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For The Parents Struggling To Make Christmas Magical


Last night, I was wrapping the children's Christmas presents (no, you're right - it wasn't 11pm on Christmas Eve. Go, me!), and I started to feel a low level panic.

Each of our kids has five gifts from us plus a stocking full of trinkets. We've chosen the gifts with care and, were the kids given any one of those items individually at any other time, they would be over the moon. But, somehow, looking at those piles of gifts last night, they seemed far, far, far too small.

Let's not get into consumerism here. I know Christmas shouldn't be about the presents. I believe my children already have more toys than they need. Last Christmas, I could see the volume of presents overwhelming my then-two year old. It wasn't about the stuff exactly.

It was about the magic.

Because, when I picture a Victorian Christmas tree on a card or I imagine an American movie, I picture mountains of gifts. Mountains. With hideously manipulative elves skiing down them, they're so big. Robins perched on top. A giant Jenga puzzle of presents. A cacophony of clashing wrapping papers.

Not five gifts and a stocking.

Five gifts and a stocking doesn't look as magical. At least, not when it's sitting in the middle of the living room floor, with the Christmas tree invisible behind me.

I needed to have a word with myself.

I reminded myself: CHRISTMAS IS NOT ALL ON STEVE AND ME.

We are not the only ones bringing magic into our children's lives.

Even if we accept - briefly and incorrectly - that five presents is not enough to make Christmas magical, we are not the only people giving them presents. There are already gifts in our house from grandparents and cousins and friends and neighbours, and we know there are still more to be delivered. They will not just - "just" - have five gifts.

We are not the only people providing them with festive fun. Almost every baby class and toddler group and sports club in the land is holding a Christmas party where a skinny Santa hands out milk-laden chocolates. Nurseries and schools are churning out decorations and cards and dances. CBeebies is a twelve hour torrent of seasonal specials.

We are not even the only people showing them sparkles. We walk around our neighbourhood and point out the twinkly fairy lights and garish garden strobe effects. The shops are belting out festive tunes.

Christmas is all around us, unavoidable, more than adequate.

The kids' pile of gifts from us is not The Full Works.

Nor does it have to be.

So, I had this word with myself and I ditched the unrealistic expectations I had heaped upon my parenting plate.

And this is a reminder for you, if you're currently panicking that your festive efforts are not enough: CHRISTMAS IS NOT ALL ON YOU. 

You don't make Christmas alone.

Your kids will find magic everywhere.

One Year Old

And just like that my second - and, sadly but definitely, last - baby is one year old.

It doesn't feel like a year ago that I gave birth, here, at home, in what is now the children's bedroom; it feels like much longer than a year ago that this toddling, chattering, communicating child was a tiny little newborn. That's what I can't get my head around - how much she's learned in such a short space of time (how much most babies learn in such a short space of time). How can it be that only twelve months ago she was tiny and fragile and purple and helpless, and now there's only one chair in this whole flat that she can't climb onto by herself?

And this time, second time, around, I'm aware of how fast she's going to change over the next twelve months. I have photographic proof of her big sister using spoons with competence and climbing frames and baking bread and I know that we were having conversations well beyond her current vocabulary of "hello", "bye bye", "Mummy", "Daddy", her sister's name, "here you go" and (rather tellingly) "tickle tickle tickle". She feels like a complete little person to me now and yet we're really only just getting to know her.

Anyway, yes, one year old. A one year old who loves sitting with books, pretending to read them to herself. Who loves banging and rattling and plinking-plonking on toy pianos. Who will run to get a coat when I say we're leaving the house (poor winter-born second child - she's stuck indoors so much more than her sister ever was). Who has learned the fingers-and-thumb rub which summons cats to grown ups (but, much to her frustration, not to babies) and uses it instead of pointing whenever she wants to look at something.

There's so much I could say about parenting two children - and I probably will, at some point, when the twelve month sleep regression is over and I've both finished and actually started the book I'm supposed to have read for my book group - but, for now: it's (mostly) wonderful. When my kids play together, when they beam at each other and cackle through shared, impenetrable jokes, when they chase each other around the flat and twirl in circles in the middle of the room, it makes me happier than I ever realised it could.

I want to keep them these ages forever, and I want to see who they grow into. I'm so looking forward to my littlest at age one.

How Do I Teach My Kids About Diversity?


Seriously. This isn't one of those posts where I ask you a question and then give you my answer. My kid's out in the world now and - newsflash! - the world isn't always on board with equality.

I knew this when I had kids, of course. I made attempts to stave off the stereotypes. I dressed them in a rainbow of colours, never strapped cauliflower-sized bows to their heads, and my only rule, when the eldest picks out her own clothes, is that she must wear trousers or leggings if she's going to be going out climbing.

I filled their toy boxes with dolls and dinosaurs, cars and kitchen utensils, snuggly bears and space rockets. Their book shelves contain as many stories of brave, clever, imaginative, adventurous girls as I could find (which, despite the current trend for "rebel girl" biographies, is depressingly few) and as many black and Asian faces as the board book section of the bookshop had to offer (almost none).

But, still, friends, relatives and pop culture have had an influence.

"Boys are naughty and girls are good," I was told by my then-two year old, coming home from a playgroup which seemed to be actively trying to enforce this divide. This is the playgroup where she discovered pink princess dresses and Peppa Pig and started wanting to wear her hair in a ponytail so she could look like some kid called Jasmine-Aurora-Twinkletoes-Belle (or something along those lines). "The girls didn't get to go on the trampoline today because the boys were all bad. Boys spoil all our fun."

Next, it seemed like a good thing when the fashion for dinosaurs on girls' clothing swept the nation's supermarkets. But it soon became clear that the boys were getting to hang with the carnivores, while the girls were stuck with sparkly pink herbivores with implausible eyelashes. It wasn't long before my now-three year old was telling me, "Mummy dinosaurs eat plants and look after the babies, and daddy dinosaurs are scary."

On the bright side, my three year old's nursery class is about as diverse as it's possible for a group of small children to be. Less than a quarter of the kids speak English as a first language, although, perhaps predictably, and certainly depressingly, those kids have formed one little clique, the Polish speaking kids another, and I'm not sure what the kids who can't speak either language do other than have more than the average crying fits on the way into class each day. I have to force myself not to be too enthusiastic when the solitary Spaniard or the rogue Romanian starts appearing in my daughter's stories - "You don't HAVE to be friends with anyone, but they do sound like they might be lonely so... OMG PLAY WITH THEM. DO YOU HEAR ME? DON'T LEAVE THEM OUT."

Isn't this why I let her watch so much Mr Sodding Tumble on TV? So she could communicate with other kids in Makaton? Shouldn't they be hanging around the water tray, all signing, "Space man!" (while I hiss "Astronaut!" angrily behind them) "Ice cream! Puppy! I've just fallen on my bottom!"?

But, despite the daily diversity, I've had to desperately giggle with my child about "skin coloured" crayons. "Who told you the peach crayon was 'skin coloured'?" I asked her. "Hahaha, how silly of them! Do all of the kids in your class have peach coloured skin? No, they do not! That's like calling the brown crayon 'eye coloured', isn't it, when you and I have blue eyes? Hahaha, how silly..."

And now the black fairy doll is falling from favour because she's "not a princess". It has not escaped my small child's notice that princesses are a) invariably pale and b) incredibly important/allowed to eat strawberry ice cream whenever they fancy. I need to nip this in the bud before she breaks it to any of her classmates that they're never going to fit the princess bill. Or, come to that matter, before she takes a look in the mirror and realises that her own wild hair does not look all that royal.

I've mentioned this to her nursery teachers who have dug out what few stories there are about princesses of colour, and I'm taking the path of calm disagreement, pointing out exceptions where I can. Beyond the - admittedly high - chance of her saying something tactless, I'm not that worried - my children are not going to grow up racist; they are going to grow up believing that everyone is born equal; they will talk about "fire fighters", "police officers" and "snow people"; they will point out when I'm phrasing things wrong (with eye rolls and tutting and then taking to the internet to vlog about what an embarrassing parent I am - a taste of my own medicine, and all).

But it depresses me that this is still something I'm having to police. That the pervasive pop culture is still - despite CBeebies' best efforts - full of ever-so-subtle messages about gender roles, desirable skin tones and the marriageability of pretty princesses. That my then-one year old could tell the difference between girl and boy Happyland figures, despite nobody in her life ever having told her about pink and blue, trousers and dresses, or long and short hair styles - that she had learned those cues from books and TV and was able to apply them by herself.

So, seriously: is there something else I can be doing? Is there something else we, as a culture, as a generation of better informed parents, can be doing? Because if my kid - who has been actively steered away from gender norms, racial assumptions and Facebook memes of any kind - is picking up on this stuff, there's still something seriously wrong with the messages we're giving our children.

Rethinking How We Approach Christmas

How was last Christmas for you?

Ours was strange, in that we had a newborn baby living in the crook of my arm, a two year old who was very excited about Santa but had cobbled together her expectations from (often conflicting) TV shows, and we had all spent the previous few weeks passing around particularly nasty bugs. Steve and I didn't have much energy but our eldest child had more than she could handle.

A few days after Christmas, we sat down and talked about which bits of the festive season had worked for us and which had not. We had been trying to keep things very simple, what with the new baby and all, but had still experienced low level stress and dissatisfaction; we also felt that our eldest's season had been more manic than magic. So we talked seriously about where things had gone awry and what we could do differently in the future.


Differing Expectations
The big thing, for Steve and me, was that we have different ideas of what Christmas is all about.

For Steve, Christmas is about the cooking and consuming of an enormous meal with several courses and endless trimmings. He felt stressed because he still wanted to provide that, despite being in the midst of new baby chaos, and deflated when it didn't quite work out.

For me, Christmas is about the family all being in the same room, playing together and watching feelgood films. I would happily eat nothing but chocolate coins and toast. I felt frustrated because I didn't expect to do much solo parenting that day and couldn't understand why Steve was so keen to go off and hide in the kitchen (much as I do that several times a day, myself).

So, this year we're going into Christmas more aware of each other's expectations, and better prepared to compromise. There will be less food, more of which just needs to be bunged in the oven and left, but I'll also be expecting Steve to vanish into the kitchen for part of the afternoon.

Skipping Breakfast
Empty tummies lead to irritability. Food must be consumed before the presents are opened.

The Lack Of Christmas Tree
Steve and I have never bothered with a Christmas tree - between small children, cats, lack of storage and general cynicism, it didn't really appeal. But last year our then-two year old kept asking us where our tree was and was visibly disappointed when we kept telling her we didn't have one.

This year, we have bought a tree. A fake one, I'm afraid, for longevity and car-free simplicity. It's hidden away. We're going to put it up and wrap it in lights after the kids go to bed one evening (though we'll leave the decorations until our eldest is around to help) - I can hardly wait to see their little faces when they spot it in the morning!

Too Many Presents
We quite like the "something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read" idea, although we don't stick to those four categories (it's really hard to wrap "whatever my sister's playing with at this exact moment in time" and the kids don't appreciate clothing). We do stick to around four presents per child (they get the same quantity right now, because they're at an age when that matters) and try to have them all from slightly different categories ("something fluffy, a game, a sparkly thing, etc"). They each also get a stocking of trinkets "from Santa".

The grandparents, on the other hand, went a bit completely and utterly over the top last year, to the point where our eldest didn't want to finish opening her presents because she was feeling so overwhelmed. She would have been happy with a couple of games.

So, this year, we've asked them to either buy the kids one big present each or no more than four smaller gifts. We'd rather the gifts were well chosen than overwhelming. We've also asked that, if they're getting the kids any books, they put them all in one parcel with both kids' names on it, because we feel strongly that books are for sharing, not for allocating to children by age range.

We've also asked that, if they're giving us any chocolate or alcohol, it be kept separate from the other presents so we can open it once the tiny scavengers have gone to sleep!

As for ourselves, we're not bothering to give each other stockings this year as we don't need any more novelty tat. We used to agree a budget for each other's presents, but I would stick to it and Steve would blow it - one of us was doing it wrong (the jury's still out on which). This year we're just bearing the four gifts thing in mind.


So that's what we're doing differently this year.

I'm a firm believer in every part of Christmas being optional. The tree is optional; decorating your home is optional; cards are optional; gifts are optional; stockings are optional; advent calendars are optional; the meal is optional; the Bailey's is optional; the Queen's Speech is optional (I don't think I've ever seen it); the chocolate coins are optional (I'll have yours, if you don't want them); the work do is optional; the panto is optional; special pyjamas are optional; Christmas Eve boxes are optional; that creepy, manipulative elf is optional; Elf is optional, as is It's A Wonderful Life. You can skip whichever bits you want to.

You can also make up your own traditions. If Christmas, to you, is all about eating baked potatoes with Super Noodles on top whilst watching Battlestar Galactica and wearing a unicorn onesie, you do your own thing. Make your perfect day.

My only rules for Christmas are these: don't get into needless debt and don't cause yourself unnecessary stress.

Are your traditions working for you?

Some Ways I Failed to be an Earth Mother

Some Ways I Failed to be an Earth Mother

I think most of us must go into parenting with a mental image of the parent we're going to be.

I was going to be serene. I was going to be one of those mums who is calm and unfazed and wears baby-safe jewellery and brightly-coloured-yet-flattering dresses and always has time to bake cakes and prepare elaborate toddler games which I didn't even need to search for on Pinterest. This, despite expecting to be horrendously tired.

Yeah, that worked out the same way as the pregnancy I was going to spend drifting through cornfields in a floaty white dress...

Here are some of the ways I've not quite lived up to my own expectations:

Babywearing

I fully expected to have my baby strapped to me from the word go. I didn't factor in how long it was going to take to build up my strength after having pelvic girdle pain. It was weeks before I could carry my child for more than ten minutes or walk further than the corner shop. I managed about four lovely months of carrying her and then she became heavier and my hips became weaker and it was back to the buggy she went.

Breastfeeding

There was never any question of me not breastfeeding. Then it didn't work. MM and I were both becoming distressed by the whole thing; it was physically challenging thanks to my PGP; and it was so tied up with me being kept separated from my baby (who was in the neonatal unit) that I simply didn't have the strength to persevere.

Cloth Nappies

We meant to buy them. We didn't. We still could but MM's showing such clear signs of... eh... toilet awareness that I'm not sure it would be cost effective at this point.

The Joy of Weaning

To be honest, I always knew weaning wasn't going to excite me much; Steve's the foodie and, whenever possible, we try to ensure that it's him who gives MM her dinner - he's the one who can't wait to see what she makes of beetroot and who monitors her salt intake. I want to find weaning fun but... I just don't. It's dull and messy and I find it exhausting trying to come up with something other than toast to give her for lunch.

Fresh Air

We were going to get some every day. She was going to play in the mud whatever the weather. Then there was wind and rain. And deliveries. And exhaustion. Sometimes we just stay cosied up indoors.

Television

We didn't plan to ban television; we don't have a problem with MM watching it now and then. However there have been more occasions than I care to admit when "now and then" has become "all day background noise". She's not really that interested in a lot of it but it's a convenient crutch on the days when she's a bit clingy and I really fancy a cuppa.

Bedtime Stories

I was always going to read my baby bedtime stories. I was really looking forward to it. But different stories each night or anything longer than about ten pages turned out to be too stimulating for her right before bed. For the moment, she gets the same two books (sometimes one, sometimes both, depending on how tired she seems) every night.

Nine and a half months in, I've made my peace with all but one of these things. For some reason, I can't seem to shake my disappointment at not being able to babywear; every time I see an Instagram of somebody proudly wearing their baby, tagged with some smug happy babywearing catchphrase, I have to fight the urge to explain that I'm not old fashioned - I'm just in pain.

But the rest of it? I'm over it.

MM is strong and healthy and smart and determined and affectionate and amazing. I haven't stunted her growth with formula milk; I haven't destroyed her intelligence with CBeebies (which turns out to be pretty educational).

I haven't turned her into a bad, uncaring person by not carrying her in a wrap for the first few years of her life.

Last week, she and I were looking after a friend of hers for a little while. When her friend became upset, MM did the thing she finds most comforting in the world - she reached out and took her friend's hand.

This is not a heartless little person that I'm raising. This is a child with empathy.

I don't suppose any of us are perfect parents. We all make compromises along the way; some of our values change; we screw up when we're feeling stressed or tired; we make mistakes because we haven't figured out better ways of approaching a situation.

This stuff happens.

But we love our children. We're doing our best (most of the time).

I think she's going to turn out okay.

29 Ways to Show Yourself Some Love

29 Ways to Show Yourself Some Love: One for Every Day in February

  1. Stop to savour that tea/hot chocolate/coffee
  2. Watch your favourite film
  3. Strrrrrrrrrrrrrrrretch
  4. Meet a friend for lunch 
  5. Wear something you usually save for best
  6. Muck around in a playpark
  7. Give your skin a break from the make up
  8. Smile at yourself in the mirror
  9. Eat all the pancakes you can manage
  10. Tense up your shoulders as tight as you can. Release them. Repeat.
  11. Go for long walks at lunchtime
  12. Make a list of fun things you would like to do and start actively planning one of them
  13. Celebrate Galentine's Day with your closest friends
  14. Read Tiny Beautiful Things
  15. Pick a posey of snowdrops; arrange them in a shot glass or milk jug
  16. Just have a takeaway, okay? My first choice is pizza.
  17. Crunch through some frost or ice first thing in the morning
  18. Make a list of your own strengths
  19. Lie flat on your back, concentrating on slow, steady breathing
  20. Sing along loudly to your favourite songs
  21. Throw out any clothes which make you feel bad about yourself
  22. And any shoes which cause you pain
  23. While you're at it, get measured for new bras
  24. Make time for your feelgood hobby
  25. Go skating or cycling or skateboarding or skiing. Move really fast.
  26. Go to the health food store and buy some interesting snacks
  27. Get in touch with someone you haven't seen in ages
  28. Roll spiky massage balls around with your feet
  29. Hang something gorgeous on the wall

Two (and a bit) Years On

Arms

The grief hit me again the other night.

It does this sometimes, still, more than two years after the miscarriage and despite having given birth to a daughter who I could not possibly love more. The pain is still there and sometimes it ambushes me, without warning, without obvious reason; I was lying in bed after a very happy day and suddenly there it was.

The same memories flash through my head, the same moments (sobbing when I was offered Entonox because I thought it was drugs and would delay me getting home), the same faces (the concerned ambulance driver who wouldn't leave), the same conversations ("We didn't know if I could get pregnant - what if this was our only chance?").

I remember the urgency with which the midwife shouted and shouted for a doctor when I went into convulsions; the doctor clearing a lot of matter out of me, including the sac; the doctor asking me how far along I was over and over again and the midwife telling her every time, "She hadn't had a scan."

I had thought I was eleven and a half weeks pregnant but I could tell that that answer was wrong.

They didn't tell me what the right answer was.

It ate me up for a long time afterwards, not knowing how long I can been carrying a dead baby around inside me. I remembered, on my birthday, Steve and me sitting on the floor of our newly carpeted dining room and choosing baby names; at that point, it was probably already too late.

I asked my GP, months later, if there was anything in my records. She showed me the letter from the hospital but all that I could see in it was the word "sadly" - it was so unexpectedly personal; it may be the term they use in every letter about every miscarriage but, suddenly, I felt like I had been a person to them rather than a statistic, that maybe they were genuinely sorry for my loss. I went home and cried.

But there were no details. All the letter said was that I had presented with heavy bleeding and that the pregnancy had ended.

I wanted more.

My memories are a muddle in my head. I came away with the impression that my bleeding was unusually heavy and my experience particularly violent and I wanted the facts and figures to tell me if this was true; I wanted volumes and timings and some sort of scale for physical misery.

I felt like, if I had some sort of written narrative of the night, I would have a handle on what had happened, I could process it better, I could regain a bit of control.

It's the same impulse which is making me write this now. If I grasp at these tiny shards of memory and these little flashes of pain and I type them into my keyboard, I'm putting them into a tangible, manageable shape. I'm making them make a little more sense. I'm getting them out of me in the hopes that they will stop surprising me.

I had thought, early on, that I would obsess over what had caused the miscarriage. I didn't. I could accept that it might have been random bad luck, an abnormality, an anomaly. I could even accept that it might have been in some way my fault; I hadn't planned or expected to get pregnant so I couldn't be too hard on myself for drinking some wine or being low on folic acid.

But I did obsess about how far along I had managed to get. I wanted a marker; I wanted a point during my second pregnancy at which I could say, "We've made it one day further; two days further; three days further..."

There's still some bit of me trying to make sense of it all.

Late at night. Without warning. When I'm trying to go to sleep. A bit of me still wants to know.

10 Reasons Parenthood is Better Than People Say

Sarah and Matilda Rooftops

One year ago today, I wrote about the negative responses Steve and I were getting to news of my pregnancy - the supposedly funny warnings that our lives were over, we would never sleep again, our relationship would be irrevocably damaged; the gloomy preference for boys over girls; and the repeated warnings not to naively hope for any sort of contentment in 2015.

So, one year on, I wanted to give you an update. Perhaps offer some reassurance to anyone expecting their first baby and feeling daunted by the sleep deprivation.

And there is sleep deprivation. Of course there is. Sleep - and lack thereof - is a huge focus of the early months and I'm not going to pretend that my circle of mum friends and I don't message one another sobbing about the bad nights and celebrating the good ones.

But, first of all: it's amazing how little sleep you can cope with and still look after your baby, meet up with your friends, remember to pay the council tax and generally function.

And secondly: it's not the most important part of parenthood.

I drafted this is the middle of a sleep regression and I still believe sleep's not the most important thing.

And your life's not over. Your relationship need not be irrevocably damaged. The early months can be filled with contentment.

Here are some of the ways in which these first eight and a half months have been massively rewarding:

It has brought us closer to our parents

I don't mean in the physical "they visit a lot more often" sense (although they do). Hearing them reminisce about when we were babies and watching the ways in which they interact with our child reminds us of how much they have done for us over the years - they were the ones who rocked us through bad nights, taught us why dirty twigs should not be shoved in our mouths and allowed us to believe in magic.

We are rediscovering our creativity and our ability to wonder "what if...?"

Suddenly we are seeing the entertainment value in wooden spoons and cardboard boxes. We are learning to put on silly voices and ad lib nonsense conversations with toy rabbits. We are trying all sorts of different tricks to see what makes our child smile and inventing new ways to add wonder to our home.

We are learning about the kindness of strangers and neighbours

Steve, in particular, initially found it very odd how many people chat to him when he's out and about with our baby. People are curious about her, friendly towards her and much more likely to hold doors for us when we're pushing a buggy. Our neighbours not only drove us to the hospital when I was in labour but have brought gifts for her, had us round for tea and cake, and repeatedly offered to babysit.

Our friendships are clearer

Some of our friends have been surprisingly enthusiastic about making our child a part of their lives; some of our friends have carried on as normal and that has been reassuring; some of our friends have gone temporarily quiet for reasons of their own; a tiny, tiny number of our friends have vanished. We're seeing new, positive aspects to a lot of the people we already loved; those that have vanished have left us with a sense a relief. And we have formed new friendships with other parents, too.

Baby stuff is adorable

To be completely shallow for a moment: baby clothes are the cutest. There's a lot of pleasure in choosing our baby's outfits. We also get to rediscover the books we read when we were tiny and that's been a lot of fun.

Somebody finally appreciates our comic genius

Our baby was slow to start laughing but, when she did, it was incredible. Hours vanish blowing raspberries on her belly and listening to her unrestrained glee.

The welcomes are wonderful

The joy on her face when she spots one of us after any time apart (even just a few hours overnight) is amazing. Never has either of us felt so loved!

We get to watch our daughter learn

Eight and a half months ago, MM could hardly do anything - eat; sleep; excrete; look stunned. Now she can play by herself, play with other people, crawl, cruise, toddle around with support, express a range of emotions, recognise herself in the mirror, smile, ask for a story, bounce up and down... oh, so many things. Every time she realises she's done something new and every time we see something click into place in her brain, the pride we feel is enormous.

Life is beautifully slow

It's also inexplicably fast. But what I mean is: most of the stress has gone from my life. Alas, Steve still has to go out to work, but I have the pleasure of spending almost all of my time with a baby whose demands are simple: regular food; things to examine; somewhere to crawl. Our obligations to be specific places and see specific people are minimal; we largely set our own rules.

Our relationship has been strengthened

Far from being irrevocably damaged by parenthood, Steve's and my relationship is stronger than ever. Yes, we have both snapped and sniped more in the past eight and a half months than ever before - it's hard not to be crabby now and then when you're tired and unsure of what you're doing - but we've also talked more. We talk about how to approach parenting; we talk about what our baby has been doing; we gaze at her together and whisper to one another, "We made that". We are doing this all as a team.


If you're heading into parenthood for the first time, don't take other people's bitterness as accurate. There are tough bits, of course there are, and most parents have sobbed over a cot in the middle of the night. But the rewards are enormous. The joy is so much more than a blog post can encompass. When parenting your baby is good, it can be incredible.

One Resolution We Should All Make This Year

One Resolution We Should All Make This Year

Not THE one resolution that we should all make this year. Most lists of resolutions that I see already have sensible and/or ethical vows on them - giving more to charity; helping elderly neighbours; taking better care of ourselves.

There are plenty of things which we all know we should be doing.

But there is one resolution which I believe we should all be making, which I have never once seen on a list:

One Resolution We Should All Make This Year: I Will Have Hobbies That I Do Just For Fun

So many resolutions are about turning hobbies into challenges - we will read 52 books this year; sew 104 dresses this year; cook 366 new meals this year. We will beat our personal bests.

We will not use our free time for something so frivolous as simply relaxing and enjoying ourselves. We will use it to better ourselves, beat our own successes and prove to the world that we really are busy.

I don't think this can be healthy.

I don't like this constant pursuit of perfection.

I don't like seeing people describing simple ways of unwinding as "guilty pleasures".

How and why have we absorbed this idea that we should feel bad about doing nothing now and then? That relaxing with a good (but not critically acclaimed good) movie is a waste of time? That our hobbies aren't worth much unless we're scoring points with them?

Achieving an arbitrary goal does not prove that you're better than other people - more intelligent; more focused; more productive. So you knitted 52 scarves? So you read only classics? So you took a carefully staged self-portrait every single day? These are only worthwhile achievements if you genuinely enjoyed them.

Wanting to practise a hobby and become better at what you're doing does not have to mean seeking recognition for it or entering competitions or pursuing a new freelance career. It can do, of course. But only if that makes your life more rewarding.

I'm all for challenges. I'm all for personal projects. Have things you want to achieve this year. It's great to be motivated.

But let's all resolve to have some hobbies - even just one hobby - which we do without stress or guilt or the fear of failure.

Let's all keep something aside which we do just for fun.


16 Ordinary Things to do in 2016

16 Ordinary Things to do in 2016

I'm not interested in spending a bleak time of year abstaining from things which give me pleasure. Why does hoping to be happier have to mean big plans and big goals and big resolutions? Why not focus instead of the small, easy, attainable things which stick a smile on your face?

Here are sixteen of the things which I suggest looking forward to in 2016:
  1. Watching an unashamedly feel good film.
  2. Printing and framing some favourite photos.
  3. Keeping the fancy tea/coffee/hot chocolate in stock.
  4. Re-reading an old favourite book.
  5. Blowing bubbles. With friends. 
  6. Letting the fresh air into your home.
  7. Dancing with abandon.
  8. Switching your phone off and getting outdoors.
  9. Eating some cake (without once mentioning the calories).
  10. Spending at least one day in your pyjamas.
  11. Photographing your coffee. And flowers. And the sunset.
  12. Stopping to stroke strange cats.
  13. Wearing novelty socks. A lot.
  14. Meeting up with an old friend.
  15. Binge watching a TV box set.
  16. Having a go on the swings.
What would you add to this list?