On Keeping Our Christmas Celebrations Simple

Why I'm Embracing A Simple, Low Key Christmas For My Toddler

The decorations are up, the cards are made (if not written) and yesterday Matilda attended a party with her friends, complete with Secret Santa gift exchange. Christmas is well and truly upon us.

We bloggers fall into two camps when it comes to Christmas, don't we? There are the bloggers who have a Christmas theme (Nordic? Monochrome? 1980s foil extravaganza?) and there are the bloggers who have an ethos (Embrace the consumerist frenzy to create maximum childhood magic? Embrace dark nights and the gifting of homemade mince pies to create maximum childhood magic? Tut at the whole kit, caboodle and overpriced crackers?).

And I don't suppose I'm any different.

I'm not one of the theme bloggers. I don't understand how people can AFFORD to buy a whole house's worth of new baubles every year (plus a sofa; adverts tell me that it's essential to get a new sofa "in time for Christmas" rather than "in January, once tipsy people have stopped waving glasses of mulled wine alarmingly close to your soft furnishings") and I don't know how they manage to keep their kids' festive crafts on trend ("No, Marmaduke - not the green and red crayons; colour your tree in grey").

So, that makes me an ethos blogger.

And I do have opinions about Christmas.

I have opinions about Elf on the Shelf (sinister, manipulative and seemingly only done by people who still think it's funny to pretend that Barbie dolls give blow jobs) and I have opinions about Kindness Elves (is "the elves are checking you're being good" so very different from "the elf is checking you're not being bad"?).

I have opinions about incredibly complicated advent calendars (fine if they just look pretty; tiresome if you have to spend 25 days sticking to scheduled fun) and about book advents (the books gifted later in the month don't get enough of a look in).

I have opinions about Christmas Eve boxes (love the idea of reading a festive book or watching a Christmas movie together as a family; love the idea of everybody wearing nice new pyjamas in the photos the following morning; opposed to that nice, quiet evening being turned into something expensive and showy).

And I have opinions about how many of the presents should be credited to Santa (the contents of the stocking ONLY) and how many should be credited to parents/siblings/pets (everything under the tree). Although I've not yet clarified my opinion on Santa himself (enhancing the magic or lying to my child?).

But my ethos this year is to keep Christmas low key and to let it evolve at our natural pace.

So: we hung a few baubles in the living room, the dining room and Matilda's room (while she napped - the excitement on her face when she woke up and saw them!) but things look pretty minimalist at the moment; we're slowly adding decorations as Matilda and I make them (or I impulse buy them in discount stores).

So: Matilda's winter and Christmas themed books have been given pride of place on the coffee Matilda's table but we're not pushing her to read them (instead, we're reading Tabby McTat, Meg and Mog and Goodnight Sleepy Babies on rotation. As usual).

So: I have a list of festive crafts and activities I think Matilda would enjoy and, when we're at a loose end, I refer to that. This means we're making gingerbread men instead of cupcakes and paper chains instead of suncatchers, but there's no schedule for our pottering and there will be no sense of failure if we don't score everything off.

So: we decided not to stress ourselves out trying to get in and out of town on buses full of shrieking children at a time when Matilda would be tired and hungry just so we could say we saw the lights go on. But we'll probably catch a carol concert and we'll stop by the Christmas Village some afternoon when the weather's on our side.

December is always a pretty special month for Steve and me, anyway. In addition to Christmas, we both have December birthdays and we (currently he) take the week between them off work. We have an annual "mini Christmas" with friends and we see Steve's parents on his dad's birthday, which is right between Christmas and New Year. There's lots to look forward to without trying to cram the month with Maximum Festivity.

And, at not-quite-two, Matilda knows no different. She's not demanding to meet a different Santa every Sunday; she's not circling the whole Argos catalogue in highlighter pen; she has one party in her social calendar and a visit from her granny. So we can be as low key as we like.

It feels right, though: December being a time when we mosey around together as a family, seeing where our moods and the weather take us.

December feels like a time to shelter from the cold and wet and dark; to hole up indoors with crayons and glittery stickers; to bake; to hang out with friends and family at home.

Avoiding the fizzing strip lights and looping Christmas tunes of department stores; avoiding the long queues and crowded buses of weekend town trips.

Do I want to keep up the blogger cliches and use the word hygge? I do. It fits my Christmas ethos nicely. December is a time for hygge.

And Christmas, to me, is a time to keep things simple.

What is Christmas to you?


When It Comes to Parenting, Older Doesn't Always Mean Wiser

Why Grandparents Don't Always Know Best

Over the past nineteen months, Matilda and I have toured most of the toddler groups within a three mile radius. Some (those which hand out tea and toast) are better than others (those with barely any toys) but only one frustrated me so much that I have ruled out going back.

Half the point of toddler groups is for the grown ups to get a bit of adult conversation - more often than not, it's awkward chit chat about the weather and civic events; sometimes it's joyfully agreeing about mud (immune booster or laundry nightmare?); but at this particular toddler group it was calling the kids lazy, stupid and selfish, none of which I wanted Matilda to listen to. None of which I wanted any of the kids to have to listen to. None of which I intend to listen to again.

Anyway, eventually, the viciously negative conversation turned to sleep. Because it always turns to sleep. All of these kids were "horrible" and "manipulative" and "refused to go to sleep" and the grown ups were united in their belief that "the only way to teach them" was to leave them to cry it out.

I disagree. But that's not what this story's about.

This story is about the grandmother who had taken great offence because her daughter refused to do it. "But what do I know?" the grandmother yelled. "I ONLY RAISED HER."

And here I am, getting to my point.

That there are so many grandparents out there dispensing well-intentioned but often dated advice. They don't know that when they tell their children to leave their babies to cry, to lay them on their fronts and to introduce solids at eight weeks, that they're directly contradicting the advice the NHS hands out; they forget that their children are new to parenting, scared of getting everything wrong, raised to have faith in their parents' opinions (even if they think they've outgrown that phase) and too tired to read the great big Ready Steady Baby book their community midwife gave them; that new parents will so often trust peer pressure over gut instinct and may regret it later.

Or perhaps they won't regret it later. That's not the point.

The point is that it's not the grandparents' place to get angry and offended if their kids consider taking a different path through parenthood.

My mum was here when the health visitor first came to meet Matilda. She was so glad she was. She heard, first hand, the health visitor tell me that it's recommended parents cuddle their babies as much as possible, do skin to skin, hold them when they sleep - that it's creating a bond rather than bad habits. Not that my mum would have disagreed, necessarily, but she knew plenty of people who would do and it gave her the arguments she needed to defend my choices.

I had what I consider to be good parents. But there are things I choose to do differently from them.

My choices (Steve's and my choices, obviously, but I can only comment on my own family background) are not a criticism of my parents' (or his parents') choices - they're just different; they're based on newer research, newer evidence; they're a reflection of us having supportive people around who encourage us to trust our own instincts rather than pressure us to do things in the way they consider proper.

And I'm lucky because I have a mother who has told me, "I wish I had known all the things you know now, when you were a baby." She acknowledges that there are things she might have done differently and, should I ever become a grandmother, I hope that I'm as open to ideas which differ from the ones I currently hold as she is.

Gentle parenting - because, if we need a label, that's the one which best fits Steve's and my approach - sometimes gets attacked in the mainstream media. There are plenty of people out there angry that their own parenting choices aren't being validated by this particular ethos so they try to rip it to pieces; inaccurate descriptions are thrown around, portraying gentle parents as permissive idiots who let their kids run riot, smearing poop all over the swings. Meanwhile, I admit: I've seen plenty of gentle parents tear apart those parents who opt for controlled crying, reward charts and naughty chairs.

We're so keen to prove our own approach right, we're desperate to invalidate all others.

And here's what prompted this stream of consciousness: a little while ago, there was a meme going round Facebook, lots of people announcing that their parent/s "apparently abused" them, gave them the belt, force fed them, locked them in their rooms etc and they turned out okay so where do these hippies get off telling them their parent/s were crap when they clearly weren't because - look! - they've got jobs and THEY LOVE THEIR MUMS SO THEIR PARENT/S DID EVERYTHING RIGHT.

But, you know what? It's okay to think that there are things your parent/s could have done better AND TO STILL LOVE THEM.

It's okay to acknowledge that your parent/s were raising you in the best way they knew how, but that perhaps that way wasn't ideal.

It's okay to be the parent who would go back in time and change things (that feeling starts from the day you're sent home with a brand new kid to raise, doesn't it?).

It's not okay to state that because something did you no harm, it's impossible for it to have harmed anyone else - that's not the way people work.

It's not okay to be so scared of being wrong that you shame your child into repeating your mistakes.

And, simply, it's not okay to make your grown up child feel that the way they choose to raise their baby is anybody's business but their own.


More Bits and Bobs

Frosty leaves

Because I'm currently really enjoying writing this sort of post. That's all.

Here are some flashes of my life lately:

Frost
My goodness, after a week of jealousy because the rest of Instagram had snow flurries, the frost finally arrived. And how beautiful it was. So thick and deep it looked like snow. Or - if you were kneeling down because you were trying to show it to a toddler who had solemnly repeated your statement "too cold brr" before bringing you their coat and boots and insisting on going to the park - white crystal flowers all over the football pitch. Gorgeous. It also made our uPVC front [and only] door warp so much that we struggled to lock it but then the rain came back and everything was burglarproof once more.

Sarah's Honey With Ginger
I meant to photograph this. Oh, well. I'm too cosy on the sofa with my hot water bottle to go and do it now. Take it from me: this stuff would be worth a mention even if it didn't have my name on it.

Dad Visit
The annual one happened. I tutted at him about his lack of gloves but that didn't stop us pootling around the frosty park with Matilda and heading out to an adults only evening at the Science Centre on a sub-zero night. It was an astronomy themed event at which we learned (and promptly forgot) various interesting things about the night sky; I've since got round to downloading one of those star map apps onto my phone which I admire from the comfort and warmth of my living room, with the blinds fully down to keep the heat in, obvs.

When the End Comes It Will Be Because of Parsnip and Watermelon Crisps
I may go on about respecting my child's right to privacy online, but my partner, on the other hand, is a grown man in the internet age - he knows that if, say, he blows our monthly food budget on (approximately) 75,000 enormous bags of novelty flavoured crisps I am going to roll my eyes about it online. Yet another Iceland flyer came through our door this morning and I had to tear it up before I put it in the recycling box because pay day is a week away and they're advertising duck spring rolls shaped like Christmas trees - I'm not sure that he'd resist them.

I Now Have Sylvie by St Etienne Stuck In My Head
Which is no bad thing. And at least it's ousted the CBeebies days of the week song.

What's been going on with you?

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently


In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Yes, yes, late to the party. I've been looking forward to reading this ever since it came out - I'm not sure of girls of every generation grow up reading Judy Blume but girls of my generation did, and I wanted to know if the "she just gets it" feeling would still be there all these years later. And it was. For those who haven't read this, it's set in a town called Elizabeth where three planes crashed within two months of each other, back in the 50s; the crashes were real but the novel follows fictional interlinked families as they deal with the aftermath. There are so many - so many! - characters in this novel that I did find it difficult to keep track of who was who, but I loved it. I loved the people, flaws and all, and I loved the writing which exposed sharply honest emotions without judgement or sentimentality. Wonderful.

Now For The Disappointing Part by Steven Barker*
30-something Steven has spent his adult life temping for employers such as Amazon and Expedia because he hasn't figured out what else to do; in between jobs, he has done odd bits of freelance writing. This is his story. And it's a well written story. A lot of it will be familiar to anyone who has ever temped, to anyone who has ever wanted to be a writer but not known how and to anyone who has ever had a long-term partner who wanted them to get their act together. I just wasn't sure what the point was. It didn't tell me anything new about temping nor did Steven have any great epiphanies along the way. He came across as one of those guys who thinks he's much cleverer than average but is really scared that nobody else has noticed. And I know those guys in real life; I don't need to read their story.

Autumn by Ali Smith*
I've loved Ali Smith for years - ever since stumbling across Free Love back in 1998 - but, to be totally honest, I didn't have a clue what was going on in The Accidental and I've been putting off reading How to be Both for about a year in case it left me with the same vague sense of not being smart enough. So I was hesitant to read this. Especially as the description on Amazon implies you need a degree in English ("Keatsian melancholy" and "Shakespearian jeu d'esprit", anybody?) to wade your way through it. In fact, it was a surprisingly quick and - in that sense - easy read. It's an undeniably intelligent novel and, if you've not got a degree in English but would quite like one, there's enough subtext in it to get you through your dissertation, but at no point did it feel inaccessible. Instead, I felt drawn into the characters' lives and, in particular, Daniel's shaping of stories. This is something rather special.

It Was You by Jo Platt*
Alice's friends want to set her up on dates. Not that any of them have their love lives together - within her close knit group there are wobbly marriages, serial monogamy and an eternal singleton. Which all makes this sound like run-of-the-mill chick lit. Which it's not. These characters are written convincingly and with utter affection; they've got their quirks but they love one another nonetheless (and I grew quite fond of them, too); the plot seems lightweight but it's large and complex and cleverly makes its point (although it does then explain the point in an epilogue...). There are no surprises in store - you can guess from the first chapter who's going to have a happy ending with whom - but it's a fun journey, following along with Alice and her friends. One I would happily read again.

*Provided for review

Bits and Bobs

Toddler toys on coffee table

Well, things have been a bit quiet around here recently, haven't they? There are two reasons for that:

  1. Another bout of blog disinterest during which I crossed out a lot of post ideas and deleted a couple of half-finished drafts. My current attitude is that I don't want to write anything which feels like a potential breach of Matilda's privacy, an attempt to pass myself off as a parenting expert or an advert (paid or otherwise). Which leaves me with whinging and humour. And I haven't been feeling very funny recently because:
  2. Matilda and I have spent the last two weeks slogging through hand, foot and mouth disease. Hand, foot and mouth disease (nothing to do with cows) is the same virus as chicken pox but it supposedly only appears on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet and as ulcers inside your mouth and it supposedly isn't itchy. Matilda was covered head to toe in spots (but not itchy) while my ulcers were all clustered inside my nose (and my hands itched so badly that they kept me awake ALL DAMN NIGHT and made me cry). 
Some other things which have been going on around here:

Mince pies
I, the former festive cynic, am feeling Christmassy already. It took a huge amount of willpower (and Steve's refusal to cart two boxes of decorations down from the attic) for me not to deck the halls in tinsel before we had even got through Halloween. I've made do with buying mini mince pies instead. Which I had to eat immediately. Because they went out of date on 25th November. And so much have I changed since becoming a parent that I didn't even feel the need to complain about Christmas food which goes out of date a month before Christmas and, oh, the crass commercialism etc etc on Twitter.

Lullabies
It's not just me, though. As I type this, I can hear the lady downstairs singing Jingle Bells to two babies who clearly don't want to go sleep.

Is this a bullet journal?
I've started a sort of diary-organiser-book thingy which I suspect, if I was more image conscious and able to keep cactuses alive, I would refer to as a bullet journal. Instead, I'm the sort of person who mutters about young people giving pretentious names to their to do lists. Anyway, it's very helpful, having an ongoing list of household projects, a weekly list of things to do and spending time once a month copying my online calendar down onto a bit of paper. It has prompted me to buy new baby and person-specific birthday cards in good time rather than in the post office. I've even correctly disposed of all of our dead batteries and unwanted medicines because a bit of paper told me that this was the week to do so.

Wish list update
I've added an electric toothbrush (to minimise future dental crying episodes) but, otherwise, it remains blank.

Tell me: what's new with you?

What's Even Better Than The Good Old Days?


A few days ago, a picture of a rusty metal spinning top popped up on my Facebook. The picture had been shared in a group called something along the lines of "The Good Old Days" and was accompanied by the sentiment "such a shame that children these days DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THIS IS".

Almost 700 people had hit the crying face emoticon and waded into the comments section with remarks like "What a travesty! They spend all their time on the internet these days! Proper toys aren't even made anymore! This makes me so angry!"

But it's nonsense.

Matilda has a metal spinning top. It was from Sainsbury's; it was a couple of quid in a supermarket, not something I tracked down on a specialist Ye Olde Fashioned Toys site. And every single kid who comes round to our house picks up the spinning top and pumps away at it without needing any instructions - they all know what a spinning top is and they all know how to use one.

It was ironic, too, that hundreds of people internet-savvy enough to be getting inaccurately angry on Facebook were berating kids for having screen time.

There's nothing wrong with screen time in moderation. Kids need tech skills; they'll be grown ups in the future and they won't get far if they can't press buttons. An episode of Clangers (just like the Good Old Days crowd used to watch when they were little) is a nice way for a kid to chill out after a busy, tiring day of learning and full-on activities.

Where has this idea come from that just because kids are exposed to modern ways of playing the old ways have fallen out of existence? And why the related assumption that the old ways were automatically better, the new ways invariably bad?

* * *

With it being Halloween, a bit more Facebook scrolling brings up statement after statement about how appalling it is that modern children go "trick or treating" instead of "guising" and carve pumpkins instead of turnips.

Personally, I prefer the term "guising" because it sounds creepier. I'll continue to use it even when Matilda's old enough to roll her eyes and tell me I'm pathetically uncool. But language evolves. We're not saying "thee" and "thou" and "ye" any more. Things change. No biggie, as the oldies do not say.

But the pumpkins. For heaven's sake, if you read some of the stuff on my newsfeed, you'd think the pumpkins were some sort of Trump-masterminded American invasion and carving anything other than a neep was unpatriotic.

Pumpkins look good. Half the appeal of Halloween for me is that it's a sea of bright orange and twinkling lights after the nights have drawn snugly in - I'd vote for the lurid coloured fruit over the traditionally humdrum root vegetable any day.

A turn of phrase and what you choose to carve your lantern from are minor details in a bigger celebration. The witches and bats and black cats and spiders and bags of sugary treats are still there; it's still a chance to dress up in costumes and an excuse to watch scary films whilst drinking blood red wine from a skull-shaped glass; you can still bob for apples if you're not afraid of your face paint washing off.

The essence of Halloween hasn't changed; the tradition of celebration is still there. Absorbing some appealing ideas from overseas doesn't make the marking of the day any less authentic.

* * *

And, of course, Christmas is on the horizon.

The past two years, Steve and I have spent part of Christmas Day talking about traditions - about the ones we each grew up with, the ones we each want to carry forward into Matilda's childhood and the new ones we would like to create together.

So many of us are so very attached to our childhood Christmases. It isn't Christmas without stockings at the foot of our bed (No! They should they be under the tree!); it isn't Christmas without cake (No! It should it be a flaming pudding!); it isn't Christmas without a selection box (No! It should it be a chocolate orange!). Very, very few of these details sound all that important - in the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if the meal is at lunchtime or in the evening?! - but we have a nostalgic attachment to them; they were part of our childhood magic and we don't want to give that up.

Upon starting a new family of our own, we have to make a conscious decision to treasure some traditions and let others go; we have to sit down together, talk and reach a compromise; we have a chance to brainstorm something completely new.

Traditions can evolve.

Childhoods change a little with each new generation.

The old ways were often wonderful. That doesn't mean the new ways aren't just as good (or - whisper it - sometimes better).

It does no good to moan on Facebook that kids these days don't know what they're missing out on - if you want them to know what a spinning top is, go and buy one (yes, they do still exist) and give one to a kid you know.

Complaining about pumpkins won't stop kids liking them - if you prefer turnips, carve turnips; if your kid prefers pumpkins, do one of each.

And if your partner has a different approach to Christmas - or birthdays or milk teeth falling out or how you spend Sunday mornings - listen, talk, compromise, dream.

You have the chance to take the best bits of your childhood forward with you; you can leave the brussels sprouts behind.

Staring at a Blank White Wishlist

Blank Wishlist: When You're The Person Who Has Everything, What Gift Do You Ask For?

With my birthday and - dare I say it - Christmas coming up, Steve and the ultra-grown ups* in my life are asking me for wishlists.

My wishlists are empty.

No, not empty. Not all of them. My "Matilda" wishlist is overflowing with vaguely seasonal books, wooden houses and clothes which look like they're made out of leaves.

My Sarah wishlists have a couple of parenting books on them. But I don't want parenting books for my birthday; I want things which are for me-as-an-individual rather than me-in-relation-to-my-child.

But I don't really know what that is.

There are only so many books about hygge a blogger needs and I already have three pairs of slippers, more mugs than I can fit in the cupboard and a filing cabinet full of craft supplies which I only ever use with my child. I don't like candles or toiletries (thanks, perfume allergy) and I'm not big on chocolate (she says, eating half a packet of chocolate chip digestives).

Since having Matilda, I've no idea what size of clothes I wear. My to-read pile is ridiculous. I don't want a spa treatment and I assume anyone who gifts handmade babysitting vouchers is going to be so infuriatingly smug about doing somebody a favour (whilst posting lots of unauthorised photos of my child on Facebook) that it wouldn't be worth the hassle to accept.

To top it off, Steve and I are on a strict £30 budget this year (and that includes our gift from Matilda) so there's no cop out "I had no inspiration so here's some expensive, shiny tech" fallback plan.

I always thought I was easy to buy for - I was easy to buy for - but I've reached the point where I don't want any more stuff.

I feel like my life has achieved that elusive calm/clutter balance; it wouldn't take many garish vintage teapots to tip me over into "gaaaaaah, I need another clear out" territory and I always feel so awkward trying to sweet talk friends into driving all my junk to the charity shop.

On the other hand, I do want presents. That childish need to open something exciting on Christmas morning is still there.

I know: what a problem to have - "Nice people want to buy me things! Waaaaaaaaaaah!" But if people are going to give me presents (and they are going to give me presents; I've tried banning them in the past and was utterly ignored), I want to be happy with whatever they've gone ahead and spent their money on.

So help me, oh internet blog world of rampant consumerism: what should I write on this list?


*at least 16 years older than me

Wonderful Wednesday #6

Autumn leaves

This hasn't been the most wonderful of weeks. Matilda and I are both suffering with head colds so we're whiney (her), competitively hard-done-by (me) and utterly sleep deprived. Urgh.

We've been making the most of it, though, holing up indoors and finding new ways to play with all of her toys. Who knew those fitted inside of that?! Would the wooden pirates like some cheese? I hope the babies downstairs aren't trying to sleep. Etc. I can't say we didn't ever see the afternoon reruns of that morning's CBeebies shows but the crayons to cartoons ratio was definitely tipped towards scribbling.

Anyway, on to some of the bright points:

New Winter Jacket
My mum treated me to a new winter jacket (whilst my teenage self cringed and shouted "You're an independent adult!"); she said it was an early birthday present, but fingers crossed she's forgotten about that little proviso by the time 12th December rolls around (12th December, people - add it to your calendars now). Anyway, it meets with all my criteria: brightly coloured (yellow); insanely warm; can be wiped clean after trips to the invariably muddy park. It's possibly the least flattering thing I've ever worn - and I once dressed up as a brussels sprout - but it feels like I've got four lightly warmed pillows strapped to my torso and it turns out that's all I really want.

Toddler Pace Walks
Suddenly Matilda can not only reliably walk to places; she can reliably walk home from them as well. And I love it. I love ambling along the road, holding hands with my daughter, pausing to gather autumn leaves (fig. A, above) and not being lumbered with a buggy.

Big Bag of Cake
Our neighbour was volunteering at a jumble sale on Saturday. There was a lot of homebaking left at the end. We benefited from it. Greatly. That is all you need to know.

* * *

Wonderful Wednesdays are Sally's idea but Michelle, Kate, Helen, Jo, Cat, Emma, Sam, Laura, Kerri, Peta, Sarah and Jasmin all take part, too. Check out their blogs for weekly ramblings about the good stuff in life.

(Also: I totally just copy and paste that list without thinking every week so if I've missed you off it, let me know)

Five Years of Gizmo

Big black cat: Five years since adopting adult cat.

Today marks five years since Steve and I adopted Gizmo.

Gizmo had previously lived with relatives of one of my colleagues, however he had spent the seven months since the arrival of their baby cowering behind the sofa. I'm right there with the "you don't just ditch a pet because you've had a baby" brigade - pets are not just a trial run for children - but I do believe that, if your pet is extremely unhappy and there's nothing else you can do to improve their life, finding them a new home can be the kindest option.

So. Gizmo came to us. And three and a half years later we had a baby, too. But we'll get to that.

Gizmo is a big cat with a tiny kitten squeak. He's very affectionate but prefers not to be picked up and has only ever slept on our laps three times; he likes to be stroked and brushed and he grooms my hair whenever I lie down to do my physio exercises.

He's a nervous cat (this nervous) and didn't seem to have a lot of self-esteem when he first came to us. He has never known how to interact with other cats; he tries to befriend them (Polly and random neighbourhood cats he meets on the doorstep) but scares them off with his big, wide eyes and over-enthusiastic bouncing.

So he's lovely and hilarious and a total sook but not all that good at being a cat; he's the closest we're ever likely to get to a puppy.

How our cat is coping with a toddler.

I hate to admit it, but Gizmo's going through a bit of a rough patch at the moment.

When we first moved into this flat, the cats divided it up between themselves; Gizmo got the living room and the spare room while Polly claimed the bedroom and dining room. Everyone was happy, all was well.

Then Matilda came along and invaded the spare room. But she wasn't mobile so Gizmo made do with the living room (bar several attempts to claim the cot).

Then Matilda started crawling and excitedly launching herself at the "meow". But there were places she couldn't reach (behind the sofa being the big one), so Gizmo still had somewhere to hide if he wanted to be alone.

Then Matilda figured out how to get into every single one of Gizmo's safe places. And now her toys are having mountaineering adventures on his scratching post. Gizmo has nowhere of his own.

There are turf wars going on. He has started blocking Polly's routes around the flat; he has started chasing her out of the bathroom (litter tray room); he has begun venturing outdoors and sometimes stays there for more than five seconds. Gizmo is trying to find some new territory and Polly is expressing her displeasure in the one way she knows how: pooing in the shower.

We're not sure there's much we can do about it. Matilda is now very good about leaving Gizmo alone when he's sleeping and he is sufficiently comfortable around her that he gives her kisses and allows her the occasional pat of his back. Gizmo is nowhere near as good at climbing as Matilda is so there's nowhere else we can create a safe spot for him. For now, our approach is just to ride this out and hope that he and Polly find some new understanding.

Despite all of this, he's as sooky as ever, following us around and meowing for attention. He spends most of the day on the sofa and purrs incredibly loudly if Steve or I sit next to him. He's also much more confident around strangers than he used to be, happily asking them to pet him instead of cowering behind the furniture.

And he might not have any safe spots but he does know how to find a warm patch: we can't vacate the sofa for more than three seconds without a big, furry, purry lump appearing in our place.

Five years since this big black cat became part of the family.

You might also like: Five years of Polly.

My Toddler Is... How Old?

How do you describe a toddler's age between 18 months and 2 years?

Today, Matilda turns 18 months old.

This feels like it should be a big milestone. So much toddler advice talks about "18 months plus" (while the baby advice, unhelpfully, stops at a year) that I was half-expecting a huge, noticeable developmental leap right about now. Perhaps she would start making puns, playing recognisable tunes on her xylophone or could sort out the tension on my sewing machine?

That doesn't seem to be the case.

It seems to be impossible to generalise about 18 month olds. They're all doing their own thing, as far as development goes. They're all focusing on the skills which interest them the most (in Matilda's case: parkour).

So, her 18 month birthday turns out to be nothing more than an excuse to eat some cake.

But it has raised a big question in my mind: how old should I tell people my child is?

This isn't the first time I've been through this, of course.

I stopped telling people how many days old she was at two weeks because, to be honest, I was a bit hazy on the correct answer (was she one day old on day two? How could that be? I'M TOO TIRED FOR THIS SORT OF PhD LEVEL MATHEMATICS!).

I stopped telling people how many weeks old she was when she reached three months. I know people who carried on for the whole of the first year but three months felt right to me. Anything past "thirteen weeks" and there's an awkward pause in the conversation whilst people try to mentally convert your answer into something which they understand.

But, on those occasions, there was an obvious progression. Stop the days, start the weeks. Stop the weeks, start the months.

Stop the months, start... the years? What does that mean for the gap between 18 months and two years? Do I tell people she's "a year and a half and a bit"? "Three months shy of two"?

Or is it normal to keep counting in months until the second birthday? Have I just been confused by all the books and groups which lump anything between 18 months and four years into the category "toddler"?

I do realise this entire post should be filed under "First Time Parent Overthinks Things". Possibly it would have been better placed on a mothering forum, but I can't be bothered having people tell me that the answer is to add Nesquik to some expressed breastmilk and leave her to cry it out.

I did try googling for an answer but when you type "18 month toddler age count" into a search engine all you get is checklists for establishing whether or not your child's a mathematical genius (evidently: yes).

So I'm going on the assumption that the only people who have made it this far are parents of similarly aged toddlers and that they either know the answer, have the same question or hadn't thought about this and are now cursing me for giving them yet another thing to fret about at three in the morning (you're welcome).

So, tell me, other parents of similarly aged toddlers: how old is my child next month?