24 Jan 2016

Teaching our kids how fortunate they are

Becky in toy heaven on her birthday. 

Becky’s toys are her world. She loves them, plays with them all the time, looks after them well, and her wishlist of new toys she would like is endless. Every day she asks us whether we can buy her some new item she has set her heart on, and she’s already planned her wishlist for her next birthday and Christmas 2016 (both of which are 11 months away, just for the record!).

And that’s fine. It’s the prerogative of kids to have no other worries than toys and games and laughter and fun. I’m glad and grateful that we are in the position that that’s the case, and that she doesn’t have to worry about anything else.

But therein lies the crux of the matter. For as much as I want Becky and Alex to be happy and not want for anything, I also want them to grow up with a sense of how fortunate they are. That there are many many other kids, families and people generally out there, who haven’t got any toys. Who haven’t even got the bare minimum. Especially in current times, where pictures of perpetual suffering, poverty and misery are landing on our TV and media screens day in, day out.

It’s not about burdening Becky with the woes of the world. She’s too young for that, and she’ll learn about those soon enough, unfortunately.

But it’s about balance and perspective, I suppose. Providing Becky with as many things on her wishlist as we deem appropriate, making her happy and giving her a good life without worries – like all parents want for their kids – but also instilling in her a sense of values and appreciation, and not entitlement to everything and anything. For us, it’s about a measured approach.

So lately, when Becky has been obsessing about what she wants next, and who of her friends has what, and that she “needs” this and that, we have been explaining to her that she just had lots of presents for Christmas and her birthday, and that she might have to wait a little until she gets her next lot. That she is very lucky indeed to have so many toys and that it’s not about how many toys she has and what she owns, but what counts is that she is a nice, kind, funny and lovely person all-round. Of course it all goes a bit over her head, but I do believe that if we keep explaining it to her, she will take it in eventually. 

To make her understand this a bit more, we have started to point out the odd situation and things that might make the fact the she is very lucky graspable. John read a book about children of the world with her, which explained the backgrounds, cultures, religions and economic environments of various countries and peoples in the world.

We explain to her that we are fortunate as a family and that therefore we sometimes share with those who are less fortunate, like giving to charity, giving away old clothes or unused things, or even toys that neither Becky or Alex use any longer.

The other day we walked through town to run some errands, and as it was past lunch time, we were hungry and passing a McDonalds, so we decided to pop in and get a kids meal and a couple of bits as a treat. Outside was a young chap, barely out of his teens, on the floor, clothed in dirty rags and clearly homeless. It really tugged at my heart strings. There was something about this guy being so young and looking so vulnerable that really got me. So we bought an extra meal, and together with Becky we gave this to the guy, who was so chuffed and tucked straight in. He looked so happy and appreciative, which almost made me well up (I know, I’m an emotional wreck!). It was just a small gesture, nothing special, nothing clever, nothing that put us out in any way, but it hopefully taught Becky the importance of sharing and made the concept that there are people out there who haven’t got anything a bit more graspable.

Like I said, it’s not about burdening Becky with the miseries of the world, but about teaching her values, ideals and morals that will hopefully shape her character and the person she will one day grow up to be. 

Alex is too young for all this yet, but the same goes for him. We will try to do the same with him when he is older, and try to instil a sense of perspective in both of them – while letting them have the toys, the fun and the laughter they deserve and letting them be the fortunate kids that they are. 

It might be a fine line to walk, but an important life lesson nonetheless. 

* Linking up with #ShareWithMe

15 Jan 2016

Siblings January 2016

I have been meaning to do a proper little “photo shoot” for this month’s #Siblings entry, but then I looked through my camera and found these shots from our visit to Nanny & Granchy recently and instead decided that they perfectly sum up Alex and Becky’s current relationship. They were taken spontaneously, in the spur of the moment, so they are not the best quality, but they depict the close bond and the fun the two of them have together.

My siblings are basically besotted with each other. Alex just adores his sister, and whatever she does, he’s desperate to join in, too. Despite the age gap, Becky is all over him, too, lately and will make a special effort to play with him, to give him toys, to make him laugh, to tickle him etc. She says daily “Mummy, I love Alex. He’s the cutest baby brother in the world.” It makes me so happy!

They make each other laugh all the time, and I love listening to their giggles. Becky will just randomly go up to him and give him a kiss, or she’ll try to pick him up – which ends up being more dragging him along, as he is so chunky compared to my delicate princess – or she’ll pull funny faces at him or blow raspberries on his belly when I change him, because she knows that this has him in stitches.

They bounce on our bed together a lot, which is why I chose these pics. In fact, almost every evening after we come home, they both head straight for our bed and go a little mental throwing themselves about on the mattress, tangled in our sheets, amidst uncontrollable giggles.

They also love to chase each other around, whether that’s Becky chasing Alex, or Alex running after Becky with his little legs, it’s quite hilarious!

So far there isn’t much in the way of conflict – only the occasional moan by Becky when Alex has been a bit too rough or snatched one of her toys, but mostly, their relationship is remarkably harmonious at the moment, and I can sense that both of them know that they are a family and belong together – and I couldn’t wish for more.

* Linking up with #Siblings

12 Jan 2016

Too Young for the Naughty Step?

How and at what age do you start enforcing rules with your little ones? When is the right age to introduce the naughty step? This has been a parenting quandary we have been confronted with a lot lately.

Alex will be 18 months next week. He’s more and more a toddler and less and less a baby, and as his personality develops, so does his curiosity and boisterous side. He’s bright, inquisitive, energetic and mischievous, there’s no two ways about it. But as cute and endearing as he is, he is also starting to really push his boundaries. He doesn’t take no for an answer, he is stubborn, determined and already most definitely knows his own mind. All characteristics that will stand him in good stead in life, I’m sure, but right now, it sometimes feels like the terrible twos have started a little early.

And with that comes the dilemma for us as parents on how to set boundaries and instil good behaviour from an early age and the awareness that if we say no, we mean no. This isn’t predominantly a disciplinarian aspect, but actually more of a safety issue. Most of the things we say no to are the things that are dangerous and which he is simply not allowed to do because they can and will harm him: like climbing up the stairs without anyone beind him to catch him if he falls, playing with sockets and electric cables, pulling plugs, pulling himself up on various objects, pulling anything and everything down that he can reach, eating the coal in the fire-place, climbing on the couch and throwing himself off head-first etc. As much as we have baby-proofed the house, he still finds all the things that are hazardous and these are the things that fascinate him most. It’s a fine line between letting him be a proper toddler and discover the world, and keeping him safe whilst teaching some ground rules and where certain limits are.  

When we say no, he simply ignores us or laughs, and when we remove him from the situation, he starts to protest vehemently.

So what to do? John and I have been discussing when the appropriate time is to start setting some boundaries. John was keen to implement the naughty step straight away, whereas I - whilst I wasn’t against it - was sceptical whether he would actually understand what is happening, though I do agree that we do have to make a point of showing him when he is behaving badly. One day, however, John just did it; he picked him up and placed him on the bottom step of our stairs and kept him there for a short moment. Initially Alex was a bit confused as to what was happening, but he soon enough cottoned on to the fact that this was a direct action from him being naughty and not listening to “no”.

We have been repeating this consistently every time he does something really dangerous and is ignoring us (don’t get me wrong, we do pick our battles, otherwise he’d spend most of the day on the naughty step, ha!) – and I think it’s working. Even though he maybe doesn’t understand exactly what John and I are explaining to him, he definitely understands that this is what happens when he crosses a line.

To be honest, it’s more of a time-out scenario than the proper naughty step anyway, because he is still so young. However, it would be wrong to under estimate our little monkey, too, because he is very much capable of understanding when he is being naughty, or too naughty.

Now, more often than not, whenever we say “no” quite sternly, he will pause, look at us, think about doing it again, but then walk away. Not always, but increasingly so. Hopefully, over time, he will become a little less mischievous - but until then it looks like the naughty / time out step will become a well-used spot in our house indeed.

* Linking up with #ShareWithMe

10 Jan 2016

8 Jan 2016

Alex, 17 months

I’m so late with this month’s update, but life has once again been so busy, what with Christmas and being away and generally lots happening. So Alex is actually now closer to 18 months, however, I didn’t want to miss out on this.

What can I say? He is so cute and is getting cuter and cuter by the minute. His personality is developing so rapidly now, he understands humour, he knows what makes him laugh and – more importantly – knows how to communicate *read demand* to be entertained, but he also makes us laugh so much with his cheeky antics and infectious giggle.

Now that he is walking, he is unstoppable. He literally runs everywhere, and his speed is increasing all the time. He’s a little explorer – he will stick his button nose into everything, try to see everything, grab everything, pull everything down. He’s such a whirlwind! And so determined. He will not take no for an answer, and because he is evidently a clever boy, he works out ways of how to achieve his goals. For instance, if something is out of his reach, he has simply worked out that if he drags one of our kids stools around with him and to the right location, he can just climb on top and get whatever it is he has taken a shine to. So we have to have eyes on him at all times.

He definitely has a mischievous side to him. He is already testing boundaries and trying to get his will, and it’s actually quite hard work keeping him safe and out of harm’s way, because his determination is teamed with endless curiosity, and obviously the things that are most dangerous are the most fun- anything else would be just boring!

This stage is quite intense, I’m not going to lie, and I’m sure Becky wasn’t quite such a handful at this age, so it must be a boy thing. But I wouldn’t have it any other way, he is adorable and irresistible and I actually can’t be annoyed with him for any length of time.

He is still saying “Hiya”, “Bye Bye”, “Dada” and “Mama” a lot, and sometimes it sounds like he is saying “yeah” and a couple of other things, but that’s probably more wishful thinking.

Curiously, he has developed an addiction to Babybels and can literally wolf down several of them in one go, mostly shoving the whole thing into his mouth and hording it there for a good while before he actually starts to chew, with great effort, obviously, as his mouth is so full – yuck! It’s pretty disgusting, but also quite endearing, and I guess being addicted to Babybel is still healthier than to chocolate – though in fairness, he probably wouldn’t reject that, too, if he had the chance!

He is a little greedy guts and a strong boy – but by no means chubby – just really solid and sturdy and with a typical boyish physique. He is growing so fast, he already is so much taller than Becky was at this age; I think Becky was in 9-12 months clothes well into her second year, she was – and still is – so petite.

His night terrors have subsided a bit and only occur now a couple of times a week, and fairly early on in the night, so we can cope a bit better. However, he has quite bad separation anxiety, so leaving him at nursery on a morning or any other occasion is a bit traumatic for both of us. And he is also getting increasingly scared of the dark, so he has become a lot more clingy to me than before. Hopefully this – like most things – is just a stage, and things will pick up again soon! 

Overall though, he is such a happy little chappy, such a delight, and he enriches our little family no end. 

4 Jan 2016

Project Me - Continued

This time last year, I wrote Project Me, which wasn’t so much a list of New Year’s resolutions, but a more general account of the status quo and my goals and aspirations for 2015 and beyond. It seems fitting then, 12 months on, to take stock once more and to set out my hopes and objectives for the year ahead.

Last year’s target was very much about getting fit, shedding some pounds and regaining my physical sense of self after my pregnancy with Alex. Looking back, the results are a bit of a mixed bag - whilst I haven’t lost the weight that I wanted, thanks to my crappy metabolism, and haven’t taken up running (when it came down to it, I just couldn’t bring myself to venture out onto the streets and possibly humiliate myself as the world’s worst and most ridiculous runner), I did start and implement a consistent fitness regime, mainly in the form of Jillian Michaels’ various fitness DVDs, which are based on high intensity interval training, which I have – in the majority – stuck to. Anyone who knows Michaels knows that this isn’t an easy option, and even though I may not be any thinner, I’m definitely less wobbly than I would be without having done this. But it’s fair to say that this is an ongoing project, which I will carry on this year, too, and even try to step it up a notch or two. I’ve also continued to pay attention to my nutrition and healthy, balanced eating, while also allowing myself some “off-days”, and this, too, is something that I will continue with throughout 2016.

The focus of my objectives, however, is slightly shifting. Going forward, I want to put as much emphasis on the physical side of me as on my general well-being. Starting with small things like drinking more water instead of gallons of coffee - yes, that old chestnut! I love my coffee, and my Nespresso machine is easily the best household item I own, so I’m not saying that I will cut out coffee completely. But lately my caffeine intake has been getting out of hand, driven by sleepless nights, exhaustion and general stress. There were days where it would get to dinner time and I would realise that I hadn’t had a drop of water all day, just coffee after coffee. This has got to change, because as much as I'm partial to a nice cappuccino, I don’t think it has actually helped my stress or anxiety levels, but possibly even intensified them as I’ve been somewhat artificially keeping myself going with caffeine instead of just getting some rest. I’ve also been wanting to start juicing for ages now, and I had put a juicer on my Christmas wishlist, which was kindly granted by my lovely mother-in-law, so I am now the proud owner of a great juicer, which will hopefully help me get off the caffeine and fuel myself with better, healthier stuff instead (separate post to come on how I get on with juicing).

Most importantly, I want to be good to myself. This sounds very simple, but it’s one of the things I struggle with most. I’m my own worst critic and my own worst enemy, but it’s time to stop this and start being kind to myself.

Lots of people frequently tell me that I am too hard on myself, and it’s true. Whether it’s how I score as a Mum or how I fare at my job or how I measure up generally, I demand a lot of myself at all times and my standards are very high. I read somewhere recently that if we saw ourselves through the eyes of our kids, we would be so much more forgiving. There's some truth in this, too – my kids love and adore me for who I am, nothing more, nothing less, and no judgment, so I need to take a leaf out of their book.

I want to take more me-time and do the things that I enjoy, if it’s squeezing in that half an hour bath, even at 10pm at night, or hiding away with a book for a bit, all things that I do far too little of. Essentially, I guess I want to do more of the things that make me happy and worry less. I'm a prized over-thinker and worrier, and I can worry about anything and everything and then some. But I’ve realised that no amount of worrying ever changes the outcome of what I worry about. It’s absolutely pointless. And I know that. Sometimes I worry about something, and it turns out a lot less dramatic than anticipated. Equally, sometimes I worry about something, and things turn out a lot worse than I could have ever foreseen by worrying. At the end of the day, I still have to deal with life as it comes and what it throws at me, and worrying is completely counter-productive and useless, so I will try to stop wasting precious time and energy trying to pre-empt things I can’t change anyway – life’s just too short, as they rightly say. As with the physical challenge, this will also be an ongoing project and something I will have to work hard on myself to achieve. But I’m determined to give it a good go.

So, going forward, 2016 and beyond will be all about focusing on being happy, hopefully healthy and finding some inner calm - and realising that I’m doing the best I can, and that maybe, just maybe, that's good enough.

* Linking up with #ShareWithMe
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