Thursday, 30 August 2012

Testing, testing... Smencils by Learning Resources

Smencils in Robinsons Fruit Shoots

I remember smelly pens with fondness... they were my prized possession as a school-aged child. So I was quite eager to try out Smencils, fruity pencils made from recycled newspapers. Unlike my childhood smellies, which didn't stay fragrant for long, these pencils come in a biodegradable plastic tube, which is bound to preserve the scent for longer.

My batch of five graphite Smencils came in Robinsons Fruit Shoots flavours: tropical, orange, apple, summer fruits and blackcurrant & apple. Michela and I smelled each and every pencil and then sniffed inside the tube too. Then she started writing away and gave the paper a sniff for good measure. The ultimate test was to pick a favourite. We both went for Summer fruits - how can you resist such berry bliss?

Smencils are suitable from age 3+, are available in 25 flavours and retail at £1 each. Sets are available in different combinations. We tried the graphite pens, but colouring pencils are also on sale. And if you hanker for smelly pens, Smens retail at £2 each.


To sweeten up your child's first days of school, Learning Resources is giving away 10 sets of Smencils in Robinsons Fruit Shoots Flavours on Facebook. Hurry, the competition closes on 7 September 2012. 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Letting go, childcare worries, fears and irrationality

At a birthday party,
after a dip in the paddling pool
Not many recent pics of me... this
was taken by a friend at
a birthday party
Parents do strange, irrational things. I remember poking my baby girl to check if she was still alive when she was sleeping for a long while without making a noise or stirring in her cot. 

I breastfed on a play gym so my daughter would stay asleep for a while and allow me to do some chores (she was the kind of baby who day napped well on the breast – or my partner’s chest – but woke up as soon as her back touched the cot). My partner used to drive around the block or push the pram up and down the street to make her fall asleep in summer, when the evenings were too bright – we eventually wised up and bought the blackout blind.

I remember a nightmare afternoon when Michela had really bad wind and we pushed her pram around a cemetery as it was deserted and nobody could object to a screaming baby. I can only imagine how hard it is to care for a colicky baby, we only had that taster and it makes you feel impotent (there is nothing you can do to make it go away, you can just cope with mild and a tad ineffectual measures) and stressed (all that crying kicks those post-birth hormones in action, plus you struggle to stay sane because you are so tired).

However, the most difficult thing for me was to let go. I was a career person before I had my child and I was shocked to find out that when my maternity leave ended I didn’t want to go back to work. Nearly everyone I knew did, except for mums who were trying for number 2. Aside the cost of childcare (which is really high compared to countries like France and Italy), there was the issue of trust plus the desire not to miss on the early years of my only child. I am not sure if this happens more to older mums, perhaps because we are more settled financially and realise that there isn’t going to be a number 2. 

For me it was also fear. I read some awful stories about young children being neglected and abused – there was a huge amount of stories in the papers around then – and I was worried that something bad would happen to my daughter. I had also noticed that when I took her to a playground she was a bit of a victim as not used to shove siblings and compete like other kiddies. She was an easy pushover and I had to intervene a few times when “vicious” toddlers were hitting, biting or pushing too hard. Because of her uniqueness (aka no Number 2 on the horizon), my partner too was extra protective, he didn’t let her climb playground frames until she was quite “old”. When she was allowed, she struggled for a bit while younger toddlers sped past her.

In the end Michela stayed at home with me until she was eligible for the 15 hours. I spent most of the earlier years volunteering at breastfeeding clinics, doing NCT newsletters and squeezing some paid work in. The paid work bit was hard as she wasn’t a good day napper. She slept well at night but dropped the afternoon nap pretty early on, unless pushed in a pram (which didn’t allow me to work). I’d go on Mumsnet and there were all these mums doing work while their babies napped for hours! I was green with envy. But then, were these babies going through the night like mine? She did from an early age, foiling the myth that breastfed babies wake up all the time. She was doing four hours already in the early weeks and it soon went up to six.

I’m not being smug here, just saying that when comparing your experience with others, you should look at the whole picture. For instance my daughter started walking at 15 months (much later than her little friends) but she started talking very early on – and hasn’t stopped. She is a real chatterbox and has caught up on the physical front so she really enjoyed PE at school. I have to thank preschool for this, they worked on her balance and confidence issues motorwise. They also cracked potty training – my daughter was perfectly able by 18 months or so but refused to ditch the nappy until a preschooler called her a baby. So don’t fret if your potty training is taking time! Ironically I wrote features about it, while my daughter was still a “hard case”. I now know that the only reason she stuck to the nappy is that it allowed her to play undisturbed by toilet breaks. So it was a case of convenience. I do relate to this, sometimes I’m doing something and I find it a nuisance to drop everything to visit the loo, especially if my hands are dirty because of housework or gardening (or I’m progressing on a tricky task).

Thanks to the 15 hours I managed to relax my fears re childcare. The preschool was really lovely and now that my daughter has finished her first year a school (confusingly called reception), I can see it was of great benefit. My daughter’s confidence has gone from strength to strength and she is no little victim anymore, she can argue her point and seek help if a child hurts her (in most cases it’s an accident, rather than wilful behaviour).
In January I picked the courage to try out the afterschool club and it was great. She soon was going three days a week and loving it. I managed to do more work and keep my volunteering commitments, which is fab. I volunteer at a baby clinic and I can’t take my daughter there, so my partner had to take time off work to mind her before she went to the afterschool club. Thanks to the afterschool club, it was much easier for all of us.

On balance, I found my three years at home with an energetic, bright girl (I joke she is half boy) very rewarding but emotionally and physically tiring (perhaps because I’m an older mum?). I know I should have tried some childcare before (even if a few hours here and there) as it would have made my life easier, especially when my freelance work picked up. Our parents live far from us, so we couldn’t even ask relatives to keep an eye on her.

I can again experience how hard it is now that schools is out - to keep a child happy and amused is not easy peasy lemon squeezy. I have booked some activities here and there, but I’m trying not to be tempted by the all-day holiday club. She is going back to school in September and going to the afterschool club full time, so it’s only fair we both have our summer together. Let’s face it, I won’t be her best friend forever, the teenage years beckon.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Me and Pana Lumix in London

In July, me and Pana Lumix sauntered to London to collect a Dove pampering package I won through a competition run by the West London Mum Blog. I heard about it through Britmums' compo network, so I recommend joining this group if you want to receive alerts of giveaways.

It was my closest Dove Spa branch (publictransportwise), although I had to compromise with the venue as the central London branch was booked up. The fab thing about the prize is that I was also sent a cheque covering the travel expenses, so I opted for visiting the Docklands branch. After walking around the Docklands, I visited some of my fave spots in central London and still had time to get back and do the school run! Here is a medley in no apparent order, with a few captions...

Getting ready for the Batman premiere in Leicester Square

Olympic-themed travel advice

Tiffany's at Canary Wharf - me minus croissant and beehive hairdo

I used to freelance for a magazine based in that tower

China Town - London's West End

The lovely sofa at Dove Spa. I'd love one in black

The best ice cream I have ever had - better than Marine Ice, from
La Gelateria in King Street (between Leicester Square and Covent Garden)
Docklands - squint and you'll see the Shard and Gherkin

Covent Garden - art attack!
The best pistachio ice cream ever from La Gelateria

Covent Garden - the pretty crafty market

The pub where I met a few of my exes when living in London