Half-term stress no more

We’ve only just had the Christmas holidays with the kids off school but next week they’re at it again, being at home and not in the hands of their teachers for a week. A whole week.

I think I’m a bit of a stressy person and being a wheelchair user I find there are a lot of things I can’t do with the kids that I wish I could, and would certainly do if I was more able. Our kids don’t go without exciting adventurous activities, but when it comes to half-term I try and think of simple things that we can do at home, or cheaply out and about which will keep them entertained and my sanity intact.

1. Cook things. Cakes, biscuits, the evening meal, anything really. Get the kids involved in chopping food, measuring and pouring. Cooking with kids can indeed be very stress inducing but if you resign yourself to the fact that it may all go wrong, you’ll get very messy and they will undoubtedly lick their fingers and then touch the food again, anything good that comes from it is a bonus! You are not obligated to eat the food that they have helped make.

2. Go out for a colour walk. Get outside either to a park or the woods or even just into town and get the kids to collect things of every colour. A green leaf. A brown stick. A pink shell. A read leaflet. You get the idea. Make a collage at home. Channel your inner Blue Peter goddess.

3. Write a story. Each day of the week write a paragraph to a story. Have a character each that you can name and draw. Even do one story each but don’t read anything aloud until the end of the week. I think my almost 7 year old will love this. You could even type them up or scan them in if you can work a piece of technology. Scanners never work though do they.

4. Have a charity toy sort out. This is really decluttering sugar-coated as a fun activity. But your kids will probably know better which toys they still play with and which they don’t. You can even explain to them that some children don’t have money to buy toys and so we can give up some of the things we no longer need so that they can be loved by someone else. Take the children with you to the charity shop, or a local hospital to donate the toys. They’re more likely to want to help people if they can understand why it’s needed, by seeing for themselves how it is appreciated by others.

5. Make mosaics. Cut up bits of magazine, newspapers or junk mail and make beautiful coloured pictures. You could even buy some blank cards that they can make into birthday or greetings cards for their family, friends and teachers.

6. Make sock puppets. There are ALWAYS odd socks at the back of the drawer that you’ve put there in the hope that one day they will be reunited with their twins but let’s face it. It’s not happened for 6 months. It’s not going to happen. Get out the sharpie pens, glue, scissors and coloured paper and make sock monsters.

7. Make smoothies. Grab the fruit that’s going a bit brown, chuck it in the blender with some milk or yoghurt and get the kids to press the button (they always want to press the bloody button). Snack sorted.

8. Go to the beach. If you live by the coast, that is. Throw pebbles into the sea. Build rock towers. Bury your feet. By a box of 4 supermarket own-brand Cornettos for £1 and act like you’re the best parent ever for getting the kids ice cream at the beach even though it’s February. (And not been robbed of over £10 on 4 ice creams from the counter). Discreetly steal some pebbles and take them home to draw on or paint. They have now made a paperweight for Nanny’s birthday.

9. Get the kids dusting and polishing. Seriously they love it. My kids squeal with excitement if they get to ‘do the spray’. Of course, this needs to be supervised so they don’t end up spraying Mr Muscle in their eyes or drinking Dettol, but kids enjoying cleaning can only be a good thing. Just remember to keep the products out of reach of very little ones, but they can certainly use a cloth to do some questionable wiping. My parents used to let me and my brother tie dusters to our feet and slide around the French parquet flooring in our hallway. Great fun.

10. Read books! It’s the simplest thing ever but I remember being at my Gran’s for half term as my mum had to work still, and we’d walk to the local library and pick up a few books and I’d lay back fully reclined in my Granddad’s La-Z-Boy arm chair and reading entire Babysitters Club books in one day (I was very proud of myself). But there was no Sky TV or Netflix or apps to play on. There were real books and my brother and I loved it, despite trying to claim we were bored. Having said that…

“But Mummy I’m booored”

11. Let them be bored. Like I’ve just said, I remember being bored as a child. But in hindsight this was definitely not a bad thing. I think kids need to be bored from time to time. They don’t need constant entertainment and amusement all day every day. I do most of my best thinking and mental planning when I’m bored in the car on long journeys (if Rafe is asleep and the girls aren’t arguing). But I think a bit of ‘boredom time’ is good for their brains. It gets them thinking. It gets them inspiring and motivating themselves to do something else and use their imagination. Kids have fabulous ideas of their own. If you let them get a little bored every now and then, they’ll access those little sparks of ingenuity.

12. Put a movie on. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting trashy TV or a cheesy film on for the kids whilst you get the proper housework done or if you need to sit and chill for a bit or feed the little one. Children won’t turn into vegetables just because they’ve had a bit more screen time than in their usual week. If they are really into a funny game on the ipad then let them indulge themselves. There are also loads of apps available that look like games but are actually teaching little ones basic maths, phonics and music skills. My daughter uses Times Tables Rock Stars at school and also at home on the iPad and it is very game-like whilst also getting her maths up to speed, and more.

13. Open a home beauty salon. This is where you cover the house in newspapers and allow the children to paint your nails. Or let them loose with the hair-stuff box and attack you with 3000 hair clips, which you’ll still be pulling out of your own hair at 9pm. Look how pretty…

I think those are most of the things I’ll be doing with the kids in half term. Of course there will also be the inevitable food shop with children that I can’t avoid, and because of the stress that might cause, we will probably also go for brunch in Wetherspoons on one of the days. Who would’ve thought pancakes and maple syrup in a gastro-pub would be such a good bribe for good behaviour.

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Is it because he’s a boy?

I have 3 kids. The youngest of whom is nearly 17 months. He is a ‘he’. The other two are girls and despite my best efforts to not classify some of his behaviour as just ‘being a boy’ (which I really hate hearing. They’re children, they’re all different and I don’t want to be told that boys or girls will necessarily behave a certain way because of their being born a girl or a boy), he definitely seems to have a very specific difference in his personality in that he won’t stop climbing. On everything. Everything. The dining table. The coffee table. The bedside table. The TV stand. The bookshelf. My desk. Me. The shoe box. The other shoe box. The stairs. The toilet. His sister’s bed. Our sanity.

Call the Health and Safety brigade!

Some of it, is fine. It doesn’t bother me that he constantly wants to climb on his sister’s bed. In fact it’s quite cute. He climbs up, gets under the covers and lays his head down. It will be lovely when he’s big enough for his own bed. For now, he still sleeps in his cot (Haha! I say ‘sleep’, and then I laugh to myself and say ‘don’t lie to the readers of your blog. He doesn’t sleep!’) but bizarrely his cot is pretty much the only piece of furniture he hasn’t tried to scale. Yet. He probably will have by the time I publish this.

We thought, stupidly I guess, that getting out the little slide for him to climb up, and slide down gleefully would suppress his desire to climb everything else. But we were wrong.

We thought, stupidly I guess, that being away in a different environment for the holidays at Christmas would mean that once we got back, he might be over this phase and not be bothered by walking along the dining table every 3 minutes. But nope.

We thought, stupidly I guess, that removing him and saying firmly ‘No. We don’t climb on there/get down/we sit on chairs’ for about 4 months now, would mean that he may have gotten the memo by now. He did not get the memo. The memo was quite bloody obvious but was ignored.

He is pretty much disinterested in anything which doesn’t involve physical exertion. Play with other, actual toys is short-lived.

He played with the calculator for about 27 seconds.

One day, he had better be some sort of sporting hero, or an explorer famed for his courageous ascent of Everest in just his pyjamas or something. Then when he’s rich he can pay for our psychological therapy for these times when he drove us completely fucking mental because he just will not give it a rest.

Currently all 8 of our dining chairs are laying on their backs on the floor. The room looks untidy and like it’s got squatters living in it (we’ll blame his sisters for that bit), but despite not having any chairs to clamber on, he’ll find something else.

I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be driving me quite so mad if I was able to easily grab him off of each thing he climbs up in a split-second. But being in a wheelchair makes grabbing a toddler from the middle of the dining table pretty difficult. Even more so because I don’t have much use of my hands either. Maybe I should explain to him about discrimination and mummy not being able to pluck him off of the bookshelf and how unfair this kind of behaviour is to me as a disabled parent he might rethink his decisions. Yeah right.

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What happened in 2017

First of all, where the hell has this year gone? I know everyone goes on about year flying by and years going by faster when you’ve had children especially.

But I’m quite seriously a little worried that physically, time is actually going faster. I mean literally… Literally literally.

I don’t feel like enough has happened to fill up 12 months, but I guess a lot has happened.

Just after the new year in January my partner’s family went through a really scary time with an immediate member of the family. They are my family too. We were expecting the worst, and although the worst didn’t happen, we almost lost somebody fundamental to my partner’s life and a lot was lost. I spent a long time being petrified of every phonecall whilst my partner was away, and above all terrified at how this would affect him. Knowing that I couldn’t fix it for him was awful.

I can’t quite believe that it is almost a year since it happened.

What else happened in 2017?

Well, Rafe turned into a proper baby-toddler person and not just a vegetable. He started walking at 10 months. Then he started climbing shortly after. He has not yet stopped climbing. Our favourite phase became “get down”, much like when you have a dog. Except unlike a dog, bribery with food items was short lived and now he just laughs in our faces. He is so much more mischievous than the girls were. It’s a good job he’s cute.

I started making YouTube videos. Well, I say start – I started a few years ago and only uploaded videos sporadically but I love the satisfaction and buzz you get from filming and editing your own little movies and with my trusty Tom by my side teaching me how to do a lot of it, I’ve started making videos much more often. Hopefully 2018 will see another increase in the amount and quality of videos Tom and I can make. Mostly to do with our life with three kids and me being a disabled mum but with the odd Poundland/Primark Haul thrown in. Just because I am a woman I guess.

In 2017 I had a bit of a first in that I spoke at the WOW Women of the World Festival in Exeter, where I was part of two separate panels talking to audiences about childbirth experiences and about the Women’s Rights Movement marginalising disabled women. It was scary, nerve-wracking but apart from all that I am so glad I did it. I hate speaking in front of groups of people and I think I always will. Yet for some reason I want to be involved again and do more things like that. I’m hoping to be involved in the CMT (the neurological disease I have) Festival in some way in April.

I won a long-standing annual family tournament which might not sound like much to those outside the family, but it’s quite the event and I love seeing everyone get involved each year.

Amélie, our eldest was the bravest of brave girls having double eye surgery and took it all in her stride. She also got moved up into one of the gymnastics squad groups and I have loved seeing her finally get that fire in her belly to do better. She is doing marvellous work in school and has grown in confidence so much.

Geneviève is in her last year of nursery before starting proper school in September. Bizarrely the prospect of Geneviève starting school feels more scary than when Amélie started. I’m looking forward to seeing her joyous little face as she learns to write her own name properly. We’re getting there but the poor child has quite the mountain to climb there with all the Es under the sun. At least she’ll be almost 5 when September comes.

So here’s to another year of all that comes with having three kids and hopefully making more time to be creative and productive.

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Speaking in public when you hate people looking at you.

In October I spoke in public, in front of audiences, with people and everything! Real people! It was the Southbank Centre’s very own Women of the World festival. I also met some fabulous people with whom I hope to remain friends and keep in contact.

Saturday’s talk was about Birth Stories. We only had an hour to discuss all sorts around the topic, talk about our experiences and answer questions from the audience, and we could’ve carried on much longer given the time but I think between the three of us we managed to get some interesting points out there. The three of us being myself, Marianne Stephen who is an Obstetrician currently working in Devon but who has delivered and saved many lives in some of the poorest, most politically unstable and volatile countries in the world, and finally Katie Villa, who is a mum of two, a theatre director at Quirk Theatre and performer, she chaired the panel.

Just before we were due to start the discussion though, Genevieve, our 4-year-old decided to fall and cut her head open on the edge of a windowsill about a foot off the floor. There was a fair amount of blood, it was all very dramatic looking but she was very brave. Daddy’s first aid skills came in handy as he was handed a first-aid kit by a slightly shocked-looking technician working at the festival. He stopped it bleeding and used his until-then-unpracticed bandaging skills to give her a suitable head wrapping. I was surprisingly calm about the whole thing with the child and the bleeding head and everything – I think the impending speaking-to-an-audience distracted me from thinking that this was the worst thing that could’ve just occurred. Kids have the best timing, don’t they?! Well, mine definitely seem to.

One day down, one to go.

After some lunch and a quick look round Primark (obviously) we went back to the theatre and watched Liz Carr in an interview with WOW Founder Jude Kelly – it was during this fascinating discussion in the auditorium with a much larger audience than when I had spoken the day before, that I realised this is where I’d be talking on the other panel the next day, with Liz Carr herself, talking about how the Women’s Rights movement often forgets about disabled women.

Fast forward to Sunday, Mum was also there to watch me this time, as well as Tom and the children, and I was a lot more nervous since I knew the potential audience size.

I went in by myself about 15 minutes early, and met my fellow panel members – Liz Carr, actor, comedian and disability rights activist, Clair Beckett, dancer and yoga teacher who has recently been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, and Michelle Daley, a founding member of Sisters of Frida who are a collective of disabled women creating a network of fellow women with disabilities in order to share experiences, provide support and try to take away the copious amounts of bureaucracy and discrimination we face on a daily basis. Michelle was chairing this panel.

The lights were really bright and in-your-face, though they were turned down; I actually found this quite helpful as I couldn’t see the audience staring at me and I could just pretend I was talking to a bright white light, as you do.

The discussion went really well, I think, although looking back at the footage of the talk that Tom filmed for me, there were moments where I completely lost my train of thought -Ironically whilst talking about this blog, at one point! I tend to ramble a bit when I don’t have a plan of exactly what I want to say but hopefully, no one noticed. In hindsight, I wish I had been a lot more prepared in what I would say, but in my defence, I didn’t get emailed some of the information that went into more detail about the questions the chair speaker would ask. And of course, you cannot predict what questions might come from the audience. Also, I do have a tendency to stumble over what I’m saying when lots of people are watching me talk, and I hate it, which is why I hardly ever do it!

It was, of course, brilliant to meet Liz Carr, (and also Clair Beckett and Michelle Daley) but meeting somebody that you’ve known of for years, and who you never expected to be able to work alongside in this capacity was really very exciting.

All in all, I think the weekend went very smoothly if you take out the crying toddler and the child who cut her head open. I can forgive them for that because of course, they are particularly beautiful and funny children if I do say so myself. If only they’d realise how tricky it was for me to mentally prepare to talk to an audience!

To see some of the footage from the weekend please watch the video on my YouTube channel. WOW Festival Vlog.

I’m hoping The Southbank Centre’s WOW Festival will have me back next year. The children will be bubble-wrapped and I might invest in a personal microphone.

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When you’re 6, tired and hungry

We went out to watch the local fireworks last night and while we were there we bumped into one of Amélie’s best friends from school. She was desperate to try and see her friends but when she saw one of them she was very quiet, and although this little girl was so excited to see Amélie and was walking right by her, chatting away to her, Amélie ignored everything she said and just kept facing the other way.

I kept saying to her how she shouldn’t ignore her friend as she is talking to her, but Amélie remained silent and non-responsive to her friend. I felt awful for her and eventually she kind of gave up trying to chat to Amélie. It was about 5.30pm, and Amélie was both hungry and tired as her little brother had been crying in the night before. I am sure this was why Amélie wasn’t feeling very sociable when she saw her friend, but even so we explained to her that even though she was tired and hungry, she should still speak to her friends when they talk to her. Amélie has this trait where she just shuts down and won’t respond when she finds something difficult or when she’s anxious. I really don’t want this to mean that people think badly of her, or feel that she’s rude (which is exactly how I would’ve read last night’s situation).

Today, she was writing Christmas cards for her school friends and I said maybe she could write a note to say sorry in the card for her friend from last night. The picture here is some of what she wrote in the card. She went on to draw a picture of,the two of them and the words “best friends forever”.

It’s hard being 6, isn’t it?

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Baby product reviews – nappies, wipes, cups and potties.

I’m three kids in so I feel like now might be an acceptable time to review a few baby, toddler and children’s products and even a few parents’ products. I’m a disabled mum of three, ages 6.5, 4 and 1 years old.

I’ll start with nappies as I’m pretty sure most mums and dads will have come across one every now and then with having a baby. My favourite nappies by far are Aldi Mamia nappies. At the moment my 13-month-old son is in size 5 (although he can also fit in a 4+), and you can currently get a pack of 40 nappies for £2.99. For the equivalent of a leading brand, you should expect to pay more than double. You might think ‘well lower cost = lower quality’, but no. I find Mamia nappies are perfectly soft and comfortable, hold their structure well with minimal sagging after 1 wee. They have good coverage to hold in most normal poo episodes (poopisodes) – I say ‘normal’ because there are some poo explosions that just won’t be contained by a nappy. Never underestimate the force with which a small child can fire their own poo up their back whilst sat down. Mamia nappies are pleasantly decorated, with an array of jungle animals. To be honest none of my three children have ever paid much attention to pictures on nappies, but maybe that’s just them. They last a good 12 or more hours of night-time weeing, without leaking and don’t create a strong chemical smell when they’re very wet. According to Aldi, they are extra soft, breathable, hypo-allergenic and dermatologically tested, and are regularly tested for effectiveness against the leading brand. They are comfy, work really well and don’t cost much. Therefore they’re winners in my book. A book which doesn’t physically exist.

Mamia Ultra Dry Nappies Size 5

Wipes – I probably think about wipes a bit more than is necessary even for a mum with three kids, but I feel it tug right at my heartstrings when they start putting FEWER WIPES PER PACK! Why? A while ago, pretty much all supermarket wipes had 80 per pack, and cost just under £1 for a pack, or £3 something for a pack of 4 – stay with me folks – leading brand wipes had less, either 72 or 64, and then some had 56. That is 24 less wipes than what I would call a normal amount of wipes per pack. I really think too much about this. Anyway, now most supermarket brands have 64 wipes per pack, and then Asda’s Little Angels range started producing an ‘extra large’ pack, with 80 wipes, like it was a new thing to sell 80 wipes per pack. I wish they would just pick a number closer to 100 and stick with it, then we wouldn’t have to keep opening new plastic wipes packing every few days, and maybe each pack would last longer.

Favourite wipes – again the prize for my favourite wipes currently goes to Aldi Mamia wipes. Granted they have only 64 wipes per pack, but they are a good price, currently only 55p per pack, or £2.09 for a 4 pack. They are a nice soft texture, don’t rip when you take them out of the pack which is convenient although as far as I know, a wipe that rips means it’s probably made from renewable/recycled natural fibres like tissues are, and therefore better for the environment than a woven ‘cloth-like’ wipe. But I’m only a mum guessing, I may be wrong! They have a closing plastic lid, meaning the wipes shouldn’t dry out, although personally as my hands don’t work very well, I find these more difficult. The sensitive unfragranced wipes are what we usually get but the fragranced packs are also good for when it comes to cleaning hands, or wiping sick off your top in desperation as it masks the aroma a little!

Mamia Sensitive Baby Wipes 64 Pack

Drinking cups – I think over the last few years we may have bought almost every cup going – valved, free-flow, non-spill, straw, 360… my partner thinks I’m slightly crazy as I can’t resist a new cup. They are so pretty! But at the moment I am liking the Nuby 360 cup as it’s pretty much non-spill, and encourages drinking from the edge of the cup. So it makes for a good transition to drinking out of an open cup.

360 Mini No Spill Cup 240ml (4-12m) RED/ROCKET

I have also always been a fan of the standard Tommee Tippee free-flow cup which is great for all ages even young babies of 4-6 months. It’s free-flow so babies might get a bit of a shock when the water flows quite freely into their mouth but it teaches them to moderate the flow themselves. This is a good cup for babies who might struggle to suck out of a valved cup. It’s also a very good value cup, generally found for less than £2 in a choice of colours. #parenton

First sippee cup blue 1 count

Potties – when it comes to toilet training, nothing is more exciting than choosing your first potty. For the child I mean, for the child, not me, I don’t find it exciting at all. Much. We have had a few over the years but the one I’ve preferred and which has worked best for our middle child (when we got it) was a potty like this – ours was unbranded from Tesco  and is just plain pink, but has the same ‘steady’ design and looks comfier than the others we have had. It has grippy feet so won’t slide out of the way as your child goes to squat down on it (disastrous), has a broad seat so it doesn’t dig into the backs of their little legs and a high back so they are a bit more supported as they sit. I’m sure our boy will use it even though it is pink and that will mean he will turn gay, but nevermind.* This potty only cost around £5 and does a perfectly good job of being a potty. It doesn’t sing songs or have a heated seat but our daughter seemed to survive the ordeal of sitting on it.

In my next reviews I will be focusing on clothes and shoes for children!

*Please be assured I am joking.

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10 Signs You Love Parenting 

Disclaimer: please read 10 things you can’t stand about parenting’ if you’re not in a positive parenting place right now, like me most mornings. That fluffy focus-on-the-good parenting stuff needs balancing out a bit.

 

1. Spending ridiculous amounts of time just looking at your baby/child. You know their every detail to the extreme, and of course they are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. You often feel smug when you look at people who aren’t your child’s parent (so pretty much everyone else except your partner) and gloat inwardly that they don’t get to look at your child every day. You regularly feel the urge to ferociously approach strangers crying “look at her face, she is beautiful!” because, they didn’t seem to be paying much attention.

2. Feeling that aching proud feeling in your chest when they’re so scared to swim in the swimming gala but they do it eventually. Even though they came last, they did it. All the other kids were probably doping anyway.

3. Watching your kids hug each other. It’s quite a skill to have made a little pack of humans whom you hope will confide in each other when they’re bigger and always have a friend who knows them so well. This morning I overheard my two eldest discussing how they liked ‘their baby [brother]’.

4. Wanting to bottle the smell of your baby’s head. I know it’s a cliché but if one of my kids is sat on my lap it’s quite likely that I’ll have my nose in their head (that sounds normal), which is fine until they notice and tell you to stop sniffing them.

5. Loving the power that the iPad or sweet foods has over other humans. I am God. You can make them tidy anything with the promise of an ice lolly.

6. When their favourite song goes from ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to something over 20 seconds long and becomes ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead, like my 6 year old daughter (which Daddy is very proud of).

7. Watching them learn to read, or write their own name. The months of choosing their name suddenly becomes a lot more serious. (May have set the bar quite high for our daughter Geneviève, poor kid.)

8. Sitting on the floor and having your baby crawl over to you and rest their head on your thigh. Loving that you’re what they want right now, not a brightly coloured, obnoxiously noisy toy in the corner.

9. Spending weekends watching them run around in the sun and play in trees, or even just giggle at cartoons. This is their childhood. Remembering what you remember from your childhood and realising that this is that, for them, right now. Wanting to make it brilliant.

10. Having made some freshly squeezed brand new people that are largely part of you, but are also separate beings and wanting them to be a bit like you, but also have a better life than you. You know they will probably make the world a tiny bit better.

 @shopgirlygm