Learning to Occupy Space

Today, it happened. Today was the day I stopped feeling nothing but fear for my daughter and I felt a surge of hope. It was proper fire-in-the-belly-she-is-gonna-be-just-fine hope. Five years of gritting my teeth, hoping against hope I was saying enough, trying hard not to breed fear, I saw my daughter's strength and her eyes wide open to the world. 

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To my Daughter: On Preparing

The cold today makes my fingers ache and my kettle is going to weep if I switch it on one more time. To my left sits a journal full of to do lists and a pencil dropped momentarily, mid tick. On my right are boxes and packing tape. It’s time we left our cottage tucked into the Purbeck hills and headed North. We leave in just under two weeks.

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Rebranding Pink

Can we talk about the pink thing for a moment?

pink dress up

It's not so much the pinkness of it that bothers me. It's more that as the mother of a 3 year old girl, I'm finding the pink glittery tsunami a little too much to bear. The problem is that in resisting pink, in making it something I must oppose, I've made a problem in my daughter and I's relationship. 

 

I didn't see it coming. When I found out I was expecting a girl I took a sharp intake of breath and breathed out all my fear of misogyny, body shame and inequality. I grit my teeth at the idea of her achievements being brushed away by a commentary on her appearance. I decided then and there that I would provide her with as many alternative ideas of gender identity as possible. I wanted hers to be a path that she chose armed with as much knowledge as she could cope with. I had grown up strong enough to kick down barriers in my life and I felt it my duty to raise her the same. 

However, the first time she reached for the pink taffeta princess dress at a play group, I froze. When she told me firmly in her little 3 year old voice "Mummy I want a dress so I can be pretty today" I felt my world tilt sideways. How could this have happened? How could my daughter place so much value on her appearance when her brilliance truly shines from within? I concluded that I had failed to protect her from the constant barrage of marketing that communicated to her that pink is for girls and girls are for looking at. In the face of this I kicked up my war on stereotypes and in doing so condemned her opinions just as I did those I sought to protect her from. 

I'm a self employed single mother. It's fair to say I have a chip on my shoulder about what independence looks like that has been rubbing a little raw since the separation. Looking back over the past 2 years I can see the moments that I made the princess identity a forbidden fruit that she just had to have. I'd always choose the blue dinosaurs over the pink glitter in toy stores and I banned Little Mermaid because DEAR GOD SHE CAN'T EVEN TALK?!?! In doing so, I limited my daughter's ability to explore and reject these ideas of her own accord. 

Realising this was a big moment for me this week. It came unexpectedly during a Bowie tribute I wanted us to share together. Hearing the news of his death was a deep blow and I felt that somehow I had to mark the day with my daughter so I could pass on his legacy. Bowie had helped me as I struggled to understand my own gender identity and sexuality as a teen and I dearly wanted her to know his brilliance too. I hit play on the Bowie playlist that's accompanied so many of our post dinner dance parties and pulled out some face paints. With Bowie looking out at us from the ipad we painted on red stripes and quiffed our hair. 

Bowie Collage

What followed was a discussion like no other I've ever had with my daughter. She asked why the man was wearing make up. She looked closely at his face and sighed "He's so pretty". Bowie's ability to challenge our expectations of gender were once again working their magic and though the eyes of my entranced daughter I saw all the opportunities that I had been missing with her: dressing up, playing with our appearance and taking the concept of beauty full on and celebrating it. How had I not communicated to her that feeling good about the way you look is actually incredibly healthy and powerful?

It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. 

embracing the dress up

Overnight my attitude has changed from that of a wall she needs to break through in order to reach her beloved frills to a comrade she can explore them with. I can't turn back the clock and remove the shame I'm sure I made her feel when she chose the stereotyped 'girly' option but I have since scrubbed my disapproval out. 

Playing dress up

The funny thing is that the next evening while we pranced around the kitchen to Missy Elliot, she turned to me and said "I'm not going to be just a princess Mummy. I'm going to be a Queen Bee too". 

 

Shine on little bee. You're gonna be just fine. 

Playful Parenting: Childrens Clothes

This sponsored blog post is brought to you by Yellow Lolly. Opinions and views expressed here are my own. 

Shopping for my daughter has become a task that fills me with dread. Whether it's new shoes, summer shorts, arts and crafts supplies or a new picture book, 9/10 I will return home empty handed and downhearted. Instead of an abundance of choice, I find myself woefully casting my eye over a sea of pink and references to ballerinas and princesses that bores me to tears. Finding her something that she can play with or wear that allows her to shape her own sense of identity feels like an impossible task. My friends with sons tell me it's not much different their side either with naughty little monkeys, endless cars and blue, blue, blue. 

That's why meeting Ellie from Yellow Lolly was such a blessing. She nodded sympathetically as I ranted about leopard print glitter shoes and agreed that if I wear clothes that are more ethically produced, my daughter should too. She suggested sending us some samples to road test to see what we thought and I was blown away by what arrived. 

Dress & trousers-  Papu Stories

Dress & trousers- Papu Stories

Patterns!

What's more, patterns and colours that were stylish and easy to pair with everything else in her wardrobe. I often buy plain tops and leggings as the more detailed options for girls seems to come with a wild array of buttons, ribbons, embellishments and more. I just want something fun without all the fuss and these hit the spot perfectly. 

We decided to put these new clothes through their trendy paces. 

Top & trousers-  Papu Stories

Top & trousers- Papu Stories

If you are ever at a loss for a low cost rainy day out in London with a little one, I can highly recommend the Sky Gardens. You need to book a little in advance but it's well worth the fore-planning. There's plenty to see out of the windows and space to run in. All of it was perfect for an active little girl, excited about her new togs. 

She climbed, danced, jumped and balanced for about 3 hours. (I took a video on the day which I've shared for you to see on Instagram). To say she tested the sturdiness of these new clothes is an understatement. 

Hoodie & trousers-  Papu Stories

Hoodie & trousers- Papu Stories

They held up just fine. 

Top & trousers-  Papu Stories

Top & trousers- Papu Stories

What's more, when I threw them in the wash, they maintained their size. I can't even tell you how many tees have become messy play tees as they skirt daintily above her belly button after just one warm wash to remove dirt or paint. 

The icing on the cake for me was these were guilt free clothes. I am often alarmed by how cheap and throw away clothes manufactured for children can feel. Sure, they grow fast but I'm not sure I wish to damage the planet because my child is shooting up like a weed. The dress, trousers and two tops felt soft and snuggly and like they were built to last. The fact that they are sustainably produced and made in organic cotton is a definite plus for me. 

I couldn't be happier and apparently.......

Dress & trousers-  Papu Stories

Dress & trousers- Papu Stories

..... neither can she.!

If you'd like the chance to win some Papu Stories for your little one, please head over to Yellow Lolly on Instagram where they will be hosting a giveaway to celebrate our collaboration. Good luck!

 

The Art of Play

Well I had to write a post dedicated to Play eventually right?

It's no secret I am devoted to Play (capital intentional) both as an adult and for children. For me, play is about learning, being free and giving yourself permission to explore. Having a small toddler has reinforced any thoughts I had that Play is really so much more than 'free time'. Watching my little scientist actively learn concepts, acquire language and develop her understanding of the world has been mesmerising. 

The confusing thing for me is a constant barrage of suggested activities that come up on my various social media feeds. On one hand I'm delighted by ideas of what I can do to occupy a little girl always hungry for fresh experiences but on the other I'm left wondering if constantly finding activities makes it hard to just be free and Play?

There are very few times in a toddler's life (or indeed any age) when free time is just that. No chores, no routines, no need to be somewhere, no instructions, rules or boundaries. My Tot is a strong willed little person which will shock many of you I'm sure. While taking her to swim classes tires her out and gives her a vital skill there's always an exhaustion on both our parts at the bag packing, changing, wrestling into the buggy, navigating transport and 'please for the love of god, let's not be late AGAIN'-ness to it all. 

Last week I had two fun experiences that left both of us refreshed and content all day. I wanted to share them with you as I think sometimes simple, self directed Play is overlooked in value. I'm not here to preach, by all means work those pipe cleaners into an Easter scene and bake a million cookies (share them with me though, ok?). I just wanted to show what fun you can have by letting your child lead the way. 

We visited the V&A Museum last week as we had visitors from overseas. As soon as we got there, the Tot was keen and ready to point, discuss and explore. We initially tried to keep up with our friends who were having that kind of 'check things off a list' whirlwind visit that left me exhausted. However, the Playful Tot has a way of making things clear that she has her own agenda....

Yep. This is a zoomed in picture of my Tot, point blank refusing to keep up. She tottered to a doorway and stood for a long time enjoying the different lights between the rooms, the shadows that fell and of course, lots of people watching. I waved our friends on and instead crouched at her eye level and asked 'where shall we go next?' What followed was 2 glorious hours of a toddler tour of the museum. I honestly had no idea that there were so many plugs, or how wonderous those low fences are to a child of diminutive stature. She slept like a log and woke to babble away about the sculptures we saw and the magic truck we discovered. 

Pleased, I applied the same rules again but this time omitted the epic journey across London. Suited and booted with pockets ful of snacks and drinks, I took us just outside the house and plonked her down. With a little trolley to steady her or collect treasure with, we spent a good hour or so mooching along the path near our house. The thing that struck me most was the language that developed. Given the complete freedom to stop and comment or ask questions about things at her eye level, we talked about all sorts of new things. In the buggy or sling, we talk about things I can see or I deem interesting enough but from her position as leader, the Tot was able to open up a whole new world that I might otherwise have overlooked. 

It's a scary thing to just do nothing. We're programmed to feel we need to do MORE. The Tot however, is showing me and everyone else that if we trust her, she'll develop her own understanding just fine. 

Here's my top tips for self directed play:

- Take your time- This isn't something you allow 15 minutes for before you move on to the park. You might not make it to the park but that's ok. 

- Don't interrupt- This is key. We feel a need to narrate, explain or intervene at the tiniest frustration. It's ok. Learning doesn't need to be in a straight line. When we interrupt to add our explanation, we're changing the experience from theirs to ours. 

- Make safe- Toddler freedom comes with its risks. A busy roadside is not the best place to let your toddler be completely in control. Make sure things start off on the right foot by carefully choosing where you start your toddler led journey. 

- Permission- The Tot constantly looked up for reassurance, permission and guidance. I tried very hard to communicate to her that it was her choice. As time went on, she got bolder, stronger and more accomplished with her decision making. 

- Food and water- No toddler (or tired parent) functions well on low rations. Make sure you're well stocked so you don't have to pause when fully immersed to hunt out rice cakes. 

- weatherproofing- rain or shine, we go out and I take a splash suit and a jumper just in case. There's no reason a little rain should get in the way. Quite the opposite, the Tot is fascinated by raindrops on things. 

- Change your point of view- Ever sat in the floor at your gallery? Do it. See what your toddler sees. You'll honestly be amazed how different things look (or how many plug sockets there are). 

It's a weird skill to learn: the art of doing nothing. It's a vital one. Go forth and Play!

In Praise of Scones

Yesterday was another miserable wet day. I sighed, pulled out the waterproofs and we headed to the park muttering the words 'hopefully it won't get too wet'. When the rain started coming down horizontally, we retreated to cover and munched rice cakes while we gloomily surveyed swings we weren't going to go on again that morning. 

This is having a toddler. Wet days become about the less horizontal parts you manage to grab before retreating to whatever fun you can find indoors. Rain, unless it's 'soak you through to your knickers' wet is not necessarily a deterrent. However, I draw the line at horizontal and soggy knickers. 

Instead, we tried baking......

For our toddler sized baking session I chose scones for 2 reasons: no raw egg, and you can hide goodness in them such as sweet potato, courgette or in this case, Marmite and cheese. I also learned that anything you mix with your hands then 'cut out' is a hit too. 

I use a basic scone recipe but sub in a little wholemeal flour (about 50g) and if I have it in I also use buttermilk too. It makes for delicious fluffy scones. 

Having had a complete success with this activity, here's some top tips for cooking with toddlers:

- Food safety- think dry goods rather than raw eggs or cross contamination. Hands go everywhere and often in mouths!

- Simple tasks that we found easy: greasing the tray, squashing butter, sieving flour, stacking bowls and measuring spoons. 

- Have everything you need ready before you even start- even the washing up bowl of soapy water!

- Make a game of washing up. Washing up is great water play and helps you deal with the tidy up. I use sensitive washing up liquid anyway and she loves the bubbles. 

- Don't wear anything you care about getting dirty (see picture above for further explanation)

- Allow enough time. Flour is great sensory play so let it fly safe in the knowledge you don't have to be anywhere soon

- Secure seating: balancing acts and hot stoves/ flour are not a good combo. We used the tray of the high chair which made clean up easier too. 

Most importantly though is enjoy the scones together afterwards. That's surely the best bit about baking??

You can find a sugar and salt free recipe, suitable for toddlers and babies here

Still

Sometimes amongst all the chaos, the constant movement and the endless (endless) work, you need to stop and be still. Taking time for yourself is always hard but it's something I struggle with even more as a mother of an oh so Playful Tot. However, unless we take risks we don't know where our boundaries lie right?

I've been scrunched up into myself lately, brow furrowed and just living for the afternoons in with the Tot, rolling around on the floor and completely lost within each other. I've loved it. With Unravel coming at the weekend though and so much social strength needed to cope with crowds of people and banter, I knew I needed to push myself a little. 

With a trusted friend I tried something new..... Art, lunch, let the girls run wild and then? Stillness. 

I wonder if it will stick?