DIY Toddler Felt Board

Parents: we're all looking for really quick, really easy, really effective ways of entertaining our small children which aren't simply sticking on CBeebies.

I've got one for you today.

"DIY Felt Board" image

Recently, I mentioned having made a felt board for Matilda and there was some interest in me writing a how-to post.

So here it is.

This really is the simplest thing you can make for your toddler (or baby - I originally made this when Matilda was about eight months old along with a felt Christmas tree; as she's grown older, I've added more complex shapes to it).

What You Need:

  1. A fairly large piece of cardboard
  2. Some parcel tape (or glue which sticks to both felt and card)
  3. Lots and lots of different coloured felt, including one piece which is larger than your piece of cardboard


Parcel tape

To Make:

  1. Fold a large rectangle of felt around your piece of cardboard; parcel tape it in place.
  2. Cut out lots and lots of different felt shapes (ditch your perfectionist tendencies and do them freehand - your kid won't care).
  3. Give the whole lot to your child and leave them to enjoy it.
That's it. Ten minutes, tops. Simple, right?


Felt board

Felt sticks to itself, so your kid can make whatever picture they like without getting frustrated about things slipping out of place. It also makes it easy to tidy up when they're done - there's no need for a bag or box to keep all the pieces together!

Matilda loves her felt board and, over the past almost-two-years, I've loved watching her going from piling all the pieces up just because she could to selecting a handful of shapes and making (sort of) recognisable pictures out of them.

Face

With Halloween coming up, be sure to cut out an orange pumpkin and lots of black shapes with which to "carve" it. Or how about a tree with lots of stars and baubles for Christmas?

Let me know if you give this a go!

Why I'm Hoping For An Early Birth

I'm 35 and a half weeks pregnant. Not quite full term, but not far off it. So here's my current birth plan: have some friends round the morning I hit 37 weeks; clean up afterwards; chill out as a family of three in the afternoon; put Matilda to bed; go into labour; pop the baby out 30 or so minutes later.

Totally reasonable, right?

I keep joking about this, but I really am hoping the baby arrives as soon as it's safe to do so (and that jinxes are not a real thing and that I'm not therefore condemning myself to a five year pregnancy by writing this).

35 week bump

There are obvious reasons why being pregnant is losing its novelty - restless nights; heartburn; the inability to put my socks on in a dignified manner - but it's not any of those things which are making me hope for an early finish. This has been a pretty easy pregnancy overall; even at this late stage, there are times when I feel so normal that I can forget I'm growing a human. So it's not for my body's sake that I'm googling old wives' tales about kickstarting labour.

No, I'm hoping the baby comes early because of parent guilt.

Because, when I told Matilda that one of her friend's mummies is pregnant, too, her response was: "Oh. Can SHE get down on the floor and play?"

Just so we're clear: I can't. Or not for as long as she'd like. And there's little Matilda loves more than getting down on the floor for a picnic (real or make-believe - it's irrelevant) or a massive brick building marathon.

On top of that, there are days when my patience is shot. More so than usual. More so than I'm happy about. It's hard to keep calm when it causes me physical pain to crouch beside the potty, to climb out of bed at 3am to help her find a missing toy, or to chase her around the flat, trying to lasso her legs into clothes. It's hard not to mind the spread of toys across the floor when I can barely stoop to tidy. It's hard to enjoy a toddler-paced walk when I JUST WANT TO SIT DOWN ALREADY and nobody's bouying me up with snacks.

I feel guilty about how much time we spend at home; I feel bad that the majority of our play dates are at our place.

To make up for all the extra time indoors, I send Matilda out to play with other people. She spends a few hours a week with Steve's parents; she spends a full day with our neighbour fairly regularly; she and Steve have a weekend dance class they go to without me. Even then, I feel guilty - she's used to spending so much time with me, I worry that she's feeling rejected. When she asks to stay at home with me, I feel bad talking her into leaving. When she comes back with stories of the great time she's had, I feel a little jealous. This, despite being convinced that she's ready for a taste of independence - despite feeling sad that she's got ten more months before she starts nursery. The guilt is real.

I'm so, so proud of how patient Matilda has been about the whole thing. She has accepted without complaint that I can't take her on as many outings as usual; she has accepted with only minimal complaint that I can only really play games which involve me sitting on on a yoga ball; she has given me lovely hugs and not-in-the-least-bit-relaxing back rubs when I've told her that I'm in pain. She's been absolutely awesome.

But I feel guilty that she has had to be.

She asked us for a baby; she didn't ask us for nine months of a tired, achy, increasingly pregnant mother.

And, oh, I know that things aren't going to spring back to the way they used to be once the baby's here. She's going to have to get used to sharing our time and our attention. She's going to have to deal with exhausted parents whose tempers are frayed. I'm going to have a whole new set of things to feel guilty about.

But at least when I can play with her, I CAN PLAY WITH HER. I'll be able to get down to her level and stay there (until her baby sibling's next feed).

So I'm hoping for an early birth. I'm looking forward to getting my body back - not for me, but for her.

And fingers crossed the new baby's a good sleeper, because I could do with getting my patience back, too.


How Stand Up Comedy Made Me A Better Parent

Back when Matilda was just a newborn, I was given the chance to attend a one day stand up comedy workshop in Edinburgh.

Most of my friends greeted the news with horror - several hours of enforced wackiness and it wasn't even a mandatory workplace bonding exercise? Why would I do that to myself?

But, actually, stand up comedy is one of my fantasy careers. I mean, I've never put any actual effort into it beyond smartmouthing ad breaks, but I like to think that I could if I wanted to. I could be the token woman on the panel show.

Anyway. I loved it. It was great fun and everybody there did a passable job of being funny. 

And it filled me with excitement about parenting a toddler.

Because it taught me to play "Yes, and..."

Toys

* * *

"Yes, and..." goes like this:

One person improvises a statement or scenario: "Sarah Rooftops is so hilarious she should have her own column in a newspaper."

The next person agrees and expands upon it: "Yes, and a multimillion pound TV deal."

The first agrees and expands upon that: "Yes, and everybody in the known universe would buy her book for Christmas."

"Yes, and she would be an answer in the next edition of Trivial Pursuit."

"Yes, and my kids would want the action figure..."

You get the idea.

* * *

We played "Yes, and..." at the comedy workshop, and then we contrasted it with the more standard response: "But..."

"Sarah Rooftops is so hilarious she should have her own column in a newspaper."

"No, but she doesn't really have the work ethic for it, does she?"

"No, but maybe if there was some money in it for her, she might get her finger out and do it...?"
"No, but she's halfway through the last season of Orphan Black - she couldn't find the time."

And so on.

It was such a change of mood. "Yes, and..." put us all into a happy, positive frame of mind, bubbling with (hilarious) inspiration; "No, but..." brought us all down and made us feel a bit hopeless.

It's the stand up comedy take on positive thinking; it deserves to be given a flowery background and a million pins on "Motivational Quote" boards.

Dinosaur with toast in its mouth

* * *

And it struck me as the perfect way to play with small children. I came away from the workshop, eagerly looking forward to Matilda being old enough to turn cardboard boxes into space rockets and fly round the moon with an elephant and a talking cactus. Or, you know: whatever her interests might turn out to be.

And now she is.

Now she's using her imagination. She role plays. She chats to her toys. She visualises ordinary objects as being extraordinary tools. She has an idea and she explores it.

"Yes, and..." helps her explore it further. When she reaches the limits of her own knowledge and experiences, I'll say, "Okay. How will we...?", "Okay. Where are we...?", "Okay, how about...?" and she'll have a little think and the game will make a jolt forward. We're not just on a bus made out of blankets - we're on a bus made out of blankets that's going to Granny's house and we've got a picnic with us and we're going to show Granny the beach and so on.

* * *

But it's not just Matilda getting more out of her games because of this.

It's me, too.

Because, let's face it: kids' games are not that entertaining for adults. It's harder for us to get excited about imaginary public transport. It's harder for us to accept that a bit of jigsaw could actually be a stethoscope. It's harder for us to maintain our interest in dropping small plastic animals into poster tubes. Kids' games gets boring pretty quickly.

When my head's going, "Oh, no, she's getting out the wooden blocks again..." I find it frustrating having to put down my phone, get onto the floor and engage with the game.

On the other hand, when I convince myself to respond, "Okay, we're building a zoo, are we? Will we need a pen for the monkeys?" my mood shifts. I maintain my focus on the game for... ooh... a good forty minutes. Longer if it involves lying on her bed and closing my eyes.

I go from kind of resenting playing something quite tedious to (mostly) enjoying engaging with my child, (mostly) loving watching her imagination grow, (mostly) appreciating the chance to help her explore her world.

* * *

And when I really can't get myself in the zone, I fake it by repeating my parenthood mantra: "It's always less boring than Facebook."

Your Third Trimester Survival Guide

31 week baby bump

The third trimester of pregnancy can feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you're expecting your first. On the one hand, you can't wait to meet your baby; on the other, what if you've not bought everything you need and look how long your to do list is you're never going to get it all done and what do YOU know about looking after babies anyway and what if everyone's right about you never sleeping again and OMG IS IT SUPPOSED TO BE THIS UNCOMFORTABLE CARRYING A WHOLE NEW HUMAN BEING AROUND IN YOUR TORSO?!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand... breathe.

At least: as much as you can when there are feet in your lungs.

* * *

Here are the five things you must do before the baby arrives:
  1. Pack your hospital bag.
  2. Assemble the crib/cot/moses basket.
  3. Buy nappies and put them in the place(s) you expect to change your baby.
  4. Buy maternity pads/nighttime sanitary towels and put them in the bathroom.
  5. Practise using the carrier, pram and/or car seat (even though you feel ridiculous doing so; you don't want to be figuring out how to adjust the straps in the hospital waiting room). 
If these things are done, you are ready enough

* * *

Still don't feel it, though, do you?

You still want the nursery to be finished (right there with you on this one) and you're still sure you've forgotten to buy the single most essential item (whatever the hell it is) and you're still having moments of wondering whether you're actually up to this whole parenting lark (you are).

On top of all that, the second trimester glow is a thing of the past. Your back hurts, you can't sleep, everything gives you heartburn, and your baby keeps on slapping you in the bladder. Or whatever your own personal litany of pregnany-related woes may be. Some days, the third trimester is rough.

And I'm not here to tell you to cherish every moment. Wish the crap bits away as much as you like - they're crap. They're the rubbish stuff you have to get through before you get to meet your baby; they don't have to be sentimentalised.

But I am here to tell you that there are good bits to the third trimester. And I'm going to tell you how to create even more.


Your Third Trimester Care Plan

Comfort

It's so hard to get comfortable when you've got a massive bump and there's somebody walloping your internal organs. But there are things you can do to help.

  • Invest in lots of maternity pyjamas. Lots. Change into them as soon as you get home, because you know what gives you heartburn, in addition to any food which is not basically liquid? Clothing which is tight across the top of your bump (so: bras; skirts; trousers; dresses which are fitted under your bust; basically everything you wear through the day). Evenings should be all about lounge wear.
    (On a related note: consider putting a nightie in your hospital bag instead of/as well as pyjamas. Not to scare you, or anything, but pyjama bottoms and catheters are not a great combination)
  • Get a yoga ball. They cost about a fiver and will keep you sane in the later weeks. Slouching on a low sofa all the time will not help your back or get the baby into a good position. Bounce on your ball. Do stretches on your ball. Lean over your ball while you're reading or watching TV. Yoga balls are your friend.
  • Use however many props and pillows you need to to get comfortable in bed. I've got a specific knee cushion which goes between my thighs and a wedge for under the bump; some nights I need both, some nights one or the other, some nights neither, but it's wonderful having the choice.
  • I'm inclined to be sceptical of multivitamins (expensive way to turn your pee orange etc etc), but my restless legs have completely cleared up since switching from the free NHS vitamins to the brand name ones with magnesium in them. I did this based on anecdotal evidence and this is anecdotal evidence, too, but I thought it was worth mentioning just in case it helps.
  • If your partner hasn't already taken on the vast majority of the housework, ask them to do so. They may not have realised how hard it is to reach a sink or push a vacuum cleaner when you're eight months pregnant. And you're growing a tiny human for them, so it's only fair.
  • Consider booking a pregnancy massage.
  • And joining a pregnancy yoga/pilates/aquanatal class. If, like me, you can't find any classes which work for your schedule and/or location, check out YouTube or buy a book/DVD. I do about ten minutes of stretches straight after Matilda's bedtime - I really notice it the next day when I forget! 

Health


  • Drink lots and lots of water. You may as well have something in your bladder to get rid of during your six thousand daily bathroom trips.
  • I'm all for trusting your instincts when it comes to eating - I'm sure the reason I'm craving so much ice cream is that it helps to settle the heartburn - but, you know: try to find a balance between sugar and things which are actually healthy. I ended up needing a forceps delivery last time because I was so... eh... backed up that there was no room for the baby to shove her way out; this time, I'm being very careful to keep my fibre intake up!
  • Leave work on time. 
  • I know most of us want to save as much of our maternity leave for after the birth as possible, but if you're getting tired you could consider: reducing your hours; working from home; booking every Wednesday off for the last month or so before you finish up. Find some way to let yourself rest more as your due date rolls around.
  • Get outside. Go to quiet places where you can feel the wind on your face/sand between your toes/pine needles between your fingers/whatever. Breathe some fresh air, even if it's only for half an hour at lunchtime.

Mental Preparation


  • Hypnobirthing. Honestly, you don't have to spend a fortune on classes - listen to a few relaxation tracks on YouTube or get a DVD/CD/book; they will all help you to shift from the "I can't possibly go through labour!" mindset to one in which you feel calmer and more in control. 
  • If you're looking for a parenting book which won't freak you out, I recommend BabyCalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith.

Emotional Support


  • Gather your friends around you. You do not have to have a baby shower if you don't want to. It's totally not my kind of thing (although I'm all for being given presents. Also, cake). But I have made sure that, the weekend I hit full term, I'm spending a couple of hours with my oldest parent friends (the three mums I've known since I was pregnant) and - separately - I'm going to my book group. Neither of these meet ups is any way focused on me or my pregnancy, but they're a good reminder that I have excellent friends and a strong support network around me as I go into this whole new stage of my life.
  • I highly recommend planning a curry night for your due date. You may have to cancel at the last minute but most first babies are a little late; it's a fun nod to the "curry kick starts labour" tale.
  • Look for ways to meet other women who are due at around the same time as you. You could: ask mutual friends to put you in touch; use play dating apps like Mush; join local parenting/birth groups on Facebook; go to antenatal/NCT classes; go to local "Bump Clubs" and/or antenatal fitness classes. All of these options terrify me on one level or another, but I'm so glad I pushed myself out of my comfort zone last time around - it made such a difference, knowing other women at about the same stage of newborn parenthood.
  • On the other hand, a lot of people - myself included - find that they want to hide away from the world in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Don't be afraid to keep time aside for yourself and your partner; I recommend keeping one day at the weekend completely free from plans.

Getting Ready


  • So many lists of "Things To Do Before The Baby Arrives" will tell you to batch cook and freeze lots and lots of meals. Yeah, there's no way I'm standing over a hot cooker at eight months pregnant. I'm here to tell you: there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a bunch of ready meals instead. Pick the healthier ones, by all means, but this is a time to go easy on yourself: as long as you can eat the food with one hand and it's not made entirely of salt, you're good. 
  • Back to the housework: seriously, if you can afford an extra £20 a month, consider getting a cleaner in, once a month for the first four or five months. We had so many visitors in the early days and I remember feeling so stressed out about the state of our toilet, every time one of them used it. This time around, Steve swears he's going to clean it every Sunday, but I'm still sorely tempted to throw money at the problem instead.
  • And if there are still household improvements sitting on your to do list which you absolutely will not cannot leave until after the birth, schedule them in to your calendar now. Make a plan of action and write it down; having time blocked out to get it done will help to relax you. A bit.


Is there anything other parents would add?


Extra: Ordinary Moments

Toddler peeling clementine

Careful What Your T-Shirt Says
Matilda has started pointing to words and asking what they say. Heavy metal fan, Steve, is having to select his hoodies and T-shirts carefully.

The Washing Machine
The new washer-dryer arrived on Tuesday, bang on Matilda's bedtime. Luckily, the delivery guy has small children of his own so took the overtired toddler in his stride - he showed her how to remove transit bolts, how to pop the replacement plugs into their holes and everything he was doing under the sink. She was thrilled.

And then she was so overstimulated she took an hour to fall asleep.

As for the new machine, it takes twice as long to do anything as the old one. But, on the other, it's that mythical beast which ACTUALLY DRIES THE CLOTHES instead of leaving us with a steaming pile of soggy laundry to strew around the dining room. The clothes horses have been stabled (for now).

Conkers

Reining In The Spending
Having bought unplanned white goods this month, Steve and I are being extra-extra-extra careful with our money this month.

I say that, but somehow (Halloween) we've ended up owning a toddler-sized tiger costume (or "stripy lion", depending on who you ask) and several pairs of maternity pants (because it turns out, when I spent my last pregnancy scoffing that maternity pants were a massive con, I was wrong; maternity pants are for people with such low bumps that they can't put their knees together).

Black cat (Polly) sleeping

What's new with you this week?

How I Keep On Top Of My Photos


I've written before (in 2014 - good grief!) about the annual photo book I've been compiling since Steve and I got together. Rather than faffing around with big, heavy photo albums or taking the more modern approach of feeling guilty because my photos only exist on a hard drive, it's such a lovely tradition - pulling a year's worth of pictures together into one shiny, lovely, proper book.

But whereas, pre-children, I used to love spending a day each January going through all of the pictures and designing that year's book, since becoming a parent I've found it harder and harder to find blocks of time (or energy) to devote to it. It took me about a month to finish the 2015 book; the 2016 book wasn't done until April.

This year, I was determined to keep on top of things so all I would have to do, come January, was wait for Blurb to have one of their 40% off sales, upload the book and place my order (that's NOT an affiliate link, by the way - I just rate their service).


So, here's how I've been organising my photos this year:

File As They Arrive
Every time Steve or one of the grandparents send me photos, I move the email from my Inbox into a "Photos to Download" folder. I do this as soon as the email arrives, so nothing gets lost in the deluge of junk mail.

Send Them Daily
If there's a photo of Matilda which I particularly love, I email it to her grandparents straight away. I consider my "Sent Items" folder a (very short term!) back up system, in case anything happens to my camera or my phone! My phone also backs up automatically to Google Photos.

Download Regularly
I keep aside the first Monday evening of every month to do photo admin. I spend about half an hour downloading all of the photos from my phone, camera, emails and Messenger. If any of them need obvious editing, I get it done now. I don't tag my photos, but I can see how that could be useful - this would be a good time to do it.

Organise Storage
On my computer, I have an image folder for each month of the year. I also back up these folders on an external hard drive in case my old and ailing laptop dies (I should back up my camera photos to the cloud - but that's a project for next year!).


Design Regularly
On the third Monday evening of each month, I lay out the previous month's photos in this year's photo book (I have installed Blurb's BookWright software on my laptop as this allows me to have a draft of the book on the go for however long I need). This takes me less than an hour, even on really eventful months.

Admittedly, I sometimes have to force myself to sit down and actually do the photo admin on a Monday, but it never takes long. In fact, the slowest part of the whole thing is - inevitably - flicking through the draft photo book and smiling at the memories. Because it's such a quick thing to do, it's not a big deal if something comes up and I have to shift it back by a couple of days - I'll be caught up by the end of the week.

I'm so looking forward to receiving the printed book sometime next year - and I can't quite believe that it's not just going to be the "Sarah, Steve & Matilda" book; the new baby will be in there, too!

How do YOU keep on top of your photos?

On Family Identities and Second Children


Recently, Matilda has become interested in surnames. "I'm Matilda Let's-Say-Smith," she tells me, "and Daddy is Daddy Smith. And Granny Smith and Grandad Smith and my baby will be Baby Smith. And you're Mummy Smith."

"No," I reply, "I'm not a Smith. I'm Mummy Rooftops."

"Oh," she says, "I see."

And that's that. Until the next time the subject comes up.

One of these days, though, she's going to start asking why I have a different surname from her, and I've not quite figured out how to respond. I had very clear reasons why I was happy for her to take Steve's surname, but they're hard to put into terms a two year old would understand - "You're a Smith because Daddy cared about your name more than Mummy did"?

In the meantime, she's been asking about her friends' surnames. A lot. She loves to repeat them; she revels in the sounds.

But she hasn't asked me what any of their parents' surnames are; I assumed she hadn't given it much thought.

* * *

Last week, she had a play date with her new friend, Penny.

"What's Penny's mummy's name?" she asked me, when we got home.

I told her Penny's mummy's first name.

"And what's Penny's name?"

"Um... Penny's name is Penny...?" I replied, not quite catching on.

"But... does she have a daddy?" she asked.

And that's when it clicked: she wanted to know Penny's surname. And she has already come to the conclusion that children have the same surnames as their dads.

* * *

Thinking about it, amongst Matilda's friends, this is largely true.

This, despite most of her friends' parents being either unmarried or having both kept their own surnames. With the exception of Ruth's kids, all of the offspring have taken their father's family names.

Different couples have different reasons for this, all just as valid as Steve's and mine. Still, it saddens me a little that Matilda has made a gender-related assumption and that it's being proved right.

It makes me wish I cared enough to go against the norm.

I don't regret giving Matilda Steve's surname (and I've never once come up against any judgement because of it; in fact, everyone still refers to him as my husband, because we're apparently at an age at which marriage automatically comes before babies), but should I want to give our new baby my surname? Just to even things out a bit? Just to prove to my kids that the man's identity doesn't always eclipse the woman's?

* * *

The thing is... I don't want to.

I mean, I'd be happy for them both to have my surname. But not just one or the other.

I remember so many squabbles with my sister about which of us each of our parents loved best (oh, siblings...!) and it feels to me that teaming one child up with my family and one with Steve's would be an extra piece of ammunition: "Mummy loves me best because she chose to call me Rooftops!"

If they were different sexes (and I'm still not confirming that one way or the other!), I also don't think it would be helpful to replace one gender-related rule ("Kids are named after their fathers") with another, albeit family-specific, one ("Our girls belong to Daddy's side; the boys belong to Mummy's").

And, even without that, it feels more important to me that siblings share a surname than that children share a surname with either or both of their parents. It marks the kids out as a team, even if they don't always act like one.

* * *

There's no clever, insightful conclusion to this post. I don't think there's one right answer; there's not even necessarily a right answer for my own little family.

But I'm curious what decision other parents reached, when baby number two came along. How many of your family share the same surname - and why?

* * *

Oh, and any suggestions for first names would be very much appreciated, too!


Extra: Ordinary Moments

Ivy

First Up:
Thank you so much to everyone who commented, emailed, tweeted, DMed and texted after my post about the second pregnancy blues. I'm honestly okay. I feel very calm about the birth - statistically, it's likely to go the way we want; physically, my body's showing every sign of cooperating (yep, still getting the Braxton Hicks) - and I felt more in control just for having put my thoughts down on... eh... screen. But I think it's important not to pretend that we all coast through pregnancy, glowing and beaming; I'm not sure I know anyone who's made it through the full nine months without moments of doubt or fear or overwhelm, and that was one of mine.

Kaffir Lilies

Something Which IS Stressing Me Out
Our washing machine conked out. Or, well, we can still run a load through it - if we're feeling brave and/or desperate - but it sounds like it's churning gravel rather than towels, and the digital display is showing absolute nonsense. Oh, and there's a vague scent of burning rubber.

It's beyond economical repair. Which is a shame because the new washing machine we've ordered is beyond our economical comfort level. Between this, the Harmony test, emergency vet bills, nuking that wasp nest, getting the bathroom window to close and whatever the other thing was that I can't remember off the top of my head, I don't think we've gone a month without a huge, unplanned expense all year. I could really do with getting through the rest of the year without any more crises, though, as I expect all of my coping abilities are going to be focused on surviving the sleep deprivation.

On The Bright Side
Non-alcoholic mulled punch. Thanks to Steve for knowing exactly what my Friday night was in need of.

Sparkly boots

Where I Am With This Pregnancy
I'm thirty-three weeks pregnant now; every time the week count goes up by one, I calculate how much time is left (four to nine weeks, currently) and it sounds like forever. And then, before I know it, that week is gone and I'm seven days closer to meeting my baby.

Some of the individual days are going slowly. I'm heavy and a bit achy and a bit tired and I feel bad about all the times I can't get down on the floor to play with Matilda or can't take her to the park (we still go for walks but nowhere which involves me lifting her into swings!) and so there are long, slow days during which we watch too much TV and try to reach compromises about how and what we play.

But the weeks? They're disappearing.

Sunrise


Three Books About New Baby Siblings

So... have I mentioned we've got a new baby on the way? Yeah? Once or twice? 

We've got a new baby on the way. And Matilda knows all about it (things she can tell you about babies: they cry; they learn to crawl; they can't talk yet; her baby is growing in my tummy; it's nice to hold their hands when their parents go to the toilet; they're - universally - cute).

Despite this wealth of knowledge (that was originally written in a sarcastic tone but, to be fair, it's about as much as either Steve or I knew when she was born), we wanted to get a few books to help her understand what was going on. The trouble is: I'm fussy about kids' books. They have to not only explain the concept; they have to look good doing it. Which, frankly, rules out most of the New Baby Sibling shelf.

So, here's what we chose (Matilda loves all three of them):

Books About New Baby Siblings

Hello In There! by Jo Witek and Christine Roussey

A lift-the-flaps book - always a winning option!

On the left of each double page spread is a picture of the mother's increasingly large tummy, with a flap you can lift to see the baby (just a baby - no umbilical cord or placenta or anything); on the right is a little girl, singing and chatting to her new sibling about how excited she is to meet them and all the fun things she's looking forward to doing with them.

There are downsides to this book: it does say it's for "a big sister" which might put the parents of big brothers off buying it; some of the things the big sister is keen to do with the baby aren't going to happen immediately after the birth; and I'm not entirely comfortable with the big sister making herself pretty in front of the mirror while she waits for the new baby to come home.

On the other hand, it's nice to read something about an older sibling feeling excited rather than jealous; I love the "we are already family" sentiment; and Matilda absolutely adores lifting the flaps and shrieking, "It's a baby!" every single time.

Books About New Baby Siblings

Snuggle the Baby by Sara Gillingham

I bought this because we have and love all of the empowerment series books Sara Gillingham illustrated (they're written by Stephen Krensky) so, quite simply, I knew it was going to look good - but it's also a lovely book and lots of fun for little kids.

First up: it's completely unisex. All of the babies pictured are in gender neutral clothing and are referred to as "my baby" rather than by sex, so it's suitable regardless of your children's sexes as well as ticking my feminist boxes.

Secondly: there's no judgement in it. For example, it says that some babies drink milk from their mums and some from bottles. I'm all for books which don't make mothers feel bad.

Thirdly: it's fun! Your kid can - amongst other things - tickle the baby, change the baby's nappy and tuck the baby up in bed. Incredibly tedious for grown ups who have to sit through all of these actions twenty times in a row, but brilliant for small children.

The only downside, for me, is that it's in American English so we have to change some of the words ("nappy" instead of "diaper" etc), but we're getting used to doing that with a lot of cute kids' books...

Books About New Baby Siblings

Topsy and Tim: The New Baby by Jean and Gareth Adamson

Okay, let's face it: this isn't exactly the most beautiful, innovative book about new babies you're ever going to pick off the shelf. But it's Topsy and Tim. They're staples of British childhoods, and Matilda's a big fan of the TV show (also of the one Topsy and Tim book in our local library - the one about the twins catching nits).

Anyway, Tony Welch is becoming a big brother. The twins get to feel the baby kicking, help prepare the nursery, and then excitedly meet the new baby; Tony, meanwhile, is given a toy car, feels a bit jealous of the baby and then helps to give him a bath.

It covers most of the basics in a straightforward way, giving you a chance to talk about any aspects which are of particular interest/relevant (hello, jealousy) to your kid. And there's a game at the end.

All three of these books have been on heavy rotation in our house recently; all three of us can recite them all off by heart.

Are there any new baby sibling books you would recommend?



Second Pregnancy Blues

Dungarees

This week, when I think about the end of my pregnancy, I feel a little low.

Oh, not about not being pregnant any more. I'm having a pretty easy run of it this time but I'm ready to swing my legs in and out of bed with ease and I'd quite like to never, ever, ever have another taste of Gaviscon. I've got no problem with losing the bump. 

And I'm so ready to meet my new baby.

It's just that I feel like I'm going through the third trimester on my own.

* * *

I don't mean that I'm lonely. These days, Matilda is (mostly) great company - we have huge, long conversations, play games with some sort of structure or plot and genuinely enjoy just hanging out together. 

Between us, we're also not short of friends - when we want to socialise, we can usually find a way to do so.

No, the feeling of aloneness is purely to do with the pregnancy.

And it's a combination of things.

* * *

There's the not knowing anyone else who's seven months pregnant with their second. 

Last time around, I had a group of new friends who were all expecting babies at about the same time as me. We could message each other about the various indignities of the third trimester and receive an immediate "ME, TOO!"

This time, I know a few people whose second babies are already here. They vaguely remember what the third trimester was like, but they've moved on to sleep deprivation and colic now.

I know a couple of people in the very early days of pregnancy; I don't want to remind them of what's to come while they're still slogging through morning sickness and waiting anxiously to feel those first kicks.

I'm lumbering around, somewhere between the two groups. Which, on its own, is fine. I know how to meet other pregnant women, if I decide I need to.

As I say: I'm not lonely. 

But it does feel different, not having somebody reflecting my experiences back at me.

* * *


We did have two people who insisted we could call on them any time, day or night, and they would drop everything to look after Matilda. We felt good, relieved, secure, relaxed. Now, one of them is moving away from Aberdeen two weeks before I'm due and the other will be on holiday on the other side of the planet.

Obviously, I don't expect either of them to schedule their lives around my pregnancy, but what are the chances of them both going from 100% available to 100% not available at such short notice? It's been a reminder that Steve's presence at the birth isn't something we can take for granted; I've started to prepare myself for giving birth without him.

* * *

Actually, birthing alone feels okay to me, most of the time. My ideal is to slink off, cat-like, into a dark space where I can listen to Portishead on repeat and let my body do its thing - I don't need company for that. 

But I would prefer for Steve to be there, at least for the later stages.

And he would be devastated to miss the birth.

Which makes it a little ironic that the other thing making me feel like I'm doing this pregnancy alone is that he's so much less involved with it this time. 

Whereas last time there were antenatal classes for us to attend together, all sorts of our-approach-to-parenting things to discuss, and many, many evenings spent snuggled on the sofa, with his hand on the bump, this time... well... there's just not.

The scans both feel like a long time ago; there was only one antenatal class we wanted to (or, actually, as second-timers, had the option to) attend; we can't make any of the private (hypnobirthing, NCT, whatever) classes work, what with the need for babysitters and transport and money and so on. So we're not doing Pregnancy Stuff together.

We know what our approach to parenting is; all we've really had to discuss is the baby's name.

And we don't have long, cuddly evenings this time. We have: one of us putting Matilda to bed; Steve doing the dishes because I can no longer reach the sink to take a turn; and then maybe an hour of free time before I need to slink off to sleep. More often than not, we spend that hour in different rooms - me, reading on the sofa; him, attempting to absorb the entire internet from his PC - and, when we do spend the evening together, I head to bed around ten while his bedtime - with nobody there to remind him about it - is slipping later and later.

* * *

From reading other people's tales of second pregnancies I get the feeling that - somewhat ironically - I'm not alone in this.

First time around, it's all so big and new and exciting and everybody wants to be involved. 

Second time around, it's more of a process - boxes to be ticked/brought down from the attic; daily life to be continued on with; first children to be given the maximum amount of mildly guilty cuddles ("I'LL STILL LOVE YOU, YOU PERFECT LITTLE PERSON!"). 

It's a different experience for me and a different experience for Steve.

* * *

And, of course, most pregnant women will think about the labour worst case scenarios. I'm planning for a home birth, which would cancel out most of the childcare concerns, but... well... I suspect it's normal to worry that I won't get my way.

* * *

So, this week, this is how I feel: a little low; a little alone; and a little less certain of having the labour that I want.

Has anybody else been through this?