Friday, 25 March 2011

Sewing fun!

A shameless show off post today. After months of inactivity, my sewing machine has whirred back into life. I've made a very simple drawstring bag to hold Alice's friend's first birthday present. It's my first attempt at appliqué since I was in school, so I'm quite pleased!

And as we're basking in beautiful Spring sunshine, I thought Alice could do with a new hat. It's reversible, and the purple side is waterproof. Handy for our unpredictable weather! It's a bit wonky in places, but I'm very proud of it, and Alice likes it a lot.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

My daughter, my teacher.

It is often said that nothing can prepare you for parenthood. It didn't stop me from trying as hard as I could . My husband and I went to NCT prenatal classes, I read books and visited websites and forums gleaning knowledge wherever I could. I began to feel that I may be able to manage being a mum. I knew what was important to me: Make sure the baby doesn't come in your bed or you'll never get them to sleep on their own, establish a flexible routine early on, feed on demand (roughly every 3-4 hours), use a bouncy chair to occupy the baby while you get on around the house.

Then Alice arrived.

A peaceful birth followed by months of anything but peace. Any slight discomfort was enough to send her screaming. For weeks it seemed as if the only time she was content was if she was suckling. I struggled to put her down for more than a few seconds. I ended up wearing her often in a sling, and just sitting holding her much of the rest of the time. When reading The Continuum Concept by the late Jean Liedloff, I felt so grateful to my opinionated little girl that she had made her needs so patently obvious.

Desperation and exhaustion led us to cosleeping less than a week after the birth, and I began to research to see just how dangerous the practice was. To my delight, I discovered Three in a Bed by Deborah Jackson, and realised that bed sharing was actually preferable to having my baby in a cot.

After some poor advice from my health visitor which resulted in my attempting to only feed every 2 hours rather than every half hour, Alice became truly hysterical, struggled to latch as I had become so engorged, and promptly threw up her entire feed in spectacular fashion. I quickly learnt that feeding on demand really does mean feeding as often as the baby demands.

Even now, Alice makes her feelings known very clearly, although thankfully she's beginning to find alternatives to bellowing at the top of her lungs. At times, it is exhausting, but I'm thoroughly grateful. I believe she is demanding what is best for all babies, to be held close and understood. As my head was filled with 'parenting advice' more subtle cues would undoubtedly have passed me by. Through her high needs, I have learnt to be a better mother than I would have been with a more placid child. We are learning together.

Friday, 11 March 2011

DIY finger paints

Thought I'd share a fun little activity we did today. It was very easy to do and kept Alice enthralled for ages.

As usual, there are lots of how to guides on-line. This is my combination of them!

Mix about 2 tbsp cornflour with a tbsp cold water until it forms a paste. This in itself is fun to play with as it forms a suspension. Hard when you apply pressure, then liquid when you let it go. Alice isn't old enough to understand the fun of this yet, but I enjoyed it! Anyway, on with the paint!

Add a cup of boiling water to the mix and stir quite vigourously until it gets gloopy like wallpaper paste. If it's not playing ball, heat it gently in a saucepan, stirring all the time.

Decant your mixture into separate pots and add small quantities of food colouring to each. I think I played it too safe as the colours we made were very pale. It's a good idea to paint on a heavy weight paper too as if your child is anything like mine, they'll be pretty much ladeling on the paint and thinner paper gets crinkly.

It's non toxic, but probably could stain depending on how much colouring you use. Scruffy clothes are a good option for this!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Good Girl

I'm committed to gentle parenting (although I admit, I slip up pretty often,) but sometimes my resolve waivers. It's not easy swimming upstream. If I were to take a more controlling parenting path, which thanks to my bossy personality would be very easy for me to do, wouldn't life be easier? Ignoring tantrums may cause a child to repress big feelings, but then don't we all do that to some extent? Not having to deal with stares and tuts would be a real benefit. Making Alice apologise if she snatches or pushes, reminding her to say please and thank you on cue. Little niceties like that would make her seem so much more appealing to others, and would reflect well on me too. When she's older, if I made it clear I was the boss, and expected no talking back, she'd be far less challenging than a child who speaks her mind.

All this may be true. I do sometimes look at the archetypal 'good' child, and regret that the way I am bringing Alice up is unlikely to produce such a paragon. We may think we've come a long way from the Victorian tenet that children should be seen and not heard, but in reality, that's still what we imagine to be a good child. One who doesn't interrupt when the grown ups are talking. One who parrots stock phrases, regardless of his true feelings. One who obeys without question 'Because I said so.'

In answer to my original question, yes life probably would be easier. For me. But when I became a parent, my priorities shifted. It's not about me any more. It is my responsibility to guide my daughter to become a happy, well adjusted adult. We don't value blind obedience in adults, nor do we appreciate falseness. If I am to help her to become a woman who is confident in accepting and dealing with her feelings, I have to show her that I accept them. I don't want her to be polite out of habit or sense of duty, I want her to do it because she respects her fellow human beings.

While Alice is still growing up, she may be vocal about her feelings, she may not conform to social expectations. The choices we've made as parents are unlikely to be the easy option, but it's my hope that they will help her to become a confident, empathetic, free thinking woman.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dyeing Playsilks

Since reading up a bit on Steiner Waldorf education, I've started to think more carefully about the toys Alice plays with. Some toys are quite prescriptive and can only be played with in a particular way. They have limited value to a child's imagination. The best sort of toys (in my opinion) are ones which can become whatever the child imagines! Blocks of wood can form walls, chairs, steps or countless other things. Play silks are another good example, able to become tents, capes, bedclothes or to dance with. You can buy a whole range of beautifully coloured silks, but I have been a bit put off by the cost of them. I was so excited when I came across a post on Natural Mamas forum giving information on where to buy plain silk scarves, and how to dye your own with food colouring! There are lots of guides about how to do this, so I've muddled through using a combination of a few. Here's what I did:

Put the silks in a bowl of very hot water with some vinegar. The vinegar acts as the mordant, allows the dye to fix properly. You need to leave this for at least 20 minutes.

In a glass or ceramic bowl, (plastic stains and metal does something funny - not sure what but was advised to avoid!) mix half a cup of vinegar with 2 cups of very hot water, and enough food colouring to get a dark colour. I used about 15 drops to get the colour above. Make sure you use synthetic colours. The natural colours apparently are less effective for dyeing. You can mix colourings too to get the colour you want.

Put the scarf in the bowl and ensure it is completely covered in the dye. Cover the bowl with clingfilm, and place in the microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stir, allow to sit for a few minutes (very important. See my notes below!) then repeat until there is hardly any colour in the water. It will probably take between 9 and 12 minutes in the microwave in total.

Carefully remove from the bowl, and rinse in cold water before wringing out and drying.

Here are my colours! They are a bit splodgy in places, but I quite like the home-made look. It nice to know they are an individual set!

Unfortunately, I was a bit hasty. I didn't allow the bowl to sit for long between stirring, and it didn't agree with my microwave! After my third silk, I realised the microwave was no longer actually heating. I put the remaining two silks in the same dye mix in covered glass casserole dishes, and put them in an oven at 180° for about half an hour. The red one looked great, but I think the oven heat didn't agree with the green as it went a bit funny coloured with splodges. Alice didn't seem to mind though. She's been playing with them non stop. That's worth a broken microwave I think!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Why I Won't Be Using Time Out

The use of 'Time Out' as a method of discipline seems to be almost universal these days. It comes in various forms: steps, spots, corners and chairs where the 'naughty' child has to stay for a period of time. It is not a method I use, and I am confident that I never will. Here's why.

The heart of Time Out is separation. The child is removed from the rest of the family as their behaviour is unacceptable. Yet a three year old is more likely to interpret this separation as because they themselves are innately unacceptable. I fully believe that when you feel bad, you behave badly, so a child who feels naughty is likely to behave that way.

Proponents of the technique argue that it allows the child time to reflect on their bad behaviour. I think this is hopelessly overoptimistic. Anger, frustration and tiredness are often at the root of misbehaviour. In such a state it is hard for a child to think logically about the consequences of their actions. Think about times in your childhood when you were sent to your room. If you lay on your bed thinking "I see now that the behaviour I showed was inappropriate. I shall try to improve in future." you had greater control of your emotions than I do as an adult! My thoughts veered wildly between believing myself to be the most hard done by child ever to have lived, seething anger at my parents or crushing guilt and self loathing (I was a dramatic child, but you get the picture!).

An added twist, which has gained popularity, is making the child apologise before finishing their time out. It makes sense to our adult minds. A wrong has been committed, punishment served, and to wrap it all up nicely, forgiveness is sought and given. I doubt very much that many of the apologies offered are anything like genuine. Sitting stewing in emotions such as those I mentioned previously is unlikely to foster heartfelt regret. What is a parent to do? Accept a sullen 'Sorry!' and move on, or utter the immortal phrase "Say it like you mean it!" What does that teach a child? To lie more convincingly if they are to be accepted back into the family again? To repress their true feelings to save themselves from further punishment? Neither the muttered apology or the seemingly sincere one are of any true value, and may well be damaging.

So what can you do? Let's face it, sometimes children misbehave. It's our job as parents to guide them, and to help our families work harmoniously. Children are inexperienced at dealing with big feelings. They need a helping hand, so removing them from the situation, and staying with them shows they are accepted warts and all even when their actions are not. From this position of security, they have a better chance of facing up to their behaviour and learning how to change it.

Out of the terrifyingly confusing morass of parenting advice, I carry one mantra. In fact it's a good one for life in general. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." If I was in the child's position, I know how I would want to be treated, and it wouldn't involve Time Out.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Body of a mother

It is probably safe to say that from time to time, most women worry about how they look. Whether it's a wrinkled neck, chunky thighs or spotty skin, there's usually something that makes us feel bad about ourselves. I am no exception. There are days when I avoid mirrors and flirt with the idea of a diet, but since becoming a mum, those days are few and far between. Almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant, I began to feel more comfortable with myself. Of course my waistline was expanding, I was growing a whole new person! Silently, miraculously, I was forming a baby. Cells were developing and tissue was created inside me without any conscious direction. How could I view my body with disgust when it was doing such a wondrous job?

After the birth, my skin sagged around my stomach, my breasts constantly leaked and one was significantly larger than the other! The rush of hormones played havoc with my skin. I know all this, and yet I had never felt so secure in myself. My body had done as it was meant to. It had performed the miracle that happens every day all over the world, and I felt beautiful.

As time has passed, I sometimes lose that secure feeling, but Alice soon restores it. Yesterday, I was cuddling her on the sofa and she began pointing out moles on my arms. For each one she saw, she'd joyfully crow "Mole!" and give it a kiss. They weren't blemishes to her. They were a part of her mummy, and she loved them.

I am starting to value my body for how it serves me rather than how it looks. I feel my legs and back growing stronger than they ever have as I carry Alice in the mei tai. My breasts provide her with food, drink and a boost to her immune system. I am grateful for my health and that I am able to look after my daughter well. Somehow, in the face of this new found respect, my hang ups about appearance have all but faded away. I'm starting to be happy with who I am, inside and out.