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Posts from the ‘Parenting’ Category

Sep 5 / Caro

On the Day you Start School

Dear Thomas,

The time is here, kiddo. Tomorrow is the day that you start big school.

It’s a huge milestone. And a huge one for Mummy too. I stood hanging out your clothes to dry this weekend and I suddenly remembered doing exactly the same thing the weekend before you were born. I was so aware, then, that life was about to change in ways I couldn’t quite truly imagine. This might not be quite such a massive shift, but it’s a significant change nonetheless. No longer a baby, a toddler or even a preschooler. You’ll be a real-deal school boy.

I look at you, in your uniform and you at once look both so tiny – hands disappearing inside a blazer that slightly swamps you – but also so grown up. And I can’t help but wonder how exactly we got here. In some ways that weekend of hanging out tiny baby clothes feels like yesterday, but simultaneously the time that you were not in our lives feels a whole lifetime ago. Perhaps I feel that more acutely because this month marks four years of trying to give you a sibling. And those four years have been interminably long. (I’m sorry we haven’t succeeded on that one, but I know that you are going to be part of such a warm, friendly school and hopefully your friends will continue to be your surrogate siblings.)

I look back, too, at just how much you’ve learned in the last five years. From the scrunched up little boy with a mop of dark hair who knew only how to suck and to scream (oh, how you could scream) you’re now a little boy full of knowledge. And not just facts but ideas, imagination, opinions. Yes, plenty of those and you’re not afraid to share them. You’re a character with a personality to rival the size of your newborn screams.

It’s true that children are like sponges. You’ve proven that. You’ve learned to crawl, to walk and then to talk. You’ve learned shapes, colours and numbers. You’ve learned to read. The list goes on. And now you constantly surprise me by just how much you know about so many different subjects. Trains are still your top obsession, but space – the sun, the planets, asteroids and comets – comes a close second. One of you favourite games this summer has been “Give me a fact about…” where we have to ask you for a fact about a variety of given subjects. And the stuff you come out with when we ask for a fact about the sun, or trees, or insects, so often amazes me, if not for the fact itself, but where you get this stuff from. You just soak up information and bring it out again at will.

And that is why, my most favourite little boy, you are so, so ready for this next step. Life with you is filled with a never ending barrage of questions about what, when, why, how. You’re ready to learn more. And I know you will. Not just more facts and information, but skills too. (And some of those will be more challenging for you that the basics of letters and numbers. Learning to lose gracefully for starters!)

Of course I have my worries about you. It’s true that we send children to school here in the UK when you are all still so tiny and sometimes your anxieties and your behaviour give us a glimpse of the baby boy still inside.

But I have to let you go. It’s time.

You’re excited.

And I’m excited too. To watch you take this next step. I’m ready for there to be someone else to respond to all your many, many questions and to start to teach you the things I have no idea how to teach. I’ll miss you. Of course I will. Those two days a week that I don’t work have always been “Mummy and Thomas time”. And no matter how nice it might be to have a quiet cup of tea or do the shopping in peace, I’m going to really miss your company. The funny things you say and the adventures we have. I’m so glad that schools have holidays and that I get you back.

You know, it’s a real privilege to be your mum.

And that is why, amongst all the things that you learn at big school, I hope that you don’t unlearn the skill you’ve perfected of being the indescribable you.

I love you, always and unconditionally. But I hope you already know that.

Mummy xxx

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Jul 28 / Caro

Are we the Kind of Parents Who…

…Would send our child to a private school?

(tl;dr We’re sending our son to a private school. I hope that you won’t judge me for that, but I know many people will. Below lies an explanation for our choice, and why I feel that calling private education “unfair” is unfair in itself. We’re doing this because it is the right school for our son, and because we’re in the fortunate position – through hard work – to be able to make that choice. I don’t think private education is always “better” nor that there is necessarily anything wrong with a state education, this is just what is right for us.)

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I’ve known, ever since I first tried to write a post about school choices for Thomas, that I was going to find it hard. As hard as the decisions have been to make themselves. Yet whilst it’s obvious that deciding on what is best for at least seven years of our child’s life and their start in education is a tough parenting milestone, sharing those decisions should surely be easier, right?

Yet it turns out than in making choices that have turned out to be far from straightforward, I’ve had to examine myself and my personal beliefs and challenge the pre-determined assumptions I had about this stage of family life. And now I’m afraid to try and share all of that in a way that won’t make people judge me, or think badly of me, or – worst of all – make me doubt myself by challenging these hard thought out plans and my reasons for them. It turns out that whilst I’m very happy in life to be myself and do what I feel is right, I still have lingering issues with sharing the aspects of me and our life and beliefs that I feel may go against the grain, or invite questioning or criticism. I guess that I still, after all this time, care too much what other people think of me. Ironic, for a blogger, no?

But with change so imminently on the horizon – next week to be exact – it’s time I was honest. I know there will be judgement both of me but also, probably throughout his life, of Thomas because of the decision we have made for him. I know that when it comes to private education there are the supporters, the people who are doing the same and will get where I’m coming from plus the ones who will tell me they wish they could do the same, but circumstances prevent it. Then there are the haters. The ones who believe that everyone should have an equal opportunity in education, that it’s elitist, exclusive and detracts from opportunity for all (and that that is just for starters).

But it is the choice we have made for our only son.

I understand so many of the arguments against private education, but I believe that our choice, in our circumstance, is solid. And given that we will likely face ongoing questioning for it, now is the time to try and get comfortable with that.

Believe me, I never saw this coming. I’m from a decidedly middle class background, but I did not go to a prep school despite the availability of good ones locally. I didn’t imagine that we would send a child to a private school. I certainly never saw private education as “better” because I flourished in the state education system. Ian, on the other hand, attended a private school which he did not enjoy and which did not particularly support his natural aptitudes. Hardly a glowing endorsement. Add to that the fact that I’ve been exposed to plenty of the very worst that public schools can turn out and it’s not much wonder I never had a particular burning desire to put my own children in to the system. And “children” it would have been, had life dealt us a different hand. We’re financially secure thanks to hard work, but that almost certainly wouldn’t have stretched to three concurrent sets of school fees per year.

I can’t quite remember now exactly when we began to re-evaluate. I’m sure that it was during our infertility struggles when we began to realise that life was going to look quite different to how we had hoped. That, and the issues with availability of school places in our town being a constant topic of conversation amongst local parents – from the maternity ward onwards – it was hard not to give it some serious thought.

One of the chief arguments that comes up against private education is that it’s wrong to remove your child from the state system just because you don’t like it. It is more politically correct to remain within the system and change it from the inside out whilst preserving its funding. And I can see that can be quite true for areas with poor educational provision and undersubscribed schools whose funding is dependent on getting as many bums on seats as possible.

But what about areas like ours? We live a few hundred yards from a very good primary school and well under half a mile from another outstanding one. Both are horrendously oversubscribed. So let me make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with the schools that are potentially available to us, or with state education in general, it’s just that in all likelihood those schools won’t be available to us. Obviously things change from year to year, but two years ago we would have secured neither of our closest two schools, and this year we would have secured one by virtue of the local authority forcing them to take a “bulge” year – another issue in itself!

I don’t want to be the parent scrabbling around for a place at the last minute, or facing putting my child in a council-funded taxi to go to one of the outlying village schools which has a place. Nor do I want to be the parent that rushes in to a private school place simply because I don’t like what we are allocated. I wanted to go in to this calmly, with eyes wide open. I wanted to feel I was actually making a decision, not having my hand forced.

The bottom line is that removing my child from the state education system will have absolutely no effect on the funding available to any of those schools (because they will be full anyway) and, best case, it may release a place to someone who is not so fortunate to have alternative options. It may prevent one other person having to travel miles to the nearest available school and actually make a positive impact on that child’s, and family’s experience of primary education.

That last point sits at odds with what a lot of people feel about private education. They think that paying for an education is an unfair advantage because it’s not available to all, rather than seeing it as potentially opening up better opportunities for those without a choice. Development in our town continues apace, and alongside a baby-boom, the squeeze in school places shows no signs of abating. I can say in good conscience that not requiring a state funded school place can only be a helpful thing to the overall situation.

But yes, I have to agree that a private education may present advantages over a state education – although, not always, as it didn’t for my husband. It will almost certainly be better resourced with smaller classes and different opportunities, perhaps most importantly free from the rigidity of a government imposed curriculum and incessant assessment. But is it really “unfair” that we can access that?

We’re fortunate that we can afford it because we’ve worked bloody hard ourselves, all of our lives. I find the notion of it being unfair that some children gain advantages simply by virtue of their birth frankly absurd, as well as insulting. What have I been working hard for all this time of not to give my family the best that I can? Why do we talk of social mobility and closing inequality if not for that very reason – to help more people achieve just that. See, it’s not as selfish as it sounds. It’s not about “buying” the best for my child and sod everyone else. A good, appropriate and personalised education sets a person up to potentially contribute well to the world for the rest of their life. Isn’t that what we all want?

People that feel private education is fundamentally unfair are usually those who believe that education should be an absolutely level playing field for all. And in theory, I agree with that too. Everyone should be able to access a good quality education. It would aid social mobility and potentially help end so many inequalities. I know all these things. But sadly we do need to accept that education will never be a level playing field, no matter what we can achieve with “the system”. Because even if all schools were identical, and all lessons taught by clones with outstanding passion and ability there are many things that can never be the same. Most importantly children are not the same. So what suits one will not suit another. And everything that happens outside the door of the classroom is not level. If you hate the idea of variation in education, or streaming or anything that supposedly gives your child an “advantage” then I hope you don’t read with them at home. Or discuss their homework with them. Or support them by taking them to the library. Or on days out to bring their history lessons alive. Because millions of children don’t have that advantage of a supportive environment at home. They can’t get help with their homework. Yes, that’s a tragedy, but I don’t believe for a second that it means we should stop helping our own kids, otherwise who will be there to be the supporters of the next generation? Who will be the thought leaders who just might be able to get us out of the mess we’re currently in? Because if we try to level the playing field, inevitably it will fall to the lowest common denominator, and that does absolutely everybody a disservice, now and in the future.

Of course, you don’t have to go to a private school to end up being a strong contributor to society. Indeed It can be argued that many who go to “public” schools or independent secondaries aren’t the best contributors at all (see also: what got this country into such a mess in the first place). This isn’t as simple as private vs state education. What I’m getting at, and what really, really matters is that kids get the education that is right for them. It won’t – can’t – be the same for every child. And this is actually the single most important factor in our decision to send Thomas where he is going.

It’s also my biggest single criticism of the current state education system in this country. It often tries too hard to make things too level. There is too little room for manoeuvre and individualised targets or even differing learning styles. Children are too often seem as commodities to be pushed through, not as individuals. Living in Kent, a spiritual home of the Grammar School, and having attended one myself, I’m intimately familiar with how devisive their presence can be. And I agree that in the current set up they tend to be elitist and create unnecessary division, but that is simply because it’s a bit of an all-or-nothing affair. The alternatives, if you don’t go to grammar, are often not brilliant. But unlike a lot of detractors, I don’t think this is an argument against selective education. I think it’s an argument against the current system. Grammar schools are absolutely right and appropriate for a sub-section of the population who are academically oriented. What is needed is not “comprehensive” education for all, but selective education for all. There needs to be a variety of different types of schools that are properly focused on the wide variety of children that pass through them, catering for the creative as well as the academic, and for different types of learning style. I firmly believe that no one school can do it all, but each child has a right to attend a school that can cater for them (in order to curb length here, we’ll leave aside the difficult practicalities of such an approach for now, it’s simply a philosophy.)

With all of that in mind, we’ve chosen a school that we believe will suit Thomas. We haven’t picked a private school, as some people do (and others believe everyone does), in order to increase Thomas’s chances of gaining a grammar school place. In fact, we deliberately discounted any schools that assessed three year olds prior to entry. We picked our chosen school partly because it doesn’t enter every child for the 11+ (or Common Entrance). In fact, it’s a school that lost favour with some local parents in recent years because it doesn’t have a 100% 11+ pass rate. I see that as a good thing. It means I can be confident that they will suggest what is actually best for my child, not what is good for their figures (the same cannot be said for certain local state schools!)

We’ve also chosen the school because it’s small, with a real family feel that will absolutely suit him. Thomas is a typical young boy. He is hopeless in large groups, where he runs around and becomes the class clown, preferring to attract attention and laughs rather than concentrate. In a small group he is a different boy. Focused, determined, interested, curious and inquisitive. He seeks out one-to-one interaction however he can. He is a boy that could so easily be lost in a class of thirty children. He could so easily be labelled as a troublemaker or a joker, and slip between the cracks. The environment of his school will – hopefully – guard against that.

The fact that we can move him now, in to their preschool, is also a huge advantage. Thomas is already very ready for the learning aspects of school, despite not being old enough to start reception until next September. He can already read, races through simple mathematical problems and most of all wants to find out about things. He’s eager to learn and excited by it. But socially, and emotionally, he has a way to go. Normal, of course, for a year away from school start, but spending the next year in what will become his school environment will be an enormous help. Playtime will be shared with older children, and lunch will be eaten in the dinner hall. They “borrow” classrooms when older children are away swimming, in order to really get a feel for what “big school” is about and ease that transition. Why would I not want that for my child?

So this is where we are.

I’m not sure who I thought were the “type” of parents to send their children to private schools. I guess I was guilty of stereotyping, assuming it was “rich” people or simply people who are not like us, although I’m not sure why. The impression that I now have is that a huge variety of people make this choice for a huge variety of reasons. I don’t necessarily identify with all the reasons people have, but I’m totally comfortable with ours.

We have, and will only have one child. I want what is right for him. It won’t make him better than anyone else, but hopefully it will help him be the best version of himself that he can. I simply can’t apologise for that.

And so, I guess, it turns out that we are the type of parents who send their child to a private school.

Nov 1 / Caro

“Real Parenting”

One of the most hurtful things that anyone has said to me, perhaps ever, came just a few weeks ago. And, unsurprisingly for someone who works with the public, it came from a virtual stranger who liked to presume that my life is public property because I choose to provide a service to others. It still amazes me a little just how many people think I want to be their personal friend, simply because I’m friendly to them in the course of my job. And with that assumption goes the feeling that personal questions or statements are fair game.

In this particular case, I’d been asked how many children I had. I don’t mind that so much, other than that I know my answer of “one” will almost inevitably be followed, eventually, by the question of whether I’m planning to have any more. This time that question never came, but the lady in front of me laughed and said “You know the real parenting doesn’t begin until you have at least two.”

I smiled and nodded and moved on,because that’s what being a professional entails. I reasoned that I didn’t know if she was just joking, just – like so many others – making the assumption that I will one day have another child, or simply reflecting on her own situation as the mother of more than one child.

But inside, I was seething.

What, I wondered, is it exactly that I do every day?

When I’m taking care of all of my son’s basic needs – cooking his meals, washing his clothes and wiping his bum – is that not parenting?

When I’m teaching him the skills he needs to flourish, from right and left to right and wrong, is that not parenting either?

When I’m reading endless stories and singing songs. When I’m building railway tracks and Lego towers, or supplying endless stuffed animals as patients at “Dr Thomas’s Office”, I suppose none of those things are parenting either.

When I’m up in the middle of the night soothing a fractious boy after a bad dream, is that not parenting? Or chasing him around our upstairs pretending to be a dinosaur because I know my so well enough to know that is the only way I’ll get him into the bath? Running through the streets as an imaginary train, or bus, despite the puzzled stares of strangers, simply because it means so much to my little boy, is that not parenting either?

And what exactly is it when I’m kissing bumped heads and grazed knees better, administering Calpol and cuddles or mopping up puddles of sick?

Keeping my only child safe day in and day out, making him feel secure and loved above all else before singing a lullaby, tucking him in and kissing him goodnight. No, apparently that’s not parenting.

Try as I might, it’s hard to brush aside the hurt that seemingly simple statements like that cause. It made me feel as though she thought I’d taken some kind of easy option by having only one child and as if my role is somehow less valued.

I appreciate that at times having only one child is much simpler than having to balance the varied needs and desires of more than one. But equally there will be times where mothering a single child will be more difficult – after all he doesn’t have any alternative play mate at home, or another person to be his ally. He needs me to fulfil not only parenting roles, but some of those often naturally fulfilled by siblings.

But most importantly, it’s not a competition. All parenting, no matter how rewarding, is also hugely difficult at times. All parenting, including that which begins the very moment that your very first child is conceived. And parenting, I’m sure, remains challenging even when your offspring are old enough to set off on their own in to the world. Because yes, even then, you’re still a parent whether to one, two, twelve or twenty children.

And if anyone is in any doubt that a single child can be hard work and needs “real parenting” just as much as a child with a sibling, then you’re welcome in to my life at any time to see it in action.

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Sep 24 / Caro

Five Minutes of Fame in Mother and Baby Magazine

This month, I’ve received my five minutes of blogging fame! You can find me, sharing my secondary infertility and IVF story, in the October edition of Mother and Baby Magazine.

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According to them, I’m a “Woman Redefining Motherhood”, which is a lovely way to be described. As much as I may have blanched when I heard the headline, I suppose I have to admit that it does fit. I have had to reshape my vision of motherhood based on the circumstances that we’ve found ourselves in. It also seems a very apt description for the other bloggers in the same feature – Alice who writes very successfully about single motherhood at More Than Toast  and Emma, whose blog Treatment For Ted supports her fundraising for her son who suffered a brain injury at birth.

What I think all three of us have shown is that motherhood takes many forms, and often it doesn’t turn out quite how you might have imagined, planned or chosen, were choice something that were possible. But blogging can certainly be an invaluable aid and support no what your journey.

And even if you don’t write a blog yourself, finding others who have written about the issues you may be facing can be enormously helpful too. My story may not be as “inspirational” as the others, but I’m still glad to have had the opportunity to share it with a wider audience. Secondary infertility is surprisingly common, and becoming more so, but it’s still rarely talked about, smothered by the assumption that “you’ve had one child, you’ll be able to have another.” I’d be delighted if my writing could reach and support even just one more person going through this issue in silence.

Mother and Baby Magazine is on sale now.

(And no, my surname isn’t really “Love”, “love”ly as that would be! The magazine selected that name for me, since I don’t share my real surname online!)

Sep 14 / Caro

What Do You Do All Week?

Sometimes, when I make it to the end of the week and look around me to see the devastation of un-done housework in my home, the incomplete piles of laundry and the empty kitchen cupboards, even I wonder just what exactly it is that I do with my time? Pre-Thomas I worked five and a half day weeks, kept up a successful sideline in freelance writing, found time to keep my house nice and chores done and still had time for hobbies and other enjoyment. It’s certainly seems true that children, or even just a single child, change everything and can take up an awful lot of time.

For the sake of recording real life, the way it really happens, though, I wanted to take some time to actually examine what I do do with my time in a fairly typical week. Because sometimes I allow myself to get overwhelmed and feel like I’m failing at everything, succeeding at nothing at all. It can easily feel like I haven’t actually done anything, just because one or two things I’d intended to accomplish remain incomplete. I let the guilt cloud in and imagine that I’ve let Thomas do nothing but watch Toy Story for hours on end, even when sense tells me that it plainly isn’t true!

So here is a sample of what I got up to last week. Although it includes a couple of atypical occurrences, there is usually something else unusual that crops up in other weeks. I suppose you could say they are ordinary extraordinary moments.

On Saturday we were up bright and early (read 5am) as usual. I should really have so many more hours to do things, since we get up these days at a time we most definitely would still have been languishing in bed before we had Thomas. But those early morning hours aren’t always my most productive, and Thomas is usually at his most demanding in terms of creative play. Last Saturday I had some “me time” meeting a friend for lunch in London. We all went up on the train together and my boys headed off for some fun riding various forms of London transport – this is Thomas’s idea of a heavenly day out. They had to rush back in the afternoon to meet the builders who were due to start work on propping up the back of our house on Monday, to get the scaffold tower up. I enjoyed an afternoon by the river, eating burgers and drinking wine, plus catching up on all the gossip. I was still home in time for bath time and story time though, and spent the evening doing work-rleated stuff.

On Sunday we fitted in a supermarket trip, then went to visit friends and their week old baby girl. Thomas had a lot of fun with their older daughter, who is his age, and more of our friends turned up with their daughter too. We drank tea, and had plenty of baby snuggles, which was way better than staying at home doing housework. I managed to squeeze in a run in the evening.

On Monday our building work started. Fortunately, given the amount of dust created, I was at work all day. My lunch break was taken up picking up prescriptions, a trip to the bank and other errands that had risen to the top of the “must-do” list. The evening was spent clearing up much of the dust created during the day!

On Tuesday I’m not at work. Thomas was due to move up in the 3+ class of his regular music class. This was a pretty big step, since in the 3+ class the children go in on their own rather than with a parent. Moving up was the suggestion of the teacher, who has known him since he was 3 months old, but since he was going to be the youngest in the class, I still felt a bit nervous. As it turned out, he couldn’t have been more eager or excited and I was told afterwards that he was totally focussed on the session the entire time and really enjoyed it. He came running out shouting “Mummy Mummy” with the biggest grin on his face to back that up too. It was a bittersweet moment – another reminder of just how much he is growing up. The walk home was pretty slow as he stopped to look at every leaf, twig and stone that caught his eye and we’d only just got through the door when our lift arrived to drop us to a play date with NCT friends. I finished up the day with another run. I’d say it was a pretty good day for Thomas, and me too.

On Wednesdays I’m usually at home with Thomas, but this week I spent the morning taking nearly ninety impressions of teeth for sports mouth guards at a local girl’s school. It was a pretty intense morning where we worked literally non-stop, and had quite a bit of pre-teen girl hysteria to deal with (they tend to set each other off!). I found out the following day thought that the lab were very impressed with my imps and not a single reject, so I guess it was a good day at the office! Ian had taken the day off to spend with Thomas, so in the afternoon we had a family trip to the park and a quick Starbucks date. I then had an appointment with the stirrups at the fertility clinic to have my endometrium scratched. So that was as fun as it sounds. (For which read, not at all.)

Thursday is a work day, but got off to a stressful start. Thomas wasn’t well. I think this is often the most difficult part of being a working parent – the juggling act that comes when they are unwell. A whole day off work is not only incredibly expensive for me (I’m self-employed) but also stressful because it means rearranging so many appointments and we are currently so busy that we have literally no where to rebook them. I hate letting people down, and I hate the fact that staff at work also suffer the fall out. Fortunately I managed to get a doctor’s appointment fairly early. He has an ear infection (again) and by that time Calpol had perked him up, so I was able to drop him at nursery and head in to work. (Cue, more guilt!) I knew there was a risk I’d have to leave again to pick him up, but even seeing some patients was better than nothing. Fortunately we made it through the day unscathed! I spent my lunch break attempting to shave some money off my extortionate IVF drugs bill by shopping around. Thursday evening I was on my own as Ian was out. I fall asleep on the sofa really early feeling grotty and it was only when I woke up I recalled having accidentally pulled out my insulin pump infusion set several hours earlier. Unsurprisingly my blood sugar is really high – the reason why I feel awful. Insulin and water on board, I have an early night.

Friday is another work day. Where I can walk to work on Monday’s and Thursdays, Friday is more of a rush as I have to get the train. I crammed in getting my fertility drugs ordered during my lunch break today. The best part of getting the train to work as far as Thomas is concerned is that I have train tickets, so we can visit the station on the way home to see the trains, even if the ticket barriers are closed. We watch the trains for a bit and meet Daddy from his train, as he makes a special effort to get an earlier one on a Friday. I squeeze in another run and then finish up a few projects I have on the go.

Back round to Saturday and I’m working this week, so that is my morning taken up. I get home around half one and we head out to get our filthy car washed. (Thomas loves going to the wash down! And judge all you like, but yes, we get our car washed at a hand car wash. Why would I spend my precious time getting wet and grubby when someone else is willing and able to do a better job of it for seven quid?) And then another quick supermarket trip to keep the cupboards topped up. The remainder of the day is devoted to the long-neglected housework so we end the day with a presentable home again. I end up dealing with a “Call Service Error” on my insulin pump, which involves a long phone call, but eventually is sorted.

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When I look back at it like that, I realise just how much I do manage to get done. The early starts and middle-of-the-night wake ups have a lot to answer for when it comes to my energy levels, so it’s unsurprising that some evenings it’s all I can do to get dinner made and the bare minimum of essential tasks done. Thomas is actually getting a lot of my time, and Ian’s time too. He actually gets to participate in a huge range of activities most weeks, even if we don’t have a big “day out” or trip planned – this week he had his music class, a play date, two park trips, riding his bike, painting, plus plenty of trains, cars and duplo. My work is stressful, and in many ways more-so for being part-time as I can no longer carry things over to the next day the way I once did, and I always have the stress of ensuring I’m away in time to pick Thomas up. I’m still managing to fit in exercise. And actually, I’m still managing to fit in a reasonable amount of relaxation time, including watching the odd television series or DVD.

I”ve wondered, in some of my more irrational moments, whether part of the reason we’ve not been able to have more children is because the universe thinks I’m making too much of a hash of raising the one one we have. I do sometimes wonder how on earth I’d cope with the the two or three I wanted if I feel like just one is sometimes tough. But obviously, I would. After all, you don’t know what you can do until you have to do it. When you have to do it, you tend to get it done! And I really think that I am managing to keep all my balls in the air right now, so I’m sure I’d squeeze in another if it was tossed to me!

So yeah, that’s what I do all week…. and I’m linking this up with the lovely Hannah over at Make, Do and Push

Oct 29 / Caro

How to Make Friends In the Playground

Working in any branch of frontline healthcare brings you in to contact with a huge variety of people. Thankfully most of them are lovely, polite and straightforward to communicate with. But there are plenty of “difficult patients” too; the kind that won’t listen, or that want to tell you their irrelevant life story; The demanding and downright rude; The drama queens. I seem to attract more than my fair share of “difficult” dental patients and it’s not gone unnoticed by my colleagues.

My manager gave me a rueful smile a few days ago when she commented that the only way I’d stop getting quite so many of them in my surgery if if I were to stop making them like me. “And that’s not going to happen” she laughed.

She was winding me up. But it was also a massive compliment. The truth of the matter is that one of my huge strengths in my profession is communicating with people on their level and making them like and trust me. As a result one of my biggest daily challenges is that too many people want to see me and I just can’t keep up. I suppose you could say that I’m popular.

Outside of my professional arena, however, things are a bit different. I’ve never, ever been one of the “popular” kids. Although I might not seem conventionally shy, I’m plagued by a deep lack of confidence in meeting new people. Despite liking myself, I tend to assume that other people won’t, which probably in itself doesn’t help, but at the ripe old age of thirty-three I still have no idea how to translate an acquaintance in to a friend, even when I really want to.

This, of course, is why work is different. There, I know how to make people like me, and I have confidence in myself and my skills. But more importantly, I’m not investing anything personally in these relationships. I don’t want them to be friendships and I don’t care whether I like the person back or not. Perhaps it’s easy there because it doesn’t actually matter so much.

I don’t want to give the impressions that I don’t have friends. Of course I do. I have some wonderful people in my life who I know that I can depend on to be there for me, and who I will always be there for in return. These are friendships which mostly date back years and are tested and true.

What I seem to be increasingly hopeless at the older I get is making new friends, which matters, so I am discovering, when you are a (relatively) new mother. New motherhood obviously turns your world upside down and it can be a confusing and indeed isolating time. I’m not sure many people would dispute the value of “mum friends”, who’ve been there too, to help them get through it. Yet despite the fact that I often see the same faces over and over at toddler groups, at the swimming pool, at nursery pick up and at the playground, and despite the fact that I smile, that I interact and that I even initiate conversation, I’ve never been able to cultivate any of these chance meetings as friendships.

It may, of course, be nothing to do with me. It is far more likely that these mums are simply just as clueless and just as shy. Or maybe they simply don’t need any more mum friends in their hectic lives. But I can’t help but wonder why this doesn’t seem to be the case for other people. My closest friend throughout my university years was the sort of girl who could strike up a friendship in the bus queue. Walking across a crowded bar was always a challenge because she knew everyone and everyone wanted to stop and chat. I always wondered how she did it, but even our years of friendship haven’t taught me the secret. And now, my closest mum friend (met through an ante natal group) is similar – she is the one who has collected a string of new friends from the toddler groups she has attended and a simple coffee always results in her bumping in to someone who wants to arrange their own coffee date soon.

So I can’t help but feel that I’m doing it wrong.

Even online I struggle to make the friends that everyone else seems to celebrate having made through social networks and the like “without having ever met in person.”

In my deepest crises of confidence, I tend to assume that I must be unlikeable. Or perhaps embarrassing. Odd. Too intense. Too quiet. Or maybe talk too much with too many opinions. At other times I just wonder if I seem too comfortable in myself and as if I don’t really need anything more.

Inside, though, I worry. I’m already aware that my lack of friendships is limiting the number of relationships that Thomas is forming with other children outside of nursery. And whilst that won’t be a problem just yet, I wonder whether this will affect Thomas in future – if my inability to form friendships with the class mums at school will stop him being invited for play dates. And how on earth will I go about arranging things like birthday parties?

I watch children playing in the playground and the ease of their friendships. Young ones, like Thomas, who are content to simply play alongside one another, and are unequivocally happy just to see again the toddlers they see most often, but have no expectations and no real emotional attachments. I see the older children who form friendships as quickly as they exchange names, and all because they have a shared love of the same colour, or they ride the same type of scooter.

I see the easy interactions of children and look at the other adults around me, wondering just when it all got so complicated.

Frosty football game

Aug 14 / Caro

An Idiot’s Guide to Cloth Nappies

My name is Caroline, and I’m a cloth nappy addict.

I’m still not really sure exactly how I came to the decision to use cloth nappies. My sister-in-law used them for her first child back in 2009, and that is certainly when I first became aware of modern cloth nappies and what they entailed. I think that I like a bit of a challenge. I like to be a bit different. I was attracted to the idea of the potential cost savings, and the idea that it would be much harder to ever run out nappies because I hadn’t made it to the shops. I really liked the idea of reducing the volume of stuff in landfill. I’m not an environmental nut by any stretch of the imagination, but just the sheer space occupied by a few thousand used nappies horrified me a bit. Then I started looking at the nappies available, and fell in love more than a bit with their soft fluffiness. Before I knew it, I was building a cloth nappy stash of my very own, and we haven’t really looked back since Thomas was a few weeks old.

Cloth Bum Baby

I haven’t written about cloth nappies here, however, since our very early experiments with a newborn Thomas. But I do talk about it a lot in real life, on parenting forums and recently even on Twitter. There seems to be an increasing interest in the use of cloth nappies, but there are plenty of people whose first reaction is still “I could never do that”. Which makes me wonder exactly what they think is the most difficult part of using cloth nappies.

I won’t lie and say they are a total walk in the park. Like everything in parenting, there is effort involved. There are aspects which present more hard work than disposables, but there are some big benefits to using cloth as well. I can see, and remember, that looking in to cloth nappies for the first time can be quite overwhelming, as there is a huge variety of choice in types and styles, and some confusing terminology. So I wanted to put together a bit of an “Idiots Guide”, to answer the questions I seem to get asked most often.

To kick off with the big one:

Are they easy to use?

The short answer is “yes”. Many of today’s generation of parents wore cloth nappies themselves, but back in the 70s and 80s they consisted of terry squares which had to be folded, fitted with nappy pins and covered with stiff, scratchy plastic pants. And that is what people think of when they hear about washable nappies. Of course, you can still use nappies like this – and it’s probably the cheapest possible way of using nappies – but cloth nappies have also evolved. There are new more absorbent materials, which cut down on the bulk, better water-proof materials which are softer and more breathable, and nappies which go on just like disposables and fasten with velcro (aplix) or poppers, so no more nappy pins.

A typical nappy change involves first removing the old nappy, cleaning up the baby and then putting on a new nappy just as you do with a disposable. If the nappy is just wet, it goes straight in to a waterproof “wet bag” and later in to the washing machine. Wet bags fasten securely and there is no issue with smells. No fiddling with plastic nappy sacks, or needing to take the nappy straight to a bin. Dirty nappies are slightly more problematic, as the poo needs to be flushed down the loo, with the exception of newborn poo which can go straight in the machine. In this case I take the whole nappy to the bathroom, then lift out the liner and tip the poo away. You can also get flushable liners, in wish case you just pop the whole liner down the loo.

What about going out and about?

I take a smaller wet bag with me when we go out, and the nappy just goes in there. If I’m changing Thomas in a changing area that also has a toilet (e.g in a disabled toilet with a pull down changing table) I’ll tip the poo off there. Otherwise I take it home. It’s all contained in the bag and easy to deal with at home. Some people use cloth only at home and disposables when out and about. This is perfectly do-able, but I would dislike the hassle of having to change a nappy just because we were going out. If we’re only going out for a short trip and I don’t expect a nappy to need changing, and I’m only taking a small bag, I will sometimes just pop a disposable and a wet bag in the bag, so I can change if necessary. The biggest problem when out and about is that cloth nappies definitely take up more space in the changing bag.

And what about washing?

I wash my nappies overnight, usually every second or third day. How often you wash depends on how many nappies you have and how many your child gets through in a day, but as with everything it’s likely to be more frequent the younger they are. As I use wet bags, I just open them up and tip the nappies in to the machine. You can also store used nappies in a nappy bucket (although soaking is a thing of the past) which you can line with a mesh bag for easy transfer to the machine. I personally run a cold pre-wash cycle (rinses off any poo and helps reduce staining) and then do full wash cycle (40 degrees if no poo, 50 or 60 if poo is involved) followed by an extra rinse.

You need to avoid fabric softener, as it interferes with the absorbency of nappies, and also harsh stain removers or sanitisers. I do occasionally use Napisan, but repeated use can damage the waterproofing in some nappies. I use traditional washing powder, rather than gel or tablets, as it’s easier to control the amount used. You need to avoid too much detergent as it can clog up in the nappies making them stiff and interfering with absorbency. This is also the reason for the extra rinse at the end of the wash cycle. Because I wash overnight, I really don’t notice the 2-3 extra loads I’m doing per week.

Ideally I hang my nappies out in sunshine, as this is the best way to remove any stains (works on poo stains on clothing too), but this being the UK I do also resort to some tumble drying. I often finsih my bamboo nappies in the dryer as it really softens them up. Lots of people also have success with the Lakeland Dry-Soon Airer  (which has been on my wish list for several birthday’s and Christmas’s!)

But what about poo in my washing machine?

Have you never had a nappy leak poo on to vests or sleepsuits? Not yet potty trained an older child whose had at least the odd accident? The idea of washing machines is that stuff goes in dirty and comes out clean. The bulk of the poo goes down the toilet (which is, lets be honest, where poo really belongs, rather than festering in your wheelie bin) and I have NEVER had an issue with anything coming out of my washing machine dirty.

And what about touching poo?

If you’ve never touched your child’s poo, you’re either extremely lucky, or you’ve never actually changed a nappy. Poo is part of the territory when you are a parent. I occasionally touch poo when putting it down the toilet (no more so than cleaning out a potty, I’m guessing) but I always wash my hands after nappy changes anyway. I have friends who use disposables who in the early days had a leak out of the nappy every time their child produced a poo. And Thomas’s nursery have commented on how he has never had a poo leak from a nappy, but they happen reasonably commonly with the younger children in disposables. Avoiding touching poo as you extricate your child from a poo-covered vest is much harder than avoiding touching the poo contained in a cloth nappy.

How to get started

My advice would be not to rush out and buy a full set of one type of nappy, especially before your baby has even been born. There are lots of different types of nappy and it’s hard to know what will suit you and your baby without trying them out. It’s worth looking out for “trial kits” such as this one from Fill Your Pants   or this one from Tots Bots. Better yet see if any friends use cloth and may be able to lend you some to try out. Finally consider buying preloved. Everything comes out in the wash, so I have no problem doing this. I usually give them a couple of washes before I use them. It’s a fantastic to try different nappy types – especially the more expensive brands – without shelling out a huge amount of money.

Knowing what types of nappy to try can seem mind boggling at first, so here is my brief introduction to cloth nappies for newbies.

Types of nappy

All in one

  • All-in-one nappies: As the name suggests are all in one piece. They consist of a waterproof outer shell with several layers of absorbent material. These are the simplest type to use, as you put them on and take them off just like a disposable, but wash them in between. The drawbacks are that they often take a long time to dry and can be difficult to add extra absorbency to. Some all-in-ones, however, have sections that pull out to speed up drying and can also be boosted. (Pictured is a Tots Bots EasyFit)

Snap-in-one

  • A variation on all-in-on is the snap-in-one nappy, where the absorbent parts are snapped in to the outer with poppers, which again speeds up drying and sometimes allows more absorbent boosters to be added. (Pictured is a Close Pop-In)

pocket nappies

  • Pocket nappies: With these the waterproof outer is sewn to an inner layer (usually some kind of fleece) to create a pocket. The pocket is then stuffed with absorbent material. The biggest advantage of these nappies is that they come apart for washing and drying, so dry faster, and you also have flexibility in how you stuff the pocket, so you can adjust the absorbency and bulk to suit your baby. (Pictured are Blueberry One Size)

Two part nappies and nappy wraps

  • Two parters: as the name suggests, come in two parts – a separate waterproof outer, usually known as a wrap, and an inner absorbent material. You can get shaped nappies which go on like a disposable and you simply add the wrap over the top. There are also flat and pre-folded nappies, which are more similar to old fashioned terries and must be folded in to shape before being put on the baby and the wrap placed over the top. They can seem more fiddly than all in one or pocket nappies, but give the best flexibility and tend to work well overnight. (Pictured are a Lollipop Bamboo size 2 and Blueberry Coveralls. This is our night nappy combo of choice that we’ve been using for over a year.)

Materials

The main waterproof fabric in use is a polyurethane laminate – usually a cotton fabric laminated with poly urethane. It’s a light, durable and breathable fabric that washes extremely well. The main alternative waterproof fabric is wool, which is a very environmentally friendly choice and is extremely breathable, so good for sensitive skin. Wool does need to be lanolinised frequently to maintain it’s waterproof abilities.

The main absorbent materials used in nappies are a man-made polyester based fabric known as microfibre, cotton, bamboo and hemp. Cotton and microfibre both absorb very quickly and also dry very quickly, but don’t always hold a lot of fluid and as a consequence tend to be bulky. Bamboo and hemp will both hold a lot, but absorb more slowly and dry more slowly. They are both also cheap, sustainable and environmentally friendly to grow and harvest.

An ideal combination for nappies is often a layer of microfibre to provide quick absorbency, with a layer of bamboo or hemp to provide more overall absorbency and make the nappy last long between changes. Adding extra layers in to nappies is known as boosting and is most easily achieved with pocket nappies or two-parters.

Liners are a non-absorbent part of the nappy used to protect little one’s bum from moisture and protect the rest of the nappy from poo. You can buy disposable and flushable liners, which make disposing of poo very easy, but I find these paper liners tend to bunch up and especially get stuck to little boys’ bits. In addition paper liners don’t act a s a stay-dry layer. My favourite liners are fleece, which lets wetness through quickly, but helps keep baby’s bum dry and is lovely and soft. You can buy fleece liners, or make your own by cutting up a cheap fleece blanket. They can be made very thin, so as not to add bulk to the nappy.

Sizing

Nappies are either “sized” or “birth-to-potty”. Sized nappies come in a variety (usually only 2-3) sizes aimed to fit newborns, older babies and toddlers. The sizes are usually defined by weight.The drawback of sized nappies is you need to buy a full set each time your baby outgrows the others, so it can get more expensive. If you have children close together in age, this can work well, however. It is also usually possible to get the best fit, especially in the small sizes. Birth-to-potty nappies have poppers on the front that enable them to be shortened or lengthened to fit a range of sizes – often from around 10lb (so not truly birth for many) up to 35lb+ The downside is the extra bulk this adds when they are poppered down to newborn size.

And finally…

If things still seem confusing, I can reassure you that once you have a few nappies and a baby in front of you, it all becomes a lot clearer. Overall, I’d recommend cloth nappies to anyone. Yes, there is some work involved, but I think the lack of leaks and the potential money savings alone can balance that out. It’s hard to put properly in to words why I love cloth nappies so much, but 21 months in, it’s just what we do, and I have no intention of changing that anytime soon.

If you’re considering trying cloth, or just starting out, then I hope this has been helpful, but I’m always happy to answer cltoh nappy related questions, so feel free to leave a comment. And go for it!

(N.B This post is not sponsored in any way. These are all my own nappies, which I just happen to love!)

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