How to Play With a Five Month Old Baby

It's not always easy to know what to do with babies during this weird in-between stage when they're no longer sleepy little bundles of purple cuteness but can't yet do much for themselves. They want to play and learn and investigate and interact but they're relying on other people to put them in the right position and give them something interesting to chew look at.

It would be easy to spend a fortune on noisy plastic toys (we have a few) but I'm really keen for a good deal of Matilda's play to be active and to get her interacting with the real world.

There has been some googling and there have been some lightbulb moments and there has been a bit of copying what we do at Matilda's assorted baby groups and classes (more on those another day) but we've managed to figure out a pretty decent list of ways to entertain a five or six month old baby.

Here are Matilda's current favourite activities (besides watching Charlie and Lola):

Matilda on a yoga ball

Bouncing on my yoga ball
Whether in a seated position or sprawled on her belly as if she's flying, she loves this. I'm so glad I didn't get round to deflating it a couple of months ago. I also have a small (bowling ball sized) exercise ball which she likes to wave about and to lean over while she investigates other things.

Catching bubbles
They're magical.

Have scarves, muslins or any other wafty pieces of fabric waved above her
I think she likes the floaty movements and the breeze; friends at her rhythm and movement class have called this "Matilda catnip" because she can go from utter sleepy disinterest to a squealing blur of excited baby in seconds if she so much as catches a glimpse of a scarf.

Patting Mirror Matilda
Babies are little narcissists. Pop them in front of their own reflection or show them a photo or video of themselves and they're all smiles. I've yet to meet an exception to this rule. Matilda is also quite fond of Mirror Mum and Dad.

Baby yoga
We have a baby yoga book which I got secondhand for a bit of a laugh - turns out Matilda loves doing all the exercises with me.

Grabbing fistfuls of garden herbs
There are enormous rosemary and lavender bushes in our downstairs neighbour's garden and, ever since I let Matilda smell them, she has been intent on shoving them in her mouth. We've had a lot of fresh rosemary on our food lately thanks to her snapping off branches. She also loves sitting on the lawn/in the park and pulling up clumps of grass.

Any new textures
Woolly blankets, bubble wrap, the bumps on the bottom of the shower tray - all fascinating. I walk around the flat looking for new things for her to touch (whilst preventing her from grabbing Polly's tail).

Chewing wooden spoons
While Steve and I eat lunch, at the weekend, Matilda sits in her high chair with random objects on the table in front of her. She's pretty interested in balls and toy cars and jar lids and board books (for chewing on, not for reading) but wooden spoons are the clear winner - perfect for chomping on, hugging, banging things with and poking dangerously close to her eyes.

Poking dangerously close to eyes in general
Not just her own. She has recently discovered other people's faces and loves to grab handfuls of cheek, neck and nose.

See also: 5 things we could learn from babies, why we need to stop calling happy people "smug" and 31 things to do which won't make you feel bad about yourself.

A Room of Her Own

Gizmo and Matilda in cot

Two weeks ago, Matilda moved into her very own cot in her very own bedroom (Gizmo has since given up on it).

The official advice is to keep babies in their parents' room until they're six months old (she was - still is - five months) but it just wasn't do-able. She outgrew her crib a little shy of three months and had gradually moved from coming into our bed around midnight every night to sleeping on our bed all night long.

There isn't enough room in our bed for three people (and a cat) - not even when one of them's a baby. And it didn't feel very safe.

A few people suggested buying a travel cot to put in our bedroom as an interim measure but, frankly, we've bought a lot of baby gear and we can't justify spending money on something which we can so easily do without.

Anyway, explanations out of the way: two weeks ago, Matilda moved into her own room.

We did have a strategy for this. I had spent the previous couple of weeks getting her to nap in her cot at least once a day so that it was familiar; I had also made a point of playing with her in her room each afternoon so that it was somewhere she knew she liked being.

We had been trying to work up the nerve to move her every since she started sleeping on our bed but we finally chose that weekend because my mum was coming to visit Monday-Wednesday and Steve had the Friday off work - if Matilda kept me awake all night, I could pass her to somebody else and retreat to my bed for a catnap.

It turned out that wasn't necessary.

We moved her on the Saturday night (we were too.damn.tired on the Friday) and that first night was pretty tough. She yelled us through every ten minutes until 2am. Was this what our lives were going to be like from now on?! For the rest of the night, her shouts were hourly. What had we done?!

On the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights, she bellowed once an hour. They weren't upset or angry shouts, though - there were no tears; she just needed reassurance that we were still around, should she need us.

And then, from Wednesday night onwards, she went back to normal (which is to say: who knows?!).

People keep asking me "how are you finding it?" when I tell them Matilda's moved into her own room and I fail to realise that they really do mean how am I finding it? Am I anxious? Am I checking that she's breathing every few minutes? I start to tell them how long she's sleeping for and don't tell them anything about me.

It's odd, early motherhood, when your life is so focused on this tiny other person that you forget to also focus on yourself. Your meals are scheduled around her meals; your sleep is shoved in around hers; your answers to every question are centred around the baby. I could write a whole post about the ways in which I'm the same person I was before Matilda was born and the ways in which I'm not - in fact, I've had it pencilled in my calendar since mid-pregnancy; I just haven't reached the designated day yet and, besides, haven't worked out exactly what I want to say.

But, for the record, I'm finding this latest milestone to be a positive step. Tiring, yes - because, good grief, getting out of bed at 2am to pop her dummy back in is hard - but my body aches less for being able to stretch out in bed; getting in and out of bed is easier without the fear of waking the baby; Steve and I can... eh... hold hands again. It gives me a little bit of space back, a little bit of time when I can just stop.

And I'm not obsessing about her safety. I wonder if it's easier for me because we spent her first few nights apart? But also, she's big and she's strong and we've found her with her lovely knitted blanket (made by Elise) over her head so many times we know that she can breathe through it. And she seems to be loving having the space to stretch out, too.

A Room of Her Own: Matilda sleeping

October: Past, Present

Chair in a dark room

In October last year I was secretly pregnant. It was early days. We had our twelve week scan during October and I don't think I'll ever forget the terrified moment before the heart beat appeared or reaching out for Steve's hand or laughing as Matilda curled up like a cat and refused to wake up and show her face. 

The following weekend, I went to Edinburgh and spent three days telling some of my oldest and closest friends that I was going to be a mother. I met my mum and my sister for lunch in the Botanic Gardens, broke the news and watched my mum beam at me for two solid hours.

In the meantime, I found a renewed interest in blogging. After letting things slide for the longest while, suddenly I had something worth writing about. I had stories to tell and thoughts to process. 

But they weren't all about pregnancy and parenting. In October last year I wrote about:

I also wrote about how nice it was to have a bed to myself for once, completely oblivious to the fact that it would soon be both Polly and Matilda forcing me into ridiculously contorted sleeping positions.

And Steve and I celebrated Halloween quietly, at home, because I was too first trimestery (real word) to go to either of the parties we'd been invited to. Bet none of you spotted the bump in the picture of me - I was well out of my normal jeans by that stage!

Skull paper chain

October this year is a little different. The bump is now a baby; my life largely revolves around her naps and feeds and activities and entertainment.

She will be six months old in a few weeks time and Steve and I have plans to celebrate. Without her, as it happens; a friend will be babysitting while we go out and toast to our continued survival.

Steve also has a (different) week off work and - somehow - we don't have masses of jobs to do around the house so we'll be spending some time relaxing as a family. And I have a massage booked - wahooooooo!

And Halloween this year? We've no plans as yet. But, at the very least, we'll be introducing Matilda to pumpkin.

Photo an Hour: September

Yesterday, I took part in Louisa and Jane's Photo an Hour project for the second time. It was a pretty standard Saturday of tea, walks, pilates and hanging out with Steve and Matilda. Here's how it looked:

Photo an Hour: September (8am: Dressing Matilda)
Photo an Hour: September (9am: First cuppa of the day)
Photo an Hour: September (10am: Toast tastes better cut into triangles)
Photo an Hour: September (11am: Taking selfies before heading out for a walk)
Photo an Hour: September (12noon: Family walk)
Photo an Hour: September (1pm: Sleeping baby)
Photo an Hour: September (2pm: Heading to pilates)
Photo an Hour: September (3pm: Heading home)
Photo an Hour: September (4pm: Still heading home after running into a friend)
Photo an Hour: September (5pm: One sock half off whilst drinking her milk)
Photo an Hour: September (6pm: Watching Sarah and Duck)
Photo an Hour: September (7pm: Matilda's bedtime)

For further photos of my daily life, might I suggest checking out Two Days the Same?

5 Years of Writing Sarah Rooftops

Sarah Rooftops, original profile picture

Today marks five years since I started Sarah Rooftops.

Not five years since I started blogging. I've been doing this for closer to fifteen years but all of those old blogs are long since gone (believe me: I've checked).

But for five years I've been hanging out here, posting my thoughts and photos and stories onto the internet, chatting in the comments section, on social media and in person with other bloggers.

I didn't have a plan for Sarah Rooftops - it was really just somewhere to put my pictures - but over the years it's turned into something I'm pretty proud of. I'm proud of a lot of my writing; I'm proud of a lot of the ideas I've had; I'm proud of all of the projects I've run here over the years (who remembers Three Things February, Why Don't You...? or Basic Camera, Brilliant Pictures?).

Blogging has brought me the odd freebie and an amazing trip to Edinburgh. It has helped me get jobs and it has helped me through bad jobs by giving me something more positive to focus on.

This blog has become a record of my cohabitation with Steve, of owning two different homes, of adopting both Polly and Gizmo and now of life with Matilda. It's not always easy to explain to non-bloggers why I'm happy to write about my life online but this is a big part of it: I love this record of how I felt at the big moments in my life and of the smaller things I would otherwise forget.

And I love that sharing this journey has let me make real friends - some of whom are going through similar life experiences; some of whom are choosing completely different paths. Without this blog, I would never have met EliseAndrea or Janet, I wouldn't be part of the Aberdeen blogging network and I wouldn't have all of the online friends that I now do.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Sarah Rooftops, 2015

Autumn Excitement, 2015

Basket of windfall apples

Autumn officially begins today (although, judging by the recent weather, it had a bit of a head start). I love autumn. What am I saying? I'm a blogger; I love all the seasons for their whole new set of blog post prompts. But I do particularly love the colours of autumn - the reds and browns and oranges and forests greens, they are my colours.

As this autumn kicks off, Matilda is still too little to do many of the traditional autumnal things (or many of the things on my autumn Pinterest board). But there are still things I'm planning to show her and share with her, even if she is more interested in chewing on her fist.

So, other than wearing red and orange and yellow tights, here are the things I'm looking forward to this season:

Pink sunrise

  • Spotting the first flocks of birds flying south and the first robin red breasts bobbing around the garden.
  • Hunting for conkers, acorns and sycamore helicopters.
  • Foraging for brambles - there are tons of them all around our neighbourhood.
  • Wearing a scarf and gloves with glee; dressing Matilda in novelty hats.
  • Baking with apples. Or just baking apples.
  • Eating hot marshmallows (generally scooping them out of hot chocolate but I might find out what all the s'mores fuss is this year).
  • Watching the fireworks (out the window because they're after Matilda's bedtime).
  • Carving a pumpkin; making pumpkin soup.
  • Kicking through fallen leaves.
  • Admiring the red, orange, yellow colours all around.
  • Nursing my chrysanthemum back to health. And my Christmas cactus.
  • Admiring the bright pink sunrises.
  • Making the most of some wet weather pyjama days by cranking up the heating.
  • Watching When Harry Met Sally (it's tradition).

What are you looking forward to this autumn?


What I've Been Reading Recently

Kindle as bookmark in paperback

#Please Retweet by Emily Benet*
A romance story for internet savvy cynics. May is the person behind four problematic celebrities' Twitter accounts - the grumpy sleaze; the vacuous actress; the former Big Brother charmer; and the media shy musician. Her friends are sick of her Instagramming absolutely everything and her handsome neighbour has some serious questions about her ethics. May doesn't have time to think about any of this, though, as there's always another notification to respond to. An enjoyable read for anyone who has ever obsessed over retweets.

Holy Cow! by David Duchovny*
Elsie is just a normal cow - she hangs out in the field with her best friend, Mallory, and she's starting to take an interest in the bulls next door - until she discovers what fate has in store for her. Together she, a pig and a turkey head off on an international mission to find a country where they won't be killed. So, obviously this is a book with messages - animal rights; the environment; humans can be idiots sometimes - and there are a couple of points where those messages get a bit heavy handed but it's also laugh out loud funny; Elsie's observations of human behaviour are completely deadpan and the story itself is so absurd I chuckled so much I woke the baby.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson*
You all know Jenny Lawson, right? Her first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, was a huge hit with bloggers and her second, Furiously Happy, looks set to be the same. Rightly so. I belly laughed through this. Jenny writes about her experiences of mental illness - anxiety, depression, manias, phobias - honestly and passionately whilst poking fun at herself and offering hypothetical hugs to anybody who recognises themselves in her stories. There are no "if you've ever felt/wondered..." provisos attached here; go out and buy this book.

Thirty Days of Rewilding by Lucy AitkenRead
Lucy (who blogs at Lulastic and the Hippyshake) has moved her family from a smart home in London to a yurt in New Zealand and, while she doesn't advocate that everyone takes that extreme an approach, she is passionate about getting ourselves - and, in particular, our children - outdoors. This is a collection of short essays which I breezed through in a day and I loved it. Having made a conscious decision to stay in the city with Matilda, I was a little scared it would read like a telling off (or be insanely twee) but it turned out to be inspiring. It's available for the Kindle or as a PDF - details in this blog post.

*Provided by the publisher or agent for review.

Why We Chose the Name Matilda

Why We Chose the Name Matilda: New Baby Cards

Today is apparently Roald Dahl Day so it seems like the perfect time to explain why we chose the name Matilda.

Although it wasn't because of Roald Dahl.

"I love that book!" so many people cried, when we told them the name.

"I love that film!" even more people gasped, clutching clasped hands to their chests.

We now have two (very much treasured) copies of the book. Also a copy of Matilda's Cat by Emily Gravett which is fantastic for tiny cat lovers.

But, no, it wasn't because of that Matilda. Although that would be a very good reason.

Why We Chose the Name Matilda: Birth Certificate

We spent a lot of time trying out different babies' names.

Girls' names were initially, unintentionally, my responsibility. "They're all so... girlie..." Steve sighed, unable to muster much enthusiasm for anything I suggested. This ruled out anything floral or jewelled or ending with an "E" sound.

Unfortunately, he had no suggestions of his own. No amount of scrutinising end credits seemed to help.

I'm not sure where I came up with the idea for Matilda - I suspect I'd seen Tilda Swinton mentioned somewhere and it had lodged in my brain. I briefly fought against it; it was the 100th most popular girls' name in Scotland last year and, whilst number 101 would have been fine (if we liked Annabelle or Eden or Maria, joint 101st), anything in the top 100 went against my lingering need to be different.

But I liked it. I really liked it.

Why We Chose the Name Matilda: Baby in Father's Hands

And then I googled the meaning: "strength in battle".

That won us both around.

Because we want our daughter to be capable, to be determined, to be able to defend herself when needed.

Girls still face a lot of crap in this world - there is still pressure to be skinny and pretty; there is still pressure to please "elders and betters" even when those "elders and betters" turn out to be exploitative; there are still boys who believe they're entitled to something from girls; there are still adults with dated views about how women should earn and behave and contribute. We want her to see all of this for the (nevertheless dangerous) nonsense that it is and to be able to shout "No!".

But we also want her to be able to shout "Yes!". We want her to have the strength to choose her own path, the bravery to take risks and the courage to have adventures - whether those adventures are round the world travels or setting up a stable, secure home of her own (or neither; or both).

We want her to know that nobody sets her limits but her.


Red mug of hot chocolate on background of red dressing gown

Today has been a tough day.

Not because of anything Matilda did. She's a bit unsettled because of teething but not so much that I would normally have commented on it (except to Steve. In minute detail. I would also have emailed illustrative photos to his work address throughout the day. But I do that on good days, too).

No, I'm simply run down. Possibly a little bit sick. That sore-eyed, sore-throated, heavy-limbed, impossibly tired level of ick where you solider on into work and then do nothing all day except wiggle your mouse around now and then to stop your screen going blank. Probably sneak off home a little early. You know the score.

You can't call in sick to parenting, though, and Steve couldn't work from home today (I would still have emailed him photos even if he had) and the friends who usually visit on Friday were either doing overtime or holed up in bed with lurgy of their own. So: looking after a baby whilst feeling like crap it was.

I remember, when I lived alone, thinking that the only downside of having my own place was having nobody there to look after me when I was ill. I remember calling a friend in tears once because I had started to change the bed (it was sticky with sicky sweat; it had to be done) but didn't have the strength to finish. I remember pointed status updates on Facebook aimed at getting people to text me and say, "Would you like me to drop round some paracetamol and grapes and a big bunch of flowers?"

Though nobody ever did. Look after your sick solo friends, people! They need you!

Things are both better and worse now.

Better, because I know that I could have messaged my circle of mum friends and, if any of them were able to drop by and help me, they would have done. Were I not too stupidly proud to ask.

Worse, because finding the strength to lift a small child and play with a small child and deal with a small child's moments of upset is really, really difficult when you don't feel great. And she wasn't in the mood for TV. Believe me: I tried.

I also cried. Quite a lot.

But now she's in bed. Steve is sorting the pizza. He has promised to do all the morning stuff tomorrow so that I can sleep. So I'm taking five minutes to sound sorry for myself online but also, a little bit, to appreciate the good that I have.

5 Things We Could Learn From Babies

Babies learn from us all the time. They learn to speak by listening to us. They learn to walk by watching us. They learn their healthy or unhealthy eating and sleeping and exercising habits because that's what we teach them.

5 Things We Could Learn From Babies - Matilda with pink tissue paper

But there are some things which we, the adults, could learn from babies.

Perseverance in pursuit of goals

Matilda has been trying to crawl for ten weeks now. All day, every day, she flips herself onto her belly, thrashes her limbs around, roars, occasionally cries and tries her hardest to propel herself forward. One of these days she's going to manage it and I can't wait to see the look on her face. Still: ten weeks. If I can't learn or do something easily, I'm rarely still trying two and a half months down the line.

Unguarded emotions

Babies don't play it cool. If they're happy to see you, the hugest grin bursts onto their face. If they're hurt or upset or angry, the loudest wails come out of them. There's no game playing or manipulation here - their openness is refreshing.

Curiosity (learning is fun!)

You wouldn't think it would be possible to spend thirty minutes examining a wooden spoon and yet, if a baby has never seen or held or chewed on one before, it can be the most exciting thing in the world. Everything is new and interesting and deserving of thorough examination. They don't try to hide their ignorance - they get on with finding things out.

The importance of getting plenty of sleep

You know how neurotic parents can seem, scheduling everything around nap times? A couple of attempts to settle an over-stimulated, over-tired baby and you start to live your life in two hour windows of activity, too. When babies have been on the go too long, they get wired and cranky and they struggle to switch off. When adults have been on the go too long... yeah... we're much the same. GO TO BED ALREADY.

Wearing garish clothes with panache

Babies don't care about fashions; they don't care about clothing rules; they don't worry if it's pink or blue. Not only are red and green often seen together, they're usually accompanied by orange, pink and blue, too. And okay, the babies aren't choosing their outfits themselves but that just proves my point - when parents choose to dress their children in bright, cheerful outfits but clad themselves in Ignore Me Black, it's time for them to loosen up and let themselves have fun.