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.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

digger's day in drawing

Recently, I've started drawing out Digger's days. I thought it may help him keep track of the day. Especially if we are doing something out of the ordinary. It helps if I draw such a new event into the routine of the rest of the day. The version featured here is a simplified, generic version. No play date, no party, and also no screen time, which we have been trying to cut down on. So we drawn no attention to it. (I made the mistake of drawing it on there early on...)

Usually, we sit down just after breakfast and map the day out. Digger loves it, and it has taught me that even though you might think he leads a quiet life - still at home with me or his childminder - then he leads a very busy life. He has a lot of tasks to get through. Every day.

I start where we always start: in our parental bed, 'cause that where it all starts. By Digger climbing in to jump on us 'wakey, wakey, morning time morning time!' And so the day commences...

We make our way down to the kitchen. Some more awake than others.

We still bottle feed him. A little man who is learning so much, who is so good at so many things, who is growing so very fast, and has had the start in life that he has, needs to be little and helpless too. He needs to know that that it is not only ok to regress, we all enjoy these quiet moments of catching up with the time when we weren't yet a family. It is moments of true undiluted intimacy. Of bliss.

So we hold his 3 year old self on our laps as a baby. At the moment he pretends to be a baby dinosaur (for the longest time he was a baby cat, and we were mummy/daddy cat). Then we make breakfast, and from there, we all mill into the bathroom where we play musical shower and tooth brushing. This is by far the best way of getting Digger out the PJ and on with the day. In fact it works like magic to draw the clothes. This used to be such a drag and could take hours. Now it's much more of a doddle.

Usually we are lucky that there is time for some 1:1 play. Usually it is with Duplo/Lego. And usually it is with Daddy. This helps top Digger up with daddy before he leaves for work. I can then take over for a little while, and if it is a day with child minder, this 1:1 makes hand over all the easier.

Next, we scoot/bike/walk/run to the park and the playground. Often we meet a friend. Again drawing his outdoor coat, scarf and shoes makes it a doddle to put it on. It was not so a week ago. (Cruel mummy did agree to let him leave the house in cold weather - in socks, no shoes. It just wasn't worth the argument. And he soon relented.)

Sometime we have lunch in the park but mostly we return home to have lunch.

Digger loves spotting our front door on the drawing. A simple number on a door. He knows that when we set out, we will back again, and now he knows roughly when. He proudly sings our address aloud.

Once back home it is quiet time. We read together, or do something quiet in the same room. Now that Digger has dropped his daytime nap, I still need a bit of time to open a newspaper, or write an email, or just rest my ears (he is the original chatterbox!).

When it is over, it is time to play again. At the moment we play 'dinosaurs in the den' a lot. We build a den for human-sized dinos. Inside it we build structures out of anything for toy dinosaurs. Or we draw them on a black board inside. Or we read about them. The favourite at the moment is the pterodactyl. I'm the T Rex to his pterodactyl.

Dinner is usually prepared together. Digger loves chopping veg and stirring the pots. Daddy returns home, and we can all eat together.

Afterwards there is more time to play. At this time Digger usually favours soft balls or dancing. James Brown is very good to do in tights - if you didn't know, you can do a mean slide and spin in socks on wooden floors. At this hour we try to squeeze as much energy out of Digger as humanly possible.

Wind down time is running up to the bathroom where we may have a big bath, but will definitely cream up - I write his number of choice on his tummy which usually provides enough for his whole body. At the moment I am doing a lot of '10's. Then an adult brush his teeth. At the moment this is done by singing like some animal - also of his choice - to the melody of happy birthday, for some reason I fail to remember. You've guessed it: I do a lot of dinosaur roaring while toothbrushing.

Milk and stories follows next. Again, warm milk in a baby bottle. Followed by 2-3 books, then light out, 2-3 songs, and if he is still not out, a story from his life so far. A story which starts and ends in his room. And then Daddy's poem in his bed. Since he gave up his day time nap a few weeks ago however we barely make it through the first story. We tuck him in, kiss him and tell him we love him.

Good night.

And then it is grown up time.

Friday, 9 January 2015

a funeral

I took Digger to a family funeral yesterday. I'd asked a number of people what they thought about bringing him. Most people thought it would be a good thing. So I decided I would take him, my tender, sunny ,energetic 3yo. And it all turned out very well. Digger as amazingly well behaved. We sat at the back ready to make a quick get away. But there was no need. We sang, stood up, sat down, stood up again and so. Digger followed it all. 

I think he responded the somber atmosphere in the church as he stayed quiet. Perfect reading of how to behave. 
He was even ok-ish about my tears. Kissed me, and hung on close. 

The coffin was carried out past us. Outside it was lowered into the grave. The family said their goodbyes and threw in momentos. The rest of us followed, throwing in roses that landed on the coffin - as a last farewell. Digger threw in a single white rose, breaking the silence with 'It fall down deep. It fall down.' 

He was confused though about seeing so many people he knew = party time, but everyone seemed sad and many people cried = not party as he knew it. 

However well he had taken it, he was exhausted afterwards. I was too. We all were. Only natural. He clearly sense the intensity of occasion. So after registering him as heading for overtired, I strapped him in the buggy. A walk around the block was all that was needed. It's been a while since I had to force a nap like that. 

Was I glad I had taken Digger? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. 
Would I recommend people doing it. In principle yes, but obviously it all depends on the context. 

Death is all around. We are all headed that way. Saying goodbye is everywhere. Loss in a major issue in our children's lives. Not exposing ourselves and our children to it is not an option. In term of a funeral, it's a matter of when. Not whether Or not. And that was yesterday for us. 

I wish we could talk a lot more about death and loss on our society. Not in a doom and gloom way, but as a part of life. There seems to be so much angst about it. Everywhere. 

I have a friend who's father lay on display for a week in the family home after he died. That is the way that village did it. Giving everyone a chance by to pay their respect and to give their sincere condolences to the family. And have another biscuit and a cup of coffee. My friend and his family said goodbye to their loved one over the course of that week. They sat in silence, on their own (my friend crept down in the night to be alone), or singing and chatting with friends and family. And after one week he really had to go. He was beginning to smell. But that is the best farewell I know. It still seems right and natural to me.  

I didn't see my uncle dead. And that may have been a step too far for Digger - or would it? His death is still a bit abstract for me. The family situation in the run up and after his death is complicated and sad. It bring out the best in some and the worst in others. So there is still a lot of unresolved feelings slushing around in me. 

Death is so darn irrevocable. And sometimes is pisses me off. Frustrates and confuses me. And just makes me sad. It takes time. And those are all obvious natural feeling that need to run their course. Within treason ofcourse when looking after Digger. 

I read a beautiful blog about an adopters loss of her father and how it brought her closer to her adopted daughter []. Like peeling an onion I understand this blog a little more now. I sense there is a long way to go in understanding my sons's loss. And that it is different to what I know as loss. 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Charm, cute and worry

My son is cute. Totally objectively speaking, of course. Not just by my mummy standards, of course not. He has a very good idea about how to work a crowd. He loves an audience and poses willingly for photos with his trademark excited smiley face. Often he finishes a performance with a bow and a wink.

Digger is definitely a pleaser. He wants us all to be together and happy.  All the time. He would make an excellent sheep dog. That is very well and lovely, but I worry that ├╝bercute Digger wins out over his more reflective self. I worry that the urge to please his surroundings may be to the detriment to recognising and acknowledging his own thoughts and feelings. That it is an early and effective cover for some more uncertain feelings.

Trying to make people feel comfortable and welcome is a quality that will probably stand Digger in good stead for the rest of his life. But I worry.  I occassionally try to divert his urge to perform. I make sure to kiss/cuddle/caress him more when he is doing nothing special. Like playing with his cars by himself. Or eating dinner. Those quiet moments when he is just being himself. I used to give in to his urges to perform, dances especially. Encourage even. Well, that has to go. I don't think I will be squashing a budding John Cleese, or Gene Kelly. Or... ? Gosh... never thought of it like that... Still has to go.

Over the festive season the kissing of half strangers rockets. Kisses and hugs everywhere. The British go continental. Digger too is receiving and giving. The other night when we had guests, he walked round the table saying goodnight to each and every guest. With a cuddle and a peck on the cheek. It was lovely, and very sweet of him. We hadn't prompted anything but a wave to say goodnight. But that make me worry. Had we somehow asked this of him? If so that has to go too.

I've tried to curb the pressure to hug and kissing. But it's difficult to get the balance right as pausing to say and wave goodbye to visitors helps Digger cope with the transition of them leaving. Yes he does take our lead, and we kiss away. But clearly we got to be careful and more measured perhaps. Also of overthinking. Oh dear ... I've lost that one already.

It worries me that his prime motivator is the fear of loss. Fear that we would not like (= love) him if he wasn't all sweet and cute. Or that other people wouldn't either. I've got a lot of work to do on this score. It's not about persuading him that he really is loveable just as he is. I don't think that would work, and certainly not with words.  Liking one self, staying with one self, the sense of self has to come from within. And it is that looking inwards that I don't see in his eagerness to make sure people around are happy, preferably laughing as well. The other day he got hurt, and with tears streaming down his face he kept on reassuring me 'I'm happy, mummy, I'm happy mummy.' 'You don't look so happy, my little heart. I think you look sad. Is that so?' But he wouldn't hear it.

If Digger gets worried, he ramps up the charm, which then can have a fake favour to it. Said through tears and hiccups, it is worrying to me that he says he is happy.

Don't get me wrong, there could be worse ways for getting attention and repairing his world. Digger is quite wilful too, so we see the other side as well. Usually though it is the pleaser that the public sees. I am almost relieved when he digs his heels in or gets stroppy. At least to start with. There is plenty of that too.

Once again it is about personal boundaries. Physically as well as emotionally. Admittedly, I like it best too if people are happy, and I obviously have to revisit my own behaviour in all of this. Good manners is not just about a good upbringing, it is creation of an individual with a good sense of self. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Today I'm sad. I'm tired. Exhausted. Digger has been sad too. Something is rumbling deep inside him. Shifting and unsettling him. And so he cries more inconsolably than usual. Several times a day. I comfort him. Listen. While I hold him tight and stroke his hair. And tell him I'm right here. And that I love him. Just staying with him till he is done. 
He's gone cold turkey on the old dummy cause of a tooth-loosening incident recent. He hasn't really looked back. But settling him takes longer now. 
I guess I'm sad because sometimes I see a gulf in him. A black hole. One I can't fill. However much he is my son. My brave and beautiful son. 
It isn't secondary trauma I'm feeling. It isn't depression. It's just a sadness washing over me. The one that recognises the sadness in his story. It happens every now and then. I recognise it now. Acknowledge it. 
Along with the need for more sleep. 
But it is an alarm bell. That I need to slow down. And be present. Rather than buying them. 
Tonight I'll be ramping up the self care. As I did today while buying Christmas gift. Tonight it will involve new DVD of modern family, tea/wine (it can go either way) and a ballerina biscuit. At least one.  
And my husband. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Wellies - right and wrong

Digger's put his wellies on the wrong way round again. The left welly on his right foot and right on his left. His small welly feet are pointing outwards. I think it looks funny, cute even. He doesn't seem to be bothered by it. So I don't mention it. We leave the house and carry on with our day. He jumps through a zillion muddy puddles. Every one he finds. Shrieking with joy. It's not raining. It's pouring. The water profs get their work out.  At one point he is sitting in a 20 cm deep puddle, splashing water all around. We arrive a full hour of joy later to our destination, and when I unwrap him I'm astounded that he is still dry underneath.

Digger loves his wellies. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he can put them on himself. He is so consistent in putting the on the wrong way round that I think he sees it as right. Or perhaps they are easier to put on like that, I wonder? What ever the reason or lack thereof, I don't mind the outcome. I reckon he'll learn without me telling him. Sometime soon enough. 

But I am amazed how many adults do point out this - to us - very obvious mistake. His nursery teacher sat him down and changed them round, in the sandpit, in the rain. I have the outmost respect for her. She is a mild-mannered, hippy teacher of Steiner Waldorf persuasion. She has genuine respect for the kids around her. I particularly love her approach to discipline and I learn  or notice something new every time we meet. Somehow she hardly ever ask any of the children to do anything. And still things get done - hands get washed, toys put away, tables cleaned, even floors swept. But this welly thing ... it just didn't sit right with her. Odd. 

I look at Digger's welly efforts and see something very different. I see he is trying. This is something I don't feel the need to correct. To me it's a tangible and ever timely reminder to have faith in his abilities. I look at them and remind myself that I should apply that accepting approach to his idiosyncracies much more often than I do.

One day he will look down and notice. And that will be the end of that. And I'll miss the funny look.