Picking Sides

  We’re big fans of avoiding gender stereotypes in our household. 

G does ballet and loves Elsa, pink and the girl pups from Paw Patrol, but she also grew up playing with train tracks, dumper trucks and football.

She started playing football when she was 3, at a local class called Diddikicks. She loved it so much she kept going until she turned 6 and she could join the after school football club. C has now started at Diddikicks too and is just about getting the hang of things, and enjoying it as much as her big sister did.

Other than her Diddikicks kit, G’s first football kit was a yellow and blue Sweden kit – an awesome gift from her Scandinavian cousins.

When she grew out of this and needed a new one for school we gave her a choice of country kits – Scottish like her Dad, Welsh like her Mum or English for where she was born. She chose Welsh, and I had a smug face for days, maybe even weeks.

But disaster struck, and the Wales kit went missing. I suspect foul play, but regardless, G needed a kit to wear to football club, so I stiffened my upper lip and we duly trotted off to our local sports shop to pick something up in time for her next class.

Not being a huge football fanatic myself, it had kind of passed me by that at some point G might have to choose her football allegiances. And I naively hoped we could simply skirt the issue – after all she’s still a 6 year old girl who struggles to decide what her favourite TV show or breakfast cereal is on a daily basis.

But there we were, confronted with a simple, yet baffling choice – Manchester United, Manchester City or Liverpool.

G studied the aisle carefully. She picked up one, then another, then started checking for her size, blissfully unaware of the importance of the decision she was making and how it would quite possibly stick with her for the rest of her life. And I did want this to be her decision, not mine.

“I want the red one, Mummy!” she started by saying, and so I explained to her that one of the red ones was Liverpool, and the other Manchester United, and did she have a preference?

She hesitated, hovering between the shirts, and looked up at me as if expecting me to know the answer.

“Well” I started, “I know Liverpool have a women’s team, but I have a feeling Manchester United don’t, do you want me to check?”.  Suddenly reminded of something we had said previously, G piped up “which is the one we could go and see?”

“We could see any of them” I replied, “but I think we talked about maybe going to see the Manchester City women’s team.”

“That’s the one I want,” she responded, quickly finding her size on the rack and exclaiming “oh look! It even comes with socks!”

So, Manchester City it is! Unless she changes her mind of course…

Fast forward a couple of days. Picking her up in the evening after her football class, I asked her if her friends at school had liked her new kit.

“No,” she replied, “except J, as he likes City. The others all said ‘City in the bin, United win’. I told them ‘United in the bin, City win’ but they said that was made up.”

My heart sank. We’d made such an effort to ensure she hadn’t been put off things like football as a result of being a girl – had all that effort been spoilt by something so simple as picking a shirt?

“You’ll never guess what happened when I saw Mr T and Mrs E,” she continued, “they said ‘ewwww, go away!’ because they don’t like City.”

I could feel my blood rising.

Then she laughed. “It was so funny” she said, “that I couldn’t stop laughing all the way back to the hall!”

As she turned and carried on playing with her toys, still giggling away, I thought to myself “we must be doing alright at this parenting lark.”

A poxy birthday

  C turned two yesterday, and apparently that means that she no longer counts as a baby, instead she’s a proper little girl.
A little girl who knows her own mind and makes damn sure you know it too, even if she doesn’t always have the words to explain it.

Who gives the best hugs and kisses (if she doesn’t blow raspberries in your face first) after demanding ‘hug-ups’ (pick up).  

Who gives as good a rendition of ‘Let it Go’ and the My Little Pony theme tune as she does of ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’ and ‘Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes’.  Usually when you’re trying to get her to go to sleep.

Who starts counting from 8 at least 80% of the time (8, 9, 10, 8, 9, 10, 8…) and still insists on calling her big sister ‘Ah’ even though she’s perfectly capable of pronouncing ‘G’.

In other milestones that show how she’s growing up, she has chicken pox. 

But this isn’t just chicken pox – this is full blown, head to toe, more skin with spots than without chicken pox.

Her birthday marked day 6 of being poorly, which Dr Google reliably informed us meant she’d be feeling much better and almost back to normal. Which obviously wasn’t the case given that on day 5 we’d ended up at an emergency doctors appointment with a stubborn fever, concerns over possible dehydration and a diagnosis of an infection.

So what little she ate of her birthday cake (which I must say I was pretty proud of – thank you Pinterest!) ended up being washed down with antibiotics, poor lamb.

After having felt incredibly sorry for herself – with every reason, to be fair – she thankfully had brightened up for the big day, but was still dozy enough not to mind missing what was meant to be our annual trip to the aquarium.

Instead we all spent the day playing at home, with birthday pizza for tea. Which, you know, turned out to be not such a bad way to spend it, all things considered.

One positive of all this has come – where you might least expect it – in our bedtime routine. 

All of a sudden C’s decided that she doesn’t want one of us to climb in bed with her and hold her hands until she decides it’s time for sleep (all the while singing and shouting randomly – her, not us). Which as you can imagine didn’t stay cute for very long. 

Instead she climbs into bed, waits to be tucked in, drinks her milk and dozes right off, saying ‘no mama in!’ if I try to cuddle up next to her.

I might miss her being my baby, but if this ‘little girl’ habit means fewer lost hours spent trying to get her off to sleep then I reckon I’ll be content with that.

I’m not counting my chickens (or, indeed, their pox) just yet though.

Down the big slide

 It’s fair to say that I don’t blog as often as I’d like to. 

There’s lots of reasons for this, and one of the lamest is not taking enough of the ‘right type’ of photos to put in my posts. I take lots of photos – like many mums probably too many – but just not enough of the ones that feel good enough and nice enough to sit on the top of a blog post.

It can be easy to get trapped behind the camera, forgetting to enjoy the moment because you’re too busy trying to capture it.  And sometimes you’re just too busy watching the scene unfold before you to think to grab the camera and capture it.

A couple of months ago now we were up in Aberdeenshire for a few days for a friend’s wedding, and spent a slightly hungover post-wedding morning exploring the fabulous Duthie Park in Aberdeen. The wedding itself had taken place in the Winter Gardens there so we thought it would be nice to have a proper look around and check out the playgrounds while we were there.

The girls got stuck straight in with Daddy whilst I nipped back to the car to pick up something I’d forgotten.  Crossing back over the car park, Tunnocks Caramel Wafer halfway into my mouth (a freebie from the hotel room – I’m all class), my stomach gave a lurch that wasn’t hangover induced.

A small figure was sliding towards me at a rapidly increasing speed, straight down the (not even exaggerating) 30 foot long slide on the hillside. Hey, it could even be 40 foot – I wasn’t measuring it and for once Google doesn’t seem to know, so in the absence of evidence to the contrary I think we can all agree that it was at least 50 foot long.

Ok so now I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. It was a big slide, far too big for a one year old to be conquering on her own.

With visions of a crumpled, battered toddler screaming at the bottom of the slide I lurched towards it to rescue her. Only she was none of the above.  I’d go as far to say she was quite pleased with herself, albeit a little surprised by the extent of the ride.

Daddy insists that he was trying to get onto the slide with her on his lap, the sensible father way. And knowing how she can contort herself to get out of your grasp when she has her mind on something I can believe it. 

Suffice to say we’re staying away from excessively tall slides for a while, and there was no photographic evidence of the event.  Instead the picture shows her reprising her stunt on a far more appropriately sized slide a few days later.

The incident clearly hasn’t put her off slides just yet.

Big girl bike

 
If mummy’s got new wheels, why not G?

It’d been a while since we’d last taken G out on her bike – an intentionally non-girly Thomas the Tank Engine affair that we bought on eBay and that has done sterling service over the past couple of years.

But I have to confess to being taken by surprise when I realised quite how much G had grown, as I watched her trying to cycle with her knees almost up to her chin.  Even with the seat and handlebars at their highest height, there was no mistaking it was time for a new bike.

So the other weekend G went to choose her early birthday present from – where else – Halfords. Because as they said last Christmas, nothing beats a bike.

I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre her past the ‘Frozen’ bike sat front and centre in store, but luckily all I needed to do was say “look, that one’s the same colour as Mummy’s bike” and she was sold on a very cool black and hot pink mean machine, complete with rainbow gloves and a matching Tinkerbell cycling hat.  A pink basket for her doll to sit in completed the look and we were off.

I’m actually kinda jealous that my bike is missing the pink bits.

As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried about the lure of Frozen.  It was more of a challenge prizing G out of the cycle trailer that she’d set herself up in. I briefly contemplated splashing out on one so she could come out with us on family bike rides, but quickly remembered that the chances of actually making frequent use of it – however good my intentions – were slim. And apparently it doesn’t fit on the back of a motorbike anyway.

So it was that a few days later we found ourselves in Whitworth Park in Manchester, standing by watching our little speed demon doing laps of the central roundabout, waving at every person she passed and telling them all about her new bike.

I’m very pleased she enjoys her new bike so much, and I love her confidence to talk to anybody, especially because she used to be quite shy meeting new people.

But I can’t help thinking we might need to have a little chat about stranger danger, if only to spare poor random strangers the ten minute ‘conversation’ about her cycling prowess.

Mum’s new wheels

 

About a month or so ago I was involved in a car accident. Not my fault – somebody went into the back of me in a queue of stationary traffic.  Luckily nobody was hurt, but one of our cars – admittedly an old, beat up runabout – was written off.

Which presented an opportunity to do the type of thing that you can talk about doing for years without ever getting round to doing.

I bought a motorbike.

I actually started riding motorbikes when I was 16, but a nearly 15 year hiatus meant that now I fitted not just into the cliche of ‘mid life crisis’ but also, at the ripe old age of 34, ‘born again biker’.

As with so many things, I had a logical, rational reason for getting a bike again. Slipping through the traffic on a bike would both halve my commute time and save a ton of money in parking and petrol.

But really, honestly, I was mostly just looking forward to getting on two wheels again.

I don’t know if it’s a function of getting older, having kids, or both, but as time has gone on I’ve found myself doing fewer and fewer of the things that made me, me.  

I love my kids, and I love being a mum, but I realised that my so called hobbies were almost all things I hadn’t done for years – the required accoutrements still there, but packed away neatly in the wardrobe and the loft.  

Playing musical instruments, rowing, riding horses, making jewellery, designing, drawing and painting (badly), going to gigs, and of course riding motorbikes, were all still things I considered to be part of ‘me’, but which in reality I hadn’t done more than thought about in some cases for more than a decade.  

Which is a long time in anybody’s book.

So getting back onto two wheels is about more than just reclaiming an hour of my day from the drudgery of queuing in traffic.  

It’s about reclaiming a piece of me, that’s still hidden inside there somewhere.  

It’s about being not just a mum, but someone that hopefully my kids can be proud of, maybe even inspired by.  

It’s not about them doing the things that make me happy.  It’s about letting them know that they can follow their dreams and do whatever they want to do in life.  

Because if I can’t manage to keep some of my dreams alive, who am I to tell them to follow theirs?

Like mother, like daughter

 

  
 I was always a little accident prone as I grew up.  

You know those annoying ‘ice breaker’ questions in meetings where you have to tell something most people  don’t know about you, or something along those lines? Well my usual offering is that I’ve broken bones in all four limbs (not at the same time). And that I broke not one but three metatarsals before David Beckham made them famous.

G, in contrast, has made it to five years old with barely an incident. No need for A&E trips, stitches, bandages, plaster casts or anything like that. Hell, our first aid kit sees more use on G’s dolls than it does on any of us!

So I shouldn’t be too surprised, I guess, if C takes after her mother in ways other than her blue eyes and occasional grumpy tendencies.

A few weekends back we made a long overdue visit to see one of my oldest friends from school and her husband, in their gorgeous house – quaint village, bags of character, tons of space, sun trap garden complete with vines, apples, cherries and herbs.  And some decidedly non child friendly steps between the rooms. 

The steps were actually the first thing she said to me about the house. “It’s not very child friendly, we need to get some stairgates, but haven’t got them yet”, she said. “Be careful with C and the steps!” she said. Of course we listened, and we kept an eye on C with the steps. 

But hell hath no fury like a small child denied the ability to climb as she likes, and, perhaps inevitably, there was eventually a tumble.

The tumble ended up with us in A&E awaiting an X-ray and subsequent cast. Yep, C had a buckle fracture in her leg.

The NHS were, of course, fantastic. Our estimated 1 hour wait was filled with my friend and I nattering away catching up whilst C dozed in one of our slings, broken short by a triage nurse exclaiming ‘I’ve been calling you!” far earlier than we expected, as we nearly lost our spot.

Sadly the dozing didn’t last, and C was, as is her way, rather unhappy about having to stay still for first the X-ray and then the temporary cast they put on. By ‘unhappy’ I mean she screamed her head off throughout and demonstrated a strength, even in the broken leg, that took all the doctors and nurses by surprise as she kicked and thrashed her way through the whole procedure.

Eventually all was sorted and we headed back to the house for some much needed rest.  Thankfully C still slept well and after some initial frustration at not being able to get down and toddle round she soon became accustomed to her new footwear and rediscovered her ability to crawl at a lightning fast pace.

  
Back home and with a new ‘proper’ cast on (again the NHS were fab despite her protestations at, God forbid, being made to sit still for all of 5 minutes), we had the welcome news that kids of her age really do heal quickly, and got a date for the cart to be removed after just three weeks.  

Apparently it was likely to have healed after two but the extra week was just to be sure, and this seems to have been proved right, as we’re now coming up to ‘cast off’ day and C is happily toddling around on her cast, far less bothered than us by the increasing whiff coming from it as we swelter in a UK wide heatwave.

Of course, despite the whole experience we still can’t keep C away from the stairs, so much so that she’s learnt how to shut the stairgate behind her as she goes up.

Stubborn, just like her mother, some would say…

Crying over spilt milk

It’s been a while since I last blogged, but a news story I saw this morning has made me angry, and apparently that’s a good prompt to blog again!

The news today is reporting that “bogus allergy tests are convincing thousands of people to take unnecessary treatments and put themselves or their children on inadequate diets, sometimes resulting in malnutrition”. (Full story at the Guardian here).

As some of you will know, both C and myself are dairy intolerant, something which contributed to C’s poor weight gain as a baby, vomiting, stomach upsets and eczema.  

If C eats something containing dairy, within about 12 hours she’s sick. Since cutting it out (under the advice of a paediatrician and nutritionist), she pretty much never vomits, and her eczema has gone away, meaning she no longer needs steroid based creams to manage it.  I don’t need an allergy test to tell me that cutting out dairy is the right thing to do, and until she can manage a dairy trial without vomiting again I’ll keep on doing so.

For me, things are pretty straightforward too. I eat dairy? I get a headache. I eat a lot of dairy? I get a migraine. I don’t eat dairy? No migraines. Ta da!

Just because a food intolerance isn’t life threatening, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored

Sure, I’m not about to go into anaphylactic shock if I eat dairy, and neither is C, but I’d prefer not to spend the next two days with a migraine, or with C throwing up all over me, thank you very much.  Not when I know it can be easily and safely avoided.

Surely more people asking for ‘free from’ options at restaurants should make them more aware and careful about how they prepare and list food?  It certainly shouldn’t be used as an excuse for when they trigger a reaction with an allergic (anaphylactic) customer, with sometimes devastating consequences. Allergy management should be considered equally alongside food hygiene in a restaurant environment.

Instead of suggesting that we should just put up and shut up and leave dairy free to the ‘true’ allergies – or worse, telling me I’m malnourishing my child – how about just helping everyone to be able to choose what they eat with confidence, and make it easier to find trustworthy information about intolerances, allergies and food substitutes?

Rant over. Normal service will resume shortly.

Sleepless in Salford

Just a few, short nights ago we were sat in a hot tub on the last night of our holiday, under a canopy of trees and stars, debating what our next holiday should be.

Scotland? The Shetland Islands or Orkney perhaps?  Italy? Spain? Hell, why not an all inclusive on a Mexican beach? With a kids club of course, so we can sip cocktails at a swim up bar all day while the kids have a whale of a time with all their new friends…

Of course, that was after we’d been there long enough to forget the joys of the flight over, and before the even bigger joys of the flight back.  

I was actually going to write a post of tips for flying long haul with a fifteen month old. I even drafted it… It was pretty short and sweet. It simply said “don’t do it”.

But enough of that. We’ve now been back nearly 3 whole days, and whether it’s the attempt to return to a normal routine, or jet lag, or a bit of both, but among the holiday souvenirs we brought back with us, it appears our children no longer sleep.

Usually, if C’s really unsettled, an emergency episode of In The Night Garden is enough to remind her that it’s bedtime.  A sign of just how bad things have become: tonight, it took that plus half an episode of Mr Selfridge (she wasn’t a fan), a partial lap of the M60 and the entire Radio 4 shipping forecast… and still no sleep.

Seriously? The shipping forecast nearly sent me off!

I actually made it back home at one point with what appeared to be a sleeping baby, but she could clearly sense what was going on and promptly started wailing again.

To that point, it’s currently 1:40am and I’m sat in the car in one of the more salubrious neighbourhoods of Salford (I figure I’d rather come up against Worsley’s neighbourhood watch than some of Salford’s more colourful nightlife), writing this blog post.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – the last time I saw Mr Jones, he was blearily trying to coax/bribe a tearful and very awake 5 year old back into her bed.

Last night both kids were asleep by 3:30am. Tonight’s looking like it won’t be that far behind. And of course we’ve both got work in the morning.

Who ever said having kids was a good idea?!

Toronto with kids

A friend’s wedding may have been our perfect excuse to head over on holiday to Canada, but it’s also a place I’ve always wanted to visit. It might be a slightly different type of holiday with two kids in tow than it would have been a few years back – not much opportunity for wandering and exploring, or hanging out in vaguely hipster bars – but it was still a fab trip.  

Here’s some of our highlights and tips if you’re heading to Toronto with kids – especially in winter when some attractions are closed and it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors:

CN Tower Restaurant   

 

It’s the big attraction of the Toronto skyline and one that’s easy to get the kids excited about.  You can buy a standard entrance ticket for $32, but our tip is to book a table at the 360 revolving restaurant.  It’s $55 for the fixed price two course lunch menu ($35 for kids), so not that much more than the standard entrance plus buying food out somewhere else, if you think about it.

The food is genuinely delicious and generous in portions, and you get unobstructed views through the glass as the restaurant revolves while you eat.  You also get access to the viewing level after you’ve eaten where you can brave the glass floor and venture outside on the walkway (although this bit is behind mesh so the views aren’t as good as in the restaurant).  Our two were ‘too cold’ within about 30 seconds of stepping outside so the time in the warmth of the restaurant was well worth it to take everything in, and we were able to get some great photos without having to resort to buying the green screen official pics from downstairs.

There’s a small kids play area on the ground floor as well which is worth knowing about if you need the kids to burn off some energy either before or after!

Oh, and if you’re scared of heights like me, stand at the back of the elevators when you’re going up, as the glass doors – and glass panels on the floor – don’t hide anything!

Ripleys Aquarium

 

When we were asking Torontonians where we should take the kids whilst in Toronto, the relatively new aquarium, right next door to the CN tower, was roundly recommended.  I almost didn’t bother though – surely an aquarium is an aquarium, I thought, and we’ve been to a few in the UK to know what to expect.  I’m so glad we did though, Ripleys is by far the best aquarium I’ve been to and well worth a visit.

Whilst the whole thing is really well designed and the children’s play area right in the centre could easily have kept our eldest entertained for hours if we’d let her, the highlight was definitely the underwater tunnel. Unlike some I’ve been to where you can see the other end as soon as you enter, and at busy times inevitably gets blocked by people standing waiting for a lonely shark to wander past, this one twisted and turned back on itself so it felt like it was huge, and the moving walkway running through it meant you could concentrate on fish watching not on tripping over someone else’s children. Add to this a plethora of sharks, a lazy sawfish laid right on top of the tunnel, and countless other fishy delights, and it was a big win.

The visit was topped off with a chance to see a diver feeding the fish in one of the tanks (and happily posing for photos with the kids after the ‘show’), and plenty of chances for the kids to crawl under, through and into tanks of fish (all while staying dry!), which all in all meant we pretty much had to bribe G to leave.  Luckily this was achieved by the promise of the outdoor railway museum right across the street, complete with a real life ‘Tidmouth Sheds’ and train turntable.  

If you need to bribe any adults to leave, one of the sheds now hosts the Steam Whistle Brewery tour. 

Just saying.

Marlies Ice Hockey at the Ricoh Arena   

 

I loved the idea of going to an ice hockey game, but tickets to see the Toronto Maple Leafs were pretty much out of our range, especially as I wasn’t sure how the kids would cope with an evening game, and wasn’t entirely sure how child friendly it would be in general.

Instead we bought $30 tickets to see Toronto’s other team, the Marlies, playing against Chicago Wolves.  My fears of whether it would be appropriate to take kids to were allayed when our taxi followed a school bus full of kids in to the arena, which is just a short taxi ride from downtown.

Despite being a low scoring game (2:1 to Chicago, since you’re asking), it was a much greater spectacle than seeing it on tv would have you think, and great fun. We resisted the urge to buy a giant foam finger (I’m not sure we’d fit it in our luggage home!), and left a little before the end to grab a cab from outside and get the kids to their much welcomed beds.

Ontario Science Centre

 

Despite being a taxi ride out from downtown (ours was about $25 each way), and with an entrance fee of $22 ($13 for kids), the Ontario Science Centre is a stalwart of the guidebooks and promised lots of hands on experiments and fun.

The building itself is rather sprawling and poorly signposted, and compared to the shiny newness of the aquarium some of it has seen better days, but it’s what’s inside that counts, and despite a whole afternoon there right until it closed at 4pm, we barely scratched the surface.

The big success of the day was the planetarium, where we went to a show for fives and under which saw the night sky projected onto the ceiling, taking the kids around the constellations and off on a spaceship to the moon. Both G and C were rapt – the latter particularly striking as she had been in a monumental grump most of the day!

The hands on science arcade was also a winner, and we could easily have spent longer there if we’d had a bit more time and energy.

Top tip if you do go – find out if the Van de Graaf generator is still there – it’s all Torontonians will be asking you for days.  We missed it but it seems to be the one thing locals all remember from school trips.