Chicken Pox Week

My daughter has a tendency to overreact when it comes to illness or injury. If she scratches her hand, she can’t walk. If she bumps her head, she needs a bandage and a plaster. If she stubs her toe, she apparently goes blind. A kiss normally makes minor ailments better but I often have to remind her that, in fact, it was the other limb she bashed to which she is offering me.

By contrast, I am much more inclined to under-react and won’t often be seen to panic. I like the term ‘casual parenting’ but I definitely have to make sure I don’t cross the line into just being negligent. My diagnosis is usually “probably normal, let’s keep an eye on it” (For the record, I am first aid qualified, have some pharmacy training and am Ofsted registered, so I am honestly more responsible that I’m letting on! Both my children still have all of their limbs too.)

But something rang go-and-see-the-doctor bells when the first couple of spots appeared on my daughter this week. I prepared her things for nursery, thinking that I would take her straight there after the professionals had confirmed whether we did need to treat her with more than simply water and food. Food does normally solve all problems I’m sure: physical, mental, emotional…

In the waiting room, I started to style my daughter’s hair into a pony tail and noticed another collection of red spots. Then the penny dropped. We were about to embark on a really fun week of chicken pox.

The fun had already started in the waiting room as, by receptionist error, we had to wait for two hours for our appointment. I’m not complaining. We were able to be seen on the same day. The NHS is an amazing service that we are all blessed to be gifted with. For free. Two hours in a waiting room just gave me the opportunity to come up with some creative ways to keep the children entertained.

We sang songs and danced actions. I taught my eldest I Spy, which was challenging because she can’t yet read the whole alphabet…but I felt like I was doing my bit for her education. My favourite game was ‘Can you spot…?’ It went slightly downhill when my three year old declared to the room that she had spotted tadpoles and rainbows on a sexual health poster and wanted to know what the poster was about.

Anyway, we were finally seen by a very apologetic doctor and she confirmed that we did indeed have a week of itching to look forward to. This devastated my child as she realised that she couldn’t go to nursery for the rest of the week. I can only hope that she just really likes nursery, rather than dreads time at home with me.

So we are in the midst of chicken pox week. My girl is enjoying the role of victim a bit too much at times in my opinion and magically forgets her woes when Paw Patrol is played…but my poor little one is having a rough ride and really struggles at nighttime especially. God is stretching my compassion and teaching me to be caring for as long as it takes, not just as long as my patience lasts.

I’ve had a couple of moments where rocking in a corner sounds comforting and raged at God for not just clicking His fingers and healing her straight away. But my gratitude is that we have a daughter. A daughter who will get better. Her body that will then be immune to pox. A house to rest her in. A family and friends to support us and give us sympathy, even in my pathetic moans.

I was also reminded of a special memory when I was holding my girl and stroking her back last night. It took three hours to get her to sleep and all I could do was hold her in her discomfort and pray. The memory that came to mind when I prayed was when I was experiencing considerable pain as a teenager; my Dad felt helpless as he watched me pace the room. I ended up lying down on the bed whilst he rubbed my back and we both fell asleep. I woke up pain-free with my father watching over me.

Now that my Dad has finished with this life and gone to be with Jesus, I am so grateful for that memory. And for the picture it paints of the relationship God offers us. Why do I follow Him? Not so that He does whatever I demand as soon as I demand it. But because He is worthy of being followed, and of being praised. I follow Jesus because I want to be part of that picture of a Father loving his child. I am so grateful to call God my Heavenly Father.

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Attempting to let your kids learn new skills whilst trying to keep them alive

Have you ever experienced sheer panic? Like when you knock a knife off the kitchen counter and you have a split second when you have no idea if it’s going to land on your foot? Or when you’re due at an important meeting and you wake up relaxed and content but then realise that you forgot to set an alarm and are now severely late?

I’ve had a few of these heart-stopping/heart-racing moments recently.

One was last week. My daughter was riding her pink, cupcake-decorated bike with stabilisers around what we like to call ‘the racetrack’ (square-shaped pathway in our estate). Stabilisers are sneaky little things because they quickly make a young child feel like they’re nailing riding a bike.

Anyway, she was tearing around the racetrack at an outrageously inappropriate speed (my husband reckoned she could have easily and safely gone faster). It was quite sweet to watch, through the gaps between my fingers, as she often carries a soft toy in a little seat behind her. Less sweet when the cuddly fox got thrown out and run over though. Roadkill.

As well as going as fast as her little legs will allow, our daughter likes to practice parking her bike and she suddenly decided to do this ON THE EDGE OF A STEEP VERGE. Again, my husband might retell this story using language such as ‘gentle ramp’ but I haven’t seen him bolt as quickly as he did when she applied the brakes ever so slightly too late. He didn’t get to her in time… and all I saw from my frozen position of panic was her disappear down the side of this urban mountain and hurtle towards a brick wall and a carpet of concrete.

By some impressive miracle, she held the bike steady and even managed to slow herself down. She was not the slightest bit bothered and half of me was incredibly proud and half completely infuriated. She was wholly oblivious to how close we had just come to a hospital trip and seemed to have an entire absence of danger awareness. Part of me wanted to shake her and scream “you nearly died!!!” but, on reflection, that probably wouldn’t have been helpful. Or accurate.

I was also at a loss as to how to deal with the shock of adrenaline that had just shot through my body. Once I had regained movement from my frozen position, I turned to my husband and burst into hysterical laughter. I had to turn my back on the situation so that my three year old didn’t interpret this reaction to her unintentional stunt as a clever joke that she would try to repeat anytime soon.

Needless to say, as uncool as she might think it, she will be wearing that helmet until the day she leaves home. Bike. Scooter. Sitting on a bus. I don’t care.

What is mumming like?

Mumming is…

1. The best thing I’ve ever done. Actually, the third best thing I’ve ever done. First was deciding to follow Jesus, and second was marrying my tall, dark husband. But still, it’s up there with the best things.

2. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. No changing my mind to third place here. 100% most challenging undertaking in 27 years. Learning to walk could have been quite an emotional time of my life but I don’t remember that.

3. The most joy I have experienced. Who doesn’t love being covered in slobbery kisses? Or being given presents of plastic bread wrapped in hats?

4. The most rage I’ve ever felt. A friend warned me of this at the beginning and, as I gazed upon my perfect newborn, I didn’t believe them. Now I use the frequent flash-prayer “Lord, give me patience.”

5. The most fun I’ve ever had. Going to museums and introducing little people to dinosaurs for the first time is incredible. Or watching their world expand when they learn a new trick. Playing hide and seek with all your important belongings is also really fun. Especially when you’re in a rush.

6. The most tired I have ever felt. Doing and saying things in my sleep has become quite a talent. My most recent was apparently turning off the baby monitor when my littlest cried and going back to sleep (!!) Thankfully my responsible husband took care of the situation.

One word to sum it all up? Relentless.

But, as one lukewarm health visitor once asked me, “Do you regret having children?” No. Never. And I never will. These crazy bundles of madness fill my life with more beauty than I ever knew was possible.

Who wants to stroke the grumpy boa constrictor? 

My family don’t really like animals. We also don’t really like mud. We’re not overly keen on being outside in the freezing cold. So for our daughter’s third birthday in January, we booked her a farm party, complete with a stroke-the-creatures package.

My first faux pas was inviting more than the maximum amount of invitees allowed. How was I supposed to know that babies counted as people? And also not inviting people I wanted to, and then realising after the party. 

Secondly, I was a bit miffed that last year I had booked the ‘party room’ for a tenner and this year we had to pay ten times that. Apparently they had cottoned on to people like me ignoring their party packages and having a farmy rave on the cheap. 

So I invited ten thousand children, forgot some of my good friends, and bought some cake with Paddington’s face on it. It felt really disturbing to cut into that. I couldn’t afford party bags after paying out for the farm, kids’ overly-sugary lunch and cake but I justified this to myself by hoping that parents wouldn’t mind not coming home with more plastic toys so soon after Christmas.

It was a delightful start to the day. Party day was here; excitement was high and, as a result, there were a few meltdowns. Surprisingly not from my daughter. My husband and I did not handle the build up well. Our crowning moment was dropping all three cakes on their faces and both swearing in front of my sister-in-law. Thankfully our daughters didn’t seem to notice and our eldest didn’t learn a new word that day. 

Once we had calmed down (well nearly. My brother was desperately trying to be helpful in setting up the childrens’ lunch bags and got snapped at for not ‘sticking to the system’) our friends started to arrive and we got some time to go and ‘enjoy’ the animals.

The farm-man gave us a bucket of feed with strict instructions to only feed three types of animal with it. I instantly forgot which three he had said so handed out bags with vague guesswork and prayer that we didn’t accidentally kill any alpacas. I haven’t had any letters through the post or seen any news items so we probably got away with it. 

I helped my daughter and her friends throw some feed at the sheep. I want to say to the sheep but that wouldn’t really be accurate. They needed some encouragement by demonstration to let the goats eat out of their hand so I, begrudgingly, stuck my hand near enough to let a grimy goat nibble and lick pellets from my hand. I gagged inwardly but was willing if it meant it would give the children confidence to try something new. It did not. They watched me get mauled by this creepy creature and then flat out refused to have anything to do with it.

The time then came for us to congregate in the party room for the stroking ceremony. The farm-man (maybe he is called a farmer on reflection) brought in four helpers and five animals between them all. His helpers looked little older than our bunch of toddlers which concerned me slightly. What if the animals decided to make a break for it…? I didn’t hold out much hope that the mini farmers would be able to do much to stop a mutiny.

There was a seemingly gentle guinea pig, an oversized rabbit who looked suspicious…as if he had possibly eaten all the other rabbits…two nasty looking ferrets and a snake. I had not expected them to bring a snake. A boa constrictor they informed us. To a children’s birthday party. I’m no expert but that didn’t seem sensible to me. Mr Farmer introduced the animals who all had names like Barry, or Sir-eat-a-lot. I can’t actually remember what they were called. I was too busy making sure that bloke had a firm enough grip on the baby reptile.

After his pleasant introduction, he casually dropped into conversation that the children mustn’t touch the snake’s head or he might get grumpy. Brilliant. I knew from the look in his eyes that he had secretly brought a killing machine into the room. My husband had taken it upon himself to ‘give our baby some air’ which was a great excuse to avoid this whole situation.

I counted it a great success that the sharp-fanged, stretchy ferrets didn’t snap anyone’s fingers off and the rabbit didn’t eat the guinea pig in front of the children. You could tell he was tempted. The snake also behaved itself and I didn’t stick around long enough to see if he was indeed getting grumpy or not. 

The cakes also survived our earlier mash-up and we piled plenty of sugar into everyone. Our daughter was sung to, which was actually all she wanted from a party: “cake and everyone sing to me”. Mission accomplished. That was it for another year. Although we now have another child so we need to do this kind of shindig twice a year.

Could have expressed this blog through interpretive dance

I had thought that it would be a great idea to put my daughter’s name down for some dance workshops at the local children’s centre…

When I dubiously poked my head around the door and saw three fully grown adults lying dead still and dramatically sprawled out across the floor,  I wondered what on earth I had signed myself and my toddler up for. 

On reflection, I feel that it was rather mis-sold. Maybe I read the invitation incorrectly but I rather expected to go along to a set of three jolly classes, led by a professional dance company, in which my daughter could twirl around like a ballerina and have a lovely time. The reality was a strokey, rolly, interpretive, contemporary kind of performance and a request for feedback at the end. 

I couldn’t quite work it out. We were invited to sit down in a square a bit too close to the non-moving bodies for my liking. I felt like we were watching strangers sleep which was uncomfortable at best. I made eyes at my friend next to me who whispered “…I’m scared.” We politely sat and waited. They still didn’t move. We waited some more. I noticed that the woman on the floor had probably never shaved her armpits…

My daughter unsurprisingly wanted to climb into my lap. One worried Mum across the room whispered a bit too loudly “Are they dead?!” which made me chuckle. Maybe the dancers heard this and realised that they were beginning to alarm the room, as they soon began to gently roll out of position or at least wriggle a finger here and there. One dancers was at least in his 50s and revealed brightly coloured Calvin Kleins. 

Their movements gradually built and eventually they were… I personally wouldn’t call it dancing. It was amusing to think that I had chosen, of my own free will, to spend my Tuesday morning watching hairy ladies and sweaty, bald men skipping about. 

Movements included dragging themselves around the space…I couldn’t help but be reminded of the walking dead… and often keeping physical contact with one another. I was impressed (?) at how at ease they were with being rolled over or tangled up in someone else’s leg. There was also lots of stroking faces with intense expressions. It would be an interesting experiment to see how my closest friends reacted if I made contact with them like that. I may try it.

The creative folk then started mimicking the children in the audience. This alerted my memory back to the handout we had received which invited us to this show. It had mentioned interaction; something about the exploration of touch and discovering the world around. Maybe that’s why they kept grabbing each other. Maybe they were being babies when they were lying down at the beginning…? Not slugs. 

My daughter didn’t appreciate the symbolism and flinched away whenever a dancer came near her direction. She shook her head with a face of disgust when they reached out and offered for her to join them. I wasn’t surprised. I graciously declined too. I’m all for trying new things and I love a bit of performing once in a while, but I couldn’t leave my daughter on her own, uncomfortable by the ringside. That was my excuse anyway.

When a long 40 minutes was up, the dance company finished in another dramatic collapse on the floor and the room hesitantly clapped. They then started wandering around, in search of feedback… I thought that bolting for the door was probably verging on rude so I sat there, trying not to make eye contact and failed. 

I greeted the now cheery performer and used words like ‘interesting’ and phrases like ‘never seen anything like it’… I didn’t mention that I never wanted to again. I praised that it was good to offer interaction with the children but not to force it. Some of the kids there were clearly born to be interpretive dancers. Others were not. I was secretly quite glad that my daughter hadn’t loved it and, after thanking the performers and saying our goodbyes, quietly visited the reception and asked if our place for the remaining sessions could kindly be given to someone else.

Processing the experience with my daughter was eye-opening to see this odd world from a younger pair of eyes. To me, it seemed obvious that she hadn’t enjoyed it. She had sat spellbound for the entire duration of the performance but I interpreted that as incredulity. She pondered my questions carefully when I asked her what she thought about it all. 

Hoping for confirmation that she was as unimpressed as I was, I waited for her to answer. It turns out that I really don’t know what is going on in my little one’s mind, and that, even if we do share an opinion, we don’t necessarily have the same response to it. After a while she concluded, in the same sentence, that she “didn’t really like it” and “can we go again tomorrow?” I sighed and begrudgingly went back to the receptionist to ask for tomorrow’s ticket back again. 

Road tripping with babies

Visiting four cities inside a week with a nearly-three year old and a four month old baby is arguably ambitious, potentially dim. However, we felt like gold medal winning athletes when we arrived home with all four of us in one piece and no one wanting to run for the hills.

I thought I would share a couple of ‘highlights’ from the trip with you:

1) My youngest learnt to screech this week. She loves it. We don’t love it. It’s not a scream, it’s not a cry, it’s a screech. Like a pterodactyl or what I imagine a velociraptor would have sounded like. We have been watching Rio with our eldest… Maybe she is trying to impersonate a macaw. She does it when she’s happy, when she’s sad, when she is hungry, when she is tired, when she’s playing, when she’s bored. It is the kind of sound that makes you wonder if you really do need your ears for everyday life or if you could get by without them.

2) We drive Claris the Yaris which is an impressive tardis of a car. Throughout this trip however, we did, on occasion, ache for a slightly bigger vehicle. The climax of frustration came when I was climbing over my toddler to squeeze in between the two car seats in order to entertain the children for the next leg of the journey. On climbing, I accidentally knocked some of my toddler’s cereal bar out of her hand. She started balling like I had just crushed her. I assumed I had so was irritated to find out that all this drama was over a piece of food. Then I had to search the car for this sticky piece of gunk. I found it attached to my dress… then dropped it under baby’s car seat. Nearly cracking bones in my hand by retrieving it, I eventually rescued the now dusty and gross mouthful. I watched my toddler demolish it whilst reminding myself that it is all immunity building. Whilst this was all going on I realised that my squawking parakeet was chewing on black fluff from my cardigan and to add to the heated stress, someone in the packed car let rip.

We have learnt to love the phrase ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry’, and even though when one of us starts giggling it might initially be met with a glare, the other one generally can’t help but join in. This is a great technique when travelling with two mini people bundled into a car for hours at a time. 

Daddy dressed me

I recently went out in the morning to run a quick errand and left the girls with my husband. We were due to leave for a party as soon as I got back so I gently asked him to get the girls ready. Gently, because it was a Saturday. A restful day. And also because he and the girls were watching the Formula 1, a favourite pastime of theirs, one to interrupt with caution.

Everything was laid out; party dresses were hung up and shoes were by the door. Easy. I nipped out, calm and relieved that the day was going to plan. I really can’t stand being late so was chuffed that my husband was on board with the get-the-girls-ready-to-go-bang-on-time plan.

Whilst out, I got held up by traffic and a lunatic who should have his license revoked. It’s like he waited, saw me coming, waited some more, made eye contact with me, and then decided it was a good idea to pull out. Just to make sure that I could hit him. Thankfully I didn’t. Obviously I calmly applied the brakes, smiled my gracious forgiveness and went on my merry way…. That’s definitely an accurate portrayal of events.

So then I was running late and feeling even more grateful that my husband was holding the fort. I zoomed into our parking space, hurtled upstairs and flung open the door expecting to see them all standing there with shoes on and bags at the ready.

They were not.

They were sitting in front of the screen, still in their pyjamas, hair wild and breakfast around their mouth (the last description applies only to my toddler, not my husband).

Not wanting to be a dictator-kind of wife, I made some passive-aggressive ‘joke’ to my toddler about not being ready and, haha, we were going to be so late now and wasn’t that so funny!? Bless my husband, he looked very sheepish which did help me to feel vindicated.

To cut a long story short, we got to the party fashionably late looking relatively decent.

Anyway, fast-forward to the next weekend. This time, we were hurtling round in the morning, with no time to spare, trying to get all four of us up and out. My wonderful husband had given me the most precious treat of a lie-in, and then had watched the girls whilst I nipped out to the gym. What would I do without him? Have less sleep and less exercise, that’s for sure.

I was slapping on a bit of make-up and throwing on some clothes when my daughter walked in. I had just been making a mental still-to-do list and had thought that she wasn’t yet dressed and that we hadn’t yet brushed her teeth or hair. I looked down. She was dressed! Her hair was up! Her breath smelt minty! My husband must have taken charge, found extra minutes in the morning and got her up and ready!

It didn’t matter that she was wearing quite a bizzare match of clothing; more than a few bold prints were going on and colours that wouldn’t necessarily compliment each other were side by side. It was a creative choice of outfit. Her ponytail could have been described as fashionabley messy, and maybe my husband had intended to give it a wonky edge to try out a new style.

I was just so grateful that he had taken on getting her ready so that I could have some me-time.

To show my gratitude, I changed her entire outfit and redid her hair.

Poor guy. Phrases like “can’t win” and “why do I bother” came up amidst laughing when he saw our daughter’s wardrobe change and me in the background looking a whole lot more sheepish than he did the first time.