Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Toy explosion

This is my fourth Christmas since having my son, and I thought I'd become used to the fact that the influx of toys (including his birthday presents) meant some major reorganisation.  I even prepared a little in advance for it this year, buying a bunch of fabric baskets and making plans for where I could put new storage units.

What I failed to grasp was that having two children was going to make the chaos that much worse.  I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I haven't even touched it yet, since I've been too busy trying to find a place for everything new!

In retrospect, I should probably have taken this into account when drawing up the children's Amazon wishlists (with most of our family abroad, this is the easiest way for them to send gifts).  With my daughter in particular, I felt she didn't need many baby toys, because she'd inherited all of her brother's.  So I focused on other things that she would get some enjoyment out of now but would have more value as she grew older.  For example, the crawl-through tunnel.  She adores tunnels, and this is something that both children will be able to play with for years to come.

Downside of this is that such presents tend to be large.  The tunnel might fold down flat, but it's not exactly something I can put on a shelf!

Still, it's been fun.  I've gone a little stir-crazy at times, but it's been fun playing with everything, and I'm definitely making progress with where everything's going now.

One benefit to the reorganisation chaos is that we've had a lot of empty storage tubs floating around, and I've been able to observe my daughter spontaneously and happily transferring toys from one tub to another on several occasions (also, posting her little playpeople through the handles).  That's a fun little milestone!

Today it finally occurred to me to use this activity to my advantage, and I put an empty bin by the table where we have our Fisher Price nativity set.  My daughter likes to take Mary, Joseph et al and drop them one by one onto the floor before scooting off to the next interest.  I'm hoping that she'll start dropping them in the tub instead.  Best case scenario: once they're all collected in the tub (instead of skidding across the hardwood floor), she might then put them back on the table.  Otherwise, at least they won't be strewn across the floor.

One thing I always tell people is that they don't have to stick to the wishlist.  I love putting it together, researching the kind of toys I value and know how to get the most out of, but I don't want my children to miss out on something because I hadn't seen it or didn't think much of it.  One of my big beliefs is in multiple adult influences; I'm the primary caregiver, the guiding voice, but I want my children to be exposed to several points of view.

The drawback of my principles is that after every Christmas / birthday, I always have to deal with the fact that my children have received toys that I consider a complete waste of space.  I have very firm views on what does and doesn't constitute a good toy (as I expect most parents do), so it's a struggle to see the kids playing with something that makes me wince.

Still, however much I might hate it, the kids generally love it, and I don't want to over-rule them about toys unless it's something that I genuinely consider morally objectionable (hasn't happened yet, though I suppose it might do as they get older).

Case in point, the Big Loader.  This is a bit of a cheat, as I don't really hate the toy, but this was one my husband picked out, so he knows my objections to it already, and thus I'm free to make them public.

Anyway, my husband had this toy as a child, and he was suddenly reminded of it shortly before Christmas.  He promptly bought it for our son, despite my objections that we already had presents for him.  It's a fascinating little toy, but it's entirely motorised.  You switch it on and watch it.  I felt that at this age, our son was better served with toys that he could push around the track, not to mention the small parts problem with a mobile and curious baby.

My fears proved fully justified as one of the first things my son did once he figured out the on/off switch was to turn it off and carefully manoeuvre the vehicle through the complete cycle by hand (something that it's not designed for, which means a lot of dropped balls).  Meanwhile, whenever it's out, I spend half my time hauling my daughter away from it, and how we haven't lost one of the smaller-than-a-marble balls by this time, I don't know.

On the other hand, my son loves it.  My husband gets a kick out of playing it with him.  Also, this is one toy that my husband picked out himself, something that he doesn't get to do very often, and this is the wrong season to deny anybody the pleasure of giving.  And while the practicalities of it are causing me a great deal of stress, even I am hypnotised by the thing once it gets going.

In the end, they're having fun and that's the main thing.  I don't want to confine my children to my view of appropriate play, so even though I'm a dyed in the wool toy snob, every toy we're given will be put out on the shelf to be played with.  I'll probably have to do a Goodwill run eventually, due to the sheer number of them now, but I'm determined not to give away anything they actually play with.

Friday, 23 December 2011

A Week at Home

My son's school ended last week, and it hit me rather belatedly that I was going to have to look after both children by myself all day all this week.  The horror!

Actually, the surprise was that I wasn't afraid of it.  I had to do it in the summer, back when I was sleep deprived and unable to think straight.  I was miserable and convinced that I was failing as a mother.  But now my daughter is mobile and more independent, my son has got over his terrible twos, and I've caught up on my sleep, by and large. 

I was trying to think of different outings for every day, but this close to Christmas, we had too many errands to run.  Meanwhile, most of my son's friends have gone to spend Christmas with their extended families, and my husband was working late hours all week, so it was just me and the children a lot.

And it was absolutely fine.  On Monday, I took my daughter to her baby gym class, and brought my son along as well.  Knowing that the class would be significantly smaller than usual, I asked if he could sit in with us and was given the OK.  I warned him that this was gymtime for the babies and small toddlers, so he mustn't play rough.  I know that, on the whole, he's quite good at listening, and I was counting on his unfamiliarity with the place to inhibit him somewhat, but I was fully prepared to leave if it all went horribly wrong.

It didn't.  I can't describe how proud of him I was for playing nicely and listening to me.  There was one occasion when I had my hands full with my daughter and he started to climb on a trampoline that another toddler was using.  The rule was one child on the trampoline at a time, and I called to him that it wasn't his turn right now.  He promptly got off.   The girl helping to run the class was very impressed and got him a sticker.

Throughout the class, he behaved impeccably, having lots of fun with the equipment, but never hindering the smaller children nor demanding priority for himself.  I was so delighted with him for being responsible, for being at a social / emotional level where he could do that...  After a rough summer behaviour-wise, I didn't know he was there yet.  He's certainly not there all the time, but still.  It was kind of a first steps moment.

The toys from his birthday still have plenty of novelty value, which kept him more or less occupied at home.  I brought the rollercoaster back inside as well, largely for my daughter's sake.  Normally the rollercoaster sits on our front deck, but right now the front deck is being utilised for Christmas lights and is less baby-safe than usual.  Having it inside provides an extra focal point for both children.

I thought my daughter would enjoy scrambling over the track, but she's actually more interested in riding it.  She can sit in the car and hold on while it goes down the track, although I don't dare leave her to it.  Instead I keep pace with the car, my hands inches away from her just in case, and stopping it myself.  Afterwards, she scrambles round to the front of the car and does her level best to push it back up.

That's the part that surprises me.  She can't quite do it yet, but she's trying and she knows what the point of getting it on track is, if her excitement is any indicator.  It's wonderful knowing that she actually likes riding the rollercoaster, but I'm more fascinated that she understands the sequence of events.

On the downside, she's spent the week fighting a cold and cutting her fourth tooth which has resulted in some very cranky afternoons.  Her brother can be set off by her crying, and there are few things I enjoy less than having to calm down two screaming children.

Still, on the whole, it's been a good week, one to make me wish I had both children at home more often.  Next week, the whole family's at home, which I am definitely looking forward to.  Maybe we'll actually get around to some of those day-trips.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

On not thinking nicknames through...

My daughter is a big baby.  She weighed 9lb 10oz at birth and has been over the 90th percentile for everything ever since. It's possible she might yet balance out, but all the signs are that she's going to stay tall with a proportionate build.

Her size has always baffled us to say the least.  I'm short and skinny (the one perk of my screwed up hormones), my husband is average erring on thin, my son is short...  We all have big heads, but you get the general family picture.  I have a couple of risk factors for gestational diabetes, but I passed my glucose tolerance test with flying colours.  Oh, and based on my daughter's every other physical attribute, we're quite certain there wasn't a mix-up of embryos.  She's most certainly the product of our genes, just... enlarged.

Whenever I thought of having a potential daughter, I imagined a dainty little girl.  Instead, we got a solid powerhouse who looked twice the size of the other babies in the hospital nursery.  As I said, I was baffled... but there was also a perverse part of me that was tickled to death.  One of the things that had always bothered me about raising a girl was how to avoid falling into gender-based expectations.  This girl was defying them from the start.

So I immediately dubbed her the "Crushinator", or "Our most beautiful robot daughter" as the less psychologically-scarring alternative.  This name has stuck around, being used with increasing affection over the past ten months.

Of course, the inevitable has happened: our son has started saying: "C'ushinator!"  Which is ridiculously cute, but in the long term, I think Little Miss Crushinator would prefer that we nipped this in the bud.  True, it's almost certain that she'll be bigger than her brother in just a few more years, but I'm guessing that won't help her feelings about the name.

It's not easy giving up a nickname... and my husband, being a Futurama fan, has grown quite attached to it.  But then I googled it while trying to see if Crushinator onesies exist, and I discovered that it has an urban dictionary definition that our daughter definitely won't thank us for!  So farewell, Crushinator, but you will always have a special place in our hearts.  And I would still totally buy the onesies if I ever found some.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Birthday Party!

We had a party for my son's third birthday this weekend (I am still adjusting to the thought that I have a three year old son...).  I spent weeks stressing about this and over-thinking it, because that's what I do.  Our problem was that he hadn't been invited to many parties which may or may not mean that our son is unpopular (OK, even I am not worrying about that this early), but it does mean that we didn't have much basis for comparison.

What are birthday parties like these days?  I remember when I was under five, the parties were all about games: pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs... do children still do that these days?  We strongly considered renting a room at the local inflatable play area, just so that we wouldn't have to worry.

In the end, I didn't like the way renting somewhere meant a lot of money, a fixed guest number and a specific time-slot.  I did like the way that having the party at home would mean that we were at home and able to talk to other parents, plus anything we bought for the party, we would get to keep!

Anyway, I didn't opt for party games, since it seemed like it would be a lot of work explaining the rules to two and three year olds.  Instead, I exploited my favourite parenting resource: my neighbour, whose son is in my son's class at school.  She had an inflatable pool.  We both had the Step 2 rollercoasters.  Target had a sale on 150 packs of fun balls.  So for one day, I was going to turn our living/dining room into our very own indoor playground.

For anybody wanting to try this at home... get a smaller pool.  We had 900 balls in that thing, and it still wasn't really enough.  The kids were young enough not to care, and they leapt off the sofas into that thing with no regard for their tailbones, but we either needed twice as many balls or a pool half the size.  Pro-tip: when emptying the pool, use a wastepaper basket or similar container to scoop the balls out.

Putting the two rollercoasters side by side worked surprisingly well.  I took out the stair pieces to get them closer together, which made it a little awkward with the kids' feet knocking against each other, but it was a very effective adaptation.  It allowed for races, and reduced the fighting over whose turn it was, but mostly the children got a kick out of being able to ride with another child.

I had been nervous that this wouldn't be enough so I had a few other toys that could be used in conjunction with them, an air cannon for the balls, cardboard blocks to build crash barriers for the rollercoasters and dancing scarves, just because.  These were completely unnecessary.  They all got played with at some point, but honestly, we'd have been fine with just the pool and the rollercoasters.

Actually, we'd have been fine with just the ball pool.
Ironically, the rollercoaster proved safer for my wandering daughter...
The biggest precaution I took was to eliminate any other toys from the living room (most got shoved in a box and shut in the study), and put the barrier across the stairs to prevent children wandering up to my son's bedroom and the toys there.   There were a few different reasons for this: I didn't want toys migrating into the pool which would lead to broken toys, punctured pool and injured children.

I also didn't want to complicate the cleanup.  It's one thing to have 900 balls strewn across the living room, it's quite another to have balls, pieces of train track, lego, play figures....  Actually, the children were surprisingly good about the balls.  I laid down a rule of not throwing the balls out of the pool.  I wasn't going to enforce it, but they obeyed.  We even managed to establish the habit of gathering escapee balls to throw back in, which was adopted by both children and parents.

Finally, I wanted to keep the children in the living room, so that we parents could sit on the sofas, supervise our offspring and chat amongst ourselves.  All of the parents were just brilliant in this regard.  Everybody was very laid back, but also on the spot about guiding children as needed (when we weren't playing with them ourselves).

Basically, I can highly recommend doing something like this.  We were quite lucky in what we were able to get hold of (having two rollercoasters at our disposal is going to be an unusual circumstance), but I suspect that most people can improvise something for the under five group, if you ask around your friends--if you have a summer party and can go outside, even better!  Changing the room around was a lot of effort for one afternoon, but it's just once a year and it was all the more fun because it was our room.

Of course, the children who don't usually visit our house are now convinced that our son has the best house ever, and are going to be sadly disappointed if they come over for playdates.  Meanwhile, I have started worrying about what we're going to do for his fourth birthday...

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hip Dysplasia and the Wheaton Pavlik harness

R at One Egg Please has just learned that her daughter will have to go into a harness for hip dysplasia, and that's prompted me to look back at my own experience with my daughter's hip dysplasia earlier this year.  As with all such posts, please note that this is very much an individual account.  It's anecdotal evidence and cannot be considered generally representative.

Hip dysplasia ended up being the last (I hope!) in a long list of minor complications and false alarms starting from when my daughter was an embryo.  She was diagnosed more or less at birth since the 'click' was so obvious, but for the first three days of life we were struggling to keep her blood sugars up, so I had time to get used to the idea of hip dysplasia without ever actually worrying about it.  I was just relieved there were no more needles in her future.

Our paediatrician said that she had never come across a bigger 'clunk' than the one our daughter's right hip made, so we were referred straight to an orthopaedic specialist.  At exactly two weeks old, she had her first appointment with them.  They set up an ultrasound for her, but they didn't need to wait for that to set her up in a Wheaton Pavlik harness.  She clearly needed it.

Our first sight of the harness was dazing.  I'd vaguely expected something around her waist, not the huge tangle of straps that the doctor fitted to her from shoulder to foot.  It was gratifying to discover that there were no rigid parts (save for a few plastic loops) and everything against her skin had a fleecy pad.  The point of the harness (in my layman's comprehension) was to hold her legs frogged, so that the ball of her hip joint was pressed firmly into the socket.  Hip dysplasia arises when the socket isn't big enough, and having the ball press into it stimulates growth.

Frog-girl - about three weeks into wearing the harness

Learning how to get it on and off ourselves was intimidating, but not a problem once I got a feel for how it all fit together.  The doctor had used a sharpie to mark where the velcro should go (the adjustments for size largely depending on fastening the velcro higher or lower), and that helped hugely.  We were assured that we could do everything we already did with the harness still on, and by and large that was true, although it was a bit of a learning curve.  One leg or the other seemed constantly in the way, yet after a few days, we'd adapted.

The only thing I never managed successfully after the harness was swaddling.  Of course, after I was done with the harness, I came across Swaddle Straps which look like a perfect solution, but as swaddling was a long gone thing of the past by that point, I can't personally vouch for them.  I can go on record saying that my daughter's sleep was pretty bad for a few nights – she has always been a light sleeper anyway, so suddenly having her legs in a new position while her arms could flail freely spelled disaster.  In the end, we switched to sleep sacks and got used to those.

Because she was spitting up all the time, we ended up putting her clothes over the harness to give it some protection.  Clothes could be washed more easily than the harness.  I tried washing it exactly once, to get rid of the sour milk gunk.  Cleaning it was fine; drying it was next to impossible, thanks to all the fleecy padding that soaked up apparently gallons of water.

I spent about half an hour running a hair dryer over the wretched thing, frantic that my daughter had been out of it for so long as if her hips were going to regress or something.  We ended up having to put it back on the baby when it was still wet, which generally made me feel like a failure.  After the trauma of that experience, we never washed it again.  I lived in fear of getting poop or urine on it which would necessitate a wash, but thankfully we escaped that.

Basically, I have zero advice when it comes to maintaining harness hygiene.

Still, with clothes going over the harness, we only had to take it off when we were washing her, so that meant she was in it all the time, stimulating that hip socket.  She used to love her bath, kicking her legs for sheer joy at the novelty of it, but she was never fussed about going back into the harness.

Finding clothes to go over the harness was a huge pain.  I had always scorned dresses for baby girls, because they seemed so impractical, so it was ironic that they became the near exclusive fixture of my daughter's wardrobe.  I'd put her in a onesie under the harness very now and then, just for a change, but mostly she wore these little short dresses over the top, with nothing but a nappy underneath (and her legs splayed out to show that off in most unladylike fashion).

This is more or less what all of our pictures from 1-3 months look like

I tended not to worry about trousers and the booties made socks unnecessary, but every now and then, on cold days, I'd put a size-too-large all in one sleeper on her, leaving the crotch unsnapped. Sometimes the sleep sack would function as a coat too.  Otherwise, I'd just pile blankets over her legs – since she was so young, she spent most of her time lying in one position anyway, so blankets were a viable replacement for clothes.

In retrospect, it was weird how accustomed we got to it.  When we were out and about in public, I'd be sitting with her on my lap for five or ten minutes, when it would suddenly strike me that the people around me must wonder why the harness was there (nobody ever asked nor stared that I noticed).  I used to tell people if I was making conversation with them, but otherwise I didn't worry about it.  That part wasn't something that bothered me.

Hip dysplasia runs in families, and it turned out that my husband had it (unusual – it's more commonly female babies that have the problem).  His mother had never mentioned it to anybody, hadn't even thought about it for a long time, so we would never have found out if it hadn't been for our daughter.  Back in the days of her father's infancy, the treatment was to wear one nappy over another.  I can't help but think that this sounds an easier (though probably less effective) solution.

For all of that, it is uncommon enough that when she went in for her two month well-baby appointment, I was asked if the visiting student doctor could come in and get a first-hand look at the harness.  It's always been my policy to permit the observations of student doctors anyway, and I certainly had no wish to deny them the joy of looking at my stupendously cute daughter (and her gross, milk-stained harness).

For eight weeks she wore her harness, and then, at ten weeks old precisely, we had another appointment with the orthopaedic doctor, to find out the results of a second ultrasound: normal!  The harness came off, and we were told we could do what we liked with it.

I wanted to incinerate it, but we kept it, tucked away in a keepsake box.  When my daughter is much older, we'll get it out to show her.

Having her out of harness was crazy and wonderful.  She felt so skinny and seemed ridiculously long when she stretched her legs out.  We had to learn how to hold her all over again, as suddenly she had these long legs flopping all over the place, and when we picked her up, we felt her body not her straps.  She had to learn how to sleep with her legs free too... another round of broken nights!  Best of all, we could see her toes again!

The day her harness came off: we still haven't bought her any pants, she still hasn't got used to stretching out her legs, and none of us have realised that she doesn't need to be photographed with her legs apart anymore.

By serendipity, the day her harness came off was the anniversary of her (in vitro) conception.  What better way to celebrate?  In the above picture, she has her petri dish resting on her tummy, since I was repeating the photo-set-up I'd done with her brother, one year after his conception.

Still, we soon adapted back into normal babyhood, and an X-ray at five months was also normal.  We have to go back again once she's walking, but we're optimistic that everything will be fine now.  My suspicion is that we were helped a lot by getting such a prompt diagnosis.  It seems logical to me that if you stimulate the hip socket to grow at the time when the baby's growing the fastest, you're going to get a better result.  From what I can tell, talking to others, our eight-week session with the harness is on the short side.

Now, at nine and a half months, my daughter is crawling all over, pulls herself up, cruises a little and gets a kick out of pushing a walker.  I think I can safely say that it hasn't inhibited her development one whit.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Thanksgiving for Brits

I always look forward to Thanksgiving, even if I technically don't celebrate it, being British.  But I love an excuse for a good roast dinner, and I like the simplicity of the holiday's message: be thankful.  Not so keen on the commercialism of Black Friday, but Thanksgiving itself is very nice.

Some years we get invited to share in somebody else's Thanksgiving meal.  Other years, we don't actually do anything but enjoy the day off.  We've tended to view it as a holiday we can opt into or out of as we see fit.

But while we are wholly British, the children are half-American.  They have dual citizenship until they reach eighteen, at which point they will choose whether to be British or American.  We hope they'll want to be British, in the vague expectation that, as a family, we'll be settled back in our homeland at that point.  But we don't really know what lies between now and then.

Among our social circle in the UK, it is not considered terribly cool to have American children.  However, I see no point in pretending that they aren't American nor in being ashamed of that.  Moving to the US has brought our family a lot of luck--it certainly wouldn't exist in this current format if we hadn't!  My husband's job isn't American, he's just at the American base, but we've certainly benefited from the resources available to the American middle class.  In the spirit of the holiday, I appreciate that.

It would be petty to shield the children from American heritage and culture, and that means we should celebrate the American holidays with them (it's a running joke that they're going to be very conflicted on the 4th of July).  Besides, my son is at an age (almost three) where he can see that there is something different about today--plus he attends school, so there's no escaping it there!

I talked briefly to him about being thankful this morning, and we had my brother and his wife around for a roast dinner (we opted for beef and yorkshire pudding instead of turkey).  I'm not sure, in the end, how much he took on board, since he spent most of the day singing "Happy Birthday" to himself.  He knows full well he's got a birthday party coming up, and I think that's what he's really waiting for.

Still, he refused dinner and then threw up all over himself, so he entered into the family holiday spirit, after all.  His sister was fussy because I was cooking and making other people hold her.  Wails, stress, vomit and good company.  I think we can consider ourselves fully indoctrinated.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May we all have much to be grateful for.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Reason #268 that I am a bad mother...

I had a doctor's appointment today, and I was obliged to take my daughter with me.  As I checked in, it became clear that she had soiled her nappy, so I asked where I could change her.  They didn't have actual changing facilities, but they (with no reluctance!) offered me a spare examination room.  I cleaned her up and put a fresh nappy on, in spite of her wriggles as she tried to get a better look at her surroundings, then took the dirty nappy to the bathroom for disposal.

The job done, I returned to the waiting room, and popped her on the floor next to a big wooden activity cube.  She gazed up at me and started making the instantly recognisable grunts of a bowel movement. 

Now, did I have the courage to go back up to the desk and apologetically ask if I could use the exam room again, less than five minutes after leaving it?  No, no I did not.  Instead, I was frozen by the dilemma of balancing a convenient space of time between requests against changing my daughter before she got a rash – not forgetting to factor in the possibility that she might have a third bowel movement in another few minutes.

To my immense relief, I was called through two minutes later, so I was able to change her discreetly in the examination room allotted to me before the doctor came in, and she managed to refrain from pooping again before we got home.

One day, she will be potty trained.  Until we reach that point, she's just going to have to cope with a mother who's too self-conscious for her own good.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The appeal of Montessori

Although the term Montessori is floated a lot in parenting circles on the internet, your average parent doesn't have a real idea of what it is unless their child has attended a decent Montessori school. The 'decent' qualification there is because the term Montessori is not copywrited and any learning centre can use the phrase regardless of what their methods are.

If you want to find out precisely what Montessori is, I advise you to start with the wikipedia entry and Google.  The nutshell background is that it was a teaching method developed by an Italian woman, Maria Montessori, for children with learning difficulties that she went on to apply to 'normal' children with great success.

This entry is for those of you want to know why Montessori?  Is it just another way for unrealistic parents to jumpstart their offspring on the path to Oxbridge or the Ivy League?  Is it simply the latest fad in child-raising?  Is there really any benefit to these crazy educational theories?  Bear in mind that you could get a million different answers to this question, but here's my personal view.

I discovered Montessori in 2007, when I knocked on the door of the local Montessori school looking for a job.  When I first observed the children, I was blown away by how much they could do practically.  Carrying trays, pouring water, cleaning and polishing workany number of things that I simply would never have expected of a child under six. 

I was a ridiculously impractical child, and I can't say I'm much better as an adult.  The thing that really struck me was watching children of two and three neatly roll up rugs, since I clearly remember being incapable of doing that at the age of five.

For that alone, I would have been a convert to Montessori.  It's too early to be sure if my children have inherited my lack of physical coordination, but my son has mastered rolling up a rug before his third birthday.  (My daughter's only nine months... I should really give her a bit more time before introducing the skill.)

However, the thing that's really held my interest is how Montessori fosters independence.  Previously, I'd assumed that any such idea meant that the child was allowed to do whatever it wanted to detrimental effect.  Actually, Montessori sets very clear boundaries for appropriate behaviour.  Here, independence is about taking responsibility for one's own actions.

For example, children use breakable tableware instead of plastic.   If they do not use their plates and glasses properly, they get broken.  I remember that my son threw a plate in a temper once and was clearly taken aback when it smashed to pieces.  He's never done it again.  Compare that to a child who throws a plastic plate.  You can shout at them or enforce some other punishment but there's nothing that's going to have the same impact of illustrating why it's wrong.

Disclaimers: There probably are children out there who wouldn't care if their plates broke; I personally haven't come across one.  Thrift stores / charity shops are your friend when it comes to supplying your child's tableware!  Finally, I don't exclude plastic on principle; if I see an item that I like in plastic, I'll buy it.

The first time I put Montessori to use in a real life (i.e. outside the classroom) situation was when some friends visited with their three year old son, and their little boy knocked a drink over.  Immediately, he threw himself down on the floor, hid his face and started crying in embarrassment, while his equally mortified parents scolded him.

I spoke to the boy directly, telling him to calm down and we would get him a paper towel to clean up his mess.  Now that he had some positive action to take, he duly pulled himself together and mopped up the spill as well as a three year old could.  I'm sure the embarrassment still lingered, but because we had given him the ability to fix his own error, there was no need to dwell on it.

This is hands down the biggest thing that I've taken from Montessori and applied to my own children.  When they get themselves into a situation, what skills do they need to learn to get themselves out of it?  With my daughter, that might just be giving her a chance to right herself when she topples over.  With my son, it ranges from cleaning up his literal messes to saying 'sorry' for figurative ones (at which point I am supposed to stop being angry with him... that's the painfully difficult part on my end).

While I have become something of a rampant advocate for Montessori, I don't believe that it's an approach that will work for every child and certainly not for every family.  What I really want is to get parents thinking about their approach to childcare and what their rationale is.  Maria Montessori was a big believer that you learned best by figuring things out for yourself.  By extension, we'll parent best by working out our own methods.  All we need are the resources for learning.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Mission Statement

I have been tempted to join the blogosphere for a long time.  I've been reading blogs of people I don't know for four years, starting with infertility blogs and gradually moving towards parenting ones.  Through them, I found a network of virtual support, even if I had no direct contact with the writer.  Listening to the stories of other people at different points along the same emotional journey was more helpful than I can express in words.

Is it worth adding my voice to the multitudes that are already out there?  There's an often-quoted saying: 'It takes a village to raise a child.'  Of course, these days, it's an old-fashioned sentiment, since few people live in such a community.  Instead we have e-villages, as mothers exchange advice, beliefs and anecdotes on web-forums, social networking sites and blogs.

It's important to bear in mind that misinformation is often disseminated in this way, as we create the modern day version of 'old wives tales'.  Our personal accounts are based on our own experience which is too limited to compare to any scientific study; I cannot in all conscience tell anybody what they 'should' do.  My child-raising experience is limited to two children.  Even if you add in my experience working at a preschool, it's far too small a selection and too short a time frame for me to conclusively state anything as a fact.

However, I think this is a very feminine social phenomenon: women more often feel a need to articulate their problems and learn how others feel about it.  While anecdotal evidence cannot be considered proof of anything, it does provide a look at what it's like to experience the issue at hand.  The more anecdotes available, the clearer a picture can be drawn from them.

So here are my voice, my thoughts and my stories.  I intend for this blog to primarily be about parenting issues, but I am approaching it from a background of infertility, of raising children in a country not your own and of Montessori.  My own experience is diverse enough that I think it is worth blogging anyway, but as I said, I've drawn support from such blogs for four years so perhaps it's time to pay it forward.

The Story so Far

In 2005, my husband and I made the decision to accept a job he'd been offered in the States.  At the time, we were newly-weds living in the UK.  Obviously this was going to have a major impact on our lives, although we didn't realize quite how much.  Six years later, I look back at what that acceptance has meant to me personally and find it hard to believe that my first instinct was to say "No."

There are three very specific ways in which it changed our lives.  The first one was that my husband's salary would be enough for us to live on (which was kind of a necessity if we were going to uproot ourselves for the sake of one income).  Being free of any dependence on my salary meant that we could start a family and that I could be a stay at home mother.  That last was something I always believed in very strongly until I became familiar with the actual logistics of parenting!

Accordingly, once we'd settled down into our new home and my husband had had his contract confirmed, we went off birth control and started not-preventing a baby.  And as the months went by, we started trying, and then trying harder...

Secondly, I had to leave my own job as a secretary.  I had never been particularly career-motivated, and because we were planning for a baby, I did not take finding a new job in the States entirely seriously, although I did want to be doing something other than twiddling my thumbs and counting the days between periods.  More or less on a whim, I knocked on the door of the local Montessori School asking about secretarial work.  The next thing I knew, I'd been talked into co-teaching the toddler class with another lady.

I hadn't had any dealings with small children for a good ten years--in fact, part of the reason I accepted was that I figured it would be good experience before I became a Mum myself.  I had never heard of Montessori before.  Yet while I was predictably nervous and incompetent at first, I realised early on that I loved it, and after a few months had gone by, I realised I was good at it.  All my life, I'd had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up.  A few months before my thirtieth birthday (in 2007), I finally figured it out.

However, we were no closer to starting a family more than a year after we'd started trying.  I knew that if twelve months of regular unprotected sex doesn't get you pregnant, you're considered infertile.  I also knew that my periods had always been irregular, although I'd been burying my head in the sand against that fact.  My cycles were getting longer and longer, and some online research was doing nothing to help me 'monitor' my fertility.

So I went to my doctor, suggesting that I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (thank-you, Dr Google).  She was dubious since I was thin and not overly hairy.  She told me I should probably just relax (I managed not to throttle her) but had my blood tested anyway.  The results came back indicating PCOS, and after discussing our options, she referred us to a fertility clinic.

This is where the third impact of my husband's job came into play.  Our insurance covered fertility treatments.  We didn't realise it at the time, but that is practically unheard of.  So it was that when a few months of pills didn't work, we were able to progress to IVF without having to worry about our finances.  And of course, because we had the option of doing multiple tries, we got pregnant first time and had our son in 2008.

I was sorry to leave my school, but I was given the option of working part-time and bringing my son with me.  Honestly, I wasn't much more than a glorified cleaning lady at that point, but being able to carry on with something I loved without sacrificing my time with my son?  That's definitely having my cake and eating it too.

I especially loved the fact that from six weeks old, my son was exposed to a Montessori environment.  When he started school 'officially' in 2011, he settled in easily, and I had the advantage of knowing his teachers and routine intimately.

I had always wanted two children, so in 2010, we went back to the IVF drugs.  One stimulation and one frozen cycle later, I was pregnant again.  Our daughter was born in 2011, by which point I had left working at the school altogether, barring occasional helping out.

So here I am.  A stay at home Mum of two children, a healthy boy and girl (plus cats and a husband!).  I know exactly where my career track is going but I have the luxury of choosing when to start it up again.  To all intents and purposes, my wishes have come true... Do I now find out the meaning behind the phrase "Be careful what you wish for"?

Not really.  It's not all as rosy as I pictured it, and I complain far more than I have any right to.  But usually I feel like it's all been too easy, and I'm deeply grateful for the twists of fate that brought me to this point.  There's a superstitious side of me that's waiting for my luck to run out, but for now, I'm focused on this parenting thing with a twist of Montessori.