Me and Mine – September

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We have a gatecrasher in our Me and Mine photo this month – my big brother, who lives almost half a world away on the west coast of the USA. The distance between us means we don’t see nearly enough of each other because it’s a long flight for a little boy who can’t sit still. Even the eight hour time distance makes the windows of time for phone calls and Skypeing rather narrow. I wish he got to spend more time with his nephew, and that Thomas saw more of his uncle. I obviously wish I saw more of my brother, as he’s the only one I’ve got.

His visit was fun. He was quickly inducted in to the world of toddler Thomas, including making tunnels on restaurant tables for trains to drive through, hours of pushing on the swings, reading endless stories and drawing trains on demand. My brother left knowing many more of the characters from Thomas & Friends than he did when he arrived. Thomas consistently mispronounced his uncle’s name in a very endearing way. And to complete the experience, had a nappy leak in his lap. Well, you don’t know toddlers until you’ve had that happen, right?!

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The rest of the month has been busy too. Following on from last month’s Me and Mine, I’ve seized opportunity and possibly tempted fate by treating myself to lovely new clothes, including new jeans which clearly won’t fit for long if I do fall pregnant. I’ve agreed to a change I my working patterns from the beginning of next year that will secure me more income. It will also secure me a better maternity package if I do fall pregnant, but probably won’t be practical to sustain on my return to work from maternity leave. So we’ll just have to see. We’ve also booked a family break to Center Parcs next spring, and pre-booked cycle hire despite the fact that if I fell pregnant now, I’d have a six month bump and almost certainly not be the right shape for riding a bike.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we’ve started the process of fertility testing to search out a reason, if one exists, for why I’m not falling pregnant. Simply getting the ball rolling has made me feel more positive that one day our family photos will contain another little person.

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dear beautiful

Can’t Buy Me Love

Dear Thomas

A couple of months ago we opened your very first bank account. It’s a place for to save any monetary gifts your receive, or earnings from future jobs. It’s also the beginning of your long education about money management, and so I’ve thought a lot since then about exactly what it is I want to teach you.

Money is an inescapable part of modern civilised society. We need it to help secure the basic necessities of life – a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our tummies. You’ll find plenty of advice forthcoming from a variety of sources about avoiding credit, saving for what you want and not spending beyond your means. That’s all good, sound advice because a lack of money or spiralling debt can be the source of enormous stress and anxiety. Far better, of course, to avoid getting in to such a situation if at all possible and this is something that I hope you’ll pick up naturally, from watching how your Dad and I handle our family finances.

On the flip side, however, you need to know that whilst having money can bring you a feeling of security, it doesn’t guarantee you freedom from stress or, indeed, happiness. And most importantly of all, money cannot buy you love.

Money is not what brought you here, in to our lives. You must know by now that when you arrived you brought with you more joy than I’ve so far been able to find the words to properly articulate. No amount of money, no quantity of material possessions, and no number of exotic holidays could possibly have equalled what you have given us and what you continue to give each and every day. No price can be put on the love I feel for you. Your value, and that of our other family members, is so much greater than any other single thing in my life. I’d like you to learn that nothing that you think you want is as precious as the things that money cannot buy – the special people and relationships in your life.

If you can learn to always put the happiness of those that you really care about above all else, it will be all the motivation that you need to work hard enough to ensure you can provide the basic necessities to keep those people safe. And if you can remember to value people and love more highly than inanimate objects, it will help you to assess the true importance and worth of the things that you want to spend money on.

I expect you to make many mistakes along the path of your life, for how else are you to learn? Money management is no exception, and you won’t always get it right. You’ll waste money at times and will be tempted to buy unjustified luxuries, items which give you very little return, or bring only a short term happiness. Your bank balance may go down as well as up. There will be lean times and difficulties. But throughout it all, little man, my love for you will always be as rich as the day you were born.

This is all for the future of course, as I don’t expect you to grasp any of what I’m saying for quite a few years yet. But if I were to try to explain it in more simplistic terms that you’d have a chance of understanding right now, I’d ask you which you prefer: a new Thomas train for your train set, or Mummy? I could easily spend money on a new train for you, and I’ve no doubt that it would bring immense joy to your little soul and an enormous grin to your face. But equally I know that a cuddle with me is a simple pleasure and the happiness it brings will be reflected back to me in your smiles and giggles. I know what you can’t yet understand: that in a few years time, the train will be cast aside in favour of the next big thing, but you won’t get rid of me that easily.

Spend your money wisely, Thomas, but be generous with your love and more will find you in return.

Always,

Mummy xx

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This is my entry in to the Think Money Bloggers Competition asking What’s the Most Important Lesson to Teach Kids About Money? Follow the link to see how to enter for your chance to win £250 worth of vouchers.

The Daily Grind

Thomas has a fair amount of routine and structure in his life these days. He’s at nursery for three days most weeks. We go swimming and to toddler music classes. We have some semi-regular play dates. But there are still days – sometimes at the weekend, or more often on a Thursday when all of my local mum-friends work – when we find ourselves with no plans at all and absolutely nothing to do.

And those are the days where I traditionally panic and freak out just a little bit, wondering how on earth to fill the endless hours until bath time, and wondering just exactly what other parents, especially those who stay at home full time, do with their days.

For a while I believed that I needed to be actively “doing” something to enrich Thomas’s life, or give him some learning opportunities or, damn I’ll admit it – to keep up with what I perceived other parents were doing for their children. As a consequence, Thomas has had a lot of trips out to farms, zoos, National Trust houses and gardens, museums and fun days. I don’t regret any of those trips at all, and Thomas has invariably had a blast. We all have, in fact and “Family Days Out” are rapidly becoming one of my most favourite bits of being a parent. But I’ve also come to the realisation that we don’t necessarily need to be doing things of this nature all of the time; That to do it too often dilutes its novelty and value and that Thomas can learn just as much from activities at home. So as the summer progressed, the number of days spent just hanging out at home increased.

Except, “hanging out at home” over the summer months has included regular trips to the fantastic park and playground that is literally opposite our house. Walks through the woods to the lake and country park beyond, all starting just a few minutes from our front door. And when we truly are at home, pootling around the playhouse on our patio or digging and splashing in the sand and water tray. It’s true, it seems, that the great outdoors provides endless opportunities to entertain an energetic, inquisitive toddler.

So, now that autumn seems firmly upon us, I find myself with a renewed sense of fear about how to fill the empty days. Now that park trips are rained off and it’s becoming a bit cold for outdoor water play, I find myself beginning to worry whether it really is good for Thomas to spend an entire day within the four walls of our house.

Days inside the house sometimes include an art or craft activity, but at 22 months Thomas’s dexterity and attention span limit to a large extent what we can do. Likewise we occasionally have a lot of fun with baking projects, which for Thomas simply means pouring pre-measured ingredients in to a bowl and then stirring with all his might. We also play music and bang along with the maracas and tambourine, or dance around together. But most often, a day in the house will mean trains strewn across the living room floor and frequent bursts of frustration when something isn’t working, or isn’t how Thomas wants. It will involve more television than the pre-parenthood me probably would have imagined. It will include the reading and re-reading of books – currently mostly Thomas and Friends books, with some Julia Donaldson thrown in for good measure. It will involve Thomas pulling more and more toys out whilst I try to teach the idea that he should put one thing away before adding more to the mix (and this being largely ignored). It will, I’ll admit, involve a few periods of time where my son is left to his own devices whilst I sneak online (and by sneaking, I simply mean me sitting on the sofa rather than the floor!) or do something that I want to do as opposed to what he wants or what needs to be done.

To be honest, it feels like a grind. It feels uninspiring. It lacks variety and I don’t think it meets the definition of exciting.

Yet, Thomas is happy. Completely happy, bar the tantrums – but exciting days out don’t prevent those either – they come with the territory.

So why can’t I shake the feeling that it isn’t enough? Why do I still feel that I let my son down by not engaging one hundred percent with his games at all times, despite knowing full well that children need to play independently? Why do I find myself playing a game of competitive parenting in which I’m the only competitor, trying to compete with the imaginary ideal in my head where other parents have days filled with carefully structured activities?

And most of all, just what exactly do other people really do all day at home with their under-twos?

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I Married a Geek – Will My Son Be One Too?

Definiton of geek by the OED nad by my husband

Despite the fact that we met at a rock climbing wall, my husband isn’t really in to sport. The only running he did at school was in order to position himself as far away as possible from the ball during games lessons. He doesn’t support a football team and can think of nothing worse than watching cricket for days on end. He has a fear of water and would rather bath in baked beans than go for a swim – and that’s saying something as he hates baked beans! Despite the fact that he has travelled more than half way around the globe, he’s never been on a “lad’s weekend” and would much rather a few quiet pints with good friends in a real pub on a week night than brave busy bars and clubs on a Friday evening. My husband is a self-confessed and proud geek, and the thing that really gets him going is the current adoption of the word “geek” by the cool crew – the kind of people who, ironically, would have bullied my husband whilst he was at school for his love of computers and avoidance of the football pitch and school disco. Being a geek isn’t about big glasses and studious study, it’s a lifestyle in itself.

Perhaps once of the things that drew me to Ian in the first place is the fact that I grew up with another geek. Both my brother and my husband are programmers who are entirely self-taught by hours in front of computers in their youth, learning exactly what made them go and how to control them to their will. Both my brother and my husband have turned what began as a passionate hobby in to successful careers. And for my husband, at least, it remains a passionate hobby too. He spends forty-five minutes each way on the train each day, coding on his laptop, working on his own projects. He spends eight hours in the office, working on coding telecommunications solutions for his company. Remaining free time these days may be limited due to all the usual demands of a young family, but in the hours I might spend on creative writing or craft projects, he will most likely be found tinkering with Arduino projects or developing his own operating system.

My husband is in no way one dimensional – he has other interests besides and he’s a very hand’s on, fantastic father, but if you took coding out of his life you’d take away both his job and his biggest hobby. (You’d also totally change the man I fell in love with and adore more each day!)

Does that mean he thinks everyone should learn to code?

I asked him this question in response to the post Why You Should Encourage Your Child To Learn Coding which I stumbled upon via Twitter.

The answer, was a resounding no, and I’m very inclined to agree.

Coding, like almost anything else, is a skill. Whilst it can be taught, not everyone truly has the capacity to master it in much the same way that English can be taught, but not everyone can master the art of stringing words together in a pleasing way. To my mind, the suggestion that the progression of technology means jobs will always be available in the software industry, and therefore that you should encourage your child to pursue this path to safeguard their future career prospects is akin to saying that doctors will always be needed for our aging population, so our kids should knuckle down and start swotting up on their human anatomy.

Call me old fashioned and cliched, but I strongly believe that children should be encouraged to pursue what interests them, not necessarily what we think should interest them. Obviously they need to be given plenty of opportunity to discover different pastimes in order to find their passions, but I don’t think we should push them in any particular direction. My brother developed a love of coding from playing with a BBCB computer, and Ian’s father bought him an Amiga back in the 1980s. Their interests and skills blossomed from there despite no further encouragement or coercion, and the availability of plenty of other activities to pursue.

I totally agree that our children need to be computer literate and able to type, but these are skills which tend to develop organically given the ubiquity of technology in our lives. And I also agree that in these days of touch screens and smart GUIs, developing coding skills organically is perhaps less likely that it once was, so it may be necessary to specifically create opportunities for children to discover the world of coding – a big aim of the Raspberry Pi project. Equally, though, I think if you “have it” as far as coding is concerned, you’ll find a way!

I believe coding for life is, much like medicine, a vocation. It’s something that will find someone and draw them in, and not the other way around.

Thomas’s current self taught passion – about which he is a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast – is Thomas the Tank Engine. He’s busy developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the characters and it’s something he chose to do entirely by himself, which I absolutely love. Obviously he will grow up with an awareness of software development and coding, if only because he’ll be watching his dad do it. And if he expresses an interest in learning how to do it himself, then he’ll get a Raspberry Pi of his own. But he currently loves to cram his entire fist in to unsuspecting people’s mouths to check out their teeth, and I’m not supposing yet that it means he wants to follow in his Mummy’s footsteps and become a dentist.

Only time will tell.