Is This How To Protect My Child?

Can you protect a toddler from strangers' inappropriate behaviour?

There's a tipsy old man on the bus. He wants to befriend Matilda. He's lunging over her buggy, poking her in the face and demanding that she smile. When she ignores him, he tells her over and over again, "I don't want to talk to you, anyway! You're a right grump! You're not very nice at all!"

Do I... smile politely and try not to engage him? Even though I'm uncomfortable with him poking my child? Even though I want her to learn that she can decide who gets to touch her? Even though I want her to know that she is not a grump? Even though she's clearly not enjoying the situation?

Do I... defend her, telling him that she's right not to want strangers in her personal space? Even though his reaction is unpredictable? Even though he might hurt my child? Even though he might become abusive towards me? Even though he's too drunk to listen to my words?

I want to say I'd always choose the second option but sometimes I'm not that brave.

* * *

There's a middle-aged lady in the doctor's waiting room. She wants Matilda to go over and give her a cuddle. She keeps trying to wave her over. She becomes more and more upset, the more that Matilda ignores her.

Do I... smile apologetically at the lady? Even though her behaviour is inappropriate? Even though she's unsettling my child? Even though I would be horrified if my daughter went over and cuddled a stranger just because they asked? Even though we're in a doctor's surgery and goodness knows what germs they could then pass to each other?

Do I... explain why she shouldn't be trying to lure a child over for hugs? Even though it might upset her? Even though she might be offended at the implication she could be a dangerous stranger? Even though she could be a dangerous stranger?

I want to say I'd always choose the second option but sometimes I'm not that brave.

* * *

There's a kid at a toddler group. S/he grabs the toy Matilda's playing with and hurls it across the room or s/he pushes Matilda off the slide or s/he smacks Matilda in the face. Matilda doesn't know how to react so she stands there, looking sad and unsure. Nobody else intervenes.

Do I... let these kids push my child around? Even though she's hurt or upset by their behaviour? Even though I think a simple calm statement could make them stop?

Do I... defend my child? Do I tell the other kids, "Matilda's playing with that at the moment - can you find a different toy to throw around?" or, "One moment until Matilda's finished her turn... Now it's your go," or, "Matilda doesn't look happy being hit; it's not okay to hit other kids"?

I know the answer to this one. I always step in. I want Matilda to know that I will always protect her, if she needs it. I want Matilda to learn that it's okay to stand up for herself and to know how to go about that. I want her to know about turn taking. I see no problem with explaining these things in front of other people's kids and it's rare that the parents object.

* * *

I am confident about sticking up for Matilda when it comes to other children. Other children, even when they intend to upset her, aren't being deliberately cruel - they're figuring out where the boundaries are and I am happy to give them an answer. Also, truthfully, the worst a little kid could do to me is kick me in the shins and give me a bruise; I can easily move both Matilda and myself away from a mega tantrum.

With adults, though, sometimes I'm too scared to protect her in the way I think I should.

She's old enough now to understand a lot of what's going on, though. She's old enough to understand that I'm not stopping a strange man from touching her face or from insulting her. She's old enough to understand that I'm letting a strange lady behave in a way which makes her uncomfortable.

That's not okay.

It's not okay that she's learning her mother won't always stop other people from invading her space. It's not okay that she's learning to smile nicely and let a stranger do what they want to her body, that other people's feelings are more important than her own sense of safety.

She doesn't know that I'm weighing up the possible outcomes and avoiding the immediately explosive one.

But which is worse: the immediate threat or the long term damaging lesson?

What would you do, if it was you?

Things to do in Autumn with a One Year Old

Things to do in Autumn (Fall) With a One Year Old

Today is the official start of autumn and, blogger that I am, I'm getting excited about thick tights, hazy skies and 70s colours.

I'm particularly excited because this year Matilda will be old enough to sort-of-almost-kind-of appreciate the changing season.

Entertaing a toddler in the autumn seems like quite an undertaking, though, doesn't it? It's cold, wet, muddy and often windy; to go outside, you both need more layers of clothes than you can reasonably be expected to wear; but if you stay indoors you soon run out of both inspiration and episodes of Bing.

So I've gathered together loads of ideas for keeping a one year old busy - some indoors; most outdoors because, cold as it is, kids need fresh air, exercise and dirt.

First thing's first, though. To make the most of autumn, toddlers need: wellies (I'm thinking about buying Matilda a second pair - I've learned the hard way that they can take aaaaaaaaaages to dry); a puddlesuit; and waterproof gloves for them to refuse to wear. Grown ups will also need wellies.

I recommend carrying a small bag for gathering up tiny pieces of nature; a couple of small towels or absorbent muslins for drying off swings, slides and toddlers; and, whenever possible, a change of shoes and a plastic bag for carrying home mucky wellies.

All set? Here we go:


Charge through piles of fallen leaves.
Let your toddler spend as long as s/he likes arranging the leaves into patterns only s/he can understand.
Gather brightly coloured leaves up in a bucket (accept that your toddler may be less discerning than you; be prepared for a bucket full of tatty, sodden brown mulch).
Make a crown by sticking leaves to a strip of cardboard using double sided sticky tape or contact paper.
Make an autumn leaf suncatcher using red, orange and yellow tissue paper.

Things to do in autumn with a one year old: pick and eat brambles

Pick and eat wild brambles.
Also apples.
Scent homemade play dough with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Splash in puddles.
Huddle under a see-through umbrella watching the rain pour down onto it.
Track raindrops down the window with your fingers.
Float corks, leaves, rubber ducks and anything else you fancy in puddles.
Drop food colouring into puddles and watch it swirl.
Find tiny pools of water on leaves.
Look for your reflections in puddles; dance at them.
Stomp in mud. Swirl it with a stick.
Make mud pies or slop mud in and out of tubs.
Search for snails.
Make soup - give them a tub of warm water to scrub potatoes in; if you're feeling brave, help them chop up soft vegetables (Matilda first did this at sixteen months).
Do apple printing.
Install a bird feeder. Get a scoop and let your toddler help you fill it.
Make birdcake (thanks to Lizzie for this idea).

Things to do in autumn with a toddler: Fall time nature finds

Gather pine cones. Press them into play dough or save them for Christmas.
Gather feathers.
Find and drop sycamore helicopters. See if you can make them spin.
Spin around until you're dizzy.
Wave your hands through all the rain droplets gathered at the bottom of the playground slide.
Run down small (dry) grassy slopes shouting "Wheeeeeeee!"; slide down small (wet) grassy slopes on your puddlesuited bottom (for grown ups: a plastic bag).
Stamp in wet grass then leave soggy footprint trails on a path.
Tie ribbons to sticks and watch them flutter in the wind.
Stick pinwheels in the garden and watch them spin.
Blow glow-in-the-dark bubbles (equal parts bubble mix and glow-in-the-dark paint); this is a good alternative to the fireworks if you're not sure your toddler is ready for whizzes and bangs.
Mix spices with a little water and use them to paint.
Gather your weeds and deadheaded flowers in a tub; let your toddler drop them into the compost bin.
Plant spring bulbs together - let your toddler jab at the compost with a trowel or kiddie-sized fork; give them their own plant pots to play with.
Read autumnal books together - Matilda absolutely loves The Foggy Foggy Forest (and I'd love some recommendations, too).

What would you add to this list?

These ideas are suitable for most one year olds (I took as my guide: could Matilda have done/appreciated this at fifteen months?); for some more advanced ideas, check out my Autumn Pinterest board.

Wonderful Wednesday #1

Cupcakes

I've always loved writing my Extra: Ordinary Moments posts but they seemed a bit lost, all on their own, languishing at the end of the week. So I've decided to bump them up a few days, give them a positive focus and turn them into Wonderful Wednesdays.

Wonderful Wednesdays are Sally's idea but Michelle (on whose blog I originally discovered them), Kate, Helen, Jo, Cat, Emma, Sam, LauraKerriPetaSarah and Jasmin all take part, too. Check out their blogs for weekly ramblings about the good stuff in life.

Anyway, here's what's been putting a smile on my face over the past seven days:

Brambles
They're all over the neighbourhood just now. And best of all: I didn't even have to wade into the prickles and pick them myself; I was left supervising two purple-smeared toddlers while the other kid's parent did all the hard work.

Cupcakes
Matilda did her first spot of baking this week. Not that I think she understood what was going on. She snapped a bar of dark chocolate into pieces, put silicon cupcake cases into a muffin tray (in a very specific order which took a lot of thought) and stirred a bowl of flour and... uh... other ingredients (it wasn't me reading the recipe). And the finished result tasted great. A few days later she helped to make pancakes, too.

Fog

Fog
I love it when the city vanishes into the mist (is there a difference between fog and mist? Steve told Matilda that the fog was "a cloud that has gone to sleep on us" and it could well be that he was imparting scientific fact rather than whimsy - I don't have any greater understanding of it). Anyway, on Thursday we couldn't even see the end of our very short street and that excited me. We could have been magically transported anywhere.

Science!
By which I mean: booze and raucous laughter with a friend. We went to an adults only takeover evening at Aberdeen Science Centre where we learned about wine and gin, lay in the planetarium while Rupert Grint's recorded voice speculated about alien lifeforms, played with all the usual displays (yes, Aberdonians, they still have the pooing sheep) and failed to turn our milkshake into ice cream.

The Internet
Steve's on holiday this week (more on the specifics of that in another post); his parents loaned us one of their cars so we could take Matilda to some of the places we can't manage by bus. Anyway, we had our first outing, clambered back into the car, fastened everyone in and... the engine wouldn't start. The key wouldn't turn. The list of handy hints Steve's dad had written out didn't cover this; the handbook didn't cover this; Steve's parents weren't answering their phones. Matilda was exhausted, alternately shouting "Click!" (by which she means: "Unfasten whatever it is you've got me strapped into!") and "Go go go goooo!" (self-explanatory, I think?), and we were befuddled, wondering whether we needed to call for repairs and a lift home. Ten seconds on Google and we had the wheel-jiggling answer. Thank goodness for mobile data.

Real Butter
On hot, golden, white bread toast.

12 Hour Nights; 8am Lie-Ins
Before other parents get too jealous: we have had no naps - NO NAPS - for a week and a half now. And there's been a brief wake up around 4am each night. But 12 hour nights and the luxury of waking up before the toddler does? Keep everything you possibly can crossed that this is not a fluke.

The Rooftops Family Garden in Summer

Family Garden in Summer: Toddler Watering Plants

For the first time ever, I have found a motivational quote which I want to remember. I want to remember it so much that I pinned it, for goodness' sake.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow
~Audrey Hepburn

As you all know (because you've memorised every statement I've ever made on here), I've been trying to turn our garden into somewhere fun for Matilda and her friends to play, partly because that's the sort of thing parents with access to a garden tend to do and partly because it's distracting me from whatever other failings our home may or may not in reality have.

So I'm gardening for the future: for our future in this home and for Matilda's future of less closely supervised play.

At this time, our garden is not a thing of beauty. It was a thing of beauty when we moved in but then there were summers of pregnancy and early parenthood and not being entirely sure which plants were weeds and the garden got a bit wild. The neatly (although not very artfully) arranged flowerbeds became overrun with geraniums and a climbing rose abandoned its trellis and made a bid for lawn-based freedom. We were living with a constant vague shame about letting the neighbourhood down.

But we're working on it. The plan is to have a much, much nicer garden next summer.

In the mean time, this is what we have done:


Bought a bench. Also some brightly coloured windmills.

Bought a slide. Given Matilda a duck-shaped watering can and a child-sized trowel. Left a washing up basin and a load of little pots lying around. Also a ball. These are all the kids' toys in our garden at present; it feels like a sensible amount for a one year old - she's much more interested in helping with the weeding and befriending the neighbours' cat right now.

Family Garden in Summer: Cat

Installed a garden arch. It doesn't lead anywhere. There are three stepping stones in the lawn leading from our garden path under the arch and then... nowhere. The trail stops. Matilda doesn't care - she loves stamping from stone to stone, sneaking through the arch and then pelting across the lawn. Kids love secret paths and that's what we're aiming for it to feel like.

Planted a clematis to grow up the arch. It is growing like crazy. That plant is reaching for the moon. It's a shame the slugs are gnawing away at the bottom of it but we've got high hopes that it will carry on regardless. It seems like a pretty determined thing. As do the calendulas and hydrangeas we planted next to it. In a brand new tiny flowerbed which we dug all by ourselves.

Family Garden in Summer: Sunflower

Planted about forty sunflowers. The snails feasted on thirty-nine of them. We eventually barricaded the base of the fortieth with great wads of hair (yes, human hair; yes, gathered from the shower trap) and the sunflower grew and grew and grew. Armed with this knowledge, we are planning a sunflower growing competition for Matilda and her friends next year.

We also removed that black telecoms cable (see photo above) which was draped loosely across the back of our big flowerbed. After a bit of investigating, we discovered it belonged to a company which went bust about 25 years ago and was definitely not in use as it had been chopped off halfway up our neighbours' wall. That one simple change made an enormous difference to the look of the garden.

Planted pots full of nasturtiums - my favourites. They grew into a gigantic, glorious, tangled orange mass and I've got my fingers crossed they'll seed again all by themselves (I realise I could gather up the seed heads and plant them myself but I want to see what happens if I don't; I like a plant which is stubbornly independent).

Family Garden in Summer: Herb garden

Planted a herb garden in a wooden trough. It has been a riotous success. We've already had to transplant half of the herbs into a second trough. We have parsley on everything these days. We're not sure what do with the pineapple sage.

Family Garden in Summer: Hydrangeas

Added a hebe, a dahlia (which I don't expect to last through the winter but which was too cheerful to resist) and yet another hydrangea (because I'm not sure you can ever have too many hydrangeas. Even if you're not a blogger) to the larger of our two flowerbeds. We have also used old roof slates to mark three paths through the flowerbed (partly for toddler entertainment and partly to make weeding and pruning easier); the flowerbed instantly looked neater but the slates won't take an adult's weight so will be replaced by proper stepping stones later in the year.

Attempted to feed the birds. We bought a super-cute enormous bee-shaped bird feeder (how Matilda squealed when she saw it!) which all bird food - ALL BIRD FOOD - falls straight out of. We also bought one of those decorative poles from which to hang feeders but a vital part was missing. We will not be defeated, though! The birds will not go hungry!

Removed several bedraggled rose trees. We uncovered a secret rockery behind one of them! We also chopped a forsythia tree right back to its base as it was growing horizontally across the large flowerbed.

Emptied the raised vegetable bed of strawberries (as Steve is allergic to them) but failed to plant any replacement vegetables in it.

Planted several pots full of crocus, daffodil and snowdrop bulbs in the hopes they will flower next year.

Family Garden in Summer: Making footprints on the path

Installed a water butt which has provided hours - at a time, sometimes - of entertainment to all the small children in our lives. Apparently there is little in life more fun than filling duck-shaped watering cans from a water butt, purposely pouring the water onto the path and splashing in it. Parents: use this information wisely.

So what's next?


There's still a lot of tidying up of to do. We've made a good start with the larger flowerbed but we've barely touched the narrow one - it needs pretty much gutted, though, as it's full of crocosmias so large and droopy that everything else gets smothered

The nerines and kaffir lilies are just starting to bloom and they're some of my absolute favourite plants - I love how pink and cheerful the garden looks on cold autumn days.

And the plan is to post another update at the end of the season. If anybody's got any suggestions for autumn gardening with a toddler tow, let me know in the comments!

What I've Been Reading Recently

Cat and Kindle

A Cornish Christmas by Lily Graham*
To be published: 30th September
Yes, we're into Christmas-themed book season already. Anybody else got a bit of a weakness for novels full of twinkliness and festive magic? Well, here's one full of twinkliness and... eh... ghosts. Although I wouldn't call it spooky. Ivy and Stuart are finally expecting a baby after years of trying; they've moved to Cornwall where Ivy paints children's books and Stuart sells outlandish jams; and Ivy's dead mother writes her notes on the back of a postcard. In many ways, life is idyllic. But, of course, that wouldn't make much of a novel so there's an overbearing mother-in-law and a few crises along the way. It's a quick holiday-time read and, while I could pick apart some of the "Men, eh?!" cliches if I was in that sort of mood, it's atmospheric and hits several emotional marks. Good with a side of mulled wine.

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill*
Max was found in a bookshop as a baby and, although adopted, has always wondered about his birth parents and background. Slowly, strangely, Max's search for his past leads him into the Beginning Woods, a place of witches and dragons who don't quite behave like the ones in the story books. This is spellbinding YA, celebrating the power of the imagination, the call of the wild and the importance of courage. It does fall back on overly simplified "there's no creativity in science and all technology is bad" cliches, but that's a fairly minor point. The tale itself is captivating. One for all those who believe in the power of stories.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
I struggled with this one. I wanted to love it because it's exactly the sort of book which starts popping up all over my Instagram feed - it's about Paris! and Books! and Canals! and Love! There were phrases in it so clever I had to stop and reread them over and over and over again, pondering them and applying them to my own experiences. But... no. This is a book which will be loved by its target market: people who think it's romantic to pine for exes for TWENTY-ONE FLIPPING YEARS and who think sweeping generalisations about gender are fine as long as they're French. I'm not one of those people. It irritated me intensely. I left Jean and Max drifting down a canal somewhere and don't really care where they ended up.

Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken*
Coffee buyer, Amy, travels the world for her work while her husband stays at home to look after their two small children. When Amy is made redundant, she suddenly realises how little she knows about her children and about how to parent them. While she's grappling with that, her ex appears on the scene, sniffing around her, and her husband vanishes into a coffee shop to write a screenplay nobody will buy. Light, witty writing (parents of small children will certainly laugh and wince) but asking serious questions about gender norms in modern families and whether it's ever possible for parents to find a decent life balance.


*Provided for review

My Dentist Didn't Make Me Cry (I Did That Myself)

Toothbrushes

This morning, I cried at the dentist's. Holy teeth, blogreader, of all the embarrassing things to happen! And I hadn't even opened my mouth yet!

I don't know what's up with me and dentists at the moment. I mean, I've never once looked forward to a dental appointment - not even when I was young enough to get stickers afterwards - but I've never found them in the least bit scary.

And I really like my current dentist. Of all the many dentists I've seen in my life, I'd go so far as to say she's my favourite. Largely because she once complimented me on my (dinosaur) T-shirt.

But, over the last couple of years, I've started to feel really anxious about check ups.

In fact, I'm pretty sure it's since I became a parent, which is odd because I quite happily took Matilda to her first dentist appointment last week, snapped a couple of pictures of her sitting on the fancy chair and let her carry the tiny mirror around with her for several hours afterwards. What I did not do was book our appointments for the same time or take her along with me to mine; I didn't want her picking up on my anxiety.

So. Back to today.

There I was, sitting on the chair, being asked unusually specific questions about my flossing technique while the dental nurse handed me an alarmingly large pair of safety goggles, when tears started pouring down my cheeks.

The horror on all three faces!

"You can tell us to stop at any time!" they both assured me.

"It's fine! I don't know what's wrong with me today!" And, betraying the sisterhood: "Hormones...?

And then I sat there, gripping my own fingers as tightly as I could, while they scaled and polished and smeared some horrible sticky banana-flavoured coating onto my teeth, all the while lavishing me with the sort of praise usually saved for the labour ward. It didn't even hurt. Not once. Not a bit. It's just a bit odd having people prodding around in your orifices, isn't it?

They gave me a free toothbrush, too, and a lesson in how to use it.

Writing this, I've figured out what the problem is, though: at the dentist, people tell me I'm doing things wrong. I'm brushing too thoroughly, not flossing thoroughly enough and falling for the enormous con which is mouthwash. And, while I used to deal with that sort of helpful criticism well enough (smile, nod, go home and sulkily eat the sweetest thing I could find), wading through all of the do-the-wrong-thing-and-you'll-raise-a-psychopathic-pushover parenting advice has left my resilience a bit... rotten... I don't have the reserves of confidence left to handle the phrase "swollen gums". I MUST BE A FAILURE AT EVERYTHING. Good grief.

So there I was: tear-stained face at the dentist.

Tear-stained face paying £10.70 at the reception desk.

Hopefully less tear-stained face, walking home via the shops (to buy the sweetest thing I could find. Which I wasn't allowed to eat for half an hour because of the horrible sticky banana-flavoured coating on my teeth).

(Hopefully not-tear-stained-at-all-face by the time somebody stopped me to ask if I was who she thought I was (me; I was) and to say that she enjoys my blog. I was surprised and unfocused (too busy wondering if my face was splodgy or my teeth were yellow) so all I managed to learn was her name and that she was heading to the dentist, too, so I wanted to say: hello back! And that you really cheered me up after my mortifying dental experience - I hope yours went a little more smoothly! Drop me a line and tell me more about yourself, if you like)

Anybody got any embarrassing sobbing-in-public stories of their own to share? Please?!

Thinking Out Loud (Then Taking It Back)

Name badge on Dick Bruna Black Bear T-shirt

So, here we are: it's almost two weeks since I last posted on this blog.

It's not two weeks since I last drafted a blog post, though. I've written loads of blog posts in the last two weeks. Big, long, wordy blog posts; blog posts with turns of phrases which made me smile with self-satisfied glee; blog posts which, ultimately, I wasn't happy to publish even though it pained me to delete all that effort.

I wrote about how Matilda used to be a little nervous when she went into a new group setting but nowadays pelts straight towards the most precarious looking climbing frame without a backwards glance. Her growing independence makes me proud. But it was too hard to write about it without writing too much about her.

I was violently ill over the weekend. I wrote about throwing up and the moments when I wondered whether it might be morning sickness (our current forms of contraception are tiredness and staying up later than intended). I wrote about how that brought into focus the question of whether or not we want and/or are ready for a second baby. But, frankly, the answer to that is between Steve and me.

And, as I lay in bed on Sunday morning, too ill to look after my own child, I was suddenly hit by memories of those awful few days in hospital when I was separated from my newborn baby. I had known that the sorrow was still there, inside me somewhere, but it ambushed me and I wrote my way through it, spewing the most painful moments into my keyboard so that they were no longer in my throat. It was a long, incoherent, deeply personal post and it didn't need to be shared.

So, here I am, still feeling my way forward with this blogging-just-for-fun thing; filtering out the overly personal but wanting to share more than just book reviews (anybody want to read about my fancy new decoupling drainpipe?!).

Stopping by to say hello.

What have you not dared share on your own blog of late?

Toddler Art: Tissue Paper Suncatchers

How to make a suncatcher with a toddler (one year old)

Matilda is now at an age when I can show her a simple process, sit back and watch her enjoy her own aptitude and that means that - finally! - we can do some basic arts and crafts!

(We did do some "painting" when she was a baby but she didn't have a clue what was going on - it's more rewarding when she can really get into it)

One of the downsides of Matilda not going to nursery is that she's limited to my ideas and my willingness to clean up paint/goo/flour. I feel a certain amount of pressure to keep up with the childcare-attending Mini Joneses which is why, if you follow me on Pinterest, you'll have seen a lot of toddler activities being pinned recently; searching for arty inspiration seems to have replaced Twitter as my go-to social media skive.

One idea which comes up time and time again is tissue paper suncatchers - it looked like an easy, splodge-free and super effective project so we gave it a try. Here's how to do the same:

Tissue paper suncatcher DIY for toddlers

You will need:
Lots of tissue paper.
A sheet of card.
Contact paper (that's "transparent sticky back plastic" to anyone of my generation).

Easy toddler art: tissue paper suncatcher

Parents:

Cut or tear the tissue paper into little pieces (older toddlers will be able to help with this).

Cut a shape in the card - your toddler is unlikely to care how recognisable the shape is, however I opted for a flower (which looks a bit more butterflyesque, I think).

Cover one side of the card with the contact paper - your shape will now have a sticky surface.

Toddler:

Heap bits of tissue paper onto the sticky surface. Press them down. Attempt to peel them off a few times. Be encouraged to move some of the bits of tissue paper onto the bare areas. Do so, then return to building your tissue paper mountain right in the middle. Knock it over several times. Rebuild. Keep doing this until your attention wanders. Wander off.

Parent:

Shake off lots of loose bits of tissue paper. Use strips of contact paper to stick the suncatcher to a window (again - older toddlers could help with this). Encourage toddler to come and admire their work.

So simple... but isn't the finished product gorgeous?

Tissue paper suncatcher made by 15 month old toddler

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Extra: Ordinary Moments

I took Matilda to get new shoes this week. We (read: "I") made the mistake of going to a shoe shop with the kids' section downstairs and no lift access. Never mind. Buggy and worldly belongings abandoned behind the upstairs till, we headed into the pink-blue-black basement and joined the (last-day-before-school-starts-gaaaah-silly-me) queue; the displays were not nearly as neat when we left as when we arrived.

As ever, I let Matilda choose her own shoes. We went home with the brightest pink Mary Janes covered in slightly paler pink flowers. We also nipped into another store where she chose lurid pink wellies. There will be no mistaking her for a boy for a while.

I can't fault her: pink is a much more appealing colour than black and navy blue (as much as Steve might argue this point); I just wish it wasn't so tied up in gender stereotypes.

* * *

She wasn't the only one getting treats this week. I bought myself a plant called a platycodon astra because its huge white flowers were so ridiculously cartoonish I couldn't resist (yes, I've turned into someone who impulse buys pot plants). According to the internet, platycodon astras are better known as "balloon flower plants"; I hadn't heard of them before, so I'll take the internet's word for it.

The name is perfect, anyway. The buds really do swell and rise like hot air balloons. I now want them all over the garden; all summer, our flowerbeds would look like a balloon festival, with white, pink and blue flowers puffing up all across them.

In the mean time, I have just the one balloon flower plant sitting on the mantelpiece, making me smile. There are lots of other new plants in the garden, though, but I'll tell you about them another day.

* * *

On Wednesday, Karen brought her family to visit. I had forgotten how tiny and delicate-looking newborn babies are; I don't remember Matilda ever being as small and scrunchy as Willow but the photos prove she was.

Matilda and Sorsha spent most of the visit emptying toys onto the floor and, four days on, I've still got no idea where they hid the top of the orange Hide 'n' Squeak egg (and it's starting to really bother me).

* * *

Speaking of infants: Matilda turns sixteen months old today and I've already bought her a second birthday present. For £5 in a supermarket sale.

Obviously, I can't tell you what it is in case she somehow learns to read and navigate the internet in the next eight months, finds this blog post and ruins the surprise. Not that I worried about picking it off the shelf in front of her, leaving it lying on my bed for an hour while we played "Where's Daddy's deodorant bottle?" (under the duvet, always) or shoving it into my wardrobe while she watched. I'm making the most of this period when she has no concept of gifts.

* * *

There has been some gorgeous weather this week. We've paddled in the river and drawn on the garden path with chalk; we've stamp-stamp-stampety-stamped around the garden and we've hung out in the park; we've been to a gala where we banged drums and stroked two different owls (squeeeee!). I even froze some nasturtiums in ice and felt like a proper Pinterest Mom (yes, with an O), although Matilda was less impressed.

* * *

And there has been some wet, windy, cold, autumnal weather, too. Matilda has been pale and snotty (which I blame on teething) and I've been pale and headachey (which I blame on tiredness which I blame on teething), so there have been a couple of days spent holed up indoors watching TV (how I love Nelly and Nora), doodling and searching for the top of the orange Hide 'n' Squeak egg.

* * *

What have you been up to?

P.S. Polly just fished the top of the orange Hide 'n' Squeak egg out from under the sofa. Where I had looked at least twenty-seven times. Gah.

Spending the Summer With A Toddler

Enjoying the summer with a one year old

This week, in my part of the world, the summer holidays are officially over. Schools and nurseries are back in session; baby and toddler groups are up and running from Monday.

Matilda and I (by which I mean: "I") are planning to try out several new groups. I'm hoping to find a handful which we can walk to, afford and don't have to block book, which fit around Matilda's current (increasingly early) naps and our friends' more hectic schedules, and - most importantly - which we both actually enjoy attending.

But I haven't felt in a rush for the groups to start up again.

Last summer was a little different. Last summer, Matilda was tiny and I was still feeling fairly overwhelmed; having something planned for every single day helped me to cope - it gave me an opportunity for adult conversation and the reassurance that my baby was receiving some sort of stimulation. All those long, empty weeks without groups to go to were daunting.

But this summer I haven't felt that anxiety. Maybe for a few minutes on a Sunday evening, at the thought of Steve going back to work, but over all: no, I've been relaxed.

It's a lovely stage we're at. Matilda would be happy to spend every morning and every afternoon at the park; she can be easily entertained in the garden (especially now we have a fully functional slide); and she will potter around indoors by herself if I need some time to decompress. She's happy because she can choose which toy to play with or which book to read; she sometimes opts to play on her own. I don't even feel guilty about letting her watch TV these days because I know some of her enormous vocabulary can be credited to CBeebies; her tastes are for mellow, calming shows (also, sadly, any of Justin Fletcher's vaguely offensive output) and she wanders away when anything else comes on.

So, home life is pretty easy.

And this summer I've been really aware of what a fortunate position I'm in.

I don't go out to work. I have only the vaguest idea of the day and the date at any given time. I feel a need to fill our days with as little pressure and structure and timetabling as I can get away with.

I'm lucky. Matilda and I have had a summer. A proper summer (despite the weather).

I mean a proper summer like I had when I was a kid: long, aimless days outdoors. Occasional visits from grandparents. Picking wild berries. Putting our feet up and reading books. Running around the garden.

Relaxing.

I don't feel an urge to cram Matilda's days with as many experiences as possible. She has no concept of history yet so castles and museums mean nothing to her. One park and one ornamental garden and one patch of woodland looks the same as another to her so we stick to the ones in our neighbourhood. She doesn't need expensive trips to entertainment parks; her demands are not that high.

There is plenty of time in the future to introduce her to Big New Things. Right now, she's concentrating on the little ones. Playing with the same 300 Mega Bloks over and over and over again until she's mastered piling them up in ways which don't fall over; reading the same books over and over and over again until she can speak along with them, word perfect; clambering around the same play park over and over and over again until she can get to the top of the climbing frame without any help.

She is all about repetition. It's how she learns. Trying and trying and trying again. And that has made this summer slow and easy and relaxed and lovely, pottering around at home.