Things I Haven't Had Time/Motivation/Whatever To Post On My Blog

Glowing Book Reviews
  • The Surface Breaks by Louise O'Neill (The Little Mermaid gets rewritten all angry and feministy and stuff)
  • Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? by Holly Bourne (teenagers figure out mental health stuff; readers squirm at accurate representation of own neuroses)
  • Leap Year by Helen Russell (writer of The Year of Living Danishly spends a year trying to improve her life - not just by living in Denmark)
(I'm on Goodreads, by the way. Are you?)

Interiors Blog Pastiche
  • PARENTING: How to Style Your Living Room When It Contains A Cardboard Box the Size of Your Sofa
    ​>>> Paint the box in the Pantone Colour of the Year:​ Living Coral​. Firmly correct your children when they refer to it as "pink"​.
    >>> Fill it with scatter cushions and​ describe it as "an eco-chic pouffe".
    >>> ​If the kids keep chucking the cushions out and filling the box with tat, refer to it as "our unicorn styling nook"​.​
    >>> Turn it into a giant planter ​full of succulents.​ Sprinkle them with biodegradable glitter.

  • The youngest finally had her appointment at the allergy clinic. She was tested for nine things but only showed a reaction to egg. We are slowly reintroducing dairy. Keep your milky fingers crossed.
  • Whilst in the clinic waiting room, I successfully completed a game aimed at four year olds then had to quickly take it back to pieces before any of the staff noticed because a) I would have been mortified if they had praised me, and b) I would have been offended if they hadn't.
  • Everyone is still much happier since the eldest withdrew from nursery, but it's been bringing up all sorts of unpleasant questions for me. Whilst pondering what has been and would have been and will in the future be best for her, I've started thinking about all the ways in which my own school days failed me - the bright but extremely bored kid, stuck in a small town where nobody else seemed to like books. I've been wondering what could have been done differently to enable me to enjoy my education and/or to leave school properly prepared for study and a career. There's a bundle of regrets or resentments or disappointment of some kind wodged inside me, still, and lately I've been scaring myself with thoughts of how easily I could screw up my own kids. It's tricky, trying to keep thoughts of what would have suited me separate from thoughts of what will suit my kids, who are not tiny little carbon copies of me (I do not like strawberries; they do not like 6 Music).
  • After much procrastination, I've started up yoga again and I'm very much enjoying my ninety minutes a week of not having anybody ask me for a snack. 
  • Steve has today off work and has taken the kids out to the park so I can tackle my enormous to do list. Finishing this blog post was not on the list (though it soon will be). It's not just exercise I can avoid, you know; the dirty windows are not calling loudly enough.
  • And today is the first day of the sixth year of my photo a day project and it feels like new year to me - I'm very confused about why nobody is Instagramming about their resolutions or wishing each other well for the coming months. So let me take this chance to say: MAY YOUR NEXT TWELVE MONTHS BE AWESOME.

Some Ways In Which I Still Resemble A Preschooler

  • I believe food and drink tastes better when I'm using yellow crockery.
  • I deeply resent sensible bedtimes.
  • If it's not for sitting, standing or swinging on, I am probably sitting, standing or swinging on it.
  • I believe myself to be an amazing singer and dancer despite never having taken a lesson. Or having demonstrated any proficiency.
  • I'm not intentionally ignoring you - I just haven't registered your voice yet.
  • I hate wearing hats.
  • Also slippers, although I find it quite entertaining to dress my feet up as ducks.
  • I don't want to share my snack with you but I do want you to share your snack with me.
  • I only know what day of the week it is because they sang about it on CBeebies.
  • I find new places intimidating but am quickly won over by carousels and cake.
  • I frequently want to throw myself face down on the pavement with exhaustion.
  • I spend my life listening to family members trying to tell me what to do. I hate when they add on "NOW!"
  • I have memorised about 90% of Frozen.
  • I cry easily and frequently.
  • I don't believe in saving my sparkly clothes for best.

  • I believe in the existence of cold temperatures.
  • I really fancy a nap.

GARDEN: Starting Over, January 2019

Lawn where lawn is not supposed to be

That lawn? That lawn is not supposed to be there. That lawn is supposed to be a flowerbed.

I think it's fair to say that our garden has got away from us a bit. Where there used to be the carefully primped and protected floral display of our predecessors, we have weeds and wilderness.

And not an artful, pretty, Instagrammable, we're-being-good-to-the-bees sort of weeds and wilderness.

Just a mess.


At first, I blamed pregnancy. And then I blamed having a very small child who liked hurling herself down the concrete steps into our neighbours' garden whenever I wasn't looking and who was also quite fond of trampling across the crocuses. 

Then I got pregnant again. And then I had another small child who likes to do the same. 

And, of course, the garden is not just my responsibility but every time Steve was around to dig or sow or trim or mow, it poured with rain.

And so we lost control.

I say that. There are successes hiding in these pictures, underneath the weeds. 

There are the remnants of the first sweet peas I've ever kept alive long enough to flower and there are hibernating hydrangeas which I planted a couple of years ago and there are the straggling skeletons of my beloved nasturtiums, which keep on reseeding themselves with absolutely no input from me.

Trashed greenhouse

There are the wonky raised beds in which Steve and our three year old grew massive pumpkins and jumbo radishes and unloved lettuces, Also, those green plastic circles are slug collars and we would highly recommend them for keeping the slithery pests off your crops without chemicals. 

And our herb garden is doing fairly well. If you like everything to taste of either rosemary or mint. 

Herb garden

But, over all, we felt like we had reached crisis point. That our garden was past salvaging. That we could not conceivably find the time or the energy or, frankly, the motivation to dig out all of those weeds and scrape off all of that moss and hack back all of the monstrous geraniums by ourselves (plus, how do you do that with one small brown bin and no vehicle for dump trips?).

So, at the start of January, we paid a nice fellow - also called Steve - to dig almost everything out of the flowerbeds and to shove the lawn back into its designated rectangle. He even (more or less literally) threw in some paving slabs he had left over from a previous job. Nice fellow, as I said.

And the garden looked more like this:

So neat.
Trimmed lawn

The minimalist in me quite likes all that blank, smooth space, but I appreciate it wouldn't take the weeds long to recolonise it and we don't want to fill it with concrete. Also, half the point of a garden - to me - is to have something bright and pretty to photograph (the other half is the low effort parenting it provides). So I spent quite a bit of time and a little bit of money ordering lots and lots of perennial plants in the January sales. 

I prioritised low maintenance plants which are attractive to pollinators and have, entirely accidentally, ended up with a display which will be completely pink and blue. There's a joke in there about genders and different sorts of nurseries, but my toddler has a cold and I'm far too tired to phrase it well.

Anyway, the plants will be arriving in dribs and drabs between - eh - last week and April. 

So far, I've received two potentillas, one ceanothus and two bare roots erigerons (one of which is sprouting madly). And they're all currently resident on our stairs because suddenly our garden looks like this: 

Thick snow


Impractical for digging, though.

But in one early success: the kids and I put out loads of food for the birds on Friday afternoon and we have spent great chunks of this weekend watching out of the window as blackbirds, wood pigeons (I think - as far as I know, wood pigeons are just the ones which don't look scrawny because of a city centre diet of chips, right?), redwings, robins and one intrepid starling have revelled in the feast.

Can Mystical Woo Woo Get My Kids To Sleep Better?

[SPOILER: Of course it can't. Don't be daft. I'm just trying to lure you into reading my ramblings.]

Do you all know about cosmic ordering? Apparently Noel Edmonds is a big fan, and who am I to question the success-generating magic of the man behind Mr Blobby?

I'm a blogger, that's who - we're either here to wow the world with our [thoroughly unresearched] opinions or we're here to get free mascara, and I'm a forty year old woman who still doesn't know what foundation is for, so... yeah... leap to your own conclusions.

Anyway, as far as I'm aware, cosmic ordering means writing your loftiest goals on your hand in biro so that the Mystical Universe can read them and make them happen. Which I know sounds like a completely rational approach to life - much better than, say, putting in a lot of effort - but I tried this out when I was thirteen and I'm still not married to Jordan Knight from New Kids On The Block so take it from me: it's nonsense.

And yet... I kind of get it now that I'm parent.

Every evening, I pick up my phone and I press the "Do Not Disturb" icon; I add on an extra seven hours and I read the little message which pops up saying "Do Not Disturb: until 6:57am"; and I think: "That means you, children."

I think those actual words, every night: "That means you, children."

And a part of me - despite all evidence to the contrary; despite months and months of broken nights - firmly believes that setting my mobile phone to "Do Not Disturb" will stop my kids from waking up.

So far, I've had no success.


Usually my three year old sleeps for a solid twelve hours, but my one year old wakes up at midnight, 3am, 5am and is up for the day at half seven. On those nights when my one year old sleeps through - what triggers this?! what is the magic step I'm taking but not properly noticing? has Noel Edmonds written a book which will explain it to me? - my three year old will wake up multiple times "needing tucked in" or claiming that the water which she never, ever touches isn't fresh.

Dialling in a cosmic order doesn't work.

I've said it before, but I don't think anything does. I don't think there's any one white-noise-and-orange-light emitting contraption or any one non-negotiable nap schedule or any one bath-book-boob/bottle routine which works for every kid, all of the time. What helped my first get to sleep irritates my second; what helps my second get to sleep enraged my first. One wanted held for naps and one doesn't want to be touched. One didn't sleep through until she dropped her last nap at eighteen months and the other slept through as the tiniest of babies but ditched the decent nights as soon as she started to wean.

This time around, I'm not looking for a simple solution.

Except for my phone, obviously.

And time.

Time is not a quick fix, but I do think it is a fix. I think my youngest will get to doing decent nights when she's ready (which, obviously, I'm hoping will be tonight. Or, failing that, tomorrow), and I'm trying not to let myself get too worked up about it.

Which is easier, for me, second time around, because I recognise the phases.

I recognise the nap transitions when there's no such thing as a schedule. This time they're easier because I'll bung her in the buggy, stick to our original plans and simply hope for the best, as opposed to cancelling everything and rocking my child for several hours, whilst crying.

I recognise the developmental leaps when each bedtime takes several thousand decades. This time they're easier because I'll let off steam by wandering through to the kitchen and telling Steve what ridiculous position our eldest is sleeping in and which nursery rhyme our youngest appears to be butchering at full volume in lieu of nodding off, as opposed to squatting by my child's bed, scared to leave the room in case she cries (side note: sometimes a good cry can be cathartic for me and sometimes a good cry can be cathartic for my kids and sometimes a good time for that cry is when their mind's buzzing so much that they can't get to sleep. Which doesn't mean stomping off and leaving them to cry it out - just that you don't have to completely freak out if there are tears at bedtime; they may actually be kind of helpful).

I recognise that those periods when bedtimes and night wakings and wake up times and naps all completely change, all at once, are actually periods of progress, rather than a carefully masterminded plot to break me. I know my youngest's wake ups and naps have suddenly become earlier (painfully earlier) because she's started going to sleep at her designated bedtime, and that it's no coincidence that her overnight sleep's been better this past week, too - I know that this is her body clock shifting out of "I wake up at half past seven and everything is set by that" to "I go to sleep at half past seven and everything is set by that". Which is good. Kind of. And doesn't mean I need to go on Amazon at 3am and order every book with the words "gentle" and "sleep" in its description.

But just because it's easier this time doesn't mean it's easy.

So I'm going to keep whispering "That means you, children" to myself every evening as I switch my phone to silent.

Some Changes At The Start Of The Year

Toppled toy

Well, I'm back at this URL, for a start. Turns out I missed it. So: hi. Hope you didn't all remove it from your feed readers when I said I was going elsewhere!

Anyway, it's the start of the year (did you know?), and I was trying to explain to my three year old what that means - why it matters that we've stopped writing an eight and started writing a nine and why she really should agree to take down the calendar which expired five days ago even if it is now covered in stickers and scribbles.

The best answer I've got is that it's a good time to think about what makes you happiest in life and what you would like to do more of. Which, I guess, despite my ongoing dismissal of resolutions, is just a fashionably mindful/grateful/positive way of going about making resolutions.

As it happens, I've been a bit frazzled recently for fairly standard lack of sleep/excess of Instagram/audible neighbours reasons; in the midst of irrational crying fits, I've realised I need to make a few changes to my mindset and my habits to counter that.

Meanwhile, there have been Big Things happening around me (most of which, I'm afraid, aren't my stories to share) and that's meant a few changes around here and a bit of weighing up my priorities.

All of which is a very big preamble for a very little list.

Some Things Which Have Changed In My Life Recently


Yes, I just wrote "self-care". I could either embrace the cliche or I could try to fool you into thinking I was original by calling it something else. But it's self-care really.

Self-care, for me, means going to my book group roughly every six weeks, going to the cinema with a friend roughly once a month, ignoring my deeply ingrained (and thus far unfounded) fear of rejection and asking if friends fancy a hot drink and a yap, and keeping up with my photo a day project.

Self-care, for me, also means reading a lot of books but - between tricky bedtimes, an intimidatingly large backlog of box sets, and the existence of the internet - I haven't been making enough time for that. So I have designated three evenings a week as Reading Nights (/Steve's hobby nights). One week in, I feel calmer already.

I've also started to actually use my Goodreads account because: is it proper relaxation if you aren't obsessively tracking it in some way?!

No More Nursery

My three year old stopped going to nursery at the end of November. We thought she might just be needing a short break, but the longer she's away from it the more determined she is not to return - and the entire family is happier as a result.

I can't really go into her reasons, but suffice it to say: I think she's made the right decision. I've had to be very careful with myself about this - I prefer her being at home; I prefer life not be dictated by her nursery timetable; I prefer getting to do arts and crafts with her; I prefer having my calm, happy child back; I needed to be very clear that I was letting her make this decision and that I wasn't trying to push her into it in any way.

But she has made the decision herself.

And it's quite exciting, getting to come up with a whole new rhythm for our weeks together.

Our Home

Over the summer, we got new neighbours in the rental flat downstairs. They're nice but they're just that tiny bit too audible, and we're not enjoying having to listen to their TV every evening.

We also hate trying to get the kids to keep the noise down. One year olds and three year olds should not have to worry about being too loud or too excited or too energetic.

So we have given a lot of thought to moving.

It would be tricky right now - the market around here is in a big slump; we know people whose lovely homes have been for sale for over a year without a single viewing - but if we could sell, we could scrape together just enough to buy a detached house. A very small detached house. Smaller than our current enormous flat. With much higher council tax. And in a blander, less convenient area. Small, expensive, bland and inconvenient - BUT WITH NO ADJOINING NEIGHBOURS. We've been sorely tempted to try.

But, before we spend a lot of money on something our hearts aren't truly in, we're spending lot of money on very, very, very thick underlay instead. We're going to try solving the problem before we run away from it.

We're also throwing a bit of cash at sorting out the things which really do need sorted out, regardless of whether we stay or go. I want to learn to love living in our beautiful home again.

Which Brings Me To: The Garden

One of the things we're chucking money at sorting out. The flowerbeds have become so overgrown with dandelions and couch grass and willow herb and misc. other weeds that we've admitted defeat: we've lost the battle; we can't salvage what's already there.

We don't have the time or the will to dig it all out ourselves, so we've got a gardener coming round next week to haul everything out and bung in a load of fresh top soil. And I am so, so, so, so, so excited (totally needs teenage diary levels of "so", plus three or four underlines and some doodled stars) about choosing a ton of new bulbs and perennials and starting our garden afresh. Gone will be the tasteful but boring plants our predecessors chose, and in will go a garish riot of colour (don't tell Steve).


  • My first wisdom tooth popped through on Christmas Eve. I can now vouch for teething being 100% a real thing. So. Much. Pain.
  • My one year old got her first molar the same week and my three year old's first adult molars are making their presence felt. Steve's mouth has never looked so smug.
  • My three year old has started listing three happy things at the end of every day. It's mostly a way of postponing putting on her pyjamas, but I'm glad she's learning to practise positive thinking so early on.
  • And we've started doing the milk ladder with our one year old (despite not having heard from any professionals about her allergies yet). We can now confirm: she can eat Digestive biscuits without any adverse reaction. She can also ram her fingers into her sister's yoghurt pot and have a good suck of them without anything terrible happening, so we're feeling pretty optimistic - cross your fingers, please!
  • Oh, and I turned 40 last month, which sounded significant but didn't feel it at all.

So that's what's new with us right now. What's going on with you?

So... What's The Deal With Santa, Then?

My 3.5 year old has started picking apart the Santa story.

"Why," she wants to know, "does the boy in Rudey's Windy Christmas [as dire a book as it sounds] hang a stocking at the end of his bed but on THIS Christmas card the stockings are hung by the fire? Why does Peppa Pig get a present from Santa but not a stocking? Why do WE get stockings from Santa but not any presents? Is it be​​cause we're still little? Why does Aurora-Jasmine-Twinkletoes-Belle at nursery get ALL her presents from Santa but I don't get any from him? Why does Marmaduke's mum get a present from Santa but you and Daddy don't? Why did Santa at the shopping centre ask me to write him a list if he doesn't bring me big presents?"

Why, indeed?

When did Santa start playing favourites with the kids?

I remember becoming aware of this when I was about seven or eight years old. I remember being confused as to why grown ups were so interested in "what Santa brought" me when, frankly, it was a bit rubbish compared to the toy I'd been given by my granny. I remember that I got a stocking with an apple, an orange, some chocolate coins and some felt tip pens from Santa, and that Sharon next door got a pillow case with a telly, a VCR and a fine selection of Rainbow Brite dolls in it. I remember thinking this didn't seem very fair.

And I remember that that inconsistency was what convinced me that Santa wasn't real.

Steve and I fully expected the same inconsistencies to bring our kids to the same conclusion. Just... not at three and a half.

We don't have any particularly strong feelings about our kids believing in Santa Claus. We go along with the whole him existing thing because it's a fun and magical story and neither of us was ever traumatised by finding out the truth. We don't believe that kids need to believe in Santa in order to fully enjoy Christmas, any more than they need to believe in witches and ghosts and goblins to fully enjoy Halloween.

Kids are masters of make believe - show them a yoghurt pot and they'll turn it into a roundabout for their Playmobil; give them two plastic giraffes and they'll name them Anna and Elsa and have them act out the entirety of Frozen; tell them a flimsy story about a man coming down the blocked up chimney and leaving them presents and they'll fully embrace the magic. They don't have to BELIEVE it's real - they just have to wonder "what if...?"

So, if our kid asks us straight out if Santa's real, we're inclined to tell her that he exists in our imaginations and isn't that magic enough?

But still... three and a half seems so very, very young to be asking anything other than "How many sleeps until Christmas?" and it saddens me that it's happening because we grown ups can't get our stories straight.

How do you explain why Santa spends a fiver on one kid and £500 on another? Or fills stockings in one house and places piles of presents in another?

Some parents tell their kids it's means tested - but then, surely, he should be bringing less for the richer kids and more for the kids whose parents can't afford big gifts?

Some say the parents pay for the gifts and Santa just delivers them but, frankly, describing Santa as a glorified parcel delivery worker is even less magical than describing him as a lie.

And the only other explanations I can come up with involve an extremely judgemental tone of voice.

So, in the interests of simplicity, can we all just agree on what Santa actually does? 

Let me make the case for him filling the stockings only: if Santa doesn't fill the stockings, why do they exist? Simple as that. We have them because that's the tradition: hang socks by the fire for Santa to fill. They're not just a quaint old decoration like a nutcracker or an angel made out of a toilet roll tube and a doily - they're functional items; they're part of the story.

And the proper presents definitely don't come from Santa. 

They don't come from Santa because family and friends deserve some credit for knowing the kid so well that they chose the perfect book/Lego/stuffed walrus/whatever-the-hell-a-LOL-doll-is. 

And they don't come from Santa because presents are where the massive discrepancies are. There's only so much that even the wealthiest grown ups can squeeze into a stocking; it's when Santa starts gifting an Orchard Toys mini game to one kid and a complete virtual reality, voice controlled gaming system to another that the magic sours. Kids feel hard done by. Parents get into stress and debt. 

Three year olds wonder whether Santa's even real.

Can we get our stories straight and save the magic, please?

What does Santa deliver in your house?

One Year Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Teach My Kids About Diversity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rethinking How We Approach Christmas

How was last Christmas for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are your traditions working for you?

Sparkly Pink Dinosaurs With Bows On Their Heads

Was it John Lewis which started it all? There was such a big fuss when they claimed to have made their children's clothing department gender neutral - people reacted as though letting boys wear pink and girls wear blue would sterilise the lads and stop the lasses from ever finding suitable husbands.

Except, of course, their children's clothing department isn't gender neutral at all. The traditionally boyish clothes say "Boys and Girls" on the labels; the traditionally girly clothes say "Girls and Boys"; gender neutrality would have seen them all simply labelled as "Kids". No, all they really did was stock a dress which was covered in dinosaurs.

And they were by no means the first shop to stock dinosaur covered girls' clothes (we had bought some from Sainsbury's about a year beforehand) - they were just the first ones to spot the PR opp.

Nevertheless, since all that publicity, it's hard to find a clothes store which doesn't have dinosaur print clothes in their girls' section. Girls' clothes are awash with pretty pink Stegosauruses with bows on their heads and Diplodocuses with sparkly jewels around their necks.

The thing is: this isn't gender neutrality. The problem is not [just] that girls don't get enough dinosaur clothes.

Herbivorous dinosaurs are trendy at the moment but that's not the same thing as treating all kids as equals. You can't bung a purple Triceratops on a T-shirt and claim that your store's a feminist must-shop.

To be fair, there are a handful of stores which have moved on from dinosaurs. If you can afford to buy at Boden, their girls' section features dragons and sharks and pirate flags, all on dresses and skintight leggings; if you're a supermarket shopper, Sainsbury's offer robots with skirts on. And that's... something.

But it's still hard to climb in a skirt; it's still hard to keep a pastel T-shirt clean in the mud; it's still hard to keep flimsy fabric intact when you're swishing through nettles with a stick. The images might suggest that girls can play at boys' games, too, but the clothes themselves don't particularly allow for it.

It's also fairly easy to find T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like GIRLS ARE SUPERHEROES and GIRLS RULE and GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING. And that's... something, too.

But it's still dividing children up into two teams: girls and boys. It's still using their biological sex to define what they're capable of. It still encourages them to claim that the other half of the classroom is crap.

Meanwhile, for all the cute dinosaurs on girls' clothes, I've yet to see a unicorn or a flower or a slogan about the importance of friendship in the boys' section (which, yes, I do still - fruitlessly - peruse). It's still a depressing mass of drab colours, fierce creatures and words like MONSTER and TROUBLE.

Girls are still being treated as delicate and pretty; boys are still being told they're a bit of a nuisance. The shops haven't succeeded in making their clothes sections gender neutral; they've succeeded in making dinosaurs gender neutral - and, even then, only the ones which ate leaves and look cute when they're coloured in pink.