Extra: Ordinary Moments

Sunflower

Wobbles
This has been another week of a poorly, wobbly toddler. Luckily, my mum was visiting Tuesday to Thursday so I could drink cups of tea whilst watching somebody whose nerves weren't completely frayed playing with my child.

Matilda and I did make it into town to meet Mum's train which - given that Matilda is now on foot 100% of the time - I wasn't too sure about attempting. We even managed to get her feet measured and pick up some winter shoes while we were at it. Then she admitted - for, I think, the second time in her life to date - that she was quite tired, and then Mum and I spent the whole bus journey back home frantically waving pictures of monsters at her, in an attempt to keep her awake.

Relaxation
Steve and I attended the NHS "Relaxation" antenatal class. We both found it really helpful last time around. This time around, we were using it as a refresher so the information had a bit less impact on us, but the hour or so of lying around, listening to soothing music, was as pleasant as ever. I'd fully recommend the class to anyone who's expecting a baby. I mention this as a segue into:

The Craftsman Company

Soup
We stopped by The Craftsman Company (on Guild Street) for lunch on the way home. I had rocket and ricotta soup which was... oh...! so good.

Macaroni
Later, my mum and I had dinner at The Wild Boar. The Wild Boar was a staple of my student and video-shop-slacker days, and friends and I - shortly before significant birthdays - like to reminisce about the amazing cakes, dreadful art and the enormous green cushions downstairs which we all used as makeshift beds when we were too tired/wasted/short of time before our next shift at work to go home. These days, it's been refitted in muted colours, Highland splendour fabrics and there's nobody trying to prove to their new partner how sexy they are in a dark corner. In fact, I think, at 38, I may have been the youngest person there. I'm not sure I'm at ease with pubs growing up alongside me, though. Will it be pushing out Wild Piglet pubs soon, too?

Patronising Phone
And this was all the same day I went to see MAMMA MIA! For the first time in months, my phone's pedometer gave me a gold star and whooped a bit about how many steps I had taken. I felt the usual mix of intense irritation and uneasy pride. And, the next day, I struggled to tip myself out of bed.

Red leaves

Apple Pie
One of our neighbours gave us a big bag of cooking apples recently (have I ever mentioned how much I love our neighbourhood?!), which Steve transformed into an apple, pear and cinnamon pie. Nothing glib to say about this one - he was proud; I was impressed; consider the occasion recorded.

Too Soon...?
In response to my autumn post, Emma took me to a pumpkin patch on Sunday. Not that we could actually pick any pumpkins yet, but there were lots and lots of them heaped up around the place, and a cafe where we ate an awful lot of food and drank a bottle of non-alcoholic wine.

Pumpkins

Incidentally...
Tomorrow marks seven years of this blog (THIS blog; I was wittering into the internet for a long time before I headed over here). I feel like I should have something to say about this - how it's grown and developed alongside me; why I keep writing despite it earning me no money; what my goals are for the next seven years etc. What sort of blogger isn't prepared to sit up past her bedtime drafting a bloggiversary message? (A: a pregnant one with a toddler to parent in the morning) But, instead, I'm just going to say how grateful I am for all the real, actual, proper, I've-had-cake-with-this-person friends that blogging has brought into my life.

THEATRE: MAMMA MIA!


It's a running joke in my family that, whenever I visit my mum, we end up watching the film version of Mamma Mia! on the TV, so when I heard that the stage show was coming to Aberdeen, I knew that I wanted to take her along.

As luck would have it, opening week coincided perfectly with one of Mum's visits and Aberdeen Performing Arts very kindly offered me two review tickets. It was clearly meant to be!

I wasn't actually sure which came first - the stage show or the film - but a quick internet search tells me that the film was released in 2008 while the stage show has been on the go since 1999. 1999! It's practically old enough to be planning a big white wedding and inviting the three people it suspects could be its dad. In 1999, I was Sophie's age; I've just had the unsettling realisation that these days my peers are Donna, The Dynamos and Sophie's three potential fathers. That's how long this show has been on the go - isn't that incredible?

Anyway, on Wednesday night, Mum and I headed to His Majesty's Theatre to find out what all the fuss was about. And, long story short: we LOVED it.

Short story long: scroll down.


If you've seen the film, you'll know more or less what to expect: a fairly ludicrous but extremely feelgood plot told through comic dialogue, energetic dancing and an awful, awful lot of ABBA songs. Steve watched it out of grudging politeness the first time, but it's so infectiously fun that even he has a soft spot for it now.

Knowing the film pretty well these days, I did find the first ten minutes or so of the stage show a little disconcerting - that's not what the characters look like; those aren't their accents; they're even singing differently (and who knew that was possible?!) - but I was surprised by how quickly I accepted the unfamiliar faces; I think that says a lot about how well all of the actors embodied their roles.

What really struck me about the performance, though, was how much FUN they all made it look. I am under no illusions that singing and dancing and performing acrobatics - and the young men's dances really were acrobatic - for two hours a night can be easy, but every single person on that stage looked as though they were loving every minute. In particular, I'm amazed Donna (Helen Hobson) and The Dynamos (Emma Clifford and Gillian Hardie) made it through the show without collapsing onto the stage in fits of giggles.

The audience was loving it, too - almost every routine was followed by a round of applause and most of the theatre was on its feet, clapping and cheering, throughout the last three songs. MAMMA MIA! is ridiculously silly but, my goodness, what a brilliant way to spend an evening. I'd go back and watch it all over again tomorrow.


MAMMA MIA! is in Aberdeen until 14th October, but you'll have to be quick if you want tickets (and, yes, you DO want tickets) - a quick check of the booking site tells me that almost every performance is already packed (and rightly so). For those of you further afield, the rest of the tour dates and locations are here.

(Now, how do I dislodge Waterloo from my head? It's been rattling around in there for days)

The Autumnal Slowdown

Tree with yellow leaves

Autumn officially starts today (even if the trees have been shedding their leaves for weeks and my Instagram comprises 40% chunky knits, 30% apples and the usual 30% legs encircling hot drinks are NOW WITH TARTAN PYJAMAS!).

The lifestyle and parenting blog world (I'm guessing, based on previous years of experience) will spend today sharing lovely lists of things to do this season. There will be lots of shots of autumn leaves-
Autumn leaves
-and you may well find yourself googling "pumpkin patch UK".

Clearly, I'm no exception. I love an inspirational activities list as much as... well... anybody else who isn't spending today moaning about them on Twitter.

But they do make me feel a bit overwhelmed. I mean, there's the lack of a car issue for a start ("pumpkin patch UK" does not return any results within walking distance of my home) but, seriously, if I was to try to tick everything off of all those lists, I'd wear through my wellies. And I love my wellies; I don't want to do that. There aren't enough weekends in a season to bake bramble crumble, entwine the dining room in garlands of fallen leaves, make a special trip to the most photogenically yellow and orange forest and find time to get the laundry done (by which I mean: rewatch Pushing Daisies).

Autumn, to me, is a time of winding down, cosying up and snuggling in. It's a great time to get outdoors (armed with a flask of hot chocolate) but it's also the perfect time to stay home (armed with a mug of hot chocolate). To nest. To curl up with good/purposely very bad books. To eat warm food, turn the lights down low and stop putting pressure on ourselves to ACHIEVE. It's a chance to build our reserves before the Christmas rush. It's a time for home comforts. And hot chocolate. And did I mention the hot chocolate?

So, with all that in mind, here's my simple living, slow living list of things to do this autumn:

Soup

Eat

Pick or buy apples and pears and plums. If you've got the time and the motivation and you find baking relaxing, bake with them. If that's not your kind of thing, that's totally okay - just enjoy eating seasonal fruit.
Likewise, brambles. If you spot them out and about, eat them. Or gather them for later. Watch your fingers turn purple with glee.
Gorge on pumpkin. You can pick one or buy one and cook it up yourself. Or you can buy the inevitable pumpkin-based soups and other concoctions from the supermarket. No judgement here - my take on slow living is "whatever helps you relax", not "whatever gives you the most step-by-step cooking shots to share on Instagram".

Bowl of apples

Get Outdoors

Watch the leaves change colour. Go for a walk in the woods or eat your lunch in the park often enough that you notice the changes. Do you want to photograph the same scene every week of the season? I'm all for that. You don't? Don't, then. Just get outdoors now and then.
If you find fallen conkers, fondle them. You don't have to do anything else with them - display them or make jewellery or stage arty shots for social media - if you don't want to. Just enjoy the smooth sensation of them rolling around in your hand.
Kick through autumn leaves, just because they're there. Pick some up and smile at the colours. Instagram them, if you're so inclined, then let them go. Or take them home, preserve them and do some arts and crafts - it's up to you.
Maybe plant some spring bulbs. My approach is to cram as many in a container as I can and keep my fingers crossed (so far, so successful). I find lopping all the big shrubs down to the ground surprisingly therapeutic, too.

Nest (This Is The Bit Which Takes A Little Bit Of Effort)

Wash your blankets and cushion covers. Because, if you're going to be snuggled into them a lot, best to wash off the pizza stains. If your cushions are looking a bit mangled, consider replacing the pads.
Declutter the surfaces you look at most often. Ideally, declutter all your surfaces, but, at a minimum: tackle any you can see from your favourite spot on the sofa.
Shoogle your lamps around until they're in the places you need them most.
Not to encourage too much effort, but you're probably going to have your windows closed and your heating on a lot over the coming months, so get rid of your stealth dust bunnies now. Places to look for the sneaky, sneeze-causing stuff: light shades; skirting boards; behind radiators; under the sofa.

Sarah Rooftops showing daughter autumn leaves

Interact

One lovely book to teach kids about the changing seasons is Tap The Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. It claims to be for age 4+ but we've been enjoying it with Matilda for about a year now.
Invite friends round for Halloween horror movies or "reindeer games" in December. Or just to hang out, listen to music and chat. Hangovers are not really in the spirit of lovely, relaxing slow living (plus, I'm not drinking just now so WHY SHOULD ANYBODY ELSE, EH?!) but a Drain Your Old Duty Free party is a good fun way of clearing the booze cupboard before Christmas rolls around.
Find a cafe which has hot drinks, especially good cake and a fine selection of board games. And visit it.

Sleep

Create a bedtime routine for yourself. Try to get eight hours a night. Nine, if they're going to be broken by a small child. Go to bed at a sensible time.
To help with that: switch off the internet at least an hour before your sensible time and put three books you're excited to read (one for each month of autumn) on your bedside table (dare you to choose them because they've got red, orange and yellow spines; bonus points if one is an old favourite).


For ideas which take a bit more effort (we're talking arts and crafts and sticking the oven on) and for things to do with kids, check out my Autumn Pinterest board here.

Attempting Hygge With A (Poorly) Two Year Old

Porridge and fruit

Last week, Matilda picked The Little Book of Hygge off the shelf and asked Steve what it was about. I don't know exactly what his answer was (I think I was scrolling social media napping in our bedroom at the time), but, later, he suggested to me that we do a couple of purposely hygge things with Matilda at the weekend.

As it happened, this was perfect timing. It was absolutely pouring with rain on Saturday, drizzling all day Sunday, Matilda was full of the cold (so much so that The Kid With Boundless Energy decided not to go to her beloved dance class), and Steve and I both had low level headaches. None of us wanted to go outdoors; all of us wanted to snuggle up at home and do something comforting. "A couple of hygge things" quickly turned into "The Hygge Weekend".

So, how do you do hygge with a two year old? Here are the things we tried:

Candles and bowl of porridge

Dining By Candlelight
Not real candles - the odds of getting through a meal without either a small child or a cat setting fire to themselves were too low - but, each time we ate, we put LED candles in the middle of the table. The room was otherwise quite dark, thanks to the pouring rain, so the fake candlelight was pleasingly moody; Matilda was thrilled.

And on that note:

Eating At The Table
Instead of spooning yoghurt into our mouths in front of the telly. Eh... not that we ever do that...

And Comfort Food
Porridge for breakfast (Matilda loves sprinkling the fruit on by herself); cheese and beans on toast for lunch; homemade popcorn as a snack. Matilda was too wiped out for a family meal on Saturday so she just had a toddler freezer meal, but Steve and I enjoyed our homemade pizza. On Sunday, we had a simple pasta dinner; Matilda was able to stir the pasta, slice the tomatoes and steam her homegrown carrots (so proud!) - cooking with Daddy is one of her favourite things to do, and cooking together is a hygge staple.

Brushing Daddy's hair

Putting Our Phones Away
Steve and I both try to limit our phone use in front of Matilda; instead, we find ourselves logging in behind her back, while she's distracted by the TV. This weekend, we barely checked our phones at all and - much to our surprise, given how tired she was - she only asked for the telly a couple of times.

Focus On The Moment
We do prefer to let Matilda take the lead when we're playing, rather than trying to direct her to do this and learn that and ensure her toys always behave in species-appropriate ways. That said, it takes conscious effort to actually engage with her games - and to remain focused on them for more than about fifteen minutes! By putting our phones away and telling ourselves that this weekend was about togetherness, we found it much more enjoyable letting her brush Steve's hair, playing her xylophone with a stick, colouring in, reading books we already know off by heart and letting her imagination run wild with her cuddly toys.

Sarah Rooftops
Baby doll

Blankets
Any Beginner's Guide To Hygge will mention cosy blankets. We didn't have to take the lead with this one; a sure sign Matilda is feeling sleepy is when she starts playing at putting her toys (and often herself and us) to bed. Lots of blankets were tucked around her teddies this weekend.

Beans on toast
Washing dishes

Doing Things As A Team
Matilda was thrilled to help with the washing up (yeah, kids are weird). Sharing the workload is great for turning chores into something much more pleasant - a chance to chat and have a giggle whilst ticking things off the mental to do list. And nobody has to feel taken for granted if everybody else is helping out.

Dawn
Glowing fire; jigsaw

Puzzles (and Glowing Fires!)
Board games get mentioned a lot when people talk about hygge, but not many two year olds could follow the rules of backgammon! However, Matilda does love doing jigsaws - it was the perfect hygge moment, walking into the living room on Sunday morning to find it lit only by the glow of the fire, Steve and Matilda sprawled on the floor, putting a puzzle together.

Comfy Clothes/Pyjamas
I mean, we wear comfy clothes every day in this house - why would you not, when you don't have to be in an office? We also occasionally have pyjama days, if we don't have anywhere else to be - these don't happen often, though, as even on empty days, we tend to head outside at least once. Still: it's very hygge to lounge around in thick cardigans, baggy trousers and handmade (by Elise) woolly socks (which I completely failed to photograph - gaaaaaaah!).

Popcorn
Cutting up felt shapes

Simple Crafts
I finally got round to cutting out some more shapes for Matilda's felt board. I made it for her when she was about a year old (I suppose I could get a whole blog post out of this but: I stuck a large piece of felt to some cardboard, then cut out lots of simple, primary coloured felt shapes for her to stick on it) and she was definitely ready for a larger selection of shapes and colours to play with. It took me about five minutes to get this ticked off the to do list, and Matilda spent ages arranging the shapes into faces, making me feel like some sort of WonderMum for having thought of it.

Dens
We got out Matilda's play tent - we don't do this often enough as it's absolutely massive and she never wants to put it away - which had her dancing around the room with glee. Hiding in a small, cosy place with a bunch of soft toys and a big bowl of popcorn made her day.

Play tent
Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows

Hot Drinks
Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows for Steve and me; warm milk with cinnamon and a few mini marshmallows for Matilda - she had only had mini marshmallows for the first time the previous weekend and still thinks they're the most amazing thing (to be fair, at 38 years old, I'm inclined to agree). We also sometimes give her "a cup of tea" which is my pre-squished decaf tea bag quickly dunked in a mug of warm milk - she loves it.

Warm milk
Pasta

So Can You Do Hygge With A Two Year Old?
A quick google search on Friday told me "NO!" - apparently their short attention spans, love of all things garish and careless handling of delicate ceramics mean that toddlers and hygge don't mix.

I disagree.

I mean, it helped that Matilda was a bit under the weather so didn't once ask to go to the park, but we managed a calm, cosy weekend full of family time - and all without doing anything out of the ordinary.

So, what's the key to experiencing hygge with a small child? Putting your phone away, giving yourself over to their games, and popping corn in a pan.

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Toast Scraps
"Asleep with my toys"

This has been one of those weeks when we haven't gone anywhere we couldn't see from the living room window - thank goodness for local friends! There has been snot and the sort of irrational tears which get turned into mean spirited internet memes (and I don't necessarily just mean from the toddler...). Still, we've managed to have a lot of fun at home. Beds have been thoroughly jumped on.

Baby Bump

Body Image
I've only just realised how pregnant I look. My boobs and belly are so in proportion this time around that, when I look down, I really don't look that big. And then I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and... wow! I've somehow avoided picking up any of those "I must consider myself fat at all times" messages that so much of womankind is given along with our first pink sparkly plastic pony, so I don't have any kind of hang ups about being so large, but I do think my head looks comically tiny.

Happy
I'm trying to read Happy by Derren Brown just now. It's very interesting - it's an expose of how the self-help industry is conning people out of money, combined with advice on how to actually improve your life. But it requires that the reader's brain is switched on. And I'm finding this a struggle.

Black cat in sunlight



Colourful Toddler Bedroom Tour

I've mentioned before that - when the new baby is old enough - the kids will be moving into the bigger bedroom, together. I'm quite excited about creating a special space for them, but I'm also a little sad to be moving Matilda out of her current room.

I say that, despite my (overly) intense dislike of the pale yellow walls. In hindsight, it was a cop out choice; it's the magnolia of nursery colour schemes. But we're not repainting now.

And there's a lot that I love about this room.

We consciously chose bright colours for the nursery - regardless of the baby's sex, we knew we wanted them to be surrounded by all the colours of the rainbow, to experience how vibrant the world can be. The kids can narrow their tastes however they like, when they're older, but, for a baby/toddler/preschooler, our focus was on energy and FUN.

We also opted to support as many independent designers as we could afford to - Steve received a £100 tax rebate, just as Matilda was becoming mobile, and it all went on buying things for her room from Etsy.

So, today, partly for my own nostalgia reasons and partly to draw attention to those sellers, I'm giving you a tiny little tour of our toddler daughter's bedroom.

Overview of Matilda's room

Alphabet decals: Stickers4Walls (Etsy)
Table: I think it's originally from Ikea; my mum picked it up for 50p from a cafe which was refurbishing.
Green chair: Ikea (via my mum - it's been heavily used by Matilda's older cousins!); we spray painted it green using Plastikote "Jade" paint.
Baby-safe mirror and hook: MetalLovePl (Etsy)
Unicorn dishtowel (framed): Vintage.

Flowery shelf with In The Night Garden characters on it

Shelf: Hema. As soon as Matilda saw it, she dubbed it "The Night Garden"; these MegaBlox figures have lived there ever since.
Cat light: Vertbaudet

Cloud mirror and toy storage

Wooden boxes (containing books): Vertbaudet. I've just realised there are no photos showing Matilda's full bookcase - we've got the boardbooks in a bookcase and the bigger storybooks in these boxes.
Toy bin: If you search for "horse toy basket" on Amazon you'll find various shops selling this.

Calendar and shelving

Floral hooks: Vintage (Matilda loves popping the flowers on and off but I think we'll have to hide them before the baby's mobile!).
Calendar: WiLaNo (Etsy). We weren't sure if - at twenty months - Matilda would appreciate a calendar, but it helped her to very quickly get her head around the concept of "yesterday, today, tomorrow" and it's been useful being able to point to November and say "the baby will be arriving in the pink bit". We've already bought the same design for 2018. Incidentally, the stars are not a reward chart (which everybody assumes!) - they're how we mark which days have already happened (plus some extra ones Matilda has scattered around).

Overview of room (other angle)

Flowerpots: Generic garden centre pots, drawn on with ChalkOla markers. I think all kids' rooms should have at least one plant in them!
Height chart: DURIDO (Etsy)
Rocking horse: Vintage (from Steve's childhood).
Amsterdam house decals: CGhome (Etsy)
Light shade: HummingbirdHome2012 (Etsy)

Photos of Matilda with parents

Photos: We took these in our living room.

Plants and pictures

This House Is Filled With Love print (it's actually a greeting card): Freya Art & Design (Etsy)

Poster advertising flower festival

Heart garland: Homemade.
Blumenfest poster: Different Posters (Etsy)
Floral hook: Hema (it usually has a bouncy cat hanging from it, but the cat is in the toy hospital at the moment, awaiting surgery).

Shelving with storage boxes

Animal mobile: Present from friends; I'm not sure where they got it!
House shelves: Cheap crap from Amazon. There are better quality ones available all over the place these days! I do believe that all books and toys in a child's room should be within the child's reach, so we have only ever kept battery-powered nightlights and plants on these shelves.
Storage boxes: H&M
Storage baskets: Poundstretcher
Bus print: Blancucha (Etsy)
Girl with kite print: Belle and Boo

If there are any details I haven't listed which you want to know more about, give me a shout!

My Birth Plan: Why I'm Hoping For A Home Birth

Baby toy
Second time around, I'm hoping to give birth at home.

I say "hoping" because there are various things which could scupper this plan. The pregnancy could turn complicated in its final weeks; the labour could become complicated, resulting in a transfer to hospital; the on call midwives could be attending another home birth and therefore unable to assist me; or - perhaps most likely - I could chicken out.

Right now, though, it's my preferred scenario and I'm writing this in a fit of optimism. If things don't go to plan on the day, I'd still like a record of these thoughts.

* * *

It took me a long time to decide that this was what I wanted - up until I mentioned it to my midwife (in week 28) I wasn't sure I would even make it that far. I had read all of the stats about home births being as safe as hospital births but, until very recently, I didn't know anybody who had actually had one.

Oh, I had read a handful of blog posts (I've returned to both Fritha's and Hannah's birth stories several times recently) but there was nobody I could sit down and actually chat to about the realities. 

Then it turned out that one of my friends was planning a home birth for a couple of months before me. And then I found the local Positive Birth Movement groups on Facebook, read other people's stories and advice, asked questions and went along to meetings where I could talk to people in person. Home birth went from some hippy dippy stuff that didn't happen in the real world to an actual possibility - A Thing Which People Do.

* * *

Still, a part of me is drawn to the midwife led unit. There's a lot to be said for having a specific place to retreat to, away from the distractions of the world - no doorbells; no neighbours; no toddler wanting to know when I'm coming back through to play.

Steve - although he supports my right to choose where and how my body goes through labour - would certainly rather we were in a hospital environment, surrounded by medical professionals.

So, if it turns out that I end up birthing in the midwife led unit, I'll be happy enough with the situation; if I end up birthing on the labour ward, it will be disappointing but not a disaster.

It will just make childcare a pain.

And that's one of the big deciding factors for me: childcare.

If I go into labour in week 37, it's fine - my mum will be here to look after Matilda round the clock. If I end up being induced in week 41, it's fine - my mum will be here to look after Matilda round the clock.

If (as is most likely) it all kicks off in week 38, 39 or 40... well... we have several people who can take Matilda for a few hours here and there and one person who can do some - but definitely not all - of the overnights. But I don't want either Steve or me to spend my labour trying to arrange itty bits of childcare and ensure one friend is dropping Matilda off with another friend they're quite likely never to have met. I don't want any of this to be a source of stress for Matilda, who will have quite enough to process without being shuttled around. And neither of us want Steve to miss the birth because we couldn't find a babysitter for that crucial window of time.

A home birth takes almost all of that pressure off.

* * *

On the other hand: Matilda being around is one of the things which puts me off a home birth. I don't think it would be traumatic for her to witness chunks of labour, but I do think her presence could be a distraction for me and make it more difficult for me to get into "the zone". I mean, I can't even take a nap at the weekend without her appearing in the bedroom every five minutes to tell me what she's been up to/bring me a toy/climb in beside me for a cuddle - how am I supposed to visualise my way through contractions with a toddler running through to tell me what's happening on Bing?!

* * *

But the real thing which makes me want a home birth is the possibility of a different ending from last time.

When I think back to last time, I remember a positive labour experience, and I remember the elation of bringing my daughter home with me. But, in between those two things, there are the memories of all the time she and I spent in hospital - with her sleeping as far from me as it was possible to be without one of us leaving the building; with people constantly asking me questions and observing what I was doing; with the overwhelming sense that I didn't know what was going on and the desperate need to have my baby with me. I felt out of control during those few days, sleeping in a strange bed, missing meals because I was visiting my baby at just the wrong time, waving good bye to Steve every evening, eking out my data allowance trying to keep people updated, arguing for the right to take my child home, and so, so, so much crying.

Don't get me wrong: the midwives and the domestic staff were absolutely brilliant. They looked out for me - kept food for me; called around to find me answers; supported my decisions; and told me their own stories of difficult early days spent crying over their babies in the hospital. I can't fault them at all.

But this time, my birth plan - beyond where I give birth; beyond accepting injections for myself and my baby; beyond skin to skin and Steve having the chance [to refuse] to cut the cord - is to follow up labour by climbing straight into my own bed, my new baby in my arms, Steve and Matilda beside us, and to eat my toast with my chosen brand of jam on it. Or perhaps even order out for pizza.



Extra: Ordinary Moments

Spider plant

Outerwear
I gave in and bought a maternity coat last week. Shout out to my size 14 Joules raincoat which has had its limits thoroughly tested over the last few months (it has been wonderfully supportive of the bump), but whose breaking point has now been reached.

And so: a maternity coat it is. And, oh, but the options were dire! Drab colours, drab shapes (or very, very pretty shapes which are completely impractical when you're parenting an energetic toddler), with every bit of emphasis dumped firmly on functionality. It pained me so much to spend so much on something which looks like an overly-zippered navy sleeping bag. But: needs must. There has been no revelatory conversion - this is not The Dungarees all over again. I'm mentioning it because, after years of gently mocking Steve for his ugly-but-impenetrable winter jacket, I really wanted to whinge about being clad in one myself.

In happier maternity clothing news: I also bought pyjamas.

Grown Up Home Owner Stuff
We got someone round to fix our bathroom window. For several months now, it's been jammed in the tilted open position; it has never done the turn part of "tilt and turn". We've lived with that because the weather's been tolerable and, y'know: it's the bathroom; it needs to be aired. But, with soggy season on the way, it was time to be responsible and get it sorted. I'm starting to worry that our home might never not smell of WD40 again, though...

Cup of tea in enamel camping mug

In Pregnancy News
The Braxton-Hicks have started. Thinking about it, they've been going on for a while now, but I've been putting them down to the baby's movements (they feel like the baby has suddenly curled up into a tight ball just behind my belly button); it was only this week that I stopped and paid enough attention to realise that they bear absolutely no relation to the baby's actual position and that they only last a minute or so.

Having been through this once before, I know that this is no indication of when the baby will arrive but I've got to admit: I'm rooting for 37 weeks rather than 42. It's harder to feel calm about the tiredness and discomfort when there's a toddler hanging around, asking you to play on the floor.

And In The Garden
We've got masses of butterflies on our buddleia. Which I can't seem to photograph at all. But believe me: they're there. Red Admirals, or so the internet tells me.

We've also got a sunflower with three heads on one stem - and that can't be normal, can it? Or have I just been conditioned by the perfect blooms they sell in shops?

Oh, and Steve and Matilda harvested their first five tiny carrots and a beetroot the size of a thumbnail. They are very pleased.


What's new with you this week?

3 Ways We Tell Our Toddlers That Men Are More Important

Girl and boy Happyland toys having a party.

I imagine that anybody who reads my blog already believes that girls and boys are - and should be treated as - equal.

I mean, if you don't believe that, I'm not really sure why you're hanging around here. If you start a forum thread about how annoying my "PC gone mad" beliefs are, the other mums are all going to respond with: "Who?!"

So, I'm not going to do a great long preamble about how important it is to bolster girls' self worth or to help boys acknowledge their emotions.

But there are three things that I - ardent feminist that I am - have had to consciously train myself not to say to children. They're things most of my friends and family - parents and non-parents alike - have also had to unlearn.

They're not things which mean that we're sexist; they're things which mean that we picked up turns of phrase back when we were children and never thought to question them. I mean, that's what humans do: we learn patterns of speech and behaviour and we repeat them on autopilot because it's the most efficient way to function.

But I'm asking you to question them now.

And let me tell you: it took a lot of effort for me to retrain my speech patterns; most of the non-parents I know are constantly slipping up and slapping their own hands. But the fact that these things are so ingrained that we struggle not to say them is - to me - evidence enough that it's time we made the effort.

So:

Putting Boys First

Quite often, Matilda and I watch children rampaging past our house on their way to school and nursery. I always carefully referred to them as one big, non-gendered mass: "children". But, at around eighteen months, I realised that she was referring to them as "boys and girls".

She always, always said "boys" first.

I don't know where she learned this, but I wasn't happy about it. It might seem insignificant (and perhaps it is) but I didn't like the idea that she was learning to reference - and therefore consider - the male group ahead of the female.

So I switched from "children" to "girls and boys", in an attempt to counteract whatever other influences she was being exposed to.

When we played with obviously gendered figurines, I would talk about "the girl and the boy". It wasn't long before Matilda started preferring to keep the girl for herself and hand the boy to me, whereas previously it had been the other way around.

And when I need to use pronouns, I talk about "she and he", instead of the more standard "he and she".

"She and he" sounds weird at first, though, doesn't it? It's not what we're used to hearing. And it felt really weird to say it, too; I felt self-conscious bumping the females up the list. But, to me, that's all the more reason to do so.

Making Everything Male

Have you ever noticed that most people refer to all soft toys - bar the occasional kitten - as "he"?

Or that they love to prefix a noun with "Mister"? "Mister Spoon", "Mister Squirrel", "Mister Train"?

Or that every single animal in Dear Zoo (for example) is male?

I've mentioned this to so many people who have responded, "I don't do that!" Sometimes they're offended at the very suggestion. And then they play with Matilda for half an hour, call every toy monkey "he", catch themselves time and time and time again, and sheepishly admit that I'm right.

It's really, really hard not to do this.

But I think it's really, really important to try. Because male shouldn't be our default; if male is our default then, whenever people are imagining the ideal candidate for a sports team or job vacancy or research position or whatever, they're going to picture somebody male. It's an immediate disadvantage to the women, who may be equally qualified but have to work harder to prove it.

And, seriously, why does a spoon need a sex at all?!

As for Dear Zoo, I have plenty of issues with that book (not a responsible zoo; not a responsible pet owner; that lion cage comes apart far too easily at the hands of a toddler...), but no issue whatsoever with referring to all the animals as "it".

Gendered Job Titles

And speaking of correcting books, I have no issue whatsoever with reading "policeman" as "police officer", "fireman" as "firefighter", "spaceman" as "astronaut"... you get the picture.

So many books STILL use gendered versions of non-gendered job titles. I can't change the pictures to make (some of) the doctors female or (some of) the nurses male, but I can speak a different word aloud.

It's one tiny thing I can do to help combat stereotypes, to help my daughter believe that she can be an engineer or an architect or a scientist, if she so chooses; that her male friends can be teachers or hairdressers or stay at home parents.

And, yes, the part of me which is responsible for helping her to one day learn to read does resent that the words I'm speaking aloud are not the ones she's seeing on the page in front of her. But at least, by the time I have to say what's printed on the paper, she might be aware enough to wonder why the books are getting it wrong.


(Little did I know, when I drafted this, that it was going to end up being so topical. My one issue with the John Lewis unisex clothing announcement is that their labels still list boys first - I'd much rather the clothes just said "Kids" - but, otherwise, it probably goes without saying that I'm all for them ditching the gendered clothing aisles)

(And that I really want to read the Robert Webb book)



What You REALLY Need For A Newborn

Baby hand

Kitting out a new baby can sound so complicated - not to mention expensive. Parenting blogs and magazines are full of good advice but they're also full of gushing (paid) reviews of items which sound convincingly indispensable.

Do you really need to spend £180 on a fancy pillow? In a word: no. Almost everything in the baby shop is optional.

So how do you know what you really need to buy? You check out my list below. These are all the things I consider essential for the first few months - with a few added pointers to minimise your confusion in Mothercare.

Somewhere For Your Baby To Sleep

  • A crib, cot, moses basket or bedside crib.
  • Also: two sets of bedding. So: a sheet for the mattress plus either flat sheets and cellular blankets (which are currently recommended for all newborns) or a baby sleeping bag. The amount/tog rating you need will depend upon the season - we had a flat sheet and two cellular blankets on Matilda through the winter.
  • If you live in a larger property, you may want to get a baby monitor for once the baby is napping/sleeping away from you. We have never needed one in our single storey flat.
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: Any fancy gadgets or gizmos which claim to help babies sleep. They are optional panic buys you can get later on.
Notes
  • Large babies will outgrow small cribs/moses baskets very quickly (Matilda was out of hers by three months). Bedside cribs tend to be a bit larger, or you could opt for a full-sized cot from birth.
  • Getting up and bending over a crib/cot in the middle of the night is HARD WORK. For this reason, if nothing else, we're opting for a bedside crib this time. We intend to use a floor bed after that.
  • Foam mattresses triggered Matilda's eczema. I have since read that this is quite common so I recommend avoiding them (not a doctor).
  • Think about where your baby will nap during the day. Will they be sleeping on you, in their bedtime cot or will you need somewhere for them to sleep in your living room? Bear in mind that you might not be up to lifting a moses basket for the first few weeks. We opted for a Rocker-Napper in our living room which converted into a chair when Matilda was bigger (and a lot of Scots I know are using their Baby Box).


Some Means Of Washing Your Baby

  • For a tiny newborn, a sink or plastic basin will do. Once the baby's larger, you will need a baby bath or to take them into the full-sized bath with you.
  • A couple of face cloths or Cheeky Wipes for washing them with.
  • A couple of towels (hooded towels are optional but we found them useful).
  • Very simple baby wash (I'd go fragrance free and colourless myself).
  • Some baby lotion is a good idea, as most babies have dry skin when they're born. 
  • Oh, and some baby sized nail clippers/scissors.
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: Talcum powder - it is not good for babies' lungs. Special top and tail bowls. A bath thermometer (use your elbow).
Notes
  • Baby baths with plugs on the bottom are MUCH easier to drain than those without.
  • If you're short on space, a bath which folds up flat when not in use could be useful. We can't find one which fits in our shower cubicle (they're all about 2cm too long) otherwise we would definitely have opted for one this time around.
  • Bath stands are only a good idea if you can actually lift a bath full of warm water (frankly: unlikely).

Some Means Of Transporting Your Baby

  • A pram or buggy which is suitable from birth and/or a sling and/or structured carrier. 
  • If your baby will ever be travelling in a car, they must have a car seat (the advice is never to use a secondhand one but if, like us, you don't drive and will only need it for the journey home from hospital, go ahead and borrow one from somebody you trust).
Notes
  • Slings and carriers are great if you need your hands free to eat/shop/scroll Instagram or you regularly catch the sort of buses that have steps up to the driver (plus, most babies seem to really like them); prams and buggies are great if the weather's bad or you want to have a hot drink without fear of spilling it on your baby's head (the storage compartment underneath is also handy!). We had - and will have, this time around - a sling, a structured carrier (Steve finds the buckles reassuring) and a buggy and wouldn't want to have to choose between them.
  • If - like us - you are short on space, make sure any buggies or prams you buy will actually fit in the space available when unfolded (I guarantee you won't want to fold it away every single time you get home). 
  • If you and your partner are different heights, adjustable handles are a good idea.
  • If you find slings and carriers a bit baffling, see if there's a sling meet near you - you can try (and sometimes hire) different kinds of slings, plus learn how to use them properly. Otherwise: YouTube is your friend.
  • The important thing, regardless, is not how much you spend on your buggy or how trendy your sling looks, but what FEELS COMFORTABLE to you.

Playmat

Something To Carry Nappies etc Around In

  • A bag with lots of pockets. 
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: A special changing bag, unless you'd really like one.
Notes
  • Will you and your partner be sharing a bag? If so, you both need to be happy (enough) to be seen with it. 
  • Backpacks can be more convenient than shoulder bags, particularly if you're planning to carry your baby.

Clothes

  • 10-12 vests (sometimes called "bodysuits"); long or short-sleeved, depending on the time of year.
  • 10-12 sleepsuits (sometimes called "babygrows"). Unless it's the middle of summer, get the ones with feet (keeping socks on a baby is a losing battle); most of them have built-in scratch mitts, too.
  • A couple of hats (for outdoors; they don't need them indoors).
  • A few cardigans.
  • A pramsuit and/or snowsuit, depending on the time of year.
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: Shoes. 
Notes
  • You won't know for sure until the baby's here what size of clothes will fit best BUT, until they're trying to crawl, it really doesn't matter whether things hang off their hands and feet so don't be afraid to size up - you can always do a mad dash to a supermarket for something smaller.
  • "Proper" clothes are optional - they can be really cute but try to prioritise your baby's comfort (if only because uncomfortable babies will cry more).

Nappies and Whatnot

  • Plan to get through 10-12 nappies per day for the first few months, regardless of whether you choose cloth or disposables.
  • Wipes for cleaning up poo. You can use wet wipes or cloth wipes (e.g. Cheeky Wipes) depending on your personal preference. Cloth wipes or toilet roll to pat them dry when you're done.
  • A changing mat or a towel/muslin on a flat, wipeable surface. A mat which folds up small is useful for when you're visiting people/if you're short on space.
  • A trial size tub of nappy cream (there's bound to be one in your Bounty bag). You may have a baby who gets lots of nappy rash, in which case, buy more; we have only ever had to apply nappy cream twice, though.
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: A special changing unit (any flat surface will do) or a nappy bin. Nappy sacks are optional.
Notes
  • Place your changing mat/unit/whatever so that you can stand at your baby's feet, looking towards their face. This means less twisting of your (potentially tired) body; I suspect it's also nicer for the baby to be able to look straight up at you.

Brightly coloured muslins

Muslins

  • Lots of muslins.
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: To buy them all yourself. They are a standard new baby gift.

Somewhere To Do Tummy Time

  • A play mat or soft blanket or similar.
  • YOU DO NOT NEED: Lots and lots of toys (all babies really need in the first few months is somebody chatting to them and pulling occasional faces). 

Some Means Of Feeding Your Baby

  • For breastfeeders (I gather): nipple cream; nipple pads; easy access clothing; eh... cabbage leaves? A breast pump and bottles are optional, depending on your personal circumstances/preference.
  • For formula feeders: 6-10 bottles plus first size teats; either a cold water or microwave steriliser (plus, if you're using a cold water steriliser, some Milton tablets); roughly one tub of powdered first milk per week (we noticed no difference between brands so opted for the stuff in recyclable packaging). You can buy bottles of premixed milk for when you're out.
Notes
  • If you're bottle feeding, this is one of the few times I recommend checking out parenting forums - the official advice will make you feel like you can never leave the house again; the common sense advice from parents who have been there will put your mind at ease (or you can message me).

And For Yourself

  • Maternity pads or nighttime sanitary towels.
  • Disposable pants (be that special paper ones or cheap ones you've bought for this purpose).
  • Cake.

Is there anything other parents would add?