Thursday, 23 July 2015

Dropping the diaper (a short ode to a small man’s underpants)

I love my son’s underpants. Cute, clean and easy. 

I love this new silhouette too. He looks taller without the bum padding. More grown up. It’s a proportion thing. Slim hips and bubble bum.

I thought I would miss diapers, even blogged about it. Truth is: I don’t. We both just moved on. 

Predictably, the washing machine runs more often. And he still needs night-time diapers. But I reckon not for long.

In the end, he dropped the diaper aged 3 1/2. I did manage to wonder whether he would ever loose it. I noticed that often he was the oldest boy, or even the only boy in diapers. And so did others, mothers in particular... Sometimes I felt stressed about him still being in diapers, when no one else seemed to be. I even started to worry that he wouldn't be able to start preschool in September, because they insists that the children should be potty trained to start.

But I just had to be patient. Let him drop the diaper when he was ready. And he wasn’t. Till he was. He had a couple of false starts, which lead to accidents, which he hated, so back in diapers.

Until one day…

‘I like my underpants. They feel good.’

Now if he wets the night-time diaper he cannot get out of it quickly enough. Not long ago he even said ‘Don’t worry mummy, I’ll just wee in my diaper.’ In answer to whether or not he needed to visit the loo before a long car journey. In fact, just the other day when facing a 2-hour car journey he did suggest he could wear a diaper. I said he probably didn’t need it, but I admire his thinking.

Today I finally gave away two un-opened packs of diapers. And two potties, a small travelling potty and two children's seats. He never really got into of these gimmicks, graduating straight to balancing on the big loo. ‘Ticky’ as he calls is, in his trademark no-'r' speak.

I knew I wouldn’t want to hurry him. I learned quickly that pushing the issue was completely counter productive. This is his body. Not mine to train. Despite his incredible physical abilities (more on that another time) and the fact he is very advanced in other areas, he still needs to be a baby many times a day. We bottle feed twice a day. 3 years into adoption, he still needs it. We are still playing catch up on the first 10 months we weren't there. I think the diaper fits into this pattern too. Advances in other areas of his life and skills, always seems to be accompanied by a strong need to be babied. Forcing or even just suggesting to grow up is just not the way forward. 

‘NO!!!’ he’d shout with ear splitting force, if I ask once too much whether he need to go to the loo. I can accurately tell about 5 mins before he can. I can only suggest he goes. And only once. It’s about balancing respect and helping him. 

It infuriates him if I ask him in front of other people. Especially if I press the issue. ‘Are you sure you don't have to go??!’ is as disrespectful as it comes for a 3, 10, 14 or 30 years old. ‘No!’ is a great reminder that I have overstepped it as an eager mum. Well, fair enough. So we have agreed that I whisper the question. Once. Usually I don’t need to.

There is only one come back to his NO!, and that is ‘Okay.’ Said not in the patronising way of a mother who knows better, but in the accepting, trusting voice. There are times, when I find the line a between the two a blur and he know exactly which side of the fence I come down on. He so has my number.  

‘Just let me know when you are ready.’ 

There are times when I have to remind him. Because he hates wetting himself. It's embarrassing. So he needs a little help. For instance if he is engrossed in something, so engrossed he may forget. Then I ask him in my mothertongue or whisper in his ear: ‘Let’s go to have a wee. If we do it now you can play longer afterwards.’ That is my most effective sentence. Along with ‘I wonder whether there are any plants that would like watering in the garden…’.

Usually though, I just have to trust him. He thrives and grows on the trust.

Slow down, mummy. Slow down.

I came across a couple really helpful articles at the time about potty training by the paediatric urologist, Dr Steve Hodges. This one at and this one in the huff post. He also wrote this nice one on bed wetting. The right kind of articles at the right time.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Settling in to Nursery

This week is the second week that Digger is going a playgroup, which he will eventually go to without me. He’s doing great. Enjoying himself and everyone there. But even though it is only 4-5 hours twice a week, it is knackering. For him and for me. He has massive meltdowns afterwards, and there are many, many tears.

So far we have kept him close. At home. With us or his child minder, who he loves and who loves him. But he will need to start getting socialised a bit more. Says who exactly? Yeah, right. Well, I’m going by his interest in other kids, and increased ability to be play by himself/venture away from us. He has wanted us, mummy, daddy and child minder close for the past 2+ year. But he is getting ready for a wider world. Slowly.

Today I left him with the group, just for 20 mins. Totally planned.
As I did so I saw that look in his eyes. He didn’t say anything, but I recognise it.

‘Will you come back?’

Of course. It’s clear to all that I will. But not to him. It breaks my heart, that there is still this fundamental doubt that we, as a family, are forever. The fear of abandonment is still so close to the surface. To him settling in may even feel a lot like transition for placement, as the new carers take over more and more of the daily care for him.

When I came back after my short outing all had gone very well. Well of course it had. He was on best behaviour. Polite and protected by manners. But it took one minor incident, I forget what, and he was in tears. Minutes after I returned. Sobbing and smearing snot into my jumper. For a very long time. I let him cry it out in my arms. After which he was right as rain again. And then it happened again. And again after we left the group. Tears and snot, followed by smiles and engagement.

That said, part of me is relieved that he can show his sadness to readily. Better out than in, say I.

Once home we flopped on the sofa for some Cbeebies. This was all there was energy for. Sitting close with cups of tea and water. In near silence. We don’t really watch a lot of TV, but this was clearly what the doctor ordered.

All this I had expected. What I hadn’t was my own reaction. It has completely triggered my own sadness, most surprisingly from the time of transition. The sadness of taking him from this fostermum, the sadness of what had brought him to be adopted, that he was not with his birth family. And the sadness I felt on him over the weeks just after. At the time these feeling existed completely in unison with/parallel to my over-the-moon happiness with our beautiful boy. This time, however, there is more space for the sadness to surface.

Today, I talked to the carers as the kids were playing outside with another carer. Carers, who could not be more understanding and nurturing. I told them that I could see his anxiety, and that the fear of separation, in his case was more like fear of abandonment. Fundamentally separation means something else to him than to you and me. I now see that so clearly.

While explaining this to them, I found myself with a big lump in my throat and a big knot in my tummy. Some of this is Digger’s anxiety, and me feeling for him. But some of it is mine.

Obviously, I’ve got homework to do for this settling in. It is not just him who has to get ready. I need to work this one out. For myself. I have to learn to show him that I have trust in him, that I can take his outbursts, that I will still be there whenever he needs me. All the while looking closely at my own feelings in this. Letting go of him. But still keeping on eye out for him and his needs. It is a difficult balance to strike. Difficult to read correctly. But basically I need to park my own sadness somewhere. Once I’ve owed up to it. I know I’m not the first woman or man to feel like this when starting their child in nursery - add adoption and it all takes on another level of complexity.

I’m just one of the ones who did it today.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Top tips for long distance travel w a toddler

Each year since Digger moved in we have been travelling to see Pierre's family. It takes almost two days to get there, so we stay for a fortnight in Grandmama's house. 

We just did our third trip with Digger, who is now 3 1/2. Here's is what I have learned over the past three trips. Much of it is advice from parents and carers, who have passed on their best advice. If you have any ideas to add to this list, please do add them in the comments below or otherwise let me know. :) 

Here goes my top 19 tips.

Before you go...

#1 Preparation is everything
Tell you kid you will be travelling. Map it out. In words. In drawing. Whatever way you normally tell your kid that something new - and quite possibly unsettling - is about to happen.

That said, this year we made the mistake of telling Digger too early. Two and half weeks before. So ... Every. Single. Day. We have been over the travel itenary. How many sleeps til Grandmama's house? A week would have been plenty - pleeenty ! - of waning for a three-year-old.

# 2 Warn the kid about possible travel stress
I warn Digger at the latest on the day of travel of the probability of stress will be going UP. I say something like : Ok my little heart, mummy and daddy are going to be stressed while we pack. We will rush around looking for stuff. We might say things like: Digger hurry hurry. Shoes on. Where's your bunny? Digger where is your cocktail umbrella? And so on. We make fun of it. We all rush around hurrying each other. We may put socks on our head while saying I can't find my socks... Where the are socks?? Has anyone seen my socks?! It worked a treat this year. Digger didn't get unsettled by us dashing about and stress levels rising. 

But then again packing up to go home, it didn't work as well. We forgot to involve him properly. 

#3 Make a list of what to pack
One of the things I stress most about is forgetting essentials. So sometimes I write it all down. Or try to. This really helped when Digs was little and needed a caravan of stuff - formula milk, diapers, special toys etc. 

Nevertheless I always always forget something. I reassure myself that I am likely to forget something. And that that is ok. Usually we are going to place where they have diapers and food. 

#4 Start packing well in advance 
I start a couple of days before. It truly cuts down on things I'm likely to forget, and adds to the things I do bring.

#5 Get the kid involved in the preparations
We drag out the suitcases together from their hide away. Digger loves hiding in them. We put a coloured ribbon on the outside so we can recognise it when it comes round on the bagage carousel. 

I ask him about which clothes he would like to bring. For instance I might say : Would you like to bring the red or the blue trousers? Holding both pairs up.

We pack his little rucksack together. Here Digs will be in charge. This year we brought:
  • A couple of small books
  • A selection of cars (4-5 hotwheels, a bus, a match box digger and a dump truck and a duplo car)
  • A few duplo blocks
  • A tiny book for drawing in + colour pencils
  • 1-2 soft toys (we choose bed time softies)
  • Post its
  • Some cotton wool
  • A piece of string
  • A small giraffe
  • A new reusable pad and special water brush, which reveals colour when wet. Nest. No mess. 
In addition I brought a few things in the diaper bag:
  • A sticker book (Frozen. Don't ask)
  • The iPad
  • A few more books
#6 Bring something that spells home
We bring at least:
  • Bunny, definitely bunny. When Digger was little we took Bunny, plus a back up bunny incase we lost the first. Which we did once or twice
  • 1-2 current favourite bedtime soft toys
  • 2-3 current favourite bedtime stories
  • 2 big scarfs of mine
  • His pillow and duvet. This was great when he was wee, but now it is just too much stuff to carry.
The scarfs doubles up as small blankets. They are soft and smell of mum. Scarfs and soft toys usually makes for a much better night's sleep or kip on the plane.

#7 Bring more Diapers than you think you might need
Be prepared for a lot of moisture. Going in and coming out.  
I calculate a good amount of diapers. Then I take double that number. Even though they may have diapers at the end destination, you don't want to get caught out. Like in Spain during siesta. If your plane is delayed.... We took 12 on our eight-hour flight. This year we used one. But last year we used nine before we got our suitcases back.

#8  Bring minimum one change of clothes for everyone in your travel party
This is especially true if your fellow traveller is under two and likely to be sitting on your lap a lot. Take it from a dad who got wee-ed on two hours into an eight-hour flight. I took said advice and have been grateful for the change of clothes on trips when Digs was 1 and 2. This year we got off with one set only for all of us.

Once in the airport...

#9 Squeeze as much energy out of your tot as possible
I make my son walk. And run. And jump. All the way to the plane if I can. 
I trick him to run from window to window to spot planes and diggers and what not. I go up and down escalators. Same ones if I need to. Trying not to care about people staring. I play lots of 'red light, green light' (red light = stop/freeze, green = go, go, go). And when I am out of fuel and if my husband I also travelling I hand Digs over for some invigorated energy squeeze. 

Once onboard ...

Opportunities for excercise will be severely limited on board. But even there we take walks. When Digger first learnt to walk we had him walk back and forth between us - the game was to be silent or whispering. Only we would gesticulate as if shouting. This of course we had been practising in the weeks leading up to the travels. 

#10 Consider separate seats 
Pierre and I try to get seats a parts from each  other. Two seats for Digger and one adult and another seat somewhere else. That way  one of us can watch a film or catch up on sleep.That way we can take effective turns with our little man. 

That said we do enjoy a row of three seats if we can get them. 

#11 Locate packed snacks
Easy ones all the way. My favorites are:
  • Water
  • Ellas. We love Ella's (very good regulators on the bowel movements too while abroad)
  • Bars and crisps in their own wrappers 
  • Fruit and veg if you can. Cut up in small containers work well
But don't overfeed. Travel sickness is more likely on a full stomach. 

#12 Offer drink or chewy stuff during take off and landing
Drinking or eating during take off and landing will help levitate the pressure on the small ears. If you little one is still bottle feeding, ask the flight attendants to heat a bit of milk/formula for you.

#13 Think of activities you can do while sitting down - lots of them
I aim to have a mental list of 1-2 things to do per hour. Low tech games work really well. Here are some of our favourites:
  • Nursery rhymes work as background noise levels on a plane are notorious high and you can sign while you sit very close. 
  • Post its - stick them to you kid - you can even number them and ask him to find them all. That has worked every year since we first flew with Digs.
  • The box!  I found an old small u box, cut a slot in it (approx. large enough for a £1). I then searched the house for things that could go into it. Coins, spare buttons, pieces of foam, papers etc. It's ok with some pieces are too big for the slot, eg. pieces of papers that would need to be folded to go in. This year Digger spent nearly a full hour doing it.
  • Sticker books
#14 Bring surprises 
We add some to Digger's back pack, when he is not looking. And I keep a good few in my bag. I try to bring more surprises that I think I will need. This year it was the post its (again), the iPad and a sticker book. 

#15 Under no circumstances - what so ever - ever bring a noisy toy or a musical instrument
It will ruin it for everyone. Just don't. 

#16 Invest in a set of comfortable kiddie ear phones 
Just like for adults this transforms screen time. And hey oh you can even understand what they are saying on the screen! 

#17 Make maximum use of Screen Time 
We load up the iPad with new surprise apps - more on good apps in another blog. 
We completely deprived Digger of any sort of screen time for two weeks leading up to our holiday. So he was a happy camper with a screen. For about an hour. On an eight-hour flight Diggers still need a lot of 1:1 time. And lots of interaction. Digger is no where near being able to watch a full feature length film on his own. So ... those days of enjoying airplane movies are long gone for us.

Once you arrive...

#18 Get a hotel
If you have any distance to go from the airport to your end destination, it really pays off getting a hotel in or near the airport. Much better than arriving frazzled. Especially at the family. Or anywhere else where you all have to be on best behaviour. Sleep and wake up to breakfast. Then travel. 

#19 Expect to be exhausted
That takes the sting out of it for me. And I always feel it's gone much better than I thought it would. 
As a friend one said Holiday with a child is just going somewhere else - less convenient. There is some truth in that. But only some.

Bon voyage!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Digger in the playground - on respect for design and letting go

I have a new-found respect for playground design. Not just the overall functionality and range of stuff, of the design and placement of the benches – all of which is so much better and more varied than what I grew up with.

No… I am beginning to see just how much thought went into the actual design.

It’s obvious. I just hadn't quite appreciated how clever it all is before. For instance the wonderful climbing frames of ropes are set a specific distance at ground level. You’ve simply got to be say 120cm before you can climb into the higher and more challenging part of the frame. The ropes there are set much closer, so they are easier to manoeuvre.

I try my hardest to give Digger free reigns at the playground. And now this stand back approach pays dividend: I can actually have a few conversations with the usual suspect parents there. Like yesterday, chatting away, and sudden I saw my son peeking up at the top of a huge ship. He had mastered a steep tricky climb up the side of it. On his own.

Since Digger arrived, I have tried to stand back, but stay close. Sorry mum, but one of the real yokes I carry from my childhood is her shriek followed by some quick tempo’ed chant of ‘be careful, careful, careful, gentle, come back, that’s too high, come down, get out, WATCH OUT, be careful, careful, you might slip, oh you will slip, oh careful, you’re slipping’ etc.

For me there is only one message in this. I hear : 'I don't trust you.'

I heard: 'I don't trust you to know what you are capable of'. 

And it never failed to unsettle me. I got nervous, and then, yes, I might have slipped. Which I might not otherwise have done, had I not absorbed my mother’s fear. Genuine fear. But it was hers to hold. Not mine. I almost get angry now if she does the same to Digger. Usually it is in situations where I have calculated the risk (as much as I ever can), and I have reached my own verdict that Digger knows what he is doing. No need to interfere. In fact just the opposite. I need to show that I trust him and his abilities.

But she is not alone of course in this approach. I hear this from so many other parents, carers and passers by. They shriek and raise their arms, they may even grab hold of Digger, and remove him. I have yet to come up with a sentence where I can tell them – politely – that I am still in charge, but most importantly that Digger is completely competent, to make his own mistakes.

In fact I want Digger to fall, trip, bang his knees etc. I’d much rather he does that now, from 40cm height than from 4m high up.

Moreover,  I am convinced that his physical confidence is also psychological confidence. And with a sidewards-glance at some recent research from University of Cambridge amongst others, his joy of exploring what he is physically capable of will stand him well in school. Free-play is by some hailed to be a good measure for academic success. I feel that Digger’s true confidence is also key in his sense of self, and that is paramount to me, as his mum.

I asked two of my friends - whose kids stand out to me particular good at head stands, football and climbing - what it is they do when their kids do things that may seem dangerous. How they as parents manage not to transfer their anxiety onto their kids?  Independently they both answered: ‘Sometimes you just have to look away.’ It’s a great answer.

Another thing I tell myself if I am in doubt is: ‘If he dares, so do I.’

All this within reason of course.

I do step in sometimes, if necessary. Invariably that is when he is worked up, overtired, geared up etc. Then I need to calm him down. Often touch is enough to bring him down a notch or two. But sometimes the only option is leaving the activity/space. This is especially if there are spats with other children – more on this another time….

If Digger fall – and he often does – I’ve got to be there for the aftermath. Ready with a big soothing cuddle, lots of kisses – if he indicates that’s what’s needed. But more often than not just acknowledging I saw what happened seems to be enough for him. He seeks eye contact, to see if I noticed. I might wince and say ‘Outch! Are you ok?’ and that seems to do the trick. 

I’ve recently started carrying a small set of first aid with me. Some antiseptic wipes and Band-Aids sort of thing. So far I’ve used them on other kids in the playground.

At night when we bath him, we check him over for bruises and grazes. And there are many. The majority on his lower legs. He leads a hard life. But we hope to ease it with a bit of cream and cuddles. There certainly seems to be no stopping him.

I’m really proud of him for all his physical energy and bravery. And I know he knows his limits, many of them anyway. For instance, he will be careful, if I don’t interject. And if I say ‘Digger, that is too high. That really makes me nervous. You could get seriously hurt if you fall. Can you please come down again?’ He will. Depending on my own emotional state, I will have made him nervous or even scared by saying so. In these situations I then have created something where I might need to step in and help him down. 1-0 to mum on freaking out. Usually I help by talking through how to get down. Cause he probably lost his nerve too. 

Digger seems only to get into sticky situations like that if I have helped him up over a barrier that he was too small to tackle himself. Herein lies my new-found respect. Who ever designed all this was way ahead of parents, well of me anyway.

The lesson I take from the playground designer is this: Don’t help you kid up past the point they can get to themselves. If you do, be prepared for the consequences.

And what has this got to do with adoption? Everything. First and foremost I can see Digger self-esteem growing when he masters a new skill. I hope this will feed into a sound sense of self. It is curious and very obvious that he still seems to prefer me nearby. Somewhere within reach. I still can't just sit down with a book. Although I am working on it.

I try so hard to set boundaries that he can handle. It’s not easy, but it is getting easier, to nestle into that mental parenting space of letting go on a background of mutual trust. If I can't quite find the trust in me/him, I rest it all on the designer of the playground equipment. They seem to know what they were doing. 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Kids in wet weather

Or how to make a waterproof knight

I’m always surprised that we are practically the only ones in the playground on a wet day. So here’s my bit to encourage people to go outside in what is seen as bad weather.
It's just bad PR.

Wet days are fun days!

Admittedly, only if you are wearing the right gear! Irrespective of physical age.

Having a son I have soon learned that it is much like having a big dog, a husky for instance: they need a lot of walking. Min 1 hours outdoors per day I’ve found, better still 2-3 hours, or longer. Otherwise we are both climbing the walls. Cabinfever sets in early.

So here is what I learned from my upbringing in the far north. Not going out to play on a rainy day was not an option, as there were too many of them!

The real key to stay warm is layering cotton and wool under waterproofs. A rule of thumb for both kids and adults is 2 layers under the coats in weather down to 5-0 degree C, 3 layers in sub zero. Minimum 1 of these should be wool. It’s rare but silk is actually very warm. It sounds extravagant, but if you can get knitted silk go for it, as an adult it is an investment. I got a small silk hand-me-down body for Digger when he was 18 months. It worked wonders and didn’t itch him.


Kids Essentials:
  • Woolen long sleeved Tee
  • Woolen long johns or tights
  • Sweater
  • Rain coat
  • Wanders/water proof trousers
  • Wellies

The trousers go over the wellies and those little elastic bands on bottom the trousers go under the wellies. If you then put the coat over the trousers, then you have created a knight in waterproofs. I’ve seen Digger sit in a puddle up to his waist and remain dry inside.

For toddlers, the all-in-one waterproofs come in very handy.

Kids optional extras for weather of 5 to -5 degree C:
  • Hat
  • Scarf
  • Woolen socks
  • Trousers
  • Cotton long sleeves Tee
  • Thin coats
  • Gloves (although Digger hates them so I've stopped bothering)

This kind of outfit can be used for kids up to 10 year old. 
Although it may be difficult to persuade a girl/boy over 7 into this attire if no one else is wearing this but toddlers in the playground. That said, it is well worth having full body waterproofs for any age. 

Waterproofs should last kids longer than you yourself are prepared to stay outdoors. 

All this said, I still bring a dry spare set of clothing for my 3 year old. It only takes one leak from one place to reduce the fun considerably in cold weather.

Warning: it will take longer than usual to unpack your kid to get to the loo in time.  Be prepared for some some temporary set backs if you are potty training.

Now all this prep is worthless if you, the adult, is getting cold. So here’s my tips that should have you snuggly warm while standing in an icy puddle in the torrential rain for a good hour or 2.

I focus on keeping my feet warm, and have recently become the owner of the awesome Sorel boots – the four wheel drive of boots. My long rain coat is also a life saver. With this on I feel like a mummy knight.

Adult essential:
  • WARM FEET in good water proof boots
  • Long waterproof coat with pockets
  • Scarf
  • Layering of cotton and woolen layers

Adult optional:
  • Hat
  • Gloves

What to do?
As for what to do in all this wet wet… Gosh… anything!

Cycling/scooting through puddles, jumping in puddles, digging in the mud with sticks. Nature changes so much from wet to dry. It is great sensory stuff.

All toys that are great in sand are also great in water. 
Think bath tub...

Diggers, diggers, diggers.
Scoops, rakes, buckets.

And sticks!

The great outdoors are fantastic (nearly) No-free zones. It's ok to ram a stick in to the ground, and to shout as loud as you can, to jump in puddles, splashing everywhere, and generally to get really really messy.

Expect your kid to get proper muddy. But then again, everything but the kid can go in the washing machine.

The last key is food
Good big bowl of porridge in the morning, and a lovely cup of hot chocolate when back it inside. Enjoyed with red cheeks and a generous dollop of whipped cream.

These are heavenly memories for me.

Memories that I am hoping to create for my son too.