Poppy at 18 months

P1040811Poppy is 18 months old tomorrow and it has been a while since my last Poppy update! Plus it gives me the opportunity to share some recent photo’s that the family might not have seen already.

Personal, Social and Emotional
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This is such a lovely age as their little personalities really start to show and Poppy is becoming a very sociable little girl. Everywhere we go she waves at people and announces that she is leaving with a big “Bye bye!” to anyone who is listening. When we see friends she loves holding their hands and giving big cuddles, although often she takes them by surprise and knocks them over. We are learning boundaries slowly when it comes to emotions and the dog in particular is not enjoying this lesson. She is figuring out what to do with those big emotions, whether it is anger, excitement or just exhaustion, and it usually involves grabbing Oscar or hitting Mummy and Daddy in the face. I lose track of the amount of times I play name the feeling during one day…”I see you are sad” or “I hear you are feeling angry”. But it is quite sweet that the only one she can actually say herself is “Happy” and she repeats it over and over again in a chirpy voice (might have something to do with family sing along’s to Pharell Williams).
IMG_0906Poppy loves caring for her teddies and dolly; getting them dressed, holding their hands and asking them “Walk?” or “Park?” She especially likes getting them into outdoor clothes (hats, gloves, shoes and wellies of course!) because she just loves being outside so much! It is a little bit heartbreaking when she stands at the door with her teddy all ready to go in the buggy, her own wellies and hat on and I have to tell her we are not going out right now. She doesn’t like that one little bit!

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It is lovely to see her own independence grow as she tries out the role of grown up when playing with her toys. She copies our tone of voice and expression as she ‘reads’ them stories, takes them to the potty and feeds them dinner. And at the same time she is getting to know herself and her capabilities and growing in confidence as she plays at being all grown up. In fact, since she has had her own toy buggy to play with she has actually refused to go in her own buggy at all.

We try to offer her as many opportunities as possible to practise this independence and the way her little face looks when she does something for herself, it is so worth the extra five minutes we have to wait patiently! She tries putting her knickers and trousers on and is slowly getting the hang of it, she blows her nose (not very effectively mind you!), wipes herself after going for a wee (!), she gives Oscar his breakfast and dinner, pours her own drinks, helps me with the washing, carries her little rucksack everywhere she goes and when I am cooking the tea she pushes a chair from the dining room and examines the veggies, naming them and washing them before adding them to the pan and doing lots of mixing. Afterwards she takes a wooden spoon and finds something she can use as a bowl and sits pretending to cook. I could watch her for hours!
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It is also so nice to finally feel that she doesn’t need my constant attention. Suddenly she is playing on her own, even if just for 5 minutes, it gives me a welcome break. The other day I told her I was tired and reading my book, and she happily stopped shouting at me and went off on her own for a while until she decided I had rested long enough.

Physical

This girl has no fear when it comes to physical challenges! We have been trying a few new parks out recently and she always heads for the big kids stuff! I always want to let her try but sometimes I have had to say no (I am laid back and child led but I really don’t want any broken bones just yet!) The other day she wanted to go down a pretty big slide but I was on my own and, probably irrationally, worried that if I helped her to the top and didn’t run around to the bottom in time she might just fall over the edge of the slide. So the next day we all went together, with a parent either end! She absolutely loved it and made me realise that she would have been fine in the first place. I took photo’s because I thought she looked so tiny next to that big slide! I can’t wait to take her to a theme park when she gets older! Maybe she will turn out to be a right adrenalin junkie.

I also love seeing how she works things out so quickly, and after a twenty minute trip to the park has found a new way of doing something that she couldn’t do before. In a soft play centre the other day I was helping her up these big inflatable steps that were too far apart for her to reach with her little legs. Then I was busy chatting when she wanted to go up and next thing she had done it without me. She figured out her own unique way of doing it and then perfected it until she was flying up! I just love their patience and determination! We could learn a thing or two from kids, that’s for sure!

Sometimes trusting their physical capabilities and respecting their need for independence leaves you open to criticism, or at least disapproving looks, from people who assume you are just irresponsible. It happens to us all the time at the park, but yesterday it was in Waitrose when Poppy was unstacking and restacking the shelves. At first it was just soup tins, but then she found the glass jam jars and I thought this woman was going to have an actual heart attack there and then. She grimaced as she told Poppy not to drop it and then waited for me to rush in and take it off of her. When I told her it was fine, she carries glass all the time at home, I was met with a very amusing expression. A part of me was worried that Poppy would in fact drop it and prove the lady right, but thankfully she carried it back to where it came from perfectly as if in a trance, before looking up and smiling at the lady who was still grimacing (I think maybe the wind changed).

Language and communication

I wrote down all of the words that Poppy can say clearly and I was surprised that it was almost 70 words! I wish I had recorded them earlier because now her baby book has a section for first words, under which I put ‘Hiya’ and ‘Go’ and then words at 18 months with too many to fit in! I knew she was learning new words quickly but didn’t expect it to be that many. And she is gradually starting to put a couple of words together, like “Bye duckies!” and “Down Oscar!” and “Daddy work”.
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She is also loving her songs at the moment. I started singing Tiny Tim the Turtle and she did all the signs just before I had said the next line, so she knows what comes next. She now does this with a few songs, and says a couple of the simple lines herself, like “Bubble, bubble, bubble, pop!” and “Pull, pull, pull” in wind the bobbin up, and “Hop, hop, hop” in sleeping bunnies and, of course, “Happy, happy, happy, happy” in Pharell’s hit! If I ask her if she wants to sing she thinks, saying “Ummmmm” and then offers her suggestion through actions! Or else I suggest something and she definitively says “No!” and chooses something else. I can’t wait to get her dancing at the festivals this summer!

Sensitive periods

Some other things I have noticed lately have really interested me because they are things I learnt about during my Montessori training. Montessori believed children go through ‘sensitive periods’ where they are particularly focused upon certain areas, and during this time they develop certain skills better than any other time, learning easily and at an intense rate. For example during a child’s sensitive period to movement the child easily learns how to crawl or walk. At Poppy’s age children are going through the sensitive periods to language and movement, which are self-explanatory and obvious to see, but more mysterious are their sensitive periods to order and small things. Poppy has just entered the sensitive period to order and she has completely reaffirmed my faith in Montessori’s work! Before we get out something new Poppy often holds up what she is playing with and says, “Way!” as in, away, and proceeds to go and put it where it came from. The superior sensitivity is seen when we take whatever it is and put it where it doesn’t belong, only for Poppy to protest until it has been put back in the right place! So can children really be naturally inclined to put everything back in the right place, tidy up their toys, not leave your living room in a mess? Surely not! But it is true, children of this age have an urge for everything to put in it’s rightful place, to organise their mind and establish internal order from the external order. It is important to keep their environment tidy to enable them to do this, but we must also consider their routine, consistency and ground rules. The dreaded terrible two’s are often due to some sort of disorder or change in routine.
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The sensitive period to small things is just lovely to see, and I am sure every parent has experienced those baffling moments when their child comes up to them with the teeniest piece of fluff in their hand to give to them, or points something out in a book that you failed to ever notice. Children can become completely fixated on tiny objects as they figure out that all of these little things make up the world, before they can understand the bigger picture. It is like they are deconstructing the information before putting it back together. Of course they are also developing their fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. I often notice it when I put Poppy in her high chair for lunch and instead of eating the big bowl of yumminess in front of her she picks a microscopic crumb that has been left from breakfast and examines it before eating that instead! She also stops regularly on our walks to collect bits of dirt and dust or tiny piece of stone and gravel. It can be frustrating for grown up’s but when we appreciate the development that is taking place it is beautiful to just relax and enjoy the moment.

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We are looking forward to lots more family adventures now that our weekends are more free. This weekend we have seen some of Tim’s family and are seeing my sister, Mum and Nan tomorrow, followed by Mother’s Day lunch with my gorgeous girl and lovely man. Can’t get much better than that! I hope everyone has a lovely Mother’s Day!

Good night from Poppy!
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Clarity.

As you will have noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging break. And, like any good break, I have come back with a clear mind and having learnt a few things about myself. As this blog acts as a sort of diary on this journey of self-discovery that is parenthood, I thought it was necessary to write it all down. It might seem a little over-analysed to you, but that is because it was, and that’s OK.

I recently went to visit a couple of Montessori nurseries, with the view of completing my dreaded 420 hours work experience in order to gain my full diploma that I have been working so hard towards for what feels like forever. I had been putting this off knowing in my heart that I didn’t want to leave Poppy, but with the 2016 deadline for completion on the horizon I thought I had better face reality if I wanted to reach graduation day. I decided that maybe it was a good thing to do something for myself now that Poppy is getting that bit older. The idea was that she would attend the same nursery I worked at (in a different room) and seeing as I am passionate about Montessori I started to tell myself that perhaps this environment would help her to thrive even more. I convinced myself that I was excited about the extra work I would be subjecting myself to. I started to imagine how much Poppy would love it and that maybe by the end it would be hard to leave the wonderful place we had grown to love.

Montessori is a method of education, but I believe it is so much more than this. It is respect for the children, love of nature, trust in the human mind and body and it’s natural ability and overwhelming urge to learn and a focus on hands on experiences to satisfy those innate driving forces. Parents and teachers alike can adopt all of these principals, and much of Montessori’s philosophy fits so perfectly into our home environment, even though we are planning on going down the ‘unschooling’ route of home education. So I felt hopeful, despite our choice to stay away from school and our ‘alternative’ approach to parenting, that a Montessori environment might just be the only place I would be happy to leave Poppy. Perhaps all of my worries about how often she still breastfeeds, how accustomed she is to having me near her every minute, every day, how well I know her better than anyone else could and how when she isn’t with me I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something is missing…perhaps all of those worries would just fade away when we walk through the doors of that beautiful, idyllic, understanding and gentle Montessori environment. Of course they didn’t.

I was open-minded. At least I tried to be. But it dawned on me pretty quickly that a classroom, Montessori or not, was still a classroom, and a teacher, loving, caring and gentle or not, was still not Poppy’s mummy. The picture in my head of the perfect Montessori setting quickly disappeared when I noticed some fundamental ‘rules’ being broken. The baby rooms full of plastic, a teacher reprimanding a child in front of the whole class, the shelves cluttered and verbal praise being thrown around left, right and centre. To the untrained eye this might seem like no biggie, it happens all the time in regular nurseries and schools, but it goes against the most basic of Montessori principals. Being so passionate about Maria Montessori’s work – her methods and the reasons behind them – I hated to see it not being implemented in these well-regarded schools. I started to feel disheartened; my own efforts at creating a Montessori home environment weren’t looking too bad at all! But I tried to remain open-minded and told myself that it was unrealistic to expect everything to be perfect.

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Poppy playing in her Montessori inspired bedroom

As I spoke to the teachers showing me around I tried to gauge how similar their views were to my own, whether or not our alternative parenting style would fit together with the way they ran their nursery. I didn’t really care about where I did my teaching placement, but if it wasn’t right for Poppy, it wasn’t going to happen. I smiled and nodded when they said things that I didn’t agree with. I tried not to recoil in horror when I looked at their menu and saw junk food and a lack of wholesome nutrition (unfortunately true for many settings these days it seems). They answered my questions about things that they knew I felt strongly about, and their friendly voices and sympathetic eyes almost made me feel like they really did know best and I was living in cloud cuckoo land. After voicing some of my concerns over leaving Poppy, one of the teachers introduced me to the staff as somebody who was ‘very precious about her daughter, and her daughter is probably very precious about her’. Wait a minute, aren’t all Mum’s precious about their children? She said it in the nicest possible way but I have worked in childcare; she didn’t realise I knew that it was code for ‘This woman is an over-protective psycho and is going to make our lives very difficult’. The thing is I remember telling anxious parents the same thing once upon a time, that their very attached child who cries every time they leave them will be just fine, as soon as you are gone they won’t even remember why they were sad. I believed it, and sure, it may have appeared to be true. But how do we know how they are really feeling inside? Especially when we hardly know the child. Don’t get me wrong, Poppy is confident and increasingly independent and very sociable. She would be fine. And the comfort she would have gotten from a member of staff would be fine. And the reduced milk feeds would be fine. And the way that people would have spoken to her, in a tone that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, would be fine. And the fact that she would have had a biscuit as a snack everyday instead of her usual green smoothie, would be fine. It would all be fine. I suppose. But what if ‘fine’ just isn’t good enough?

I came home from the second nursery almost feeling convinced that I was being an over-the-top, paranoid, too-hard-to-please, obsessive mother who absolutely had to relax if I wanted us to fit in and be classed as almost normal. But then I realised that spending just one hour in an environment that was so far from what we now consider our normal, I was being sucked in and questioning myself where I never had before. I am so happy with our parenting choices, our life is amazing and Poppy is thriving; why should I change that to fit in somewhere we don’t even belong? The fact is, being in a nursery even for just four hours without me is most definitely not the best possible situation for Poppy right now. I knew it I just couldn’t quite acknowledge that my reasoning’s were important enough to ignore the influence of others. I had to speak to someone who would tell me I wasn’t crazy before I started to believe I was. I messaged one of my lovely friends who I know completely ‘get’s’ me when others might not. And after I had spoken to my wise friend everything was clear again. No matter how many nurseries I visit, I will never find the right one, because as she put it, Poppy and I are still one. No one can ever love and care for her like I do, understand her needs entirely, or accept and work through her overwhelming frustration and tears when her sock is just ever so slightly bunched up by her toes which means she feels it every time she steps down on that foot (this happens everyday). Most Mum’s will relate to that, and yet we are constantly given the message that we need to break away from our children, give them the opportunity to be independent or they will never learn how to be; stop holding them back, smothering them, spoiling them, molly-coddling them and learn to let go. Stop being so ‘precious’. But this isn’t a natural way to teach independence. Why is attachment so feared in our society? Since when was it so terrible to love your child so much that it hurts to think of leaving them with someone who won’t do it as well as you can. As my friend pointed out, it is human nature to protect and nurture our young, and that protection covers all manner of things, including the emotional stress of separation and all of the things in the world that you, as a parent, decide might be harmful, in any capacity, to your child, their development or well-being. Yes I go above and beyond to make sure I am doing this at all times, from the diet I feed her, to the medicines I choose to use, from the techniques I use to teach her to the way in which I communicate with her. And I will avoid anything that I believe could be detrimental to these efforts, to the most important years of her life and to our strong, secure relationship. If this means that I come across as an obsessive weirdo at times, then so be it. These little details, and the niggling issues I had with the nurseries, may be small and seemingly insignificant to others but to me they make up the beginning of my child’s life, and that is huge.

And so it was decided. I am completing my exams to be awarded a certificate but I won’t be graduating and gaining the full diploma. It was difficult for me to accept that this is not failure but another turning on our journey. I have learnt so much, and will continue to do so, and it will enrich Poppy’s childhood for sure. But for now, I need to focus on family, and just be a Mummy to Poppy…because I am the only person who can be.

As I am sure you can tell, this post isn’t just about deciding not to send Poppy to nursery. It is about the realisation that it I do not have to compromise in any area of my parenting. The truth is, I often feel awkward or embarrassed when voicing yet another opinion, or explaining to family why we don’t do things this way, or requesting that they try to do things that way. I spoke to my Dad recently about why we don’t use verbal praise like ‘good girl’ in the same way we don’t use punishment or any other conditioning techniques (I will write a post about this soon). I found myself feeling a mix of guilt and defensiveness before the words even came out. I don’t want people to feel like I am criticizing them; especially people who I know love Poppy so much. Incidentally, my Dad was, and has been with many things, very understanding and open-minded, which made me realise that I didn’t necessarily need to feel so worried. I am no longer going to protect other people’s feelings or indeed my own feelings of being judged as over-reacting, if it compromises Poppy’s chance to the best possible start in life. I have taken on that label of being a bit whacky or weird because we do things differently, but in reality I am simply passionate, dedicated and motivated to do the best I can. There is nothing wrong with that. I need to realise that so that other people can too. This post is about realising that you are perfectly entitled to be unconventional, you are allowed to want complete control over how your child is raised and you have the right to say no. This post isn’t about anybody else’s choices; it is about me not apologising for mine.
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Thank you to my friends who are there when I need that clarity, who give me the confidence to write things like this, who I would be lost without. You know who you are.

Breastfeeding to sleep: creating bad habits?

P1040506I am feeling really proud of Poppy right now. For the third night in a row she has just fallen asleep all by herself, after her milk, rather than during, and with me just lying next to her. I know people whose babies did this at 12 weeks old, but at 13 months this is a big achievement and significant milestone for us.

Up until now I have breastfed Poppy to sleep every single night, and never considered doing it any other way. At times I might have wondered if I was really doing the best thing, but these thoughts were very fleeting and I didn’t take any notice of them. Breastmilk is designed to make a baby sleepy, in fact it changes during the day so that the night time milk contains a much higher concentration of the sleepy stuff, and our bedtime feed is a lovely, peaceful time where me and Poppy get to reconnect after even the most manic of days. Luckily for me no one has really questioned this decision and told me I was making a rod for my own back, but I know that many mum’s are told exactly that, and perhaps pressured into teaching a baby to ‘self-soothe’. Although I wasn’t worried about our bedtime feed, I did once try to reduce her middle of the night feeds, which I wrote about here and here, so I understand this idea about self-soothing and worrying that your baby will take forever to do so if you don’t actively encourage it. But although Poppy did start going back to sleep on her own, the whole process was far too emotional (despite us taking a ‘gentle’ approach) and more exhausting for us so we gave up after 3 weeks and welcomed our old ‘habits’ with open arms.

I let go of all of any doubts and just went with it. I find that we have ups and downs and sometimes, yes, I wish she slept through the night, but that is usually when we have other stresses in our life and I am emotionally tired rather than physically. The majority of the time, the night time wakings are more than bearable, sometimes I even enjoy them. Sometimes. At 13 months I would say she is waking on average 5 times a night (between 6pm and 6am roughly), a few weeks ago she only woke twice, a few days later she woke every half an hour.

So how is this all relevant to tonight’s events? Because as Poppy lay in the dark chatting to herself and kicking her legs I got a little impatient that she wasn’t falling asleep quick enough. I picked her back up and tried to offer her more milk, in the hope it would relax her some more and speed things up. She arched her back and made such a fuss; she refused milkies! She got herself back onto the bed, snuggled up beside me and was asleep within 10 minutes. It was as if she was saying “I can do this on my own!” And she did just that. I feel hugely proud of this step towards independence, as well as a little emotional (everyone always tells you how you will miss the little things when they are gone!) It honestly feels as significant to me as her first steps, because I know that she has got there on her own, without any expectation from us, and this is her natural progression towards independence so should be celebrated just like all the other big firsts. As well as that it has proved that letting your baby fall asleep on the boob every night does not mean they will never self-soothe. It may have taken 13 months but this feeling is amazing. It has given me hope that her night time feeds might reduce as she learns that she can get herself back to sleep when she wakes, she doesn’t need me, but I am there if she wants me. That light at the end of the tunnel is enough for me to keep feeding her during the night for as long as she wants, as much as she wants. And I know when the day finally comes that I close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am (yeah right, more like 5.30am!) I will feel so much pride for my precious girl, it will all be worth it.

So keep feeding mama’s! All the way to dreamland!

VegFest London 2014

P1040599At the end of September a friend and I went to VegFest in London (with the babies!) It was busier than I expected, which was difficult with the babies, but I am not suprised because the event had a lot to offer. Whether you are interested in vegetarianism, veganism, you are dairy-free or just interested in healthier eating or greener living, it was a great place for information, tasters and discussions. In fact the less you know about veganism the more you will gain from the event! I will definitely go again next year, when I can hopefully leave Poppy behind! Because there were so many talks, demonstrations and workshops we would have loved to stay for, but the babies were getting restless. We managed to pick up loads of leaflets though, all reaffirming my reasons for going (mostly) vegan and motivating me to try harder! As for the dairy debate, all I can say is that I am so glad we no longer consume that junk, and I can’t believe how brain washed people are into believing it is good for them! I will put some links at the end of this post if you want to educate yourself further on this matter.
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For those of you who haven’t got a clue what vegan’s eat then take a look at the photo’s below and know that it is not just slop or lettuce leaves! Granted, the doughnuts are not going to be the healthiest choice, but my point is that you don’t HAVE to be health obsessed to make positive changes to your diet, and you can still have a treat when the mood strikes. On the other hand, healthy choices can be delicious too! We had a wrap filled with all sorts of healthy goodies for lunch. I was completely stuffed and yet could probably have devoured another it was beyond delicious. The choice of food was amazing, from chocolate to cheesecake, burgers to burritos. If you think veganism is restrictive, think again!
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There were also stalls with beauty products, clothing, petitions and more. The children’s area looked like good fun with cooking classes and other activities, and there was a cinema area that was showing informative films. And it wasn’t limited to vegetables! There were also discussions on raw food diets, lots of information about healthy and not so healthy fats, sugar, juicing and even green products such as cloth maternity pads! Overall it was well organised, despite the queue to get in and the broken lift fiasco, and I would have loved to have spent more time there. However, I don’t think I would want to take kids again as it was too busy to focus on everything and them! For the price of the tickets it was well worth a trip, although be warned, you could easily spend a fortune on all the tempting stalls.
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Some of the posters and flyers were eye-opening. I initially chose to cut down on meat for health reasons but I can’t deny that the facts on farming make me feel pretty sick and they do make me think twice if I ever get a meaty craving. It is too easy for us to detach ourselves from the reality, when we buy our meat all neatly packaged up in the supermarket with pictures of happy animals on the front. We are allowing outrageous torture to animals and damaging our environment at the same time. If you do eat meat, at least know exactly where it comes from and how the animals are treated. But even organic doesn’t always mean cruelty free due to the very fact that farming is a business and therefore certain procedures have to take place in order to meet demand, and don’t be fooled by the words ‘free-range’ either.
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There is loads of information out there on the health benefits of vegetarianism, veganism and going dairy-free AND it is better for the environment. It makes me laugh when people think that vegan’s don’t get enough nutrients. Sure, there will be unhealthy vegan’s out there, but if you are following a plant based diet with plenty of variety, some raw foods, good fats and natural sources of protein…you are bound to be getting exactly what you need. People often wonder if Poppy will be bought up as a vegan, as if they are worried that she won’t grow properly or have lifelong problems because I am so irresponsible I am depriving her of protein! But I am not worried in the slightest because I know that everything she needs is available in the fresh, wholesome foods we eat. Most of the information we are given about dietary requirements are inaccurate and even worrying. The popular eat well plate for example has a small section suggesting that we need some foods high in sugar and fats (with photo’s of fizzy drinks and biscuits). No one in the world NEEDS these sorts of processed foods, ESPECIALLY not a baby! Of course you can enjoy them in moderation if you choose, but this information is given out in schools which I find irresponsible and misleading for parents who don’t know any better. I have taken Poppy’s health into my own hands so that I can be absolutely sure she only gets the best.
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For more info take a look at the following links:

http://www.viva.org.uk
http://www.milkmyths.org.uk
http://www.vegansociety.com/try-vegan/why-go-vegan
http://www.grownathomewithlove.wordpress.com/tag/food-intolerances/
http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/cows/dairy-industry/
http://www.vegsoc.org/
http://www.govegan.org.uk/
http://www.london.vegfest.co.uk/

Poppy is 1!

A few days late, but here are some photo’s from Poppy’s 1st birthday on Monday. I can’t believe how grown up she is looking! I think it is about time I changed the photo at the top of my blog, and I have the perfect one in mind.

We had a lovely day with Poppy on Monday, although she was very grumpy in the afternoon due to being over tired!  We spent the morning opening cards and a couple of presents (including the chair in the photo’s and the gorgeous koala boots from Nana!), but she is having most of them on Sunday. We went to the cafe for some lunch and Poppy got given a birthday gingerbread man which she demolished! Then in the afternoon we went to the park with Poppy’s friend whilst Daddy was at work. Looking forward to Sunday and plenty more pics to follow! Thank you to everyone who wished her a Happy Birthday! Where has the time gone?

Routines and responding respectfully

For those of you who missed my recent post, we decided that it was time to make a few changes to our night time parenting in order to ease the pressure on myself. Poppy is essentially being taught to self settle. It is tiring, but it is a gentle approach designed to respect Poppy, it is not a quick fix. We had a couple of wobbly nights but things are back on track. I said I would post about exactly what we have done to change Poppy’s sleeping habits so here goes (the “sleep training” element is at the end):

Routine: WP_20140604_023I know it is the oldest trick in the book, and considering the number of books I scanned through during pregnancy I really should have been a bit stricter with this one. I am talking about the bedtime routine; bath, massage, book, breastfeed, bed. We started off well, but gradually we dropped one thing at a time until it was just bath and feed to sleep. No wonder she was still pretty wired and wouldn’t instantly go to sleep! No more skipping steps. It has been amazing how quickly this took effect, and even when she still seems wide awake during the story, as soon as she is in my arms feeding she starts dropping off. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but she isn’t getting that second wind just as I think she is falling asleep, which seemed to be happening so often before.

Black out blinds: I told myself this was the reason for her difficulty in realising it was bedtime, and maybe it played a part, but I think the routine was more important. The blinds have helped, but they don’t quite cover our windows!! Even so, there is enough of a transition from lights on to lights off that helps reinforce that routine.

Introducing a lovely: Poppy now sleeps with the same teddy (cat actually) every night. I put it in her arms as she feeds, and she has started to grasp it, so I think it is working. The cat is currently nameless – ideas on a postcard please!

Moving her into her own room: This was the saddest change, as it came way before I thought it would. But realistically I knew that I was unlikely to make the other changes, like reducing her feeds, without it. We wanted her to learn to settle with Tim, and eventually alone, but when she is at arms length and we are half asleep I act on auto pilot. Tim wouldn’t have had the chance to even try to settle her, he probably would never have woken up at all. Amazingly she didn’t seem to protest to the move, I think she realised very quickly that we were still there for her, all she needed to do was ask.

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Cutting down the feeds: This was my main aim of the transition. I didn’t make a plan, not really. I told myself I would see how she reacted if I just didn’t feed her, and to my surprise it was really not that bad. She grizzled a little but then dropped back off. So I tried to resist a few times. I realised her cry was different when she was really hungry…more about that in a minute. I found she needed a feed at around 3am every morning, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I am still being led by her in that regard. At the moment we are down to a feed to sleep at 6pm, a top up ‘dream feed’ before I go to bed (although I am sure she wakes up for this) and then the 3am fed.

Listening to the cry NOT cry it out!: You know that study about how stress hormones wash over a crying baby’s brain? The one that makes us AP mums feel guilty every time we hear our pumpkins sob? Well did you know that when they are being held or even if they are next to you that the stress hormones could be almost non existent? Just being there through the tears makes your baby feel safe and by the end of that crying session they could have even learned a thing or two; that they are able to regulate their emotions and that their feelings valid because you stuck around and showed them love when they felt sad. That is very different to leaving them to cry themselves to exhaustion on their own and eventually give up on anyone coming to them. We knew that Poppy would cry to start with. She had no idea why she was suddenly not getting what she had been used to for 8 months! But I honestly thought it would be much worse than it was. We agreed to be with her when she cried and try to comfort her but not desperately try to fix it immediately. First we would listen to the type of cry and ask ourselves what Poppy really needs. Just like other stages in development learning to fall asleep on your own can be frustrating, and we would be there to support her through that. If this was the sort of emotion she was expressing, what does feeding really do? I am all for comfort feeding, but I can’t do it whenever Poppy faces something challenging or when things don’t go quite the way she had planned or hoped. We quickly learnt the difference between her cries and when it was frustration we lay with her, stroke her head and talk to her calmly and lovingly. She falls asleep within minutes. And if she doesn’t, we know that she really needs me instead of Tim or she needs a feed. If it is getting towards 3am and her cry is intense and builds I feed her straight away, and some nights she does still refuse to settle without feeding, but those nights have been few and far between. She is sometimes able to fall back to sleep during the night with no more than a quick rub on the back to know we are there, or even a ‘shh’ at the door. There are still times when she needs more and we are with her for 20 minutes or so, but the point is we know that she can do it. She is only waking once or twice, tops before her early morning feed, which is an improvement, and Tim is able to share the responsibility. I think this is good for their bond as well, although not so good for the dark circles under Tim’s eyes!

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There have been a few downsides to this change. The biggest being that for some reason she is waking up earlier, 5am most days, and I don’t really know why. I have even tried to feed her back to sleep despite my better judgement in a desperate plea for a lie in, but she enjoys the feed and then wakes up anyway! It means we have all started napping at about 7.30am, which is a nice way to make up for the lack of cosleeping. I am also finding it harder to switch off knowing that I might have to get up at any moment to go into her room. But it is getting easier to relax as time goes on. We are quite tired from going back and forth to her room, but it has lessened. Even if things stay as they are for the time being, it means I have my evenings without interruption, the nights are becoming more predictable, I probably have longer chunks of sleep even if the waking up is more effort, and Poppy has come a long way which is great. I have loose aims of what will happen as we go forward, but I am not going to put any pressure on Poppy or get my hopes up too much. I might try this weekend to drop the dream feed before my bedtime, because I don’t really know how long she would go into the night if I didn’t give it her. If it turns out she doesn’t really need it then that would be ideal because it would free up my entire evenings! (oops I said I wasn’t going to get my hopes up!) If that doesn’t work and she wakes up at midnight each night, hungry, then I will revert back to the original plan and perhaps aim to gradually push the 3am feed later and later, until she is going through from our bedtime until her ridiculously early waking up time. That sounds wonderful! Of course the biggest bonus would be if she decides that other than the hungry feeds, she doesn’t need us at all to help her settle, and we could go to sleep every night knowing that we will get ‘x’ amount of hours In before she wakes. But that sounds far too structured for otherwise chaotic lives, and I am sure those babies don’t really exist.

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The best thing since sliced bread!

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Recipe wanted for rye bread like this that is simple and healthy!

Poppy has gone from swallowing barely anything to an eating machine overnight! Ok that is a huge exaggeration, but it feels that way!

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We went shopping yesterday and I decided to try her on a couple of new things, and they have gone down a storm! The first was Biona organic rye bread. It is really dense so easier for her to hold than bread and probably a better texture for her to manage than toast. I spread avocado on it for her breakfast and she ate two whole squares! She also munched on a couple of strawberries.

This afternoon I gave her some Kallo organic rice cake with a teeny bit of peanut butter on top. She demolished it! I mean she ate half of a big rice cake, which is huge for her! She crammed way too much in her mouth which made me slightly nervous but she managed to figure it out herself. She also had a couple of bits of tomato which got squished and some melon which she liked gnawing on but nothing went down.

This evening she had some red pepper which wasn’t successful and some orange which she just loves to suck the juice out of. And a few organic alphabet biscuits we had leftover from the cafe. I don’t want to give her too much packaged food, even organic, but she absolutely loves these and puts the whole thing in her mouth then lets it go soggy. She at about 5 of them, again, loads compared to usual. She definitely prefers things that don’t squish in her hand but do squish in her mouth! Which is annoying because I guess she won’t be getting much fruit and veg for a while. But I will keep trying! She must have been pretty full after all of that…and she hasn’t woken up yet after going to bed at 6….wishful thinking?!

One step forward, two steps back

Following on from my last post about our new sleeping arrangement I am calling out to anyone who has tried anything similar. For advice, reassurance, wisdom…As I said before Poppy was settling herself to sleep without feeding fairly often in her new room. During the evenings I simply had to go in and put my hand on her back and give her a little shh and she was back to sleep. Leading up to her middle of the night feed she was a little harder to settle and she always cried more if Tim was settling her, but it was a frustration cry and she went back to sleep without my heart breaking.

The night I published that post everything changed! Tim just couldn’t settle her. She cried but it got more and more intense until I went in and she started to settle again. One time she had got herself too worked up and needed the boob to relax again. I ended up waking up at 3.30am that morning, listening to her cry as Tim attempted to get her back to sleep (I had aimed for no feeds before 4am as she had a late one at 11.30pm) He eventually succeeded only to hear her wake again 15 minutes later. This time she didn’t accept him and I had to step in. She woke up fully and started smiling at me and stroking my face (“Aww how cute!” you say…not at this time in the morning!) There was no convincing her it was the middle of the night so I tried to feed her into drowsiness again. Long story short I got her back to sleep at 5.30am and fed her more than planned, and by the time she was asleep I was too wired myself to go back to bed. So yesterday I was a zombie. Last night I had to decide what to do, seeing as she refused Tim again twice in the evening and I ended up feeding her at 9pm. With Tim away all weekend I needed sleep so I pondered weather sleeping in her room would be enough to give her the comfort each time she woke and stop her getting herself worked up to the point that she needed to comfort feed. After all I knew she could fall asleep without the feeds, but she still needed a little support. I gave it a go, and our night was even worse. I was so tired when she woke up I could hardly be bothered to try (hence why I moved her out of our bed in the first place!), and her cry just didn’t sound like that frustrated cry, it sounded more distressed, and I cannot listen to that for too long without feeling like the worst mum ever. Coupled with the fact that she was putting her hands down my top I felt like I was completely suppressing my natural response and not listening to her. So I gave in, multiple times, and fed her throughout the night. I convinced myself that she must just be hungry, but her fluttery, lazy sucks proved otherwise! She decided it was time to get up at 5am, and as well as that her morning nap is all out of sync for the second day in a row. Back to square one?

Feeling confused, annoyed, disheartened and guilty. Go with the flow and hope she decides to play ball again sometime soon? Or push on through the heartache knowing that at least I am there with her as she cries? But what if she just doesn’t stop?! Is this her way of telling me “Yes I figured out your plan, and I gave it a go, but I don’t like it so you had better stop right now because I’m not having any of it!” I have had enough of thinking about who needs what…I have no idea what I need anymore, apart from a strong coffee.

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(Less Than) Perfect Parenting

When I was pregnant I started reading about attachment parenting and it resembled what we would have done naturally anyway. It opened up a new community to me and got me thinking about other things, such as elimination communication and home ed, which I may not have considered without the Facebook groups, blogs and small collection of AP books on my bookshelf. It made me think about more general aspects of parenting, such as the way in which you speak to your children, and how you choose to deal with specific situations, and I believe the new perspectives I have gained will benefit Poppy for her entire life. For that I am grateful for the books and the groups, but there is an element of this community that needs addressing.

Mother’s who choose to parent this way are often mother’s who have very high expectations of themselves. From socialising with many like-minded Mum’s I have noticed a few things. We over think everything, believing that all of our choices will have a life long impact on our children. We are labelled as ‘alternative’ (or other more amusing names like ‘crunchy’) and so begin to label ourselves. By doing this we inadvertently label others, which is something I never wanted to do. At first I felt like mainstream parents were judgemental of my choices, but I am starting to feel that the alternative community do most of the judging. By believing so strongly in doing everything for the best of the child, it is too easy to believe that any other way is wrong, or worse still, damaging for the child. To make sure you don’t get it wrong you seek information about every aspect of parenting from those very books that made it all sound so blissful and simple (despite the fact that at the very core of natural parenting is trust in your instinct). I have lost count of the amount of times I have read that a baby cry’s because they have an unmet need. So what if your baby just cries and you have done everything you possibly can?

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When Poppy was a newborn and suffering from her dairy intolerance, I did not know at first why she was crying. Yes she had an unmet need of sorts because she needed me to adjust my diet, but it was not something that could be solved instantly. She was fed, changed, warm, well rested, secure and in my arms, but she could not always be soothed. I had to relax and just make it easier for her by holding her, but in that moment I couldn’t make it stop. Similarly when Poppy became over tired she could not shut down, she seemed to fight her sleep to the point that she was so over tired she would scream for 4 hours until she finally gave in and fell asleep from exhaustion. There was nothing else I could have done, that was part of who she is; she was fascinated by the world and didn’t want to miss a thing, and at times even half an hour of being awake was too stimulating for her. In those early days everything that I had read rushed around my head; I didn’t think babies would cry if they had everything they needed? They don’t cry in Africa! What was I doing wrong? I tried everything to stop her from becoming over tired in the first place, abandoning my social life completely, but we still had episodes. All I could do was be there with her through the tears, letting her know she wasn’t on her own and that she was loved. There was nothing in the books that made me feel I was still doing a good job. The way I read it was that AP parenting should mean the baby has no reason to cry at all after you have responded to their needs. Maybe I over exaggerated that expectation, but being the stereotypical alternative mama I am sure I’m not the first.

Poppy settled soon enough, and now at 8 months old she is pretty easy going. She can still be distracted, but the majority of the time getting her to sleep has become easy, and we never have prolonged crying fits anymore for any reason. I am happy with all of our choices; I have completely and utterly devoted myself to her. It has worked very well for us, it has actually made life really easy, and I believe we have a very securely attached, happy little girl. But about two weeks ago I suddenly felt a page was turned. Poppy is no longer a newborn whose wants are the same as her needs, I believe they are starting to blur and she is gaining more and more understanding. There are certain things that she could probably learn not to need anymore, even if she does still want them. With our busy lives my constant devotion to her was starting to feel less natural and more forced. With Tim working longer hours I had no time left for me, and as a result I wasn’t being as good a parent as I can be. I never want to resent my child, so it was time to make some changes.

I need a bit of the old me back, and for those of you who know me well you will know that I need to really let my hair down from time to time. Rather difficult when your baby feeds to sleep, wakes up 3-4 times before you even make it to bed and then feeds throughout the night. And will not, ever, be comforted by Daddy in the night. So am I suddenly a bad mum for considering forcing my baby to change these expectations that we created just so that I can have a night out? I scanned a few forums and was guilt ridden to read that no one else would consider leaving their cosleeping, breastfeeding 8 month old baby for one night and their comments reminded me that her needs had to come before mine. But what if by compromising your own needs your child’s need for a happy and healthy mother is not being met? That was a more important long-term need in my mind.

In my confused state of mind I even typed the following into google: “Sleep training with attachment parenting.” I found blogs written by people in my position. I also found more hating from the AP extremists. I felt like there was no middle ground; you either leave your child to cry it out, which I never wanted to do, or give up your whole life for them. And then I came across something called RIE parenting which encourages listening to the type of crying and not immediately trying to fix it when it could simply be an expression of emotions. You can read more about this here and here. Suddenly something clicked. I have always known it and told Tim numerous times; there is a big difference between leaving a baby to cry on their own and letting them cry in your arms. Just like when Poppy was a newborn and I had no choice. This changed my whole perception of so called sleep training or simply teaching your baby to fall asleep alone, and I became more open minded to the gentle approaches. I will write another post about exactly what we have done and why I am happy with it soon.

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It has been just over a week since Poppy moved into her own room. I would have happily carried on cosleeping but wanted to drop the constant feeding, and I didn’t think that was easily achievable if she was in our bed. I miss the cuddles with her but am thrilled that she is now self-soothing and accepting Tim as a comfort during the night at times. She is still feeding to sleep in the evening, having a feed before I go to bed and one during the early morning, but that is massive progress. And she I not being traumatised, she has never been left on her own to cry, not even for a minute, and if she had protested too much I wouldn’t have continued.

We are still very much following a natural parenting style, but it is what is natural to us right now, not necessarily to every other AP advocate I will meet. Nor have I been converted to RIE or (heaven forbid) to baby training methods! We are simply finding what works and evolving as Poppy grows up. And I am doing my best, whilst realising I can’t be perfect. If you are a confused mama who has a tendency to put yourself under so much pressure to do the right thing, remember that there are no rules. You can, and should, allow yourself to compromise on your beliefs at times for the sake of your own sanity (even if some AP devotee on some forum somewhere has raised 6 kids back to back and tells you otherwise.)

I admit that right now I am more exhausted than I was before because this is requiring some effort! But I know that we are heading in the right direction, and I have booked a celebratory night out later in June, guilt free, knowing that Poppy will be happy in her Daddy’s arms.

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5 healthy and *should be* easy changes

I have been meaning to make a few changes for a few weeks. But there is always some excuse. We have been very busy and Tim’s work is rather manic, which seems to have a knock on effect on our whole lives. Anyway, that may seem totally unrelated to the following changes, but I have found myself in general becoming more and more unhealthy. I haven’t been organised with planning meals like usual because Tim leaves early for work and I don’t seem find the time to cook proper meals when Poppy is awake; but that is a poor excuse because I could do with a little effort. I am so tired by the end of the day and Tim is home late, that I don’t feel motivated to cook from scratch and eat by myself. Not having the car as often as usual also means we are getting behind on food shopping, and have been left with an empty fridge far too many times recently. The other night I literally just roasted some potatoes and ate those!!! I am filling myself up on quick fixes like crisps, and drinking too much tea and coffee because when I do it makes me feel as though I am having a break, even if I am drinking it on the go! So that is the eating side of things.

Another way I feel unhealthy is in my mentality. When I have a lot going on I find it really difficult to switch off. I actually love being busy, I might moan about my essays at times, but I think it is good to have something to focus on, and I am enjoying it. But I admit I find it hard to manage my time between being a mum, a girlfriend (housewife!), a student and a friend to lots of people who I have not made enough effort with recently which is adding extra pressure because I feel guilty about this. My mind goes into overdrive. And I have become so used to doing that I have forgotten how to stop. It gets to 5pm and I start looking forward to putting Poppy to bed and having some me time. I think about what tv might be on catch up, whether I might run a bath, what book I could read…but then the time comes and I find myself tense and fidgety, and usually end up writing a blog post, wasting time on facebook, starting a mini project (like today I rearranged our living room and looked online for some paint to revamp our drawers) or something else that seems to get me to 10pm realising I haven’t put my feet up once all day. There always seems to be little jobs that need doing, like changing my phone contract, ordering our veggies for the week, booking car hire for our holiday, writing a letter to my doctor…I have a list on my phone with the idea that it will be deleted once everything is crossed off (I am sure many of you are the same.) Of course this will never happen. I aim to do these little jobs in the evenings when I have no distractions, but sometimes I just can’t be bothered. What do I do instead then? I don’t sit and relax knowing they can wait until tomorrow. I sit and think I really should be doing stuff and don’t allow myself to relax, so it is just a complete and utter waste of my life, and it somehow seems to take energy to do nothing?! This tense state of mind is also filtering into my weekends with Tim, and I am fed up of us sitting next to each other on our phones, or saying ‘Let’s find something to watch’ every now and then for an hour or two, whilst we waste time doing other things and then realise it is bed time. We are off on holiday this weekend just for 3 nights, and I am so looking forward to it. Tim has even promised he is leaving his phone at home!

The last thing worth mentioning before the list is that I feel like my own energy effects Poppy and vice versa, and not in the way you might first think. When I feel worn out or demotivated Poppy seems more energetic than ever, which makes me even more sorry for myself! Whereas when I am energetic and productive Poppy is calm, interested in what I am doing and the hours pass so quickly as we do lots together. I have recently become interested in the conituum conecpt (I will try to write a post about this another time) and one thing that has stuck with me is the way in which young babies are so calm and relaxed when they are at the centre of the adults busy lives and everyday jobs. It seems that the active lives of the adult is enough to tire out the baby without them doing anything at all. When Poppy was a newborn our busy lives seemed to be too much for her and she became very over stimulated, so I am questioning whether this philosophy would have worked for us, but now that she is older she is certainly very interested by our actions, and often falls asleep most peacefully if we put her in the sling when she is wide awake and get on with our lives. Suddenly I look down and she is dreaming. Babies brought up according to the contiuum concept are constantly held, watching their parents work and amazingly they are able to use knives safely by themselves at age two! I am not suggesting this is my aim, but it is amazing how concentrated Poppy is when she is watching me ‘at work’. This must be the easiest, most natural way to teach a child. It also resonates with me because the concentration a child demonstrates when they are fixed upon the activity of an adult is that same concentration that is at the heart of Montessori education, and indeed the way in which you present an activity to a child is by clear, precise demonstration with little need for speech. It makes perfect sense that children should be calm and relaxed watching their parents at work because their mental energies are focused and they have no need to channel their natural energies into volatile behaviour or pointless activity.

So anyway…my completely random, unrelated list of positive changes:

  1. Drink more water and less tea and coffee 
  2. Hold Poppy in the sling every evening whilst I cook a healthy dinner. 
  3. Turn off my phone and computer one evening a week and have a bath, read, do my nails…
  4. Turn off my phone and bully Tim into turning off his during our weekends (or rare evenings together), as MUCH as possible. 
  5. Take Oscar for a walk EVERY afternoon with Poppy in the sling* (another time when she is nearly always calm and concentrated on the world around her. Also love the fresh air once we are out and Oscar thanks me) 

*I have had a bad neck/back lately so in the event that this is particularly bad I am allowed to skip this one every now and then!

If you know that I am not adhering to these rules feel free to slap me! Oh…whoops it is 9.30pm and I am getting up at 5.30am…I suppose I had better go and relax quickly!!!