Some Things

Sunflower competition

So, it's Mother's Day and all I really wanted was the illusion that my child had slept for an extra hour; this is the one and only time I have ever appreciated the changing of the clocks.

I also received a life sized paper Matilda (where do I put it?!), a Caitlin Moran book (always welcome) and a couple of hours to myself while Steve and Matilda go swimming (the real gift here is not having to deal with a toddler in a changing room). I was going to sit in the garden, drink some chamomile tea and read my new book but that plan has been scuppered by our neighbour - who does things like turning garages into summer houses just for the fun of it - doing something noisy and productive on the other side of the wall. I'd feel cross* but he's a wonderful source of tools.

*Also, nobody whose toddler spends hours running around the garden shrieking is in any place to complain about noisy but brief stints of lawn moving.

* * *

However, yesterday was spent in the garden.

With it being the first weekend of spring, we invited a couple of [grown up] friends round for a sunflower competition. We're being a bit optimistic because the chances of us getting through April without any frosts are almost non-existent, but we've made little greenhouses out of water bottles and put stickers (insulation!) all over the plant pots so fingers crossed.

We also planted morning glories, nasturtiums, cosmos and some novelty sunflowers (i.e. sunflowers which are not competitively leggy) and so the annual battle with the slugs begins.

* * *

Matilda and I had a joint dentist appointment last week. I was dreading it. The whole point of joint appointments is to prove to your child that visiting the dentist is a joyful, pleasant experience - not an appropriate time for a crying fit - and I'm not that sure of my acting skills.

Anyway, all went well: nobody bit the dentist's finger; positive sounding terminology was thrown around; Matilda sat quietly while I had my mouth checked; and one of us got a sticker (not the co-operative one who had actually opened her mouth, mind you).

Best of all, my gums are apparently in great shape now.

"So whatever you're doing differently," the dentist said, "keep it up."

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the only thing I'm doing differently is consistently forgetting to floss.

* * *

There was something else I was going to waffle on about but I've no idea what it was, so for now: tell me what's new with you?

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Pictures by Guy Bolton*
It's 1939 and the Hollywood movie studios are paying the police to cover up the crimes of their stars. When a series of gruesome murders seem to point straight back to MGM, a couple of cops wonder whether solving the case might be better than keeping things secret... Fast paced, well written and genuinely intriguing, I enjoyed this a lot. I mean, I had to leave bits of my modern brain switched off - it's a homage to 1930s detective stories and doesn't try to pretend that equality was around back then; I bristled at plausible portrayals of racism and the lack of strong female characters. But I also really like 1930s detective stories (and tales of early Hollywood); I got swept up in the story, wondering whodunnit and who was going to come good in the end.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing*
Wow. Okay, how do I describe this without it sounding all heavy and tedious and pretentious and ugh?! Let's see... Olivia Laing moved to New York from the UK in her mid-thirties. And she was lonely. She lost herself in the internet a lot, but she also found herself examining art which explores loneliness and learning all she could about the artists behind it. This book is part art history, part biography of some often very disturbed people, part autobiography and part pop psychology. It's fascinating and beautiful and upsetting and inspiring; it prompts thoughts about art, about sexuality, about hoarding, about our need for emotional contact with others. After the first chapter, I thought it was going to be too much to read all in one go - I thought I'd be dipping in and out of it for a while - but then, suddenly, I'd finished it and it took a few days before I was ready to pick up anything else.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland by Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss and her family moved to Iceland just after the banks collapsed and left, a year later, just after the volcano exploded; this is their story of trying to live in the extremely expensive, extremely cold city of Reykjavik. I have a particular fondness for autobiographies about moving to new countries and I enjoyed the baffled-stranger-in-a-bizarre-new-land aspect of this but not as much as I expected. I was irritated by the casual overgeneralisations about other nationalities (oh, but it's not racist if we Brits all know that all Italians do X, Y, Z...); I was irritated by the assumption that we all have the exact same private school and Oxford English Literature degree education (I only got the Peter Rabbit reference because of CBeebies); and I was irritated by the derision regarding Iceland's nursery system, which was explained merely by giving three quotes from one nursery's website and assuming we will all react to them with the same horror (they want to try to eliminate gender stereotypes?! Nooooooo!). And Iceland, which I want to picture as a place of stunning scenery and crazy pop songs, sounded a bit too much like Aberdeen, what with all its conspicuous consumption, empty housing developments and crappy weather. It's the first time in a long time I've read a book like this and not wanted to immediately move to the country it's describing and that was a bit of a let down.

*Provided for review

More Things: Another Stream of Consciousness

Stick boat

I've completely lost track of what day it is.

Does anybody else ever worry about being in hospital, being asked simple questions by the doctors and not knowing any of the answers - not because of a head injury but because their brain's too full of CBeebies trivia to figure out anything else? I could know what the date is or I could know which episode of Hey Duggee was on this morning - I CAN'T DO BOTH! And the date has never inspired Matilda to build a nest.

Not that that's what I came on here to say.

* * *

Let's get the icky thing out of the way first: remember how Matilda and I had hand, foot and mouth disease in November? I was warned that our nails might peel off about a month afterwards. Which hers did. Mine have just started peeling off now. Three months later. THREE MONTHS LATER. Although, luckily, only three of them and only on my feet - it's so horrible to look at, I'm not sure how I would have coped with it happening on my hands. *shudders*

(I don't believe in jinxes but if I wake up tomorrow with peeling fingernails...)

* * *

On a less medical note: February is a time of birthdays for us. Friends, relatives and several of the toddlers in our lives are turning a year older at the moment, and it's been making me think about Matilda's birthday.

Which is in April. My teeny tiny baby will be two in April.

This is the bit where I'm supposed to say "It doesn't seem possible!" Actually, so many of Matilda's friends are two now - and, at the risk of sounding all Smug Mum, she's so surefooted and articulate - that I don't really think of her as a one year old anymore. One year olds stumble around and make indecipherable noises, right? Well, that's not her.

But I'm making our annual photo book at the moment and looking at photos of Matilda from this time last year. And that - that - seems impossible. That she was taking her first steps just over a year ago; that she was still more or less bald; that she only said a handful of words; that she napped regularly (and at home!); that she still wore (ridiculously ill-fitting) sleepsuits to bed; that she was bright orange after every tomato-based meal; that she was only just starting to scribble with crayons; that she still played with those toys and read those books (the ones which have now been stowed in the attic); that we were still nervous when she climbed on the furniture; that she still needed us to join her on the slide.

The changes in her are so gradual and I'm with her so much of the time that I don't really notice them happening; comparing the Matilda now to the Matilda of a year ago is really bringing it home to me how fast she's both learning and growing.

* * *

As for me, Smidge (accidentally) pointed out to me that I'll be forty next year.

I seem to be okay with this.

I was very much okay with turning thirty. I was ready to put my self-conscious twenties behind me; I was looking forward to starting my thirties.

My forties...? So far... nothing.

We'll see how I'm feeling nearer the time.

I feel like there should be a project in turning forty, though. Any ideas?

* * *

One more immediate plan is to bake a cake without help from a toddler. It's something I used to love doing but something which now never seems important enough for me to bother with when I get a few hours to myself.

Next month, I'm going to make it a priority.

* * *

Yesterday, however, I did not. Yesterday I had six hours to myself - SIX HOURS!!! IMAGINE!!! - and I divided them neatly into three hours of cleaning the things I never usually bother with and three hours of sitting by our sunniest window, reading a book, surrounded by cats.

Three of those hours were lovely.

* * *

What's going on with you?

Family Friendly Food at wagamama

Wagamama: Blueberry spice drinks. YUM!

Look: I know this is a review post; you know this is a review post; let's skip all the pretending-to-have-a-deep-point-before-luring-you-into-reading-about-the-product nonsense and get to the photos of food, okay?


So. Recently, Steve, Matilda and I were invited to find out how family friendly wagamama is. And, in summary: we would totally take our toddler back there.

I'll expand on that: all three of us had a great time and a lot of good food was consumed.

Also drinks. Those are blueberry spice juices in the photo above and they tasted every bit as punchy and vibrant as they look. Matilda, meanwhile, had a cococino which she loved just as much as she always loves warm, frothy milk (that's a lot).

Wagamama: Cococino

Here's one big reason why wagamama is family friendly: fun kiddie chopsticks. They're sort of like wooden tweezers (sorry, wagamama PR people - that was the best I could come up with) and Matilda LOVED them. They were so easy to use that not only did she feed herself, she fed her parents, too.

(We took the bib along and it's pure coincidence that she's dressed like the wagamama branding)

Wagamama: Toddler chopsticks
Wagamama: Whatever I ate

Anyway: the food.

I had yasai yaki soba. I always have yasai yaki soba. I love yasai yaki soba. That's a picture of it up there. Yum, right?

Steve had... eh... something he really liked. OH GOOD GRIEF, I NEED TO NOT WRITE REVIEWS AFTER A GLASS OF WINE AND WHEN MY DINING PARTNER IS UNAVAILABLE FOR QUESTIONING. Anyway, that's a picture of it below and it looked tasty even to me, the vegetarian. Largely because anything with a fried egg on top looks delicious, right?

Wagamama: Whatever Steve ate
Wagamama: Dip thingy

He and Matilda also shared this dip thing. Oh, hang on - I can find this one on the online menu. It was pulled pork steamed gyoza. It was a hit with them both. 

They also had duck wraps which I failed to photograph and which Matilda mostly used as a blanket to keep her other food warm (she's considerate that way).

Matilda, meanwhile, had cod cubes; her favourite part of the meal was the sticky rice. Our waiter (hi, Declan!) was outwardly unfazed by how much rice she left scattered around her chair.

Not that it was a chair. It was one of those clip-on high chairs which are either clever or terrifying - I'm still not sure which. It was good for swinging in and kicking parents' knees from, anyway, and looked a lot easier to clean than the usual upright wooden ones.

Wagamama: Kiddie cod cubes meal

As our meal wore on, Matilda became so confident that she moved on to using real chopsticks. She did this more adeptly than me, and so ended up helping me to finish my food:

Wagamama: Even a toddler can do chopsticks better than me

Finally, we had dessert. I had a plate of three small cakes (all delicious) while Steve had mochi balls (below) which are sort of... ice cream wrapped in jellied rice?! Also delicious, anyway (obviously, I had one of each, for thoroughness of review; I did, somewhat grudgingly, let Steve sample my cakes, too).

So, wagamama: delicious food; fun toddler tweezers; clip-on high chairs. Also: colouring in for me the kids.

Yes, I think we'll back.

Wagamama: Dessert, Mochi Balls

Our Experience of Baby/Toddler Floor Beds

Our Experience of Baby and Toddler Floor Beds

A year ago, I wrote about our decision to move Matilda out of her cot and onto a "floor bed". One year on, I firmly believe that this has been one of the best parenting decisions that Steve and I have made.

(For those who haven't clicked on that link: we moved Matilda onto a single bed mattress at eight or nine months. She immediately started sleeping better; bedtime became about cuddles rather than crying; her eczema - which had been triggered by her foam cot mattress - cleared up, never to return)

We get asked a lot of questions about how/whether/why floor beds work, so I thought I'd pull them all together into a post.

Doesn't she fall out?
It can happen. The first few nights, she fell out two or three times a night; she fell out about once a week for a couple of months after that. But falling off a mattress is a matter of six or seven inches - when your child's asleep, they're floppy and very unlikely to hurt themselves (although you could pad the floor around the mattress, if you were really worried).

Since those first couple of months, she has only fallen out twice. In fact, it's so rare that, at fifteen months, we moved her onto a single bed and didn't bother with a bed guard.

Crucially, she can climb back in to her bed, which gives her an extra little bit of independence - and most of us know how much toddlers value being able to do things by themselves!

How do you stop her roaming the house in the middle of the night?
We have a gate across her bedroom door. We only ever close this at night.

How do you stop her climbing on her bedroom furniture/playing with sockets/otherwise endangering herself in the middle of the night?
The same way we would have done if we'd waited a year and taken the side off her cot at the standard time: most of the furniture in her room is toddler-height; the one high surface (her wardrobe) is not next to anything she could climb onto; there are minimal hard angles and no accessible glass. We get asked about sockets a lot so I'm going to take a moment to clarify that UK sockets have been designed to be child-safe; in fact, UK sockets are safer WITHOUT SOCKET COVERS - we have taught Matilda that they are not for playing with but that's just an extra precaution. So, basically: toddler-proof the room.

I could (and probably, at some point, will) write at length about how important I think it is for a child's room to be treated as THE CHILD'S ROOM, not just a convenient place to store nappies, vests and sleeping infants. Their room should be somewhere they can play safely, unsupervised and - as far as the layout of your home allows - as often as they choose.

How do you stop her getting out of bed?
We don't. When she wakes up and [believes she] needs us, she gets out of bed and walks to her bedroom door. But she is calm when she does this; she goes back to bed without objection. In her case, the alternative was for her to stand up in her cot, screaming and trying to climb over the bars - it was a lot harder to settle her back down when she was in the cot, both because she was less cooperative and because it was physically more difficult for us to reach into a cot than it is for us to kneel beside a bed (or - if we're really tired or she's really upset - lie down on it beside her).

As for getting out of bed to play with her toys or read books, her room is very dark at night and she can't reach the light switch, so it's pretty unlikely to happen. I do remember having an agreement with my parents that I could read for as long as I wanted, as long as I stayed in my bed, and we intend to take a similar approach with Matilda.

It also helps that she loves her bed. Properly loves it. Not the necessity of sleep but the actual bed. She climbs on it, bounces on it, plays on it (putting her toys to bed has been a favourite game for months, as is instructing other people to fall asleep on top of it) and reads on it - it's somewhere with positive associations for her so it's somewhere she's happy to be.

Can you sleep train with a floor bed?
I imagine you'd find it difficult - you can't force the kid to stay in the bed.

Is it hygienic?
I'd advise getting bed slats to raise the mattress off the floor slightly - it's preferable to have some airflow underneath it as there's a chance of mould otherwise. We didn't actually do that which is one of the reasons we moved her onto a proper bed at fifteen months.

Are there any downsides?
The other reason we moved her onto a bed was that I found it quite tough on my knees, kneeling beside the mattress all the time. However, this was still preferable to the back ache I was getting from leaning over her cot!

Are there any other positives?
Quite simply: it's nicer. I hated Matilda being in the cot - it was difficult for me to reach her, impossible for her to reach me, and the act of shutting her away behind cot bars was so far from the loving, cuddling, emotionally accessible parenting I wanted to do that it often reduced me to tears. Bedtime and night wakings are now calm, affectionate times rather than battles and there's no understating how happy that makes me.

It also saves you from having to transition your kid from cot to toddler bed, toddler bed to big bed, and it saves you the cost of a toddler bed and little sheets.

Floor beds are not for everyone. If you're intending to sleep train, they're probably not for you. And some kids may not take to them - or make not take to them at the time you first want to try. But I'm a convert. It's the perfection option for us.

Is there anything else you want to know?

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Bestseller; tackles racism and sexism; celebrates female friendships; made into a film. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Should have been something I loved. But it felt hollow to me. The first half felt contrived - "here's the point I want to make; here's a structure with which to make it; forget whether or not it rings true for these characters". Come to that, the lead character felt two dimensional, too. I felt a bit icky about a white writer writing about a white character being absorbed into a wacky black family. And then there was the religious sect with all its made up mantras and rituals which, to me, felt like some sort of teenage silliness, doing magical spells to find out whether or not your crush was going to marry you. This book tackles such big issues that I hate to so completely dismiss it but it felt very clunky to me.

Shine On, Marquee Moon by Zoë Howe*
Okay, I read this book because it was by an established music writer who focuses on my kind of tunes - I was absolutely hoping for an insider take on the tour bus. And that's what I got. But. But... it seemed such a lost little book, not sure whether it was trying to be a comedy farce, chick lit or a gritty exposé of big egos and heroin addiction (and, frankly, discovering your partner is hooked on heroin didn't seem like great subject matter for a light-hearted comedy). It also irritated me that the whole book was written in the first person by somebody who wasn't in the room a lot of the time - how did she know what happened and what was said and the details of what other people thought?! It felt clunky. So... yeah... it was an okay beach read (tour bus read? on the train to a gig read?) but don't bother unless you can borrow it from a friend.

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan*
Is every sentence in this book supposed to be as baffling as a mirror maze? I got tired of the already tired metaphors and the meandering imagery. I've no idea where the book ended up heading, which is a shame as it seemed like it might have been somewhere quite interesting.

In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie*
FINALLY! I was starting to wonder if it was me, not them, but FINALLY there was a book I liked this month. In fact, I loved it. Even if it did make me cry. Several times. It's the book I wish my book group had read instead of The Secret Life of Bees - and I say that because it involves a bunch of ten year old girls making up secret religious rituals as a form of bonding (and sometimes bullying). They're a bunch of ten year old girls whose parents are missionaries in China in the late 1930s/early 1940s; the girls are growing up in a boarding school set up specifically so the missionaries could carry on with their work, unencumbered by offspring. The book starts off with their almost comically childish silliness but, with each chapter, the lead character's loneliness grows; she's becoming alienated from her classmates at the same time as the Japanese invade China, their troops marching ever closer to the children in the school. Yes, this book is an emotional read, but it's deftly done - heartbreaking and beautiful, all at once. Highly recommended.

*Provided for review.

Things: A Stream of Consciousness

Great Aunt Lizzie's house from Teacup Travels, Edinburgh

Why, yes, I have become that person who poses outside Great Lizzie's House every time she visits Edinburgh. Three days later, when the opening credits of Teacup Travels rolled and I remembered to show the photo to Matilda, I was eyed with such incredulous awe. Totally worth being weird in the rain.

* * *

Anyway, Matilda is at our neighbour's house for three hours. I spent the first half of that sorting out my wardrobe. Properly sorting out my wardrobe. Not just flicking through the hangers but heaping everything on the bed, stuffing about half of it into charity shops bags, a small selection into the bin and folding and hanging the rest back into carefully thought out places.

It felt good.

And boring.

But mostly good.

The collection of things I can't stand to part with even though my no-longer-new maternal bosom won't fit into them has (probably) reached its final stage - it's small but much loved. And my boobs shrank roughly a cup size this week (won't google that; not ready to hear that I'm peri-menopausal and/or seriously ill, thank you very much) so I'm feeling optimistic about actually being able to wear them again some day. That, or raising a daughter who's very into vintage frocks.

* * *

Oh, yes, so there are one and a half hours left during which I could clean the toilet. Luckily, I've got a supermarket delivery arriving in the next hour and it would be such a pain to be in the middle of housework when that happens so - drat it - I'll just have to muck around on the internet for a bit then settle down with my book.

Hello! It's been a while, eh?

* * *

Fourth First up, thanks to everyone who's been asking about Steve's job. The good news is: he still has one! The title and description have changed a little bit but it still exists.

I don't think the world outside Aberdeen realises what a tough time the city's been having, scraping through the oil and gas crisis. Not that it wasn't predicted and not that the rich-poor divide in Aberdeen hadn't reached unforgivable levels and not that nothing could have been done to ease the blow and not that people around here weren't naively smug when the housing crisis didn't touch us.

But still: it's been tough and I don't think we know a single household which hasn't been affected by it. Even those people who don't/didn't work in the oil have been through redundancy or workplace closures, because the money which supported the rest of the city has suddenly disappeared.

Anyway, that's my long way of saying that we're very, very, very lucky to be one of the households which still has an income.

In other good financial news: Steve's student loan will be paid off in April which means we can stop paying for his bus pass out of our savings.

* * *

Speaking of our savings: we're still waiting to hear from the pet insurance.

* * *

And the savings took another knock when our corroded kitchen downpipe started spewing washing machine water all over the downstairs neighbours' windows. Sigh.

* * *

Yikes, this has gone mopey very quickly. TURN IT AROUND, SARAH, TURN IT AROUND.

* * *

Okay, so we've been doing a lot of cooking and baking with Matilda recently. She and Steve have a monthly cookery session scheduled in the calendar; she and I bake with a friend of ours once a month, too; and there has been a lot of allowing her to help out in the kitchen at random other times, too.

For a while, all she was really doing was stirring a few ingredients together then wandering off - we don't think she understood that she was taking part in a process, that what she was doing in any way related to the food which appeared a little while later.

But now she gets it. The squealing and dancing and delight when she saw her first loaf of bread come out of the oven was quite something - she kept touching it, like she couldn't quite believe it was real. Amazing.

* * *

She's also going through an arty stage. Arts and crafts were something I was really looking forward to doing with my child, so I'm loving losing whole days to drawing and painting and stickering and squidging play dough. I'm less keen on the ripping up of paper but accept that it's all part of her exploring the world around her...

* * *

Hand in hand with this is a loss of interest in afternoon TV. Which is great because I no longer have to choose between being the mean mummy who refuses to switch on CBeebies and the guilt-ridden mummy who's checking Instagram while her kid stands glued to the same episode of Teletubbies she watched four hours ago.

I will absolutely defend kids watching some TV (for a start: Matilda only eats carrots because they're Bing's favourite) but we had about a month there when it was a bit too high on her priorities list.

* * *

And finally: good grief, I'm getting a lot of PR emails about Galentine's Day at the moment.

I remember going to a friend's hen do, a few years ago, and thinking that I didn't have enough female friends to ever have one of my own (thoughts on marriage and hen dos and so on aside); recently, it hit me that I have enough women in my life that I would struggle to fit them all in one pub. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that makes me feel happy and secure; today, my period's due so obviously I'm convinced they all actually hate me and are only replying to texts out of a crippling sense of politeness.

Anyway, my point is: even when I'm feeling positive about my friendships, I can't think of many people who would embrace getting together on a Monday night because of a joke in a TV show.

Although, for the record: I would.

I wouldn't wear pink because it's Wednesday, though.

How about everyone else?

* * *

And more generally: what's the news with you?

Pets, Toddlers, Friends, Funds

My cat couldn't pee but at least he befriended the toddler

Last week, I had to rush Gizmo to the vet's because he couldn't pee.

He couldn't pee, it turned out, because he has spent too much time lying next to the radiator and too little time consuming water. A lifestyle of which I am in no position to judge. 

I feel the poor cat's pain, though - I've had cystitis and it was horrible. But, bless the NHS, at least it didn't cost me £736. 

Anyway, we don't currently know whether or not the insurance is going to pay out, but please do keep your fingers (legs?) crossed that they do. Because I'd quite like my family to eat this year.

In the meantime, Gizmo and Polly have launched a whole new turf war because he has been off on a big adventure which has filled him with courage and she has had two glorious days as an only cat which have filled her with a sense of entitlement. 

As if that wasn't battle enough, Steve and I now have to spend roughly an hour a day chasing Gizmo around the flat, armed with a syringe and a pill popper (super-clever plastic contraption, not 1990s trance fan), before force feeding him something which looks like a capsule full of Wotsit powder. Gizmo is big and heavy and strong and in possession of claws; the whole thing feels like a particularly idiotic game of chicken.

* * *

The hassle of trying to get Gizmo to and from the vet's was a good reminder of how lucky I am to have excellent people in my life. Carrying a yowling, struggling, one stone cat in a plastic box on a bus on a snowy day whilst trying to push a buggy might have given me a funny story to tell but it would also have been unthinkably awful. Luckily, a neighbour babysat Matilda one day, a friend the next, Emma gave Gizmo and me multiple lifts, and Steve's parents fulfilled both roles on day three. Huge thanks go out to them all.

* * *

Obviously, there are two adult cat owners in the Rooftops household. Last time Gizmo baked himself to ill health, Steve worked from home and did the vet runs; this time, he had to be at work because he was expecting to hear whether or not he was being made redundant. Same the next day. And the next. And the next. And today. And tomorrow. And possibly next month. It's dragging on just a tad...

* * *

In happier news: I met Ruth and I don't want to get all gushy but I'm ever so glad I did. It turns out she lives just around the corner, too - hurrah!

Matilda and Ruth's older son, L., also hit it off. So much so that we barely saw them for two and a half hours.

* * *

Which segues nicely into the huge change I can see in Matilda and her friends after the Christmas break. 

For one festive reason or another, we hadn't seen any of Matilda's toddler-aged friends since early December. A five week break. Which is probably another reason I was feeling so tired.

Anyway, over the past couple of weeks we've been meeting up with them again. And what a difference! Suddenly they're playing together. They're coming up with ideas together and building on them together and having fun together; it can take several hours for them to become tired and possessive and liable to shove each other off bits of furniture. 

And it's lovely.

It's lovely because my kid is having such a good time!

And it's lovely because the grown ups can have a cup of tea and multiple biscuits and a proper conversation which lasts for several hours and includes the phrase "soon we'll be able to drop them at each other's houses for a morning (and have some time to ourselves)".

* * *

Not only that, but suddenly Matilda and Gizmo have bonded, too. Ever since he came home from the vet's, he's been letting her sit squashed right up against him, bury her fingers in his fur and rest her head on his belly. I can only assume that this new friendship is based on the fact that not one of the times she's chased him out of his safe places has resulted in him having a pill shoved down his throat.

Whatever the reasons, I have a loudly purring cat and a very happy little girl.

Those things are right in my world.

What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden*
Inspired by Russian fairy tales, this is the story of spirited young woman, Vasya, who realises that the fate of her village lies in her hands. There is good versus evil, new religion versus ancient beliefs, female strength versus restrictive tradition, and a whole lot of magic. It's apparently adult fiction but, to me, it was a book for feisty girls in their late teens who want to seize control of their own lives. It did feel a little slow to me, but that might just have been down to my own life - it took me a whopping two and a half weeks to read what my Kindle reckoned was a six hour book - but I also wanted to keep going until I found out how (surely how rather than whether?) Vasya saved the day.

Hurrah for Gin: A book for perfectly imperfect parents by Katie Kirby
I bought this right after writing this post about how tired I was feeling and it was pretty much exactly what I was needing. There are quite a few books at the moment in which a parenting blogger writes with humour about how hard looking after toddlers is yet how awesome interacting with them can be. This is one of them. And it made me laugh. A lot.

A Christmas Cornucopia: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Yuletide Traditions by Mark Forsyth
Why do we celebrate on 25th December? Who is Santa? Is Christmas a pagan/Victorian party mash up? Mark Forsyth answers (almost) all of your festive questions in a simple, witty style. The blurb says that everything you believe about Christmas is wrong - and, in my case (much to my surprise) that was almost entirely true. Fascinating stuff.

The Happiest Mommy You Know by Genevieve Shaw Brown*
Journalist and mother-of-two, Genny, has a theory that mothers would be a lot happier - and, by extension, better parents - if they treated themselves with the same love and care that they show to their children. In this book, she writes about her attempts to put that into practise. To be honest, other than having created offspring, I don't think Genny and I have much - if anything - in common; we're coming at parenthood from very different places and, as a result, have different strengths and weaknesses. That didn't stop me from agreeing with her premise and it didn't stop me from enjoying her (witty, honest, open) writing. She acknowledges that she's in a very privileged position - having supportive family around to help out and plenty of money to pay for things - but she also has a son with Down Syndrome and a demanding career so her life isn't entirely straightforward nor prioritising her own needs easy, and her attempts to pursue happiness made for entertaining reading.

A Girl Called Owl by A.J. Wilson*
At thirteen years old, Owl is desperate to know who her father was. Then she starts to develop amazing frosty magical powers and discovers that the truth is more incredible than she could ever have imagined. Early on in this young adult book, I was ready to roll my eyes - did Owl have to be a bit rubbish at everything except doodling owls? did her guide into the world of magic have to be a hot boy? where was the female empowerment?! - but it all fell into place as the story unfolded. I enjoyed this a lot as an adult and I would have absolutely loved it at twelve or thirteen.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King*
This should be handed out to parents at their kids' two year health check. So much common sense in one little book: why 2-7 year olds act in the [challenging? uncooperative? rebellious?] ways they do; why the traditional punish, reward and constantly remind approach doesn't work; and what simple measures parents can take to improve things. I've read similar pieces elsewhere but none of them laid things out in quite such a clear, persuasive manner. It also includes specific advice for looking after children with additional support needs. Parents of toddlers: read this now.

*Provided for review

Some Non-Resolutiony Thoughts at the Start of the Year

The first snowdrop of the season (and how I'm feeling about the changing of the year)

And so the holidays are over. The decorations are not just down but are stowed away in the attic; Steve is back to work; and, from next week, the toddler groups strew their primary coloured plastic balls across community centre floors once more.

I'm glad to get back into something resembling a routine. I used to tut at mums (always mums) who complained that life was harder when the dads (always dads) had time off work; I thought it was some sort of outdated nonsense about men not knowing which end of the baby was which. But I kind of get it now.

I would always rather have Steve at home with us. Always. Not just for the times when I get a lie in, but for the times when the three of us run around the garden squealing. Life is better when we're all together.

But... Matilda and I have such a calm, easy morning routine (the "Daddy go-ed to work" discussion over breakfast; a cup of tea behind her back while she watches Bing; heading out the door by half nine) that we can start our day on autopilot; having Steve here throws the schedule into disarray and that results in the cats not being fed on time (sorry, cats), Matilda clutching her outdoor things impatiently while her parents stumble around, flipping coins to see who showers first, and me having to use my brain before lunchtime. It wasn't until the very end of the holidays that any of us seemed to adjust.

Add to that a busy social calendar, more booze than usual and so many dirty dishes that we still haven't cleared the draining board and it's no wonder I was feeling so tired.

So I'm happy to be back to something more closely resembling normality.

Anyway, I blundered into this post planning to talk about toddler growth spurts (I spent Hogmanay hastily washing larger clothes and everything Matilda wears now looks comically oversized), back molar teething (bless Mini Milks and all their sugary coldness) and maybe Humans (oh my goodness!), but instead I've got the new year on my mind (because that's all that's in my Feedly at the moment).

To me, it doesn't feel like anything significant just happened.

I mean, you could argue that nothing significant did just happen. Dates are just a way for humans to organise our lives; shifting from 2016 to 2017 just means that people will spend weeks typing the wrong date and reminiscing about cheque books; blah blah blah.

But we're supposed to place significance on the new year, aren't we? We're supposed to think about all the ways in which we've been rubbish over the past year, spend lots of money on the stationery, gym memberships and diet shakes we deem necessary for changing ourselves, and talk expansively about our goals and resolutions.

And, although I don't really go in for resolutions (because January seems like a particularly masochistic time to inflict perfection upon ourselves; because procrastinating about making a change until a cute date suggests that our hearts aren't really in it; because I worked in marketing long enough to resent being sold a magic bean), I have always spent a little time looking back over the past year and looking forward to the coming one.

And this year I skipped that entirely.

It didn't even occur to me until I started reading what other bloggers had to say on the matter.

But I'm happy with my attitude to life; I'm surrounded by people I care about; I like where and how I live; I don't fancy creating goals for my blog.

I spent the past year parenting, not going out to work and elbowing in time with my friends; this coming year, I expect to do more of the same. There's only so much thought I can put into continuing on as I was.

So the changing of the year, to me, was entirely nothing. And I can't be the only one who felt that way? Is anybody else entering this year not trying to change who they are?

More here: the one resolution we should ALL make (I stand by this); 31 things to do in January which won't make you feel bad about yourself; and that bit when I was still coming to terms with my "stay at home mum" status.

P.S. One thing I have done at the start of this year is switch my photo-a-day blog to private. I didn't want to be worrying about showing Matilda's face or the view from our living room window. It only had about ten readers, anyway, and I expect five of those were robots. So Elise, Emma and whoever the other three were: that's why it's vanished from your reader. I'll come up with some way of sharing my favourite photos here.