Thursday, 20 September 2018


LittleBear has, as I believe I have commented, certain foibles. He doesn't like stories, or films, or uncertainty, or peril. His teachers have observed his tendency to retreat into himself, or even put his hands over his ears and sit shaking his head to block out a film if they show them such a thing at school as a treat. My poor poppet.

This term, one of their topics is "Twisted Tales", in which they consider variations on traditional fairy tales - such as Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. So far, LittleBear has been enjoying it. He even watched, and enjoyed a puppet show. So far, so good.

On my way into school today to collect him, the Headmaster was standing on the gate. He gazed at me earnestly and asked, "Are you OK?" Now, I know I'm pretty tired at the moment, but I began to wonder if there was something more obviously amiss with me. Did I really look that bad? And then... it got worse....

"I had to take Little Bear aside to have a word with him today,"

Oh dear. Oh no. What has my Bear done?

"It was about the Wolf."

At this point, the Headmaster had temporarily lost me, because I'd forgotten a conversation I'd had with LittleBear's teacher last week. I told you I was tired.

"I let him know that it was going to be me dressed as the Wolf. I know he's sensitive, and I didn't want him to be scared, so I told him beforehand that it would be me, and gave him a wink when I came in."

My heart melted.

In a school of three hundred children, the Headmaster knows and cares that one small boy is easily worried, and he made sure to let him know who would be inside the costume of the Big Bad Wolf so that he wouldn't be scared. It's hard to imagine a lovelier environment for my baby to be at school.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Sleep OR food

I have written, with perhaps tedious monotony, about the importance of never, ever mentioning that your child sleeps well. It is a maxim that applies almost equally well to discussing any aspect of your darling snowflake's behaviour of which you are unaccountably proud. The moment that you inform someone that your child eats well, or is never car-sick, or loves going to their swimming lessons, or always undoes their shoes before taking them off*, you will be damned, because they will immediately start doing the opposite.

You can imagine, therefore, the trepidation with which I wrote about LittleBear's New Adventures In Food. You can understand also why I had remained utterly silent on the subject of sleep, because I had (at the time) nothing bad to say about a child who was going to bed at 8pm and remaining incommunicado until past 7am.

"But PhysicsBear!" I hear you cry, "Now you've really put the kibosh on things!"

Alas, no, my friends, for the kibosh has already been well and truly put.

In the past two weeks we have had nightmares, and night terrors, and bizarre fears of a "spooky thing in my bedroom". We have had too much light, and not enough light, and a strange need for Mummy to do something about the fact that a small boy is feeling a bit too warm in the middle of the night. We have barely managed a night without a crisis of some form or another.

Even my colleagues have started to comment on the fact that I look like death warmed up as I crawl to work. Because the real joy of being woken by my son at 1:30am is not the waking up; it's the lying awake for an hour or two (or three if I'm feeling really special) waiting to see if he calls out for me again. Because my brain loves me like that.

Meanwhile, despite my happy comments that LittleBear is trying new food, and despite the probability that this would immediately jinx things... he has, in fact, continued to try new food. He has happily eaten galettes au chou, his eyes have lit up with glee on discovering the joy of properly crisp pork crackling, he has demolished cheese and bacon pancakes. He has asked to try pesto, and gnocchi, and spring rolls. More excitingly, he has simply eaten some of the new experiments, without objection, even when he's said they're only "OK". I still can't quite get over how exciting this all is.

However, I now have a new Theory Of Children. 

In the past, I had happily accepted that some children sleep well, and some children eat unfussily, and for the most part it's outside your control. What I have gradually come to notice is that these two states are mutually exclusive. You can have sleep, or you can have food, but you can't have both. This has broadly been true across my friends - if there were any who had children who ate everything and slept well, they very sensibly kept quiet.

We currently have food, but we do not have sleep.

I've enjoyed the episode of eating things, but actually, in retrospect, if I had a choice, I'd choose sleep.

Are you listening LittleBear?

* Seriously, does any child do this?

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Plus ca change...

Well, this time, to my bemusement, plus ca change, plus ca change.

For various reasons, LittleBear's school's kitchen is out of commission for the next few weeks, and so he is having a packed lunch every day. But I was Firm Mummy, and informed him sternly that he would absolutely, definitely, and with no question, be returning to school lunches as soon as they were back on offer. And then, because I was tired, I started getting even more firm about trying new foods again and not leaving everything at school when lunches re-start.

I've tried a new approach lately, explaining to LittleBear that not liking new food is completely normal, and a perfectly safe way for a cave-man's brain to behave. New could be poisonous, and so is not to be trusted. But he's not a cave-man, and he has to keep trying food until the cave-man inside him is satisfied that it's not poisonous. So now, when he says he doesn't like something - frequently something he hasn't tried - I can simply tell him not to let the cave-man win. So far, it hasn't worked at all, but because there's nothing quite like banging one's head against a brick wall, I've stuck with it as my explanation in the hope that he might actually believe me.

Back to the old favourite through - insisting that LittleBear try some new things. We wrote a list together. Actually, we wrote three lists, titled "Good", "OK" and "New". I was pleasantly surprised by how many perfectly good meals there were in the "Good" column. And there were a handful of things in the "OK" column; things he hadn't actually spat out last time he tried them, or were made entirely of ingredients he already likes. And the "New" column included some variations on a theme that he might tolerate.

So, last night, as well as cooking his old favourite of pasta-and-vegetables-with-cheese, I provided a small ramekin of pasta with a smidgeon of passata and herbs, and a tranche of grated cheese. In previous times, this would have led to LittleBear ignoring the new food, or tasting a microscopic quantity, all the while tucking his head into his shoulders like a scared tortoise and heading towards tears. You can see why we don't try this often can't you? This time, however, he ate the entire pot and agreed that it was "OK" and that if he had no other choice, he'd certainly eat it. I nearly fell off my chair.

Almost overwhelmed by the novelty of LittleBear's approach, I was utterly unprepared for this evening. I offered Little Bear a choice of a couple of his old favourites for dinner - it had been the first day back at school after all. What did he do? He said, "Can I try a new thing from the list tonight?" And he promptly collected the list and we chose something from it. Pea and asparagus risotto. Not hugely different to that which has gone before on the surface, rice with vegetables being a definite favourite. But this was made with risotto rice, not long grain, and the rice was cooked in stock, and therefore the whole thing has a new flavour, and a new texture and other challenging and exciting things. LittleBear ate the whole bowlful. And said he loved it and wanted to have it again. And then he asked to try something new tomorrow as well.

I honestly don't know what's just happened.

I suspect I may wake up soon and discover it was all a dream.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Accidental parenting genius

Yesterday, with a week left to go until the start of the new school year, I took LittleBear shopping for his new school shoes. This was, I admit, a rookie error. The last week before school, in a shoe shop, is somewhere between the First Circle of Hell (Limbo) and the Seventh (Violence). When we entered the shop, it was not actually possible to approach the shelves to even see the children's shoes through the seething mass of humanity and the precariously balanced towers of rejected shoes. Verily, I had chosen poorly.

Shoe shops are, blessedly, wise to the school-shoe-buying season, and not only have a numbered queuing system, but they also write down a description of the child* in question so that if, over the screaming hubbub inside the shop, a whimpering parent misses the call for number twelve thousand, seven hundred and ninety-two to approach the counter, they can still be found.

We were only ninth in the queue when we entered the shop, with an estimated twenty-five minutes to wait.

Twenty-five minutes with a bored and tired six year old who has already been dragged round a bed shop for his mother to try out mattresses. The omens were not good.

But then, oh joy! Oh rapture! Oh blessed gods and goddesses who have smiled upon me! I had a pack of playing cards in my handbag. And there was a spare corner of a bench for us to perch upon. So perch we did, and spent a surprisingly happy time playing cards while other mothers gazed on bearing expressions that were an extraordinary mixture of surprise, envy, hatred and desperation. I promised one of them who was already a further 8 places behind us in the queue that we'd choose our shoes as fast as possible. It was the least I could do. If the cards hadn't been LittleBear's very favourite, crested, Burnley Football Club cards, I might have donated them to the queue for The Greater Good. But even my compassion has its limits when it comes to my boy and his football team.

To compound my joy, the shop had shoes that fitted my son's (inherited) wide, spatula feet, and he liked the first pair he tried on.

From the jaws of catastrophe we snatched triumph. By accident.

* Mine was described as "Blue-spotted ribbontail ray", because unsurprisingly, he was the only child in the shop clutching a cuddly cartilaginous fish. Which probably makes the derangement that went into buying it worthwhile.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Different day; different boy

After last week's catastrophic holiday club, I stayed home with my poppet on Friday, and to my immense surprise did in fact manage to get a couple of hours work done while he made a den (using every pillow, duvet and cushion in the house); built some lego and watched television. It felt like a major step forward, heralding the possibility that next summer we will be able to make more use of Working From Home and less use of Forking Out Huge Sums For Holiday Club. Not that there are that many aspects of building mass spectrometers that can be undertaken at home, but there's frequently a tedious manual that needs to be written, or something equally scintillating.

This week, we once again pieced things together with BigBear taking a day off, me taking a couple of days off and LittleBear being booked in for two days of holiday club.

I was not as worried about this as regular readers might suppose, given my ability to worry about anything and everything. Because, this is not any old holiday club, this is a football camp, run by the local professional football club. And if there is one thing that LittleBear loves more than he loves anything else, possibly even including his parents, is football. What is more, LittleBear's adored friend J was also going to said football camp. (My one bit of good holiday planning.)

I even made a plan with J's mother to attempt to arrive at the same time as each other, to avoid excessive distress and panic (I'm not sure whether J's mother suggested this to avoid distress and panic on my part, or on LittleBear's part, but it was kind of her either way.)

It turns out that synchronised arrival was unnecessary. LittleBear walked into the hall, saw J, and was off - running up and down, squealing with excitement, chasing the football, chasing J, utterly oblivious to me. I did get a goodbye, of sorts, and a cursory hug, but I was largely irrelevant within less than a second of arrival.

It's hard to believe he was the same boy as the one who was sobbing and clinging to me, begging me not to leave, less than a week ago...

Thursday, 16 August 2018

I just want to be with you

It's been a few weeks since I've written anything. And that's because we've been on holiday to the 1950s. Almost. We've actually been to the family cottage that doesn't have a television, radio, internet connection or (on this occasion, courtesy of those lovely people at BT) a telephone for a period of time. So we had to make our own entertainment, which turns out to be much easier than in used to be. Approximately seventeen times a day, BigBear and I exchanged words or looks that more or less boiled down to, "do you remember what horrifically hard work it was being on holiday here with a six-month old? Isn't this better?"

But, to put your minds at rest, I'm not going to bore you all with how lovely my holiday was, and how much fun it's now possible to have with a six-and-a-half year old. I may come back to that.

Instead, I'm going to draw you inexorably into the downside of coming home, and of finding ways to get one small boy and two working parents through the remaining three and a half weeks of school holidays.

In a frenzy of organisation last term I managed to make plans for LittleBear to attend a few days here and there of various holiday clubs, interspersed with BigBear and I both taking days off work. I also have the luxury of working 22.5 hours a week and being allowed to fit that in however I want (within reason). During term time that equates to 4.5 hours a day, and being able to collect LittleBear from school every day. During the holidays it equates to three normal-length working days, during which BigBear stays at home for one day, and LittleBear goes to some club or other for two days. Simple really, isn't it?

This week started reasonably well - LittleBear went to holiday club on Monday, and came home chirpy and hungry; he stayed home with BigBear on Tuesday and me on Wednesday. So, without a care in the world, off we went to holiday club today. Admittedly, LittleBear was a little tired, having woken in the night (unusually for him), but I didn't think there was anything particularly amiss.

And then we arrived at holiday club, and after helping him hang his bag and coat up and put his lunch where he could find it, I found a small paw had snuck its way into my hand and I looked down to find a tear-streaked face gazing up at me.

"I just want to be with you Mummy," he whispered.

I crouched down to see what was wrong, and a pair of soft arms wrapped themselves round my neck and a damp face pressed itself against mine to whisper again and again, "I just want to be with you."

There seemed to be nothing I could do to reassure or calm my little boy. He was adamant that he would be sad, and that there was nothing that he wanted to do or play with, he just wanted to come home with me. It didn't matter that I wasn't going home, there was no rational thought in my baby's desperate insistence that he be with me, he was just distraught. His face grew red and blotchy as the tears kept falling, and he clung to me, even when I sat on the floor beside him to try and help him start on an activity. It was like being back at nursery again, where every single day for four years, he would cling to me and beg me to stay. At least at nursery we escaped tears most of the time, and at least at nursery I was confident that within five minutes he'd be charging around having fun and would have forgotten all about me.

This time, where I didn't know any of the staff, and LittleBear only had one classmate (not one of his particular friends, just A Girl He Knows) I was not at all confident that he would perk up. But after over half an hour of comforting, cajoling and jollying without making any progress, I finally had to bite the bullet and leave. I left a little face, gazing over the shoulder of one of the leaders, waving forlornly at me as I left.

I drove to work in floods of tears, wondering, as I so often do, whether I'd made the wrong decision. Whether I should have just said "sod it" to work, and scooped my baby up and taken him home. Would that have reassured him (and me) that I would look after him, no matter what? Or would it merely have damaged any hope of him ever finding a way to cope with new situations? I can't protect him from everything; I can't remove him from every situation that he doesn't like; I can't allow him to avoid everything he's not in the mood for. But how much distress is too much? How far can I allow his stress and anxiety to go before I step in and say, "enough"?

The answer is, I'll never know. I made today's decision today, and there's no undoing it now. I spent the day at work distracted, distressed, stressed and unhappy. I'm not sure I was either a very nice person to work with, or a very productive employee. I left early to collect my baby and found him happily playing football with his favourite leader (who wasn't there this morning). He had apparently continued crying in the morning, but cheered up and been absolutely fine in the afternoon. He didn't even seem in a particular hurry to come home. And he was absolutely caked in mud, which can only be a good thing.

High tide marks for the socks

I've cancelled tomorrow morning's session at holiday club. I'm going to work from home instead. I've explained to LittleBear that he must play with lego, or do colouring or junk modelling or whatever he wants without me helping in the morning. He says that's fine because, "I'll be able to come over and sneak a cuddle now and then won't I?"

Of course you will my darling boy, of course you will.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Confidence... too much and not enough

Every now and then I bemoan the fact that my son is just like me (and just like his father). When he tucks his head down against his shoulder and hides behind my skirt, saying, "You ask them Mummy," or "You tell them Mummy," rather than being able to talk to a friend or teacher directly, my heart sinks and I wonder if he will ever break free from the nature and nurture that I have foist upon him.

And then, there's the flip-side. His utterly excessive physical confidence. His complete faith that he could, should and will be able to achieve anything he attempts, be it scoring a goal with an overhead scissor kick, or climbing Scafell Pike (neither of which MeanMummyBear is letting him attempt just yet). Which brings us to the final swimming lesson of term, in which all the children were lined up on the edge of the pool and presented with a hypothetical dilemma...

Teacher: Imagine that this summer, while out playing with your friends, on a really, really hot day, one of them suggests that you jump into a lake to cool down. What do you say?

Child 1: No

Child 2: No

Child 3: No

Child 4: No

LittleBear: (with glee) Yes!

Teacher: Really? Even without your parents there?

LittleBear: Yes!

At this point, from my position poolside, behind the children, my hands are clutched to my head, which I am shaking from side to side, my eyes wide in disbelief, while the other parents laugh mercilessly at me.

LittleBear turns to look at me, delighted with himself, only to receive the stern imprecation, "No, not ever, never, under any circumstances, definitely not." And he looked genuinely bewildered.

Needless to say, both Teacher and I exerted ourselves to impress upon LittleBear the importance of Not Jumping In Lakes Without Mummy.

And maybe one day we'll navigate ourselves towards some sensible middle ground, where LittleBear is sufficiently confident he can speak to people, but sufficiently cautious he doesn't risk life and limb at every opportunity. Which would be nice.