The Red Box Project Rugby – Ending Period Poverty, One Red Box At A Time

It has been on my mind recently that A Place For Parents should be more than simply the inane ramblings of a 40 something, exhausted Mama and with so much local interest I think it’s time I used this space as a ‘call to action’.

If it reaches one person, that waterfall is always possible.

With Christmas upon us, it’s important to champion causes close to not only our hearts but also our homes. Let’s not get caught up in Christmas excess but rather, see where we can make a difference to people on our own doorstep.

So first up is The Red Box Project in Rugby and the very lovely Olivia Le Poidevin. Olivia wanted to do something important for her community and after much consideration, chose to launch The Red Box Project for girls living in Rugby and the surrounding area.

Period Poverty may feel like just another contemporary buzz phrase but in actual fact it is a very real problem. It is estimated that 1/10 girls struggle to access sanitary protection with 1/7 simply unable to afford it. As the need for Food Banks continues to grow, it stands to reason that some young girls will have no access to simple hygiene products like sanitary towels and tampons, items the rest of us take for granted.

Period poverty has a huge knock on effect. Some girls will use lunch money to buy sanitary products and when regularly missing meals will find their concentration and ability to attend to their education impaired. Some will miss school altogether.

There are also serious risks to health without unlimited access to sanitary protection. There is an increased risk of urinary tract infection, toxic shock syndrome (when young girls use the same product for too long or use the incorrect size) and even reproductive infections which can lead to infertility.

The Red Box Project exists nationally and there are currently 140 projects across the country providing support to girls through schools and other clubs and societies where the need is recognised. There are currently 1300 boxes in schools and this number is rising.

Olivia has a very open ‘period policy’ in her own home where her children and husband Chris will talk and ask open and honest questions about periods and sanitary products. Olivia believes that this type of communication is important in normalizing periods and that poor communication between parents and children is responsible for part of the problem.

Be it generational or cultural, some parents are embarrassed to talk about periods and therefore young girls are afraid to ask. The great sadness is that this kind of silence may well already represent a significant safeguarding and child protection risk. The Red Box Project is all about reducing the stigma in the long term although Olivia admits, it will take time.

Education is also important. It is estimated that 26% of girls do not know what to do when their periods start. The Red Box Project is very much about opening up the conversation about periods so that these same young girls know that there is support out there. It’s not just about girls either, it is essential to normalize periods by involving boys in this very same conversation.

So how does it work?

The Red Box Project aims to put its boxes in schools and other organisations where girls may be struggling to access sanitary protection elsewhere. The Red Box Project Rugby relies on local donations and there are a number of businesses and other organisations who offer collection points for anyone who would like to donate.

You can get involved by setting up your own collection point or by donating sanitary products via The Red Box. If you work in a school or youth organisation locally, Olivia will happily come in to speak to staff and children about the importance of The Red Box. Olivia is always looking for volunteers to collect and pack up donations. You can even donate your own ‘Red Box’ to the cause.

For those wanting to support The Red Box Project Rugby be sure to follow them on Facebook for a full list of collection points. To contact Olivia Le Poidevin direct, please email redboxprojectrugby@gmail.com

Breathe and Relax – Introducing Calm Space with Jemma

I have been fairly honest about how I’ve been feeling recently and I have become quite disengaged from social media and A Place For Parents.

If I were to describe it in its simplest form, the last few months have felt like one big job interview.

It’s the lump in the throat, heart in the mouth and sickness in the stomach where it often feels like the only option is to bail and go home….where it’s safe.

The trouble is that this job and this interview doesn’t really exist and that for me is what anxiety feels like.

Mental and emotional health is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around for as long as people have. It is involved with all human emotion. Love, empathy, sadness, fear, hate, anger or otherwise. Whilst human beings continue to feel, there will always be the chance those feelings will spill over. We do not have to suffer severe mental illness to feel overwhelmed by life.

As a parent there are many factors to consider. We are treading new ground, even if we’ve walked this way before. Each child brings a new and unique footprint which is fraught with new challenges.

Parenting is exhausting and most of the time we are either running on autopilot or running on empty. I take my hat off to anyone who has it together all of the time but I’ve yet to find that balance.

We don’t always eat well or find time to exercise and it can have a huge impact on our health and well-being. So in the absence of a 2 week child free retreat to the Maldives, where do we seek time away to relax and reboot?

I was invited recently by Jemma Funnell to her new Adult Relaxation class. Jemma has recently launched Calm Space where she works with children and adults to provide a safe and mindful place to relax.

Based in Rugby and following time spent as a Relax Kids practitioner, Jemma has broadened her offer to include relaxation sessions for adults. Her invite to the new Calm Space Adult Relaxation could not have come at a better time.

Calm Space encourages a step away from the pressures of everyday life, a chance to breathe deeply and reflect on our own needs and not just those of our family.

Held at Cawston Community Hall in Rugby, Jemma makes the large relaxation space warm, cosy and condusive to quiet reflection. It’s up to you to switch off.

Jemma is also an advocate for essential oils and the scent diffused across the space supports that sense of health and healing. I took along a couple of fleece blankets and a pillow as suggested, although the space itself was lovely and warm.

The session focuses on breathing techniques and mindfulness, with an emphasis on letting go of the stresses and strains of life, even just for a short period. There is a guided meditation (or Nidra) which allows complete and total relaxation. How I didn’t fall asleep was nothing short of a miracle.

Calm Space is not simply concerned with relaxation, Jemma wants to empower adults and children alike to own their own emotional health and in doing so, take back a sense of renewed control. By providing strategies to reduce stress and anxiety, Jemma offers the tools to cope in a busy and complex world.

During our session, Jemma used an exercise where we were encouraged to connect with other people in the room through a series of empowering statements. The sense of shared purpose felt very strong.

I cannot recommend the session enough, especially if like me you are a slightly frazzled parent. Calm Space Adult Relaxation encourages you to take a little time to focus on yourself, to leave home and family behind for a short period and to breathe and reboot.

Take some time for yourself at one of Jemmas upcoming sessions. You’re mind and body will thank you for it.

Jemmas next session will be held on 14th December, 2018

Find Calm Space on Facebook or contact Jemma on 07968 829404 or by email at jemmafunnell@live.com

I Lost A Baby and I Don’t Understand Why!

I’m not one of those mothers who has suffered a miscarriage and my first baby wasn’t stillborn. I represent a whole different cohort, one where the agonising decision is made to let a baby go.

I have always wondered when and how to tell our tale, to share the journey since our ‘loss’ and to spread hope to those who may be going through a similar experience. It feels like as good a time as any, during Baby Loss Awareness Week to finally open up.

In truth we lost a baby and we don’t understand why.

I completely understand that this is true of many families who suffer either a miscarriage or a stillbirth, the difference is that we made the decision to end the journey and let our baby go.

But to add another layer to this story, we are unique in the fact that we ended a pregnancy where we did not know what was wrong with our baby and here we are, 6 years on and we are STILL none the wiser.

How then could we take the decision to end a pregnancy never fully knowing the reasons why?

I have always understood and advocated the concept of informed choice. I like to have all the facts. When I have each and every one of my ducks in a row, I will generally feel satisfied to proceed.

We married in 2010 and by the following April we were expecting our first baby. We did not struggle to conceive and all seemed fairly straight forward. I did have some fairly innocuous bleeding but was reassured that all was as it should be.

When we attended our 12 week scan however, the first of many alarm bells began to ring. The first hurdle for many women is trying to marry the dates of conception. I was convinced that I was at least a couple of weeks ahead of where our scan revealed I was and in hindsight, it was at this point that the seeds of doubt were sown. A first time Mum will rarely question science or technology but with age has come experience and I would always trust my own head and heart first.

The next few weeks were a series of tiny bleeds and tears. When at 19 weeks on holiday in Portugal I had still failed to feel my baby move, I had a particularly morose outburst. Looking back, I knew something was wrong.

So, on to our 20 week scan or the anomaly scan to give it its full title. It’s important to add that this is not simply a sexing opportunity (although I appreciate that may sound rude) and I have always struggled with the emphasis people put on whether or not a baby is a boy or a girl or whether they should or shouldn’t decide to find out.

The 20 week anomaly scan is the most comprehensive assessment of a healthy pregnancy. It is not a signal to go out and buy blue or pink. I often think they should reconfigure the way we look at scanning in this country and take away the emphasis of male or female. The 20 week scan is where key features are observed and in some cases, huge decisions are made.

‘There’s something wrong with your baby’.

The Sonographer looked ashen which struck me as odd as this must have happened to her before. It was late on a Friday afternoon and as the walls of the scanning room caved in, a sense of silence descended.

Moments later, the silence was replaced with a loud ringing as I remember feeling my heartbeat reverberate around my whole being, echoing a particular kind of devastation and one I had never experienced before. That’s the funny thing about pregnancy, it’s often the fulfilment of a life times wish and when that wish is gone, it all gets a little bit dark.

We had 2 further ‘opinion’ scans where all parties agreed that the key features of their findings did not look good.

There were shortening of all of the long bones, similar to those present with achondraplasia and we later discovered that there were also what appeared to be tiny fractures where each bone joined which would have made movement and motor development impossible. The chambers of the heart were also very small.

To add insult to injury, we were told that there was almost certainly a recessive gene at play and that we would have a 1:4 chance this could happen again. The geneticist spoke with the candour and excitement of a Science Major. She even asked if there was any chance we were related! I am not wholly sure that she may not have been AI.

Sam James Tuckley was born on 14th July, 2011 at 23 weeks gestation following an uneventful induction of labour. He never took a breath.

We made the decision to have a full post mortem comprising a number of different tests and Sams body was finally released for burial in September.

By December, we were told there were no answers and simply to try again.

We now have two ‘rainbow babies’ (live babies who follow the death of an ‘angel’ baby) and although both subsequent pregnancies required frequent and close monitoring, they were both straight forward. Our boys are happy and healthy. They defied the 1:4.

I often think about our journey to this point. I very rarely cry anymore. I do often wonder if they got it wrong but the pragmatist in me will always conclude that Sam was simply preparing us for Rohan and Eben. He made me realise how much I could love someone I’d never met.

The one thing I take away from it all is understanding my own inner strength and the ability to face the hardest of circumstances. When I’m having a bad day I always think is it as bad as that July day in 2011. It never is.

I will be forever changed by Sam James Tuckley but I will always know that although terrible things happen, that I have the strength to move on.

For advice and guidance following a devastating diagnosis there is an organisation called ARC Antenatal Results and Choices who provide support to women and their families.

SANDS are also there for anyone who has suffered miscarriage, stillbirth or pregnancy loss.

Forever Living – Say ‘Hello’ to Aloe

September is always an exciting month. Many liken it to New Year, a time to make resolutions and changes for the colder months ahead.

There is the return to school for children everywhere and a very real opportunity to get a new routine and regimen in place to kick start a healthier and happier autumn and winter.

Thanks to Sara Maxwell at Love Aloe, I had the opportunity to start the season right and to trial a new product, the Aloe Vera Gels from Forever Living available at Love Aloe Limited.

With 40 years experience providing products to boost the health of not only a nation but worldwide, Forever Living provides expertise across the board through the tried and tested health benefits of Aloe Vera.

So what is Aloe Vera?

Aloe, or to use its full name Aloe Barbadensis Miller is plant based and the gel from the inner leaf of the aloe plant is hand harvested and hand filleted for the benefit of general health and wellbeing. Aloe has been used for thousands of years for health and healing.

The aloe harvested by Forever Living is organic and is regulated by the International Aloe Science Council. Forever Living products are not tested on animals at any stage.

Aloe itself is used in providing support for gut and digestive health but is also great for preventing common ailments such as coughs and colds. Aloe contains Vitamin C and can help to boost the immune system and supports cells against oxidative stress.

It can be used directly on the skin for minor burns due to its soothing quality and has benefits for skincare as it is naturally moisturising.

Forever Living products can be used by the whole family and the Aloe Vera Gels much like a daily supplement, give a wide range of benefits.

So why try Forever Aloe Vera Gels?

We are bombarded with health products and the market is saturated with new things to try.

There are supplements everywhere but as Sara strongly advocates, aloe as a completely natural product has made her family healthier and less prone to pesky coughs and colds. Her children haven’t had a day off sick in the time they have been drinking the gels!

We tried the Forever Aloe Berry Nectar and the Forever Aloe Peaches drinking gels. By taking a shot each morning, it is easy to factor them into your daily routine. I also take a supplement of Evening Primrose and Star Flower oil and these can be taken alongside the daily gel shot.

The gels themselves taste delicious. They are naturally viscous due to the high concentration of aloe used to make them. Our 5 year old particularly enjoyed the Forever Aloe Peaches. He would have happily had more than a daily shot.

So what was the verdict?

We really enjoyed the gels and loved the fact that they can be enjoyed by the whole family. Time with the gels was limited but we all agreed the product itself is delicious and easy to factor into your day.

In the short period we had to trial the gels, we took them routinely each morning before having a healthy breakfast.

I feel that the Forever Aloe Gels are very much about forming healthy and regular habits. They support healthy living and will compliment a varied and balanced diet.

For me, the greatest benefit is that by adding a shot of Vitamin C into my diet each day, the long term benefits would be a reduction in oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can affect fertility but is also common in perimenopausal and menopausal women, often affecting psychological wellbeing.

As a sufferer of anxiety since having my children, introducing aloe could have far reaching benefits for me as a mother whilst protecting my family from the stresses and strains of modern life.

I would like to spend more time using the gels but this experience has definitely kick started a renewed understanding and approach to health and well being in our house.

For anyone who would like to know more, Sara Maxwell from Love Aloe Limited provides a full range of Forever Living products to suit your individual and family lifestyle. You can find Sara on Facebook or on Instagram. Forever Living offers a 60 day money back guarantee on all of their products.

Sara is able to offer a two week trial of the drinking gels and she can be contacted by calling 07976 263259

Sara also has a competitive package for anyone who would like to earn extra by selling Forever Living products to others. Her website can be found here

For more information about Forever Living and their products please follow the link here.

Welcome To The School Gate – Reception And A Very Special ‘Rite of Passage’

I’ve written this post for anyone who may be supporting their child into school this week. It comes around so quickly. Before you know it they move from ‘Potty to Playground’.

So how do you survive with your sanity intact? Believe me, after the admissions process, first day nerves are nothing!

Starting school is really special. It’s a passage well trodden by many but it is a journey each of us take in different ways. It is important to remember, your journey is sacred to you and your child and rightly so.

It is often the first time that we fully relinquish the care of our children into the hands of another and in a time of intense over subscription in our primary schools, it is often more about luck than judgement.

It is also when the learning really begins. The reading, the writing, the ‘rithmetic. Everything before this point was leading to this. Time to put down those toys and pick up those pencils.

But seriously, Reception is a wonderful start to school. Your child will continue to learn through play in a way that truly benefits their learning style.

For some though, this first week will be filled with different emotions. There will be parents and children out there this week who, for whatever reason will not have had the liberty of choice when it comes to Infant or Primary Schools. It is a sign of the times and it’s hard. But I’m telling you, it is going to be ok.

I remember our first day. We were second choice and scared to death. We knew no one on the playground and those first few days felt very isolating. There were tears and they did not belong to my son!

They say it takes a village to raise a child. So what if your child is not schooled locally? Where is your ‘village’ then?

It’s important to remember that you won’t be the only one feeling slightly adrift when your child starts school and it’s amazing what a smile and a knowing look will achieve.

Persistence is key. I suggest beating the ‘School Run Mums’ (and Dads) into submission with your sparkling wit and charm. Failing that, offer play dates with coffee and cake or to pick up someone’s kids if they’re running late. A problem shared is a problem halved. Remember, that village is proverbial not geographical!

When you cast your eye over that playground for the first time, you might not realise it straight away, but your tribe may well be waiting.

For us, time changed everything. A whole year on and on the eve of Year 1 we couldn’t be happier with the way in which our eldest has settled. I could not have predicted on that day that I would find my new group.

It’s not the same for everyone. School transition can be a struggle for many children and parents alike. There can also be impenetrable cliques. I would suggest you avoid them at all costs or at least approach with caution.

Being a School Mum or Dad takes a huge leap of faith but the support that is on offer if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone can be nothing short of life saving. I realise that confidence is a preference not a given, but try to feel the fear and do it anyway.

So here for anyone stepping out on the ‘School Run’ for the first time this week, here are my Top 5 tips to surviving starting school:

1. Try to not be influenced by the admissions process. You may not have chosen your child’s school but you should expect that your child will be provided the same core offer and if they are not, why not?

2. Keep communication with school and your child’s class teacher open and transparent. As a parent, no question is a silly question. Ask all the questions.

If you’re child has had a ‘bad day’, you may be summoned for a word but it’s important to see it from both angles. What are school going to do to support you and how can you work together to tackle difficult behaviour?

3. Foster a working relationship with leadership staff. Essentially, organisational change begins at the top. If you need to speak with the Head or Deputy Head, don’t be afraid. If they don’t provide an ‘open door’ policy, it’s important to ask why.

4. It may not be for everyone but you might want to consider joining the PTA or the Board of Governors as a direct way to support the school. Being involved in your child’s school will help you to build confidence with staff and other parents. It can also be a vehicle for change. ‘Parent Power’ should never be underestimated.

5. If your school doesn’t already offer one on its premises, you could try to arrange a coffee morning with other parents.

By regularly meeting with other Mums and Dads, even if you can only manage the local park, it will provide you with a new support network. Information sharing is key when your child starts school, we don’t always have the brain capacity to keep all the dates and events in our heads, so a collective approach is invaluable. Start a Facebook group. Invite new parents and you will immediately make important connections that may last a lifetime.

If like me you find further information helpful, there is also a book you might like to try:

‘What Every Parent Needs to Know: How to Help Your Child Get the Most Out of Primary School’ is by Toby Young and Miranda Thomas and can be found at Amazon

School forms such a large part of our children’s young lives with many remaining in education until 18 (and beyond) so it has to be right for them. If at any point, the process or the offer doesn’t feel fit for purpose it is important to find out why.

For now just enjoy their playground tales. Save the sweat for Year 1 and beyond.

For anyone who has a child starting school this term, I wish you all the best. Make sure you have a tissue or two and a strong drink when it’s all over. Most of all, try to remember that knowing smile, because it’s amazing the support you might gain just by catching another Mothers eye.

Pressure & Parenting – Why Fed Is Actually Best.

As Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2018 draws to a close, in an era of choice and ‘free will’ why are we still dogged by the derision and division that exists over our infant feeding choices?

I have two different experiences of breastfeeding my own children and neither were shaped by public expectation. They were forged and affected by a number of variables in an attempt to provide a sound nutritional footprint for each of my children. They were also designed to protect my own mental health in the process.

My children couldn’t be more different so it stands to reason that the way they were fed as babies would reflect this.

I required very little support to successfully breastfeed. Before I had children I had been a student midwife, maternity support worker and breastfeeding peer support administrator, training women to support other women within their local community. I was extremely lucky to have so much knowledge and for me knowledge was most definitely power.

I breastfed my first baby exclusively for 6 months and then to compliment the introduction of solids until he was a year old.

I also fed him every time he cried, co slept with him for 4 months and was unable to go out for dinner alone with my husband until he was 6 months old.

When baby no. 2 came along I became a combination feeder. Both breast and bottle until he was 8 months old. The decision to do so was influenced by the experience I had gained from having my first, with which came the confidence to not only make this decision but also to communicate it openly to others around me.

I’m not going to lie, breastfeeding can be really hard. It is all consuming and requires the commitment of a saint. During the crucial early days where feeding is being established, it can feel like the hardest job in the world. Combine cluster feeding and chronic fatigue and is it any wonder that people call it a day. Can you honestly blame them? I have seen the despair of a mother in ‘Special Care’ and the disillusionment she feels towards the pathetic yield, gathered after hours of pumping her breasts, desperate and alone whilst her baby remains separated.

There are too many factors that affect breastfeeding for it to be a matter of ‘one size fits all’.

Women continue to feel like they have to provide a cast iron reason to ‘excuse’ why they themselves could not or would not breastfeed and to subsequently wear it like a wound for fear of judgement by others. We should be supporting these women to stick two fingers up in the face of societal pressure. It’s time to say ‘enough is enough’.

I have so much respect for women who care ‘not a jot’ about what others think, those who silently ‘get on with it’ such is there strong faith and belief . We can learn a lot from them but it’s not always that easy.

Mothering is a multi faceted minefield. For many it is fraught with second guessing and doubt. Post natal mental illness does not support positive decision making. It undermines even the most capable and unflappable of women.

It’s interesting also that we have never had so much support, especially online. It takes a simple hashtag to open up a brave new world. The online Mother ‘Hood’ is alive with women looking for like minds.

You can’t swing a cat within your local community without chancing upon a place of solace and solidarity for anyone navigating the early days with a new baby. However, access is key. I chose isolation in the early days and I am not alone. Yes, the support is there if you want it but accessing it with a new baby is not always easy. There are also no specific groups for bottle feeding women due in part to the fallacy that it’s the easy choice. Maybe if we provided ‘Feeding Support’ groups where families could find reliable information about both bottle and breast feeding, we might just start to live in greater harmony together.

I think it’s time that public health agencies and formula milk companies began to work together under robust government statute to provide a safer alternative to breastfeeding for those who for whatever reason do not breastfeed their babies.

It is only then that people will start to feel accepted for the choices they make.

LOVE YOUR LIST – How To Be Super This ‘6 Weeks’

I always set out with the best of intentions. Like the many ‘New Year’ resolutions that have gone before, I will reorganise, reboot and reinvent myself every time there is a new holiday period.

Take maternity leave for example. I had every intention of achieving above and beyond the every day….each and every day.

I would not only have dinner on the table and bleach down the toilet, but would write a novel, lose 4 stone and find a cure for cradle cap. I wanted to settle for nothing less than ‘Super’ with maybe a little ‘Marie Kondo’ thrown in for good measure.

As it turns out, I managed good enough….not ‘Super’ at all! That’s the thing about parenting. The chronic fatigue alone makes everything just a little less achievable and with the unrelenting responsibility of the day to day, it’s no surprise that when it comes down to the extra curricular, we often can’t be arsed.

I only have to glance my calendar for this Summer and I need a lie down. However, in reality until I achieve the holy grail of working term time only, it is up to me to ensure the holiday machine is a well oiled one.

So where to start. I tell myself everytime that this one is going to be different and if I tell myself that at least a hundred times a day, I might just believe it.

Like so many, I love a good list but I am also really good at ignoring most of the things on one. I have pathological demand avoidance especially when it comes to house work and I don’t ‘do’ ironing piles. I will conveniently use my children as an excuse for my tardiness. When baby naps, I nap too!

Like many ‘list lovers’ out there, I like the possibilities that lists conjure. You can write anything on a list without any hope or agenda for achieving it. They are a mythical memoir brought to life by bullet points and highlighter pens. They don’t always achieve what you set out to do!

So why should this year be any different? When you are innately a little bit rubbish when it comes to keeping it all together, especially with the kids, how do you change your ways and become a little more motivated?

For me, it has never been more necessary. Combining work and family and doing both to the best of my ability has always been my end game. It’s just sometimes felt a little unrealistic.

So why is my new ‘Summer list’ going to be any different. Because for my own sanity, it needs to be. I could just be ‘good enough’, but in all honesty I’m striving for even better.

World Peace and an end to the ‘plastic problem’ might not make the list this Summer as all too often my lists are unachievable, filled to the brim with a fictional picture of how things will be.

This Summer, realism is key. I will clean the bathroom at least once and wipe the microwave now and again. The ‘tricky words’ in readiness for Year 1 will take priority and a trip to the dentist will be on the cards.

I have always said that my children are my life project and this Summer will be no different.

Mess, milestones and memories! We will fill a scrapbook with good intentions and hope for the best.

Cold Spaghetti and Custard – Why I Don’t Like Messy Play!

On a good day I might count myself as a half decent parent…I may even be on occasion, better than OK.
However, I may also be the greatest hypocrite ever.
I have lived a lie for longer than I care to admit and I feel the time has come to make my confession and repent.

I hate MESSY PLAY!

With a vengeance.
I view it quite frankly as no better than a pastime for the Devil.
Messy Play leaves me colder than a vat of cornflour.

The worst of it is though is that I should know better. I’ve worked in Child Development for the last 7 years and for a long time was that annoying ‘witch of a woman’ who frowned upon anyone who wasn’t willing to pour jelly over their Axminster or let their child Sharpie their way across the living room walls.

I really was a pain in the arse and quite frankly the most judgemental of prigs…..
I now cringe at the thought.

So why do I despise this most developmental of activities?

Having recently visited a Messy Play session I can only describe it as stealth training for pre-schoolers. Think ‘Fun House’ meets ‘Ninja Warrior’ with a dash of ‘Swashbuckle’ thrown in and you have yourselves a very accurate description.

There were toddlers slip sliding everywhere.

Now don’t get me wrong, I admire anyone who takes part in these activities especially those who do so with gusto. Let it be said that for some, there is nothing quite as adorable as a baby coated in rolled oats. I on the other hand am not quite so sentimental.

It’s not just our thoughts either. What are the kids making of all this?
It’s difficult to gauge the true level of ‘fun’ experienced by a preschooler who isn’t yet able to articulate their own name let alone a desire for shaving foam.

Infants and children alike tend to present as if in a suspended state of shock when thrust into a tray of cold pasta…..a look often seen only when passing an uncomfortable amount of wind or a very large turd. Delight is not an adjective that I would use to describe a room full of wet children.
Dismay would be closer to the mark….

So why then do we continue to do it? To subject our children to the slap and tickle of all these smells and squelches.

Because developmentally it forges the basis of almost each and every early milestone.
It supports exploration, discovery and extends curiosity.
It challenges and stimulates each and every sense.
It makes children less fussy about food and more likely to embrace the outdoors.
Messy Play supports communication, interaction and role play.

The fact that I don’t like it is therefore (and quite annoyingly) invalid. Children need Messy Play like they need exercise and fresh air.

So how do we facilitate it without complete recoil or the need for goggles and waders?

The answer is, you can’t.

You can endeavour to contain it with infants by playing only in the highchair, sink or bath but once they progress to crawling and subsequently walking, you can expect to find your house covered from top to bottom in food colouring and flour.

Let’s face it, those viral YouTube videos, the ones with a slightly menacing toddler sat in the middle of a ‘Sudocream’ smeared living room is just one example of a well meaning parent and a messy play session gone wrong.

You might as well face it, unless you own a Peter Storm and a pair welding goggles its probably best to step away and leave it to the professionals.

So to all you lovers of Messy Play, I salute you.
What can I say? The admiration I have for you is real. You are the kind of parent I endeavour to be.

….Except when you’re covered in custard. That’s where I draw the line.

Keep Calm & Carry On – Surviving Primary School Admissions.

I have written at length about Primary School Admissions. I have tried to provide balance. However, owing to the amount of sleepless nights and long conversations that followed our primary school offer, I should be forgiven for being at times a little bitter and frustrated.

This post is different. This post is about hope and this post is for anyone who currently cannot see the woods for the trees following Primary School Offer Day 2018.

The last 12 months have been a learning curve. A lesson in many things. In patients, tolerance but mostly it has shown us that we, as parents are truly motivated by our children.

The human spirit is complex. It will withstand heavy pressure but as they say what doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger and the last 12 months have been no exception.

My previous post about the school admissions process can be found here and I would hope that anyone who will be applying in the future might find it useful.

However, it’s time to move on and for anyone who currently has that dark cloud above them on learning that they haven’t got the place they wanted…..stick with me, it really isn’t the end of the world.

I have approached this post in two ways which may or may not confuse you but please hear me out, there is a method to this.

Following a failed appeal it is important to highlight that we chose the school Rohan now attends. It was not on our original short list and for us this was an important step. We regained control of an otherwise authoritarian process and returned decisions about schooling back to where they belonged, with us.

Following our decision to accept a completely different school altogether after being given a list of schools that had available places, we decided that we would remove Rohan from all of the remaining waiting lists. I ordered beautifully embroidered school uniform, wrote out individual name tags and stood and ironed every single one on in turn (helpful note, please don’t use iron on labels, they are crap and will only jam the filter in your washing machine).

I will point out, we chose a school which had in the past had an appalling reputation. There were many eye rolls and sharp intakes of breath when I informed other parents of our decision. Even the head teacher agreed that the school had previously felt a little like Beirut. But I felt sure it was the right decision and I still do. This is not about Ofsted, this is about health and happiness.

So let me explain as this is where my post becomes two pronged.

Since Rohan was born he has been educated. All be it with building blocks and Lego but we have for the past 5 and a bit years, put in place the foundations on which he now learns.

When you apply for that school place, it is only part of that jigsaw puzzle. The formal education that your child receives in school is what will get them a job but it’s the holistic education that you provide for them at home that will give them a ‘calling’. The reason being that we are able to invest the time that school can’t. Don’t get me wrong, if they choose Law or Medicine, school will help but if it’s to be a Juggler or DJ, home is where it happens.

We are extremely lucky with Rohans school that there is a culture of open communication. An ‘open door’ policy that I have not seen in many schools. It’s essential as a parent that access is not limited to occasional Parents Evenings and PTA.

When you enter that school system, whether you choose it or not, you have to see it as a necessary process. It’s the law! But as much as on paper we want our children’s schools to be outstanding, it’s important to remember that you are in fact their most important teacher.

I’m not saying sack off school and teach at home but it’s important to understand that your role is much more than simply feeding, clothing and occasionally taking them swimming. The power you have to make a difference in their future is staggering and you don’t even need a teaching degree. You need to make the investment though and I don’t mean in monetary terms, this is where your time is no longer your own.

It’s about anticipating your child’s needs and responding to them. It’s understanding the level at which they are and elevating them to the next. It’s about understanding their desires and giving them wings.

I think school provides a safe base for exploring the world. It provides social opportunities that are unrivalled. It teaches boundaries and responsibilities. It encourages belonging beyond family and is essential for growth.

School is important but raising confident and capable children begins at home.

If you are going through the admissions process at the moment or you will be applying in the future, it is important to remember that school is just one part of the whole of tomorrow.

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‘Some are born guilty, others have guilt thrust upon them’. Is ‘Mum Guilt’ a thing?

This post is slightly impromptu. It may even be a little impulsive but like all good parenting blogs, if I’m able get it off my chest it might halve the problem for someone else in the future.

We joke about ‘Mum Guilt’ and as it stands, I don’t think there is currently a version for Dads.

So is it a thing?

In a word…..yes but it strikes me that ‘Mum Guilt’ is just another thing to be anxious about. It comes in many guises and in my experience is often irrational and overinflated.

So what exactly is it?

The guilt we feel as a Mum (or indeed as a parent) is often influenced by the pressure and expectation that we place upon ourselves. It will occur when you feel you may have let your child or yourself down. It can be inferred by others but more often than not, it is self inflicted.

It occurs when we care very deeply about those that we love.

My own feelings of guilt are often fleeting. I’m fairly good at ‘having a word’ with myself when there is a crisis of confidence. I will talk it through with my nearest and dearest and I may even procrastinate at length in private until I reach a point where whatever I felt initially loses momentum and common sense prevails.

Feeling bad as a parent is often par for the course. Right from the start we want to be great at the job but like everything, we won’t always get it right. In the same way that maternal mental health does not present as ‘one size fits all’, anxiety following the birth of a child is often a complex thing. I believe ‘Mum Guilt’ is a by product of the anxiety we experience.

Then there will be those times when others plant a seed of doubt which has the potential for far greater impact. When someone questions the job that you are doing and there is no retort in that moment that will constructively dismiss their concerns, it is then that we are left to over think our actions. It is not until much later that we will finally rationalise the situation and conclude that we weren’t actually in the wrong at all. But it’s then that the damage is done.

It has much to do with parenting and care styles. We do not all follow the same path and where there are no clear right or wrong answers, there will always be the risk of conflict.

I would describe myself as a ‘people pleaser’. I don’t like hostility and I evade confrontation at all cost. Please don’t get me wrong, I do have strong opinions as I hope my writing would suggest but it is not to the detriment or distress of others. I will never write posts that will specifically target or offend people unnecessarily. It is not in my nature.

The reason being? I hurt deeply when I am criticised, especially when it comes to my children or indeed my work. The very thought that someone might think I don’t care for my children or the way I conduct myself with others in public is where my weakness lies. We all need validation, it’s what makes us feel able to do the job.

I often wish I didn’t care so much about what others think of me though now I’ve reached 40 I’m pretty sure it’s part of who I am.

I will however always be grateful that I care not only for my children but for those I come into contact with. I will not apologise for investing every bead of sweat and every tear into this journey and I will weather the storm of ‘Mum Guilt’ if only to see the sunshine on the other side.

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