Thursday, 31 December 2015

Pretentious? Moi?

I have received, for Christmas, perhaps the most splendidly, awesomely, gloriously pretentious bottle of gin it has ever been my pleasure to meet. My lovely friend Piglet gave it to me (and had bought it before even reading about what I wanted for Christmas).

It is The Botanist, and even the bottle is a work of art. Completely clear glass, with raised lettering front and back listing each of the 22 botanical ingredients. In Latin. And they're not just any old botanical ingredients, oh no, these are hand foraged botanicals. And I suspect I may well feel more than a bit foraged* after consuming some of it.

Apparently, this is a lovingly hand-crafted, artisanal, small-batch, labour of the distiller's art. And it's distilled at one of my favourite distilleries - Bruichladdich on the isle of Islay. That's right, it's Scottish Gin.

What's more it's "a gin as much for the mind as for the palate. A thinking person's gin. A rollercoaster botanical odyssey in a glass." My mind will get back to you on the veracity of that statement later. I told you it was pretentious. And I haven't even finished yet. Apparently "the aromas explode like an olfactory Aurora Borealis filling the senses with meteorites of smell sensations as they explode from the glass." BigBear says the pretension is making his hackles rise. I say he's not joining in the spirit of it all (geddit?)

But what does it actually taste like? I hear you cry. I don't know yet. I have a cold that's making my head ache, my nose run, my throat sore and making me want to curl up in bed by 8pm. The very last thing I want at the moment is gin. However, I shall leave you with two positive thoughts about which I can feel thankful as we roll into 2016...

1. I have a friend who knows me so well, and is so lovely, that she is able to buy me the very thing that I asked for without even knowing that I'd asked for it.

2. It's six days after Christmas and I still have a completely full bottle of awesome gin left unopened.

* A note for readers unfamiliar with all aspects of vernacular British English - it has been observed that almost any verb will served to indicated intoxication when uttered with the right emphasis and in the right context. For example, "we went out last night and got completely badgered"; or perhaps ,"it was Bill's farewell drinks and he was utterly curtained"; or even "The groom was totally turniped at the wedding and forgot his speech". Try it yourself, almost any word will do.  "Foraged" seems like a perfect addition to this canon in the circumstances.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Second Christmas

What do you mean you don't have Second Christmas? Next you'll be telling me you don't know about Second Breakfast either. Doesn't everyone get home from Christmas with their in-laws and launch into a full-scale repeat with another section of family?

To be fair... it wasn't exactly full-scale. There were only me, BigBear, LittleBear and GrannyBear. And the only presents were from, ah, yes, well, my whole family and various friends, so LittleBear had another huge pile of presents. And we didn't have roast turkey. We had roast duck. But I did take advantage of it being several days after Christmas, so I bought lots and lots of yummy food, and crackers and other Christmas treats all massively discounted. Top tip folks - buy your crackers now and put them in the attic for next year!

It was a marginally chaotic day, what with me having failed to let GrannyBear know that we'd safely escaped from The Floods in Lancashire, so she thought we weren't at home and had gone back to bed to nurture her cold. When she then discovered we were home, she rashly got up and drove straight here, skipping breakfast. Yes, I do get it from somewhere.

I managed to dispatch LittleBear and BigBear to the cattery to retrieve the Idiot Furball, and in the hour that it takes to do that, I managed to... find enough space in the spare room for GrannyBear to sleep. I really must remember to at least try to keep that room accessible and not use it as a general dumping ground into which to shovel all the detritus in the house the night before the cleaner is due to come. The Idiot Furball has been miaowing incessantly and vociferously ever since. He picks up bad habits at the cattery.

Once we had retrieved the Idiot Furball and GrannyBear had arrived on the doorstep, snuffling, tired and hungry, I would like to say that the day calmed down somewhat. But I have a four-year old, a deranged cat and a poorly mother, so of course it didn't. However, I did manage to insert lunch into all of them, then persuade LittleBear that yes he was going to snuggle up with Daddy for stories while GrannyBear napped and Mummy got things ready for dinner.

GrannyBear duly curled up on the sofa while I prepared braised red cabbage, potatoes for roasting and duck for roasting. Snoring soon emanated from the sofa. The Idiot Furball curled up behind the television and BigBear read books about sharks and whales to LittleBear for an hour (hooray for BigBear!) I even managed to squeeze in ten minutes with my book before everyone emerged and it was Present Time II: More Presents.

Just as it would be nice to claim we had a calm afternoon, I'd like to claim that present opening went smoothly. However, LittleBear's life was almost ruined by the fact that he only received one more dinosaur toy, and this meant he would never, ever, ever get another carnotaurus. Yes, really. Never mind the fact that he also received a fossil-excavating kit with replica velociraptor fossil; a dinosaur t-shirt; a dinosaur fleece; a dinosaur colouring book; a dinosaur board-game and (outrageously) some really, really cool non-dinosaur presents. So we had to have a little chat about being grateful for the presents he was given and not demand more or different presents. I know, I know, he's only four, but being confronted by that level of self-interest and ingratitude actually made me really uncomfortable. So we had tears. And snot. And flailing. And threats not to play with us tomorrow. And more tears.

On the plus side, the roast duck was lovely. Not that LittleBear ate any of it, obviously.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Dinosaur Top Trumps

Dinosaur Top Trumps really does exist, so naturally it was one of the things that arrived in LittleBear's stocking this Christmas*. The features that are classified in this particular version of the game are:

Killer rating

Our first few runs of the game involved sorting the cards into piles of carnivores and herbivores and then assigning all the herbivores to muggins here, and the carnivores to LittleBear. Because herbivores are just not cool. Except the really, really big ones. And LittleBear got those ones too. Then we each took it in turns to read out all the features of our current dinosaur, thus allowing LittleBear to select which category he would win in. After playing in this manner for a while, LittleBear had memorised enough details about all the dinosaurs that we could move on to a more sophisticated game. This version allowed us each to announce the name of our dinosaur, and LittleBear would have a good idea of which category to select to be able to win. He won.

But we didn't need to limit ourselves to the game as described on the box. We tried other things too. For instance, BigBear and LittleBear arranged all the cards in order from least intelligent (Stegosaurus, Intelligence 1/10) up to most intelligent (Stenonychosaurus, Intelligence 10/10). Somewhat rashly, I inquired where LittleBear might think I lay on the dinosaur intellect spectrum... It turns out I rate somewhere between Iguanadon (6/10) and Suchomimus (7/10). So that's a 6.5/10 for me on the D-IQ scale. I was a little disappointed, I have to admit.

The D-IQ scale

Then we asked LittleBear where he would place himself and his Daddy on this scale. That was a revelation. Not entirely positive (for Bigbear that is).

BigBear indicates his assigned location on the D-IQ scale

That's right. LittleBear assesses his father's intellectual capabilities as less than that of a Stegosaurus, scoring him at a stellar 0/10. He hides his idiocy well I have to say. It made me feel a lot better about being ranked only slightly more intelligent than an Iguanadon.

LittleBear's assessment of his own brilliance was, however, well, brilliant.

LittleBear declares his own brilliance

LittleBear did indeed declare himself off the scale in D-IQ terms. Somewhere beyond a couple of penguins who'd accidentally wandered onto the field of play. At a conservative estimate he appeared to rank himself as a solid 14/10. I'm not sure whether this is the point at which I start worrying about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or just shrug my shoulders and say "hmph, 4-year olds".

Out of curiosity, feeling I had nothing left to lose, I asked where Granny-, Grandma- and Grandad-Bear would rank. GrandmaBear and GrandadBear received solid Iguanadon ratings (6/10), while GrannyBear pipped the rest of us to the post with a very creditable Gallimimus (7/10).

So there we are. Life through the lens of a four-year old. He rules the roost, his Granny is the only one who comes close to being his intellectual equal, and she's (literally) a half-wit by comparison, while his father is little better than a vegetable. I think I wish I hadn't asked.

* It turns out that, despite LittleBear's carefully considered worries about Father Christmas' ability (a) to find us when we weren't at home and (b) to find his way into a house with no chimney, it turns out he managed to get in nonetheless.

** Not actual age, I don't think the authors of the game checked with Pachycephalosaurus when his birthday was. It appears to mean how long ago they lived (in millions of years).

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas in numbers

I have been on the go almost constantly since a small body launched itself on top of me and declared "It's Christmas and I really need a wee!" It's been a busy, fun, hectic day with 4 children under 11. Everyone has been fed, watered and provided with a plentiful sufficiency of presents. I've even had the chance to Skype my lovely, lovely cousin KoalaBear (she's in Australia, what do you expect me to call her?) and BrotherBear, with GrannyBear lurking in the background while the BearCousins waved their favourite new toys at me.

And I have a super-duper splendid new little laptop that I can write all my random burblings on without half-inching BigBear's laptop. Yes, you're right, BigBear did give it to me. No, of course there was no ulterior motive, it was because he loves me. He told me so.

And since it seems too hard to try and condense today into anything particularly coherent, especially after a few glasses of wine, I shall instead condense it into a numerical summary:

0... fights, fallings out, fractious words or fisticuffs

1... extremely happy, extremely excited, extremely tired LittleBear

1.5... hours spent playing in bed with spinosaurus, bunny and a head-torch before getting up

2... new toy dinosaurs (Spinosaurus and Giganotosaurus, since you ask)

3... cousins to play with

4... hours LittleBear managed to contain himself before being able to open his Christmas presents

5... new books to read (for me)

10... people round the table for lunch

12... hours LittleBear kept going without rest, pause or relief before finally collapsing into bed.

13... hours LittleBear kept going without rest, pause or relief before finally falling asleep.

15.5... pounds of turkey

39... roast potatoes (all eaten)

53... brussel sprouts (not all eaten)

60... hours of extra sleep BigBear and I would both like now and are not going to get

Uncounted... the number of presents under the tree

Uncountable... the warmth and love and joy and memories made and shared today. There is nothing in the world as lovely as the joy a small boy finds in Christmas and nothing as infectious as his excitement.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Now, about those sixty extra hours of sleep I'd like...

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A study of the non-Newtonian fluidic properties of small boys


A longitudinal study has been made of the time-independent non-Newtonian fluidic properties of a single example of a Small Boy. The study has been conducted over a period of four years, with continuous behavioural monitoring and construction of a range of experimental situations. The lack of availability of further subjects, and a profound psychological inability of the progenitors to create further specimens limits this study to a single subject. The lack of a control subject limits the conclusions that can be drawn from this study, but nonetheless the observations are felt to be of benefit to the scientific community.


Certain fluids or suspensions exhibit non-Newtonian behaviour under stress. Most commonly these fluids exhibit changes in viscosity that are dependent upon the shear rate. A simple experiment may be undertaken in the home laboratory to demonstrate this effect by creating a mixture of cornflour and water - gentle stirring causes the mixture to be very fluid; attempts to stir vigorously result in a very stiff mixture. This behaviour is a classic example of a dilatant fluid in which the viscosity ("thickness") increases with applied shear force. In the context of the subject matter, Small Boy, this is best expressed as the ability to resist increasing with the force applied.

Experimental conditions

The subject of this study (LB) has varied in dimensions, mobility, co-ordination and communications skills over the course of the study. Attempts are made to normalise these variations by taking an approach classified as Age Appropriate Assessment of Behaviour. In the initial phases of the study, LB's behaviour was largely unpredictable, and could not be considered to fit into any particular model. Inputs and outputs were random and subject to change without notice. The first six months of the study produced little useful data.

Experiment #1
On first attempting to introduce LB to solid nutrients using traditional implements such as the "spoon" the degree of arm movement, head-deflection and high-pitched keening increased in direct proportion to the proximity of the spoon. Several weeks of persistent attempts to approach LB with a spoon exacerbated the above effects such that the experimenter was no longer able to continue. Small fragments of solid nutrients were then placed within reach of LB and he was observed to reach out and insert them into his own buccal cavity with enthusiasm. The removal of external forces resulted in a significant and rapid decrease in resistance.

Experiment #2
When first encountering a large-scale, gravity-propelled, low-friction, acceleration device ("slide") LB vehemently declined to operate the device. Encouragement, assistance and co-operation with the experimenter did not meet with success. Only when the experimenter ceased to observe the subject did the subject voluntarily operate the device.

Experiment #3
The subject has been observed to be adverse to consuming animal protein products. A dedicated programme of bribery, coercion and threat was undertaken. At the peak of this programme, items of cooked material from Gallus gallus domesticus were forcibly ejected from the plate and in extreme cases saline fluid was seen to emerge from the lacrimal canaliculi of the subject. At this stage the experimenters acknowledged that additional force was merely generating additional resistance. Some months after the experiment was abandoned, LB was heard to request "Can we have a roast dinner today Mummy? Then I can try the chicken. And get two dinosaur stickers!" In addition, LB was observed to be returning from an alternative care environment displaying high-status victory trophies (sparkly dinosaur stickers) every day for three weeks. Each trophy had been awarded for the voluntary consumption of new food products. It is of note that the subject's resistance to new food products exhibited this marked change only after the removal of external force.

Experiment #4
When confronted with a large volume of aqueous liquid mediated by a small volume of chlorinated substances, LB started to exhibit a sudden and vehement reluctance to undertake a complete immersion in the liquid. Increasing insistence on the part of a secondary experimenter that LB undertake a free-fall, total immersion ("jump") led to flailing arms, shaking and the emission of high pitched sounds of distress. A forced immersion initiated by the secondary instructor exacerbated these symptoms to such an extent that the primary investigator was forced to remove LB from the experiment for his own well-being. Subsequent encounters with large aqueous volumes using modified methodologies such as "play" and "fun" resulted in LB exhibiting spheniscid behaviour, swimming almost exclusively underwater, and demonstrating no inhibitions regarding immersion. Contrary to expectations, LB subsequently exhibited an emotional resistance to leaving the aqueous environment despite pronounced physiological changes appearing to the skin of the hands and feet due to prolonged exposure.


In each of the experiments described above, resistance to action was observed to increase as greater external force was applied. Conversely, smooth action, low viscosity and fluid behaviour was observed only in the absence of external force. There appear to be significant similarities between non-Newtonian dilatant fluids and some classes of Small Boy. Further work is clearly needed to optimise parenting of non-Newtonian fluidic children and to improve the success rate of experimenter-led activities such that they approximate to the success rate of LB-led activities.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

All I want for Christmas is...


Mostly, what I want for Christmas is more time. Failing any more time for me, I'd like other people's time. I don't want stuff*, I want time to make, to do and to enjoy life.

Firstly, I want a laundry fairy. What do you mean you don't know what one of those is? It's the fairy that appears when you're not looking and not only puts the dirty clothes in the wash, but gets them out again, dries them and puts them away. I am so, so, so fed up with piles of dirty laundry, piles of not-quite-dry laundry, piles of clean-but-not-folded laundry. I just want a laundry fairy. I don't want to be told that there's no such thing. Don't break the magic of a middle-aged woman's dreams.

Next, I want all those little jobs in the garden to be done... cutting the hedge, moving the plants from the flowerbed that's been condemned, putting the hooks up to hold the summerhouse doors open, laying the new paviors, choosing, buying and laying the stone chips in place of the condemned flowerbed, sorting out the bike store, arranging to have a patio laid, getting the external wiring to the summerhouse organised, setting up the telescope properly, pressure washing the path, fixing the fence that's about to fall down. OK, I admit, some of those might go beyond the bounds of "little jobs", but still, don't any of you fancy popping round and doing some hard physical labour for me instead of buying me a comedy knitted hat?

Then, I want all the crappy, irritating, boring things about owning a house to disappear. An invisible housekeeper/butler/handyman would do the job. They could job share with the laundry fairy. Then maybe the cooker hood would work, and the bathroom extractor fan wouldn't sound like a sixty-year old lawn-mower that nobody's oiled in fifty-seven years, and there wouldn't be a hole in the spare bedroom ceiling.

After that, I want time to sit down and finish doing the half a dozen projects I've started and then given up on. Like the cushions to match the curtains at the family cottage; like the painting ideas I got half way through and then put in the bottom drawer; like the heaps of scraps of paper and random mutterings about my family tree; like my aborted efforts to track down my great-grandfather's PhD thesis; like the ideas for cuddly dinosaurs I have; like digitising the family diary; like, like, like.... everything.

I also want time to go to the cinema and the theatre without feeling too guilty or too tired or too alone, because my life is so badly organised the only time I can do those things is if I leave BigBear at home looking after LittleBear.

While we're at it I want time to have conversations with BigBear that aren't only about LittleBear or what should go on the next grocery order. It's not that I don't like talking about food and my son, but I'm fairly sure I fell in love with BigBear for some other reason. I'm fairly sure we used to be members of the local Arts Cinema. I'm fairly sure we used to do cryptic crosswords together. I'd like to spend more time being those people again, not just zombies on the sofa who lack the time and energy to be anything else.

And last of all, I want to spend time with my two lovely friends, Tigger and Piglet. I want to do that with all our riotous, daft, intransigent, silly, lovely, funny, boisterous children. And I want to do that with just the three of us. But I don't want to spend weeks trying to work out that maybe in February half-term 2018 we might all be free at the same time, but only for a Wednesday afternoon, and then oops, no, one of our husbands actually has to plait his boss' kitten's tail hair that day. I want it all to just magically be organised, so the three of us can stay up late - eating, drinking, talking, laughing, crying, looking to the future, looking to the past, and knowing that we don't have to get up at the crack of dawn to tend to our children, and we don't have to feel guilty about it.

 That's not so hard is it?

Just one or two little things for Christmas?

Or gin. You could just give me gin.

* except books. I always want books. And time to read the books.

LittleBear's Big Day Out

Because my LittleBear is awesome at swimming, and I'm not actually a heartless bitch, we went to London for his Really Big Treat. We went to the Natural History Museum. And to make it doubly exciting, we stayed in a hotel the night beforehand; and to make it triply exciting my lovely friend C who works there signed us in half an hour before the doors officially opened; and to make it quadruply exciting my lovely friend J (an actual palaeontologist) took the day off work and took us round all the best bits and knew loads more than I could hope to - enough even to keep LittleBear satisfied.

It basically goes without saying that we had a fantastic time. There were dinosaurs, and marine reptiles, and mammals, and birds, and fish, and volcanoes and earthquakes and the solar system, and so much more than we could possibly see in one day without LittleBear collapsing in a little sobbing puddle of exhaustion. LittleBear collapsed in a little sobbing puddle of exhaustion.

I'm not, however, going to write a review of the NHM, which you should all, definitely, immediately go to. More than once. I'm going to instead illustrate our trip with some insights into The Wonderful World of LittleBear.

... there was the terrible moment when we nearly left a ring-tailed lemur eating a broccoli stalk on the side of my dinner plate, and had to call the waitress back to rescue a beloved toy.

... there was the small, sobbing boy who wanted to have another bath simply so he could use the wall-mounted soap-dish in the hotel as a diving board for his dinosaurs (and ring-tailed lemur) and was inconsolable because we don't have such a luxurious feature in our own humble bathroom.

... there was the horrified small boy with his hands clamped over his ears begging me to turn it off and find David Attenborough on the television when I rashly thought he might like to watch CBeebies while I showered in the hotel.

... there was the look I can't describe on C's face, hovering between amusement, bemusement and amazement, as a 4-year old boy rushed up to an exhibit, gazed at the sign next to it and announced, "it's a Temnodontosaurus!"

... there were glorious conversations between J and LittleBear:
    J: What do you think it is?
    LB: An Apatosaurus?
    J: Not quite as big as that
    LB: A brachiosaurus?
    J: Nearly. A bit smaller, and without the hump on its head. It begins with Cee
    LB: Sauroposeidon!
    J: Ah, no, a hard "c" not a soft "s"
    LB: Camarasaurus?
   J: That's right!

... there was watching my boy stroke a meteorite, and when asked if he knew what it was made of, a swelling pride as he said "Iridium?" 

... there was a small boy who is terrified of the sound of hand driers rushing back to re-visit the giant, roaring, animatronic T.rex, totally unfazed by the noise.

... there was the opportunity to delight in C's favourite exhibit: an owl with a pencil in its ear. How else, after all, can the diligent curator indicate that the location of an owl's ears is not in the tufts on its head?

... there was J giving my LittleBear his very own ichthyosaur vertebra as a present, that LittleBear keeps getting out of his Precious Box of Treasures to stroke.

... there was LittleBear standing and studying the array of ancient and modern elephants and mammoths before solemnly informing me that it was showing me the "evolvance" of elephants.

... there was LittleBear trustingly tucking his hand into J's to climb up and down stairs. There is nothing more lovely than seeing my boy trust and like one of my friends.

... there was J showing us the "secret dinosaurs" in the galleries nobody else remembers to visit, and that I would indubitably not have found if left to my own devices.

And, last but by no means least, there was this sight...

For which I can thank C, for letting us in before the public, and Lady Luck for allowing me to catch the perfect moment of childhood awe and wonder when LittleBear met Dippy.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Swimming II: waving not drowning

Having spent the last 4 nights struggling to get to sleep as I lay awake fretting about What Next With Swimming, I was a bit tired and emotional about the whole thing. The more days that passed the more of a Big Thing it was becoming in my mind. But, today was the day. Today I took LittleBear swimming.

We went to the local municipal pool, which has a teaching pool, a main pool and a "toddler" pool, for non-swimming under-8s. It's a lovely, super-warm little pool. Actually it's three little pools, one 0.4m deep, one 0.5m deep and one 0.65m deep, with various ledges round the edges, and fountains, jacuzzi-bubbles and waterfalls here and there. The three pools are also set at different heights, with slopes in between that the water pours down, to make slides for little people.

LittleBear had said "I promise, promise, promise that I will jump in and you catch me Mummy". And he'd also said we were going to have lots of fun. But, the fearful beast in me had heard promises before, and wasn't wholly convinced. After all, LittleBear really doesn't like getting his head wet much, doesn't ever want to go underwater, hates putting his face in the water, and has this New Thing about jumping.

After an hour and a half in the pool, I could only persuade him to leave and stop pretending to be a penguin diving for fishes by telling him I had a chocolate in my bag and that we could come back next week. And even that resulted in a trembling bottom lip and welling tears as next Friday is not soon enough and it's woeful and terrible and awful that we can't come on Monday because we'll be at the Natural History Museum instead. Seriously.

I have never seen my little baby so confident in the water, never seen him so happy playing in a pool, never known him so delighted to go under. I could barely convince him to stay at the surface for long enough to catch a breath before he plunged his head in to go "fishing". We were being Emperor penguins together, he was the male penguin, I was the female and we were taking it in turns to go to the Great Ocean (the 0.4m pool) to get fish for our chick and tobogganing down the slides on our tummies to bring the fish back to the nesting ground (the 0.65m pool). Sometimes we went together and left a Weddell seal looking after our chick. ("The Weddell seal is invisible Mummy".)

Every now and then I got him to "swim" the length of the biggest of the pools, both hands out in front, resting on my arm, legs kicking like fury, or on his back, my hand under the back of his head.

And we got permission from the lifeguard to go and jump into the big pool. He suddenly started backing away, saying he didn't want to, looking scared, but I gave him a big cuddle and reminded him of his promise and that I would definitely, definitely catch him. And he overcame his fear. On his own. No threats, no berating, no raised voices. I stood as close to him as he wanted for his first jump, and he did it. And then he did another one "for Daddy" and a third one "for Granny". And we cuddled and celebrated and I told him that I was proud of him.

"I know why you're proud of me Mummy. It's because you really want to go to the London Natural History Museum with me!"

"No my lovely, I'm proud of you because I know you were worried about jumping, but you did it anyway, and that's really brave of you, and that makes me proud."

"OK Mummy! I'm going to be a liopleurodon now!"

Not only am I immensely proud of my LittleWaterBear, I'm also so happy to have seen him happy in and under the water. And it cemented in my mind that he still learns best when given love and support and given the time and space to gain his own confidence and find his own abilities. And it made me realise that we really should go and have fun in the pool more often, not just rely on lessons, which are becoming more and more about following instructions, learning strokes, gaining specific skills and less and less about just messing around and feeling at home in the water. Both have their place, and I think both are going to be essential for having a happy, confident swimmer.

Now my challenge is which swimming class to sign him up for...

I have a really strong, visceral feeling that I don't want to take him back to throw-him-in teacher. But the other voice in my head reminds me how much LittleBear has loved this teacher so far, and how much fun he has had in his class. But... I don't think I trust him in his handling of my LittleBear any more...

Another option is a different teacher with the same organisation, on a different day, at a different pool. That dodges any negative associations LittleBear has started to build up. Except throw-him-in teacher will also be there, teaching a different class, and I can't help but feel that will be Horribly Awkward and potentially lead to Painful Questions (painful for me, that is). Obviously I'm so conflict-avoidant I will be claiming that we're changing class because it suits our schedule better, and not even consider mentioning to anyone that there is any other problem.

A third option is to stop having formal lessons for a term, and just have fun, then go back when LittleBear has forgotten there was ever a problem.

The fourth option is to bury my head in the sand and ignore the question, while allowing it to gnaw away at me and cause me stress and sleeplessness.

Can you guess which one I'm going to do? I think you can...

And to end on a lighter note... as we drove home and ended up stuck in traffic next to some street art of a scene of trees and birds, LittleBear looked out of the window and commented, "Mummy? I don't like birds as much as I like invertebrates."

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

When swimming tastes like chicken

Yesterday... all my troubles seemed so.... insurmountable.

And today? Not much different.

This, my dear friends, is what sleeplessness does to me. Last night I didn't sleep well because I'd got myself so overwrought that despite falling asleep easily, once I woke at 5:15, that was it. The night before? Inexplicable insomnia, followed by a scant few hours sleep and then far too swiftly by LittleBear coughing. The night before that? LittleBear coughing. The night before that? LittleBear and BigBear coughing. The night... oh sod it, you get the idea.

Yesterday was going beautifully, as our Mondays usually do. Monday is my favourite day with my LittleBear. On Fridays he's overtired and unmanageable after three days at nursery. The weekend is often a bit manic, but he catches up on rest, and Monday is just, well, lovely. While I made breakfast, LittleBear wrapped dinosaurs in baby blankets and put them under the Christmas tree to be presents for me to unwrap. We went to the library together, and even chose some non-dinosaur books. They were about ocean creatures instead, the secondary passion, but it was a pleasant change from dinosaurs. We spent hours reading dinosaur books and then Beatrix Potter books curled up on the bed after lunch. It was a lovely, and happy, and cuddly, and fun day.

Then we went swimming.

LittleBear loves swimming. He's so proud of himself, and so keen for approval, and so enthusiastic.

But... last week, for somewhat mysterious reasons, he developed A Thing. A Thing about jumping in. He's been jumping in for almost as long as he's been swimming. Either jumping to an adult who catches him, or jumping with a float round his body so he bobs straight back to the surface. Last week though, SmallGirl kicked up a fuss about jumping. So LittleBear kicked up a fuss. But LittleBear's fuss escalated, and escalated and there was screaming and sobbing and cajoling and threatening, and still he wouldn't jump in. The teacher picked him up and dropped him in. Which did not exactly pour oil on troubled waters.

It's not the approach I would have taken, but then I'm pretty softly-softly with LittleBear, and that's what he's used to, and I think the rather more forthright approach was unexpected and distinctly un-calming. But it's not my lesson, I'm not in charge, and I can't over-rule the teacher. I gave LittleBear one last chance to jump of his own accord, and then it was the ultimate sanction... a sad face on his sticker chart. And a sad face means no treat at the weekend. Unsurprisingly, as LittleBear was beyond reason by this point, there was no treat at the weekend.

Fast forward to this week....

We've spent all week talking about how we're going to have a great time at swimming. Talking about how LittleBear always used to jump further than anyone else. Talking about how brilliant he is at jumping. Talking about not wanting to lose another treat.

Did it work?

Did it buggery.

LittleBear was happy as a dog with two tails, right up until the moment he had to get in the pool. Then he started to cry, thinking he had to jump. He didn't have to jump, he just had to climb in, but the rot had set in. The whole lesson then went swimmingly (geddit?) with beaming smiles, enthusiasm, and the bubbling joy I love to see on my baby's face. 25 minutes of delight, followed by 5 minutes utter hysterical sobbing on the poolside. Once again the teacher forcibly got him in (this time jumping in while holding him). Once again that was completely useless at getting him to do it himself.

And thus we reached an impasse. Teacher said he had to stay till he jumped in. I said he would lose his treat this weekend if he didn't jump in. Teacher said if he didn't jump today he would have to come back on Thursday and jump in ten times instead. And so I ended up with a sodden, sobbing, snotty, wretched child curled up on my lap, shaking and asking pathetically "will I ever be able to go home?" We stayed till the end of the next lesson. We stayed until LittleBear was calm and cuddled and loved in my arms. I went past angry, through cajoling, beyond reasoning and into rocking, soothing and assuring my baby that he was loved, no matter what. But somewhere in the middle of there, I stood firm on losing his treat if he didn't jump. It's what we'd agreed.

And there's the trouble. I should never have threatened that. Because this weekend's treat is going to the Natural History Museum. We have a hotel booked for the night. We have a lovely friend who's taking a day off work to meet us there. We have another lovely friend who works there who's letting us in early. (I have lovely friends. Thank you lovely friends.) We've been planning this for months and me and LittleBear have been so looking forward to it. And we are going to go. Obviously we're going to go. But I've now engineered this stupid situation where I've said he can't. And now I have to engineer a way so that he can. So, just me and LittleBear are going swimming together on Friday and I'll make sure that whatever he does is good enough to count as earning his treat again.

I just wish I could take back what I said. I wish I could undo the anger. I wish I could not react so bloody fast. I wish I could be the better person. I know better. I know that when he's beside himself with distress there is absolutely no point in any threat or bargain. Nothing will get through, and I'm left with whatever I said. I know that making an issue out of something just creates a Bigger Thing. And before you know it, we've created another chicken*. And I so do not want swimming to become a chicken. I want him to still enjoy it, have fun, splash around, be a little boy enjoying the water.

I drove home from swimming with a reconciled LittleBear but with tears burning down my cheeks, desperately trying to control my sobs as I wondered how I had allowed things to turn so downright ugly. Wondering if I should even be taking my lovely boy swimming with someone who's prepared to throw him into the pool, despite his sobbing. Wondering whether I'm being too much of a helicopter parent in trying to protect him from anything he doesn't like. Wondering whether swimming is now ruined forever. Wondering how I could still take my beautiful boy on his adventure to London. Wondering how to make sure our outing is still something fun and exciting without any horrible associations about getting shouted out. Wondering where today all went wrong.

And then my LittleBear piped up from the back seat "Mummy? I love you." And I just cried more.

And I cried all evening.

And I cried this morning.

And I'm crying writing this.

And I lay in bed in the small hours, with every moment of the swimming lesson playing over and over in my head and wondering where we go from here. Whether we sign up for next term's classes with the same teacher, and take the risk that LittleBear still won't jump and that the teacher will throw him in and make him scared and unhappy and Everything Will Be Ruined Forever. Or whether we sign up for a different teacher on a different day, or is that just running away from the problem, letting LittleBear dodge something that he "should" be facing and Everything Will Be Ruined Forever. Or whether we give up on lessons altogether and then Everything Will Be Ruined Forever. And wondering whether it's already too late, LittleBear is spoilt and too accustomed to getting his own way, and never does what he's told, and Everything Is Already Ruined Forever.

Me? Catastrophising? I don't know what you mean. And I refuse to acknowledge all the occasions when LittleBear is beautifully behaved, and does what I ask him to do, and is helpful and kind, and makes presents for me, and says that we can pretend to be penguins together when we go swimming "because penguins are your favourite thing Mummy".

My boy is beautiful and wonderful and I love him more than I can even begin to put into words, and I just want to do the right thing, and damn it, I don't know what the "right thing" is, and I really don't know how to function when I don't know what the "right thing" is. Especially when I'm tired.

* I have, at various points, tried so many ways and means to get LittleBear to eat chicken that it has now become a Huge Thing. He is now so certain that he Does Not Like Chicken, that there is nothing on earth that will persuade him to allow any to touch his plate, let alone cross his lips.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Synaesthetic I-spy

LittleBear and I occasionally play "I-spy" in the car. But given that he's only small, and I'm not completely unreasonable, we have generally played with colours: "I spy with my little eye, something which is blue". And away we go.

LittleBear has increasingly been having fun playing with words, rhyming them or listing as many words as possible beginning with the same letter, so today we had a go at playing the "original" version, "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with B". And LittleBear has been giving me clues when I can't guess what he's thinking, and they've been awesome. But some of this ideas have been pretty challenging to guess....


"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with W"







I give up, what is it LittleBear?

"It's the clouds! They're white!"


"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with M"









Mouse? Mapusaurus? Megalasaurus? Mammoth?

Nope, nope, nope, nope

I can't think what it is...

"It's mmmmm, the noise that I'm making!"


And really, it didn't matter one jot whether I had any hope of guessing those. They were awesome ideas. How can anyone not love playing word games with small children?