One: To Be Held in a Good Light
I love Lucy’s posts on parenting over at Lulastic and the Hippyshakes; I might not always agree with every conclusion she reaches (I think there is absolutely a value to learning Latin, though there’s more than one method of doing so!), but she always makes me think and remember to challenge the status quo.
Her post this week about stopping to look for the good intentions in our children’s actions really hit home, and I wonder how often I’ve jumped in to say no to my three without taking the time to work out what it is they’re actually trying to achieve. I strongly suspect there are more than a few times when their only objective is to stop their sibling having something that they want, with not an ounce of higher purpose to it, but there must be times when they’re trying to do the right thing but they just don’t know how to do it because they’re five/two/one. Thinking about it, I do give Pip that benefit; if he hits Kitty over the head with a magnifying glass I know he’s not trying to hurt her, he’s actually trying to both give her a hug and show her a magnifying glass and it’s just gone a bit awol in the execution, and I want to think that way about the big sisters too.
Motto of the week: “what are you trying to do?” not “stop!” unless anyone or anything is about to get broken.
Did you know that there’s no such thing as a pterodactyl? Dinosaurs have arrived in the vegetable garden at Kitty’s school and her class are doing their best to look after them and make them welcome. The useful pub quiz knowledge comes courtesy of her weekend project to find a fact about dinosaurs and draw a picture and write a sentence about it; pterodactyl is used to refer to both pterodactylus and pteranodon but doesn’t mean anything distinct itself.
With perfect timing the lovely peeps at Sweet Apple Books sent us a review copy of one of their latest treasures so we’ve been reading about dinosaurs at our bedtime story too, only these ones maybe aren’t quite so paleontologically correct! Oddsockasaurus is a very sweet story of a little boy and all the dinosaurs he dresses up as depending on his mood.
There’s Oddsockasaurus who appears either in times of laundry crisis or just for fun, Mudiraptor who has an irresistible attraction to muddy puddles, Readabookadocus who definitely appears in my girls’ repertoire from time to time and a whole load of other friends.
The aim of the book is to give children a voice for some of their feelings and actions, or rather a dinosaur, and to sneak in the unspoken message that they aren’t any one of those things, they’re all of them at different times and sometimes all of them bundled together.
I think it’s a really lovely idea, sweetly illustrated and it’s been top of the bedtime story pile for some time now.
Three: Magic Lessons
I devoured Big Magic in one sitting. While sitting in the bath.
It’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book (she of Eat Pray Love which I have neither read nor watched the film but rather want to now) and I absolutely loved it. In making Magic Lessons she simply says that she just wasn’t finished with the idea so she made a spin off (can you have a spin off from a book?). Twelve podcasts, usually 15-20 minutes long, taking some of the practical tips and advice on pursuing your creativity from the book and talking them through with real life people.
Even if you haven’t read a sentence from the book it’s just so full of joy and enthusiasm and “why not” that it’s infectious, and it’s essential listening if you read the book, got to the end and thought, “oh no, it’s all gone!”. Not that that would happen to any Readabookadocus you might find around here, oh no!
Four: YouTube Thumbnails
And now from thinking to doing. Kate Rushworth’s session at Blogfest on being a YouTube superstar had me scribbling furiously to catch all her top tips in a canter through the inner workings of YouTube. There are lots of things that I now know I need to tweak but according to Kate the most important thing you can do to make your videos shine is to get the thumbnail right. Make it a high res image, with lots of contrast and cropped closely so that it still makes sense when it’s shrunk down to teeny tiny on your phone and you’re putting your best foot forward.
The other thing I didn’t know about is the YouTube Creator Academy which can tell you everything you never knew you needed to know and a whole heap besides. How to put a little image watermark on your videos? How to make an introduction video to sit at the type of your channel? How to add subscribe buttons? It’s all there.
Five: Cute Girls Hairstyles
And finally, and speaking of YouTube, have you come across the Cute Girls Hairstyles channel? Kate mentioned it as a worked example and I knew at once that Kitty would love it. She adores having fancy plaits, even if they all fall apart quite quickly, which is a good thing because anything too complicated and I will fall apart quite quickly (although many hours of practicing means I can do a smashing Belle from Beauty and the Beast).
We sat down with hairbrush and bobbles on Sunday morning and the video for the Tuxedo braid and not only did my finished version look not entirely unlike the one in the pictures, it even lasted all the way through church.
H is going to start watching in the hopes that it can teach him how to do a ponytail.
Living Arrows: a little moment of the week to pause, savour and treasure
We got home from church on Sunday morning, walked in the front door, and straight out into the garden. This week I’ve really missed the sunshine, as we rattle towards the equinox I’m definitely at the point where I can spend an entire day without being outside in the daylight, I don’t even know what the weather was like on Thursday because the building I was in didn’t have windows, but from the way Kitty, Elma and Pip reacted, I don’t think I missed much either.
I rescued a garden chair that had blown to the end of the patio in the gales and we had a little search in the shed for garden toys that hadn’t already made it into the garage. There, sat in the corner, was Elma’s Toddlebike. It was perfectly Elma-sized in January and just about still fits her now, but it’s always made Kitty look like a giant in a world of Lilliputians.
Elma was quite happily scooting up and down and I could see that Kitty was desperate for a go as we didn’t have her bike or scooter out, but she just couldn’t work out how to distract Elma for long enough. She tried offering her hula hoop, and Pip’s car, and just asking, but no dice. So there was only one thing for it: tandem toddlebiking!
They were surprisingly fast, especially once they worked out that it worked better if Elma sat on the cross bar so that Kitty’s knees weren’t quite digging into her chin at every scoot and they whizzed around and around and around, much to Pip’s very great amusement.
And as for that young man – well after the girls had decided that they’d had enough running around and went inside to cuddle up on H and warm up before lunch, Pip Squeak extricated himself from his beloved car, crawled over to the bike and sat there, arms outstretched with that baby expression that can only read “you know what I want, why haven’t you done it yet Mummy? Are you really going to make me ask?”
So I hauled him up and on and he sat there, prodding it, trying to figure out how it worked and why the big sisters love it so much.
He just about managed to make it go forward before sliding off the crossbar and deciding that he’d rather it was cuddle and nap time than sitting on the floor under a bike time, but I think it won’t be too long before he masters it and there’ll be three of them bombing up and down the patio!
In the last few weeks, as the return to work has started to make itself felt in the long days and the late nights, I’ve started to question why I’m blogging, not spending the evenings sitting on the sofa knitting. Am I truly writing my children’s baby book if I’m just not with them as much as I used to be? Is my story of motherhood still valid if I’m spending more time with my colleagues than actively mothering? And most importantly, am I truly motivated to blog, or have I just got myself onto a treadmill and forgotten that an off switch exists.
So I took a day out. A day to not even think about work (OK, to try not to think about work, that’s the best I can offer), and a day out of the precious time that I do get to spend with my family to give my brain proper space and time to unravel, to think and to be inspired.
I went to Blogfest. And hard though it was to leave the family (and miss the school Advent Fayre which sounds like it was completely incredible) it was a wonderful thing to do. I’m writing this on the train home having spent a day with incredible insightful creative women (and a few men) who were funny and touching and knew a lot about YouTube and if I knew morse code I’d have been clapping out “yes, this!” every single time.
the Mumsnet team had put together a truly phenomenal line up, and it’s not everyone that could persuade the Margaret Attwood To be on a live video link from Toronto at 4 o’clock in the morning and that’s before we’d even got to the rest of the first panel; Bryony Gordon, Meera Syal, Bridget Christie, Polly Vernon and Catherine Mann discussing the balance between motherhood and creativity and whether the two can ever happily co-exist. The general consensus was that yes it can but maybe not all at the same time, and that it requires determination, planning and a little bit of a ruthless challenge to the “good mummies sacrifice themselves” myth. Food for thought and I could have listened to them, and laughed with them, all day.
The tone was set for the day, from the main panel speakers to the smaller practical sessions; we want you to think and we want to challenge you just a little bit.
Sandi Toksvig spoke of her vision for the political party that she co-founded, The Women’s Equality Party and the unlikely inspiration for making it a political party not a lobbying group (Nigel Farage if you’re curious),
David Baddiel shared with such humour the trials and tribulations of putting yourself out there on Twitter and other social media, and the fact that, as he put it, “raising a little flag of self” opens the floor to other people taking your agenda and trying to supplant it with their own,
and the very wonderful Val McDermid spoke about the importance of story telling, the fact that it is by stories that we make sense of the world, that stories existed long before writing, and possibly my favourite quote of the day:
“Creativity is the way we fight back against the people who would oppress us”, which has never seemed truer when we look around at the unquiet in our world.
The final panel discussion, about how much we share in public of our private lives was about so much more than should you share pictures of your children in the bath or whatever is the latest Instagram controversy, but was beautifully chaired by Fi Glover to cover issues of authenticity, the fact that none of us are ever sharing the whole picture of our lives, and the degree to which we write for ourselves and write just to process things, versus what is fit for public consumption right now.
And as I sit here on the train home in a happy buzzing glow that has nothing to do with the small glass of prosecco at the drinks party (honest) and everything to do with having used and stretched the really creative bit of my brain, the answer seems so obvious.
Why am I blogging? Because quite simply, I love it. I love to write, and I need to write. I love to take photographs and video and I love that through blogging there is a whole world out there of people who completely get it; the lovely friends I got to hang out with in person today, a whole heap of new faces, and you.
And I know that this seems a strange choice for an ordinary moment, because I don’t get to spent every Saturday listening to award winning comedians and internationally acclaimed novelists and it probably wouldn’t seem as special if I did. No, the ordinary and everyday treasures that I want to cherish and celebrate are every other day of the week, the moments on trains spent tapping away at my iPad, or evenings playing on the computer after the children have been tucked up in bed, the snippets of daily life that Instagram captures and the conversations with friends on Twitter, and most of all, the memories and the milestones recorded over the years.
I might not have quite figured out how it is that I can fit blogging into this brave new topsy turkey world that H and I have made, but that I am a writer and a blogger, as it turns out, was never even a question.
Linking up with Jodi with a portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.
Kitty: late on Sunday afternoon, when the sun was sinking fast, we wrapped everyone up and headed out to the windmill to blow away your cobwebs and get out your wriggles. It was incredibly windy and very nearly dark but you ran around playing hide and seek between the pillars. Very silly and lots of giggles.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/50, f/1.8, ISO 640)
Elma: my smiley little girl with a smudgy chocolate grin. This week you told your Daddy he ought to go to training so that Mummy could come home to be with you. I love the logic even if I can’t quite make it come true.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/80, f/1.8 , ISO 800)
Pip: well “Da!” to you too little man. This week you’ve been walking more and more and while we’re not quite at the stage of walking more than crawling it won’t be much longer now. You love tottering around and even when you come down to earth with a bump, it’s with a chuckle.
(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/80, f/2.2, ISO 800)
Babies may have disproportionately big heads compare to the rest of them but even those heads grow, and master Pip Squeak is no exception. His oh so cute little Golden Pear set from last year are just too little for this, and as his favourite trick is to pull it off his head and throw it over the side of the sling it was time for a little knitting before winter truly arrives.
Browsing through Ravelry I found the pattern for what must be the cutest baby hat ever. A little bonnet made from a nice stretchy ribbing with a button to do up under the chin and a little pixie peak at the back. I was sold even before I realised it’s a free pattern.
And so early one morning while the others were sleeping, Pip, Elma and I consulted the yarn stash. The pattern is written for Socks that Rock medium weight which is somewhere between a thick 4ply and a thin DK so we pulled out the sock yarn and, by the very technical method of draping skeins over Pip’s head to see how they looked, we made our choice. As luck would have it, STR medium weight in Pebble Beach (which seems to be a discontinued colourway and tells you everything you need to know about the age of my stash!).
It’s soft chocolatey brown, swirled with sea green, the sand that collects in the bottom of your shoe after a day at the beach and the deep turquoise of the ocean on a summer day; very definitely boy colours, but not in the “bright blue and fire engines” way, it’s a little more subtle than that.
It’s also a dream to knit with. I’ve still got a little stash of Socks that Rock from way way back in the pre children days. I half jokingly said to H at the time that I was laying in an investment against the possibility of a world without sheep in it, but I am glad that I laid in a stash then so that now I have little supply of some really lovely wool to knit to take the edge off after another trip to the children’s shoe shop.
But back to Pip’s new hat. The pattern essentially keeps the same number of stitches but moves a horizontal rib into a vertical, leaving you with a sort of parabola shape that you then fold in half and graft up the back. My top tip is to end after you have done the first row in the next block of three, then when you fold it in half and add the grafting the join blends in perfectly (and yes I did discover this after I’d grafted a hundred or so stitches without thinking about it and then had to pull it out!)
My second top tip would be to sew the neckband on with whip stitch (oversewing). Be careful to be consistent with which line of knitting you’re sewing through on the neckband to keep it looking smart and then when you open it up the whip stitches will blend into the bottom of the hat and it makes a completely flat join, no seam to rub and irritate soft little necks.
It’s an easy pattern to knit up, but there is an error in the online version of the pattern in the buttonhole instruction. I think there’s a row missing because if you’re knit it as written you end up with no buttonhole and not enough stitches. Even if you pull it out and knit it several times over (not that we know anyone who may have done this, oh no).
The pattern should read:
Row 1 (RS): Work 4 sts, k1-f/b, p1, pass second st on right-handed needle over last st, k1-f/b, pass third st on right-handed needle over last 2 sts, work to end.
Row 2: Work 3 sts, p2tog, TURN, CO 4 sts using Cable CO, TURN, k2tog, work to end.
Row 3: Work 3 sts, p2tog, kl, p1, k2tog, work to end.
(With thanks to Mellifico on Ravelry whose very helpful notes saved me from banging my head on the desk with frustration)
And then with a little wooden button from my button tin as a final flourish it was finished.
To say that Pip loves it would perhaps be over egging the pudding. When I first put it on him in the warmth of our cosy lounge he gave me a look of Churchillian thunder that could only be interpreted as “Take This Off Me Mother!”, but snugged up in his snowsuit and let out into the garden to dig in the veg beds and eat some mud he was more than happy to have it keeping out the wind.
Which can only be a good thing because there is a very real possibility that I’ve just made Pip the hat that will last him until secondary school. The pattern is written for two sizes, the upper of which goes to 24 months so I added in another four stitches to bring it up to what I thought would be Pip size.
And it is Pip size. But it’s also Elma sized and Kitty sized and it will even do up on me although it was a bit snug. The girls are already placing their orders and I think I’ll just make this slightly increased size for them too. It has to be done doesn’t it, I mean how cute would it be to have three little ones in matching but not matching pixie hats!
Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday, Frontier Dreams for Keep Crafting On and Make Do and Push for Funky Kid Friday
And so finally we reach the end of our European journey with our final adventure.
From the top of the Rhone we followed our glacial valley down the river to Lake Geneva, dazzling in brilliant sunshine with the mountains at its back and parasailers soaring above. It was at that point that we wondered whether we should have followed the sat nav’s choice of route in to Switzerland rather than coming through the Alps but it’s on the list for another time and we turned and headed north up and up away from lakes and mountains heading for Germany.
From the motorway there isn’t a lot to see of the centre of Switzerland; fields and cars and service stations and the moment when without any warning the road signs suddenly change from French to German and we plodded along, watching the miles tick past on the sat nav. And then we were watching and waiting, trying to find the Rhine and watching out for the border. The dotted line on the map got closer and closer and then suddenly it was there; a small square yellow sign on the side of the road with the black German eagle perched on it and we were past and into our third country of the trip.
According to H there was a customs post a little further on on the other side of the road, but we scarcely noticed it because for the first time in our lives we were on the autobahn. German motorways don’t have speed limits, or at least they have sections where they don’t have speed limits, you’re just expected to drive at a speed that is sensible for you and the vehicle you’re driving. Way back in the day H used to work for a car company and so he’s done a fair amount of advanced driving to be able to take their cars bombing round the test tracks and I know this was a bit of the trip he was really looking forward to. As we cruised up the nearly empty motorway with only the occasional car overtaking us on the outside I looked at the trees out of my window, and then across to H’s beaming smile;
“so how fast are we going sweetheart?”
“Oh only 112” came the reply, “but I think that might be us maxed out!”
112, in a solid family car fully laden with five people and all our camping kit. Automotive engineering is an impressive thing.
We headed up into Germany following the banks of the Rhine with the French border always on our left until the hills on our right became more and more densely covered in thick green forest and we turned in, driving along twisty turning roads, through properly chocolate box pretty villages and up and over the ridge line of the first wave of the Black Forest to find our campsite, nestled down in the valley.
It might have been because we’d spent two and a half weeks on the road, it might be because the campsite was wonderful, and it was probably a good mixture of the two, but I think this was where we were at our most relaxed. It helped that the site had a car free camping section, a flat grassy field bordered on two sides by a brook and only accessible on foot over a wooden bridge or through the ford. You parked your car up at the top and took everything down in a little red wagon; heaven for the girls and heaven for us too; for the first time we could let Pip crawl without having to have him constantly within arm’s reach, and the girls loved having the swings and the little house and the roundabout ‘just there’ so that they could play and shake off a day in the car while we put the tent up.
This was the first campsite where they made friends too; first with some German girls (the international language of colouring in winning out again) and then with an adorable duo of very similar ages to my girls who pitched next door to us. And for the first time we found we were meeting other families like ours, families for whom the travelling was as much a part of the adventure as the destinations. We talked about Annecy and coming over the Alps and they told us about how they’d gone as fast as they could to Salzburg to do all things Sound of Music and then slowly pottered their way back through Austria and Germany and were now planning a lazy route back to the channel.
I’ll admit we spent quite a bit of our time just sitting at the campsite enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful views but we drove up to the view point on the top of the hill behind us to see the forest spread all around us like a lumpy duvet of prickly green, and explored Bad Wildbad in the late afternoon sunshine watching the trams come running in along the pavement and doubling my knowledge of German (“haben sie schlüssel für toilette bitte?” being a key phrase when navigating German supermarkets with small children).
Baden-Baden is the jewel in the crown of the Black Forest and we headed over one morning. I’m not sure exactly what we were expecting to see, but probably more of the wooden houses, shutters and endless geraniums that we’d so fallen in love with. Instead we found a Regency spa time, German style; cool white stone, beautiful gardens, fountains, and sun dappled esplanades. The Roman Baths (situated in a corner of the car park and a surprise hit with Kitty) gave a clue as to the origins of this rather majestically beautiful town; as my knowledge of the Roman invasion of German stems almost entirely from Lindsey Davis Falco novels I’d had no idea they’d ever made it so far north, but I can see why they’d want to stay.
We wandered, just soaking it all in, spent ages deliberating over coloured pencils, and fell completely and utterly in love with a children’s bookshop despite my complete lack of German. We did buy a book for our godson whose mother is German, based entirely off the pictures and because it had a recipe in the back only to discover later that while the story was great, the recipe was for a spread made from daisies!
We passed on the daisy spread and instead tucked into a giant slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. None of the Sara Lee of my childhood, this was the real thing, deep chocolate sponge, fresh cream, juicy cherries and inexplicably (to use, used to the aforementioned Sara Lee) sat on a pastry base. Only when we got home and caught up with the Great British Bake Off did we realise that that’s probably how it’s meant to be. Black Forest Gateau in the Black Forest – bliss.
German food doesn’t seem to have the same culinary reputation as say French or Italian does, but we ate so well in Germany, from the spicy sausage that we stirred into our tomato pasta, to an amazing cherry yoghurt that I could have eaten by the gallon and my first taste of sauerkraut, at least I think it was sauerkraut. It was presented as the salad esque filling in a ham roll we bought for lunch and while the girls and H stayed well clear, Pip and I gave it a try. I’d always thought it was going to be weird and mushy but it was crisp and sharp and delicious – so much so that I bought a pot of what looked to be something similar from the supermarket. Google translate called it “white cabbage salad” and if I get a bit of time over Christmas I might have to try making some myself.
And all of that is before I even mention the bakery in Enzklösterle. Walking down the hill in the morning with the sun peeking over the hill was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments, the nip in the morning air and the smell of fresh soft pretzels even before you get around the corner. The girls and Pip loved the pretzels and H and I were spoiled for choice; strudels packed with apples or cherries, cinnamon swirls, a blueberry cheesecake that we manfully resisted as not really breakfast food and my hands down favourite, Quarktaschen – a sweet cheese turnover that tastes a million times better than it sounds.
But finally our time was up and we packed up the car, big farewell to our new friends and pointed the car for France and the ferry. The French border it turns out it even less marked than the German one; it’s the river on the map, and on the road not even a sign with a small blue cockerel, instead the road signs just change language. We drove on, well H drove and I navigated and tried to entertain the children as the miles ticked by. We paused outside Paris and seriously contemplated spending a night camping near Disney but after our forest haven there were just too many people and we kept going, eventually ending up at the southern edge of Rouen, a mere 470 odd miles in one day. We’d planned to camp but in the end ease won out and we found ourselves a couple of rooms at an Ibis full of British families doing much the same thing judging by the cars overflowing with camping bits and bobs that surrounded ours.
And then finally we headed to Cherbourg under thunderous skies and through pouring rain. We were about eight hours early for the ferry after our mammoth drive the day before and so we drove along the coast until we found a beach. We ate lunch in the car as droplets plopped down the windscreen but then the skies cleared and for a little while we had the beach to ourselves. Sitting in the sand, watching Pip crawl through rock pools and Kitty and Elma dipping their toes into the surf was quite simply the perfect way to end what was quite simply a life changing trip.
I’ve one more post to write, all about the practicalities of doing a big trip like this, catering and finding campsites and all that sort of thing, but for now all the postcards have arrived home, well at least until next year.
And so, with apologies to any genuine German speakers, let me share with you our final video postcard:
When I was expecting Pip we got plenty of questions about whether we wanted a little boy or were trying for a little boy (we didn’t mind/weren’t, we just wanted a baby we got to take home from the hospital in a car seat), but even more, people wondered what would I do if it was a little boy, how would we make room for all the new toys and the steady influx of everything and anything embellished with diggers/fire engines/pirates. The unsaid assumption was that baby boys must somehow be a completely alien species to my two baby girls.
I’ll admit that changing the first nappy in the hospital there was a feeling of “well this is new!”. But you get enough practice at nappies with a newborn that we were all sorted within 24 hours, and from experience, baby girls are just as good at springing surprises on the changing mat as baby boys. Beyond that it was hard to tell in those first few weeks, one variety of newborn baby is very much like another. There were differences between Pip and his sisters; his objection to dairy in my diet was stronger, he slept less, has never sucked his thumb, and much preferred being in the sling, especially while we figured out his dairy tolerance levels, but I don’t think that’s a boy/girl thing, just a ‘different person to his sisters’ thing.
Our toys are just toys, and while we did acquire some new babygros with boats on that was mostly because they were incredibly cute and he was a good excuse. He would have been just as warm and snug and cosy in a pink bunny outfit and had he been a girl I’d probably have bought the boat babygro anyway (though perhaps not three times). In his fourteen months he has worn sleeping bags covered in pink princesses and ones with Noah’s ark, he wears polka dot vests and DC Comics vests (mini Sheldon, it’s so cute!), and his current pyjama collection includes purple owls, pink sea horses and some very smart blue flannel checks.
He loves his wooden car, building towers out of blocks and knocking them down again, giving cuddles to his baby dolly and his teddy and banging the doors on the play kitchen, the bath, being sung to to the point of falling asleep during the hymns in church and big snuggly cuddles. So far, so very much like his sisters.
The first difference that we did notice, and are constantly noticing is that this boy can climb. As in seriously climb. If you came to our house in between meals you’d think we were the messiest people around because all of our dinner table chairs are either pulled out all higgledy piggledy or lying on their sides, because if they’re anywhere near the table, and we’re not actually sat on them, young master Pip Squeak is more than happy to use them as a ladder to climb onto the dinner table, where he will sit, quite happily pouring the water from the jug into each and every one of out table tea lights, or emptying out the crayon box or anything else we’ve tried to store out of his reach. He’s figured out how to push a chair around to get it to where he wants a leg up and the other day H found that he’d upturned a laundry basket in front of the washing machine and stood on it to reach up and turn the kettle on.
And it would be easy to think of that as being pure boy, and a mark of nature over nurture but in this case I know for a fact that Pip is merely the Sherpa Tensing to Elma’s Edmund Hillary. She could and still can climb just about anything, even when walking across a nice flat surface was a bit of a challenge for her. That Pip can reach higher and climb further is simply because he’s a lot taller than she was at a similar age; taller even than Kitty at 14 months. Climbing, it seems, is just one of those things my children do.
But there is one difference that I think might be more than just the superhuman strength of a very tall baby. Because I think young Pip Squeak might just be lining himself up to be the next England cricket hero. Baby led weaning means all three of my little ones have had a good go at chucking a bit of food around from time to time, usually when it’s sticky on their fingers, but Pip is the only one of the three to have hit the wall from the far side of the dinner table.
His overarm throw is pretty impressive, and pretty painful if he happens to be wielding something solid (the magnifying glass, wooden blocks and board books being his favourites) and every time I see him sit down in front of the tray of blocks and proceed to use both hands to ‘bail’ them over his shoulders I can’t help but giggle.
Three is a fairly small sample set but I have no recollection of the girls ever doing something similar. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary throwback; baby boys have an inbuilt spear throwing reflex while the girls have, I don’t know, what would be a baby gesture for gathering seeds and berries?
But I’m curious now, up until a couple of months ago I’d have said no, at one there really isn’t any difference between baby boys and girls, but now I’m wondering whether we’re on the cusp of seeing some of those differences come through. And so I’m throwing it open to all of you who’ve walked this path before; tell me, at what stage did you feel that you could see a difference between your baby boys and your baby girls?
Living Arrows: a little moment of the week to pause, savour and treasure
All of our Duplo lives in two baskets next to the play kitchen. It’s probably our most played with toy, even if Pip’s chief activity is simply emptying it out onto the floor. And with Kitty taking a rare but very much needed Sunday afternoon snooze, the littlest two gravitated back towards their favourite.
But not as I thought, to empty it out and build a castle. Because now that Pip is wobbly tottering around the lounge, it turns out that our two Duplo boxes are the absolute perfect height to make seats for the pair of them.
Pip perched their first and then Elma ran in to give him the most adoring smothering cuddle.
Because I’m away at work most of the time that Kitty is away at school and then we’re all together at the weekend I don’t get to see Elma being a big sister so much any more. And as she gets nearer and nearer to three, and her baby brother becomes more of a person to play with it’s wonderful to see all of her sisterliness come out. She is a proper big sister in her own right, not merely Kitty’s echo and shadow and she and Pip are building an incredible bond.
He in his turn, despite his expression is as much a fan of Elma as she is of him. It’s funny, that subtle change that has come about since the summer, when he mostly had eyes only for Kitty; now it’s Elma he looks to for reassurance too, and Elma whose name might be his first word that isn’t Mama, Dadda or an approximation of “get down!”.
And so they sat in the Duplo baskets, quite companionably and chatted, well Elma chatted and Pip said “Da!” at all the appropriate moments, two happy little people on a cozy Sunday afternoon.
Back in March, in search of somewhere to put the children for a Siblings photo shoot I tucked them all into the big saucer swing at the park; Kitty very much the photographer’s assistant – “hold onto your brother and let’s hope your sister doesn’t move”.
Pip looked so teeny tiny tucked up in the middle of his sisters, and Elma didn’t seem much bigger, but they were thrilled to be together, gently swinging in the sunshine.
Roll on eight months and we found ourselves back at the same park and the same swing and wow what a difference those months have made.
It’s not just Pip, who frankly looks like he’s doubled, but I can see the changes so clearly in Elma and Kitty too. They all still love the saucer swing and now that the chances of one of them (Elma or Pip, take your pick) suddenly deciding to stand up and leap off are less, they can all go a little bit faster too. Great fun for them, more of a challenge for photos!
And all that growing means that so much more of the playpark has opened up to them too. Kitty has nailed the fireman’s pole and seems to be able to climb just about anything, Elma is determined to go on each and every roundabout or even anything that might be a roundabout, and my once tiny, couldn’t sit up yet baby Pip Squeak is a determined but wobbly toddler who is quite certain he’s not going to get left behind and would give Edmund Hilary a run for his money.
Which would be how they all ended up like this:
(“Elma? What is our sister doing?”)
I’ve always said that my photography style is ‘perfectly imperfect’ and these are a perfect example of the made up genre. But it’s a genre I love, not just because it’s the only sort of photos I can take, but because I think it brings my little trio’s personalities to the fore and tells the story of their relationship in a way that would never come across in a formal studio portrait.
Every month their friendship as a three gets stronger and stronger as Pip also gets stronger and stronger and it’s lovely to see them truly share their fun, even if it’s just sitting on the lounge floor building block towers. I love that in these saucer swing photos all three of them are clearly loving it, and they speak of the sweetness and the almost maternal sisterly affection that Kitty and Elma have for Pip. They love that he’s starting to walk and for every time I stand him up against the furniture and call him to walk to me just to see him do it, Kitty and Elma will be trying to persuade him to totter between them. It’s quite unbelievably cute.
And then the pictures in the weird roundabout dish (what is that supposed to be, does anyone know?). I can see in the way that Pip is looking to Elma for explanation and reassurance, the cementing of their friendship as something separate to Kitty, built up as they spend so much time together without their big sister.
But mostly, I see their smiles.
Two little sisters, and their brother too, in November:
I wrote most of this post on the train home on Friday night and then sat with H, shocked and dismayed to see the news from Paris, a city we love so much once again torn up by terror and grief and it suddenly seemed so very trivial to be writing about children in a play park. Except that it’s not, they are my joy that balances the sadness and the reason to keep striving for peace, so that maybe, just maybe, we can leave them a legacy of a world where no one is trying to hold us ransom with fear.
This month I’m sending you on to the lovely Amber. Her adorable twins are actually a whole year old now and as the boys only seem to get cuter and cuter I can’t wait to see her beautiful photos. And so now it’s your turn; how have your Siblings been this month?
It started with a phonecall. Elma, so very two and so very desperate to catch up with her big sister, and so very convinced that she can do it, calmly jumped from describing her lunch to me as I sat eating at my desk at work to her next request:
“Mummy,” she said, “tomorrow I’m going to have a birthday”.
Bless the girl, she’s worked out that Kitty is five, and if you ask her how old she is she tends to say four, her theory being I think that one more birthday and she’ll be level pegging. But perhaps my chat with her last weekend about how she’s really two and her next birthday will be three had got her thinking. After all, if you want to be five in December and you’re two now, you’ve got to get a couple more birthdays in before now and then.
By the time I got home she was still claiming a birthday but rather sweetly has completely failed to make the connection between birthdays and presents or cake or any of the trappings, she just wanted to be a year nearer to Kitty. And we smiled, and tried to walk that awkward line between letting her imagination run with it and making sure that she does know that she really isn’t going to get any nearer in age to her sister.
Elma didn’t mention it the next day, and I really thought it had been forgotten, until Kitty got home from school.
She took off her bag and her coat and started rifling through her folder, throwing out letters home like confetti as she searched for something. Out came the Happy Diwali card, her reading book, a couple of stickers and then there it was, she had it. And with a beaming smile she turned around and presented Elma with a card.
In her classroom they have a box of the front of various cards, mostly birthday ones and because her sister was having a birthday, even a really random extra one, in her free play she’d gone through the box to find the one that she thought Elma would like the best (lots of pink and purple and sparkle), and written in her very best handwriting:
Because if her little sister is going to have a birthday there’s no way that Kitty isn’t going to celebrate it. And I don’t think it was entirely motivated by the possibility of cake either.
It was just a little moment in our week, but a moment of sweetness to treasure and remember. Though for the record, Elma is still claiming her age as four, so we might have a few more birthdays to go before we get to five!
joining Katie for The Ordinary Moments
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