and distance the stress will fade from my mind and all I will remember is my tiny lady’s face as she bit into her first lemon sorbet, the light in her eyes as she giggled at Punch & Judy and the feel of her warm body snuggled against mine as we walked home. That’s the joy of being a parent; you benefit greatly from parental amnesia…otherwise you might very well never leave your home again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How instructions fail to instruct

Sweating and close to tears I almost decided to give up…yes the instructions for the assembly of a sandpit had truly floored me! Why do they have to be so complicated? Why are they always in black and white so that all the smaller parts look really alike? Am I the only one who finds it all just terribly confusing?

You start off feeling fairly confident. The picture on the box makes assembly look pretty straight-forward. Should be done in five minutes you think, making the mistake of bringing your toddler along to watch. Ten minutes later you are cursing (or parent cursing so lots of oh sh…sugars and fu…fudge-pops- not quite as satisfying as the real thing let me tell you)and contemplating just walking away. You glance at your toddler, she is playing with the cat…hmm would she really notice if it just disappeared?

But then you remember your child has somehow acquired the memory of an elephant and you will never have another moment’s peace if you give up now. So you solider on promising yourself a nice glass of wine this evening. Soon the thoughts of that glass is all that is keeping you going. The instructions have blurred into one giant muddle and step number 6 looks like it should have come before step number 3. You have to start again. Nooooo!!!! Who writes these instructions? There must be a space in hell reserved for such sadists, you think, wrenching and pulling wrongly placed pieces apart.

You start again. More time seems to fly by. Your toddler is beginning to lose it and so are you. Then…finally….yes this looks right! It’s done!! Wow you have never felt prouder even graduating from college pales in comparison to this! Now if only it would stay together and not look dangerously close to toppling over…I’ll be having some wine if anyone wants me.

Is Elsa about to come out of the closet?

I was very interested to come across a campaign recently which is aiming to give Elsa from Frozen (a film every parent knows in their sleep) a girlfriend. What interested me most was not so much the campaign itself (though I do applaud their determination) but rather the strong backlash it faced when news of it broke. People were horrified to think that a Disney film would introduce sex…wait a minute no-one said anything about Elsa and her girl getting it on. The point of the campaign was to allow Elsa a girlfriend just as Anna is allowed a boyfriend.

Such comments that were posted online. How could Disney even consider such a thing! In the end it came down to the fact that Elsa’s female crushing would be too sexual for a Disney film. But why did everything have to come back to sex? Nobody seemed to take any issue with the fact that Anna has not one but two loves during the course of the original film. Oh but of course, my mistake, that’s not about sex, it’s love. Huh? So demonstrating a homosexual relationship on screen is sexual but showing a heterosexual one isn’t? Something just doesn’t add up here.

Another argument was that old chestnut- think of the children. They will be confused, they won’t know what’s going on – children are a lot more aware than we are. And a lot more accepting. If you introduce a concept to them, when they are young, and normalise it for them than they won’t have a problem with it. We create the attitudes of the young. They are not born to hate or judge.

I genuniely do not understand it when people argue against portraying homosexuality on screen due to the sensitivity of children. I would love my daughter to grow up in a world where it’s just as normal to see a gay couple on screen as it is a straight one; for it to be nothing unusual or news-worthy.When I was younger I remember the mortification when I innocently asked about a gay couple on the TV. It would be nice if this wasn’t even an issue for my daughter. Furthermore, it is important for children who identify as gay grow up with famous role models the same as straight children do. How wonderful for a young lesbian girl to grow up with an awesome role model like Elsa?

Of course I don’t expect attitudes to change over-night and unfortunately I reckon Disney will not turn one of their biggest money spinners into a subject for debate. We can legalise gay marriage but keep it behind closed doors thanks, seems to be the reaction of many punters. I, for one, would think it a great step forward for young boys and girls to see Elsa and her girlfriend just hanging out with Anna and Kristoff; no big deal, no drama just two young couples in love.

The old TV debate

I was listening to Brendan O’Connor on the radio this morning. The discussion was the lack of fresh air that children of today get. Apparently their access to fresh air is more limited than those who live in our state prisons. Of course the inevitable happened. On came a caller who announced to O’Connor (and the rest of the country) that her three children (all girls; six and four-year old twins) literally never watch television. They come in, take their coats off and go upstairs to colour and play. Note she never said they went outside, I was quick to catch this but her point seemed to be that it’s easy to go down this route. Her children never ask for the tv because guess what lazy parents it never even occurred to her to make television a part of their day. I mean she just never considered it an option! You could tell from his tone O’Connor was not impressed but he let her hang herself. She was careful to point out to us mere mortals that she wasn’t judging anyone, no she didn’t mind if others let their children watch five hours or more a day. Let me tell you the judgement undercut every word; you could hear it in her voice. She was dying for a pat on the back from O’Connor but he wasn’t biting. Instead he asked her if she had ever gone on a long journey (five hours for example) with her children. When she replied no, he insinuated that she didn’t know hell until she had done this and said there were times he wanted to kiss Steve Jobs’ feet! She played along but you knew she was really thinking; feck off Brendan I’d be playing spot the red car and singing jolly songs with my kids on a long journey.

Of course every so often she would reassure us that she wasn’t preaching, oh no we could do whatever worked for us. It’s the children she is concerned with. Parents introduce their children to TV then give out when that’s all they want to do. Oh parents would you not just think of the children? You are to blame. So in case you were listening to the show during the five minutes of the day when you felt like a good parent; fear not Lisa from South Dublin is here to remind you that you are not. Did you not know that children aren’t born knowing what a TV is? It’s all your fault, you bad little parent you!

Excuse my sarcasm but Lisa made me want to punch something. Most parents feel they are failing their children probably 95% of the time do we really want to start a war over whose child watches more TV? Why people like Lisa enjoy speaking down to the rest of us is anyone’s guess. Insecurity? Superiority complex? The high one gets from being absolutely smug while pretending not to be? Who knows? But I’m sure, once her interview ended, she sat expecting texts of praise and thanks for showing us crappy parents The Way! I didn’t get to hear anymore but I’ve a feeling Lisa will be waiting a while.

Fear not your child will not become an addict if you allow access to TV during the day. In fact they will probably grow up just like my generation whose own parents didn’t realise that watching The Den after school would have such deletrious effects. How could they have been so careless? I mean really! The point is we grew up watching TV and we turned out okay (mostly). Yes screens are more prevalent today and yes we do need to acknowledge this and try to set some sort of limits. But don’t feel bad if your child extends the time limits now and again (or you are feeling too tired to impose them). It happens. Repeat after me – you are not a bad parent, you are not a bad parent, you are not a bad parent! Ignore Lisa and anybody who else who tries to tell you how to parent. Do your own thing. You’ll be grand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘joys’ of toddler play

Toddlers have a very short attention span. I mean really short. I mean a goldfish might just probably pay you more attention than a toddler would. Today I planned a lovely morning of painting followed by water play – am I mad I hear you ask? Well yes quite probably I am as the painting lasted all of five minutes and the water play resulted in us both needing a complete change of clothes. As my tiny lady hates getting changed this kicked off a screaming match ending in a tangle of limbs and me just leaving her in her vest until nap time. I kept the heating on so I didn’t feel too bad.

So two activities; each barely taking any time at all but both involved more prep and clean up time than actual play time. Such is the lot in life of a toddler parent. You kill yourself thinking up new things you can do together, you goggle toddler games and construct complicated activities and for what? Five minutes and they have gone back to playing with the cardboard box left over from the last toy you were seduced into buying for them.

What’s the solution? Early childhood developmental experts stress play as the single most important factor in early childhood education. So we muddle along trying to fill each day with positive learning experiences. But what we often forget is that these experts site all types of play as important not just parent-led activities. Child-led play and solo play are just as vital to a child’s development.

So the next time you see your toddler pottering along tipping lots of toys on the ground in a seemingly random manner but appearing to be totally engrossed, don’t feel obliged to join in. Take a well earned break and sit down. I guarantee you will only get about five minutes anyway so enjoy it!

My tiny best friend

So I was scrolling through Facebook (writers should have an app to prevent this by the way as it literally sucks time) when I came across a link with the title ‘12 awkward texts you never want to see from your parents’ (or words to that effect). Anticipating a good chuckle I was about to click when my fingers froze in horror…I am now one of these potentially embarrassing creatures. Granted I probably have a few years grace yet as my tiny lady has not even turned two but the age of parental embarrassment seems to be hitting younger and younger these days. A good friend told me her little boy (5) does not want to be seen being affectionate to her outside of his home. 5 years old! When I was 5 I probably didn’t know what embarrassment was. My own experience of parental embarrassment actually didn’t hit until about ten years later – I was a late bloomer in this regard. I loved hanging out with my parents (and still do) so it was really only the mid-to-late teen years I was struck with this affliction.

My years as the centre of the tiny lady’s world, her supporter, defender and number one best friend are short, they are just so short! Soon, a lot sooner than I even realise, I will become that person she pretends not to see waving manically while she id budy hanging out with her friends. I will still be her supporter and her defender; I will always be that. But I won’t be her number one best buddy anymore. I can only claim that title for so long.

As I write this my tiny lady is asleep upstairs and shortly she will wake and I will hear ‘mama’, ‘mama’ and my gloriously quiet house will spring to life again for another day. Yesterday I found it hard, so hard to be the centre of this child’s world. I couldn’t even cook dinner without her being wrapped around my legs. But this time together as close as we are won’t last forever. I want to forget laundry, dinner and cleaning and today just enjoy being my tiny lady’s best friend.

The tightrope walk of parenthood

Today I was watching my tiny lady eating her snack and watching her favourite show Bing when it struck me how happy she looked. My eyes filled up; there was my very own little girl with her hair tied back looking adorable in jeans and a t-shirt. Then I realised why she looked so happy…it wasn’t the cheese she was eating or Bing…oh no my tiny lady was drinking water, holding it in her mouth and spiting it back onto her plate in a long line of dribble. Well she couldn’t have been more delighted with herself; I was less than thrilled. After a tackle over the water cup and a quick march upstairs for her nap it struck me how often I hover between frustration and joy these days. One minute the tiny lady has me close to tears with happiness; the next I am close to tears with stress.

I think all parents must feel like this from time to time. It’s like a constant dance between the very highs and very lows of life. Everybody always says the happiest day of your life is when your baby is born but for many it can also be the most stressful. You are in a hospital bed with strangers diving in and out of the room with the most intimate of questions, you have a new baby you don’t quite know what to do with and you are in pain. So while it is absolutely lovely to hold your new baby in your arms it can feel like you made the biggest mistake of your life as well – (new mums fear not this feeling does pass). Yes you are happy but it might not strike you like that for a while.

Then you take your tiny newborn home; you find yourself torn between wanting to scream – “Why won’t you stop crying??” to cooing – “How could such a gorgeous baby belong to me?” When the toddler years hit their cute antics both make you want to melt and drive you wild. When they hit the school years I’m not sure what they do but I can imagine it’s much of the same. Highs and lows punctuated by the odd mundane spell.

Parenthood is like a tightrope; there’s always a fine line between utter joy and mind-numbing stress; a balancing act that can leave you worn out which is why so many of us are coffee addicts or rely on the odd bar of chocolate (it’s for energy before you ask) to keep us going. We have no choice really because everyday is a battle to keep from falling off our precarious perch. But we do it everyday because…well we have to but also because you never know when the next heart-filling moment will happen.