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Picture books for budding feminists

8 Mar

Parenting young children can be tricky for a feminist. There are the gendered clothes and the gendered toys and the gendered cartoons and books let alone all of the influences on parents & extended friends and family about boys being a “handful” and girls being so “caring”. So in honour of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share some wonderful picture books that we love and that fit with my feminist principles.

What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best written by Laura Numeroff & illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

This book was passed onto my son from his cousin and I assumed, from the title, that it would be an awful gender-role specific book. How wrong I was! It’s actually two stories, which mirror each other and come together in a center spread. Munsinger’s lovely illustrations show a variety of animal mums & dads doing the exact same things with their children – both parents hold you when you’re feeling sad, or teach you to ride a bicycle, or sew a loose button on your teddy, or watch the sunset, or play ball in the park, or bake a birthday cake. I love the equality of it, how it turns gender roles on their head. Parents do the same things in their own way, sharing the care and love of their young children. Crucially, my preschool boy loves this too! Especially flipping it over to start at the back again.

Kate and the Beanstalk written by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Giselle Potter

We’ve gotten into fairy tales in a big way recently here. We picked up some old copies of Jack & the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood at our local library sale a couple of months ago and my son has really enjoyed them. But they really jarred with my feminist principles. So I was delighted to discover Mary Pope Osborne’s books at our local library.

In her clever retelling of this fairy tale, Kate is intelligent, courageous, resourceful and quick-witted (much nicer to read that a tale about a lazy, stupid boy!). But it stays true to the original tale, in that the same events happen, but adds such richness of detail and language that it’s a more complex story (so far more enjoyable for me to read!) and a wonderful take on the happily-ever-after of fairy tales.

My son loves this book – it’s a frequent request both when we have it checked out and when we’re looking for books in the library. We’re also fans of Sleeping Bobby by the same authors.

Sweet Dreams, Maisy by Lucy Cousins was the first Maisy book we got for our son. It arrived in the Bookstart pack we received when he was a baby and it quickly became part of our bedtime routine. And it still is now, nearly 3 years later (though I did have to replace the original when I accidentally put it through the washing machine!).

And now this beddie Maisy, as my son calls it, has much company in the form of other Maisy books. How we love Maisy Mouse! Maisy is the ideal strong, female role model to expose young children to, without any overt preaching or “issues” to discuss. She simply operates in a world where girls can do anything (admittedly, she also operates in a world where toddler animals can do anything!). She drives buses and trains. She plays dress up with her pals. She drives fire engines and rescues cats. She takes the bus into the city to see friends. And all illustrated in vivid colours by Lucy Cousins. I haven’t yet come across a Maisy book we haven’t enjoyed.

I’d love to hear any recommendations others may have. We’re always on the look out for new reading material!


Father’s Day

17 Jun

I’m taking the opportunity to wish my wonderful husband a very happy Father’s Day!

I am so lucky to be walking my path as a mother alongside your path as a father. You’re not just a hugely fun parent – the sound of you and our children laughing together is one of the biggest pleasures in my life – but you also truly share all the ups and downs. You’re as willing to wash a load of dirty nappies as you are to sit with our 2 year old son playing blocks as long as he wants. You’re also the best cook I know, as well as patient enough to still prepare amazing food while having our son “help” out! You balance the demands of your career with the demands of your family, which is no easy thing.

I am proud that our children will grow up with you as their father.

Especially as I know how important a father is. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful father myself. A man who put his family first and was very present and hands-on, when it wasn’t fashionable (this was 70s Ireland after all). But he died of a heart attack when I was 8 and my world collapsed. I still miss him nearly 27 years later. We named our son after him and I look forward to telling him about his grandfather as he grows. My father would have admired you.

Right, I’d hoped to bring you coffee in bed but I can hear you getting up with our daughter (12 weeks today) and our 2 year old. So much for your lie-in! I love you xxx

One month ago today…

25 Apr

…I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl. Which explains my holiday from blogging!

It’s been a great first month together. Her older brother (who turned 2 just before she was born) is smitten with her, wanting to hug and kiss her as much as he can. Which is very cute, even if it does mean she’s caught her first cold from him already! Myself and my husband are equally smitten with her.

I had my longed for vbac* and it was incredible. I’m not too sure yet if I’ll post the birth story on here, but I found the birth exhilarating and it laid to rest some ghosts of the emergency section I’d had to birth my son. I also found my hypnobirthing practice paid off, as I handled the surges very well even without being able to use a water pool.

During the early hours of this morning, looking down at my daughter in the dim, pre-dawn light, I was reflecting on how different the newborn stage feels second time around. It all feels a lot easier, which is due in a large part to my physical recovery from the natural birth (so much easier than after the section). But the other big difference is that there isn’t such a shock from “normal”, as our normal changed forever when we had our first child.

The leap from a family of 2 to one of 3 was huge – we were so sleep deprived, but so in awe of this tiny new person we’d created. In spite of all of all the reading and talking and classes, nothing quite prepares you for the intensity of parenthood. So, while friends and family with older children kept telling us to enjoy this newborn stage, we were just busy metaphorically keeping our heads above water. But the leap from 3 to 4 seems easier (it definitely helps that our son seems to enjoy being a big brother!).

We have experience now. We know that this newborn stage passes fast, that every day that passes is a day closer to this tiny, dependent person growing up and away from us. So we’re doing our best to savour it.

It also helps that this time I knew things immediately that I had to learn from scratch first time around: how to breast feed comfortably from the first feed; how to avoid thrush when I had to take antibiotics after the birth; how to feed lying down so that night feeds are more relaxed, sleepy affairs; how to slow down and enjoy the hours she spends asleep on or next to me…

So happy one month-a-versary baby girl!

*vaginal birth after caesarian

Why I hate the phrase “good baby”

22 Jan

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot recently. I know many people (including my mum) who use this as the highest form of praise for a small infant…and it annoys me so much it makes my teeth itch! A “good baby” is one who makes as little impact on the adults in her life as possible – going for hours between feeds from birth, sleeping through the night from a magically young age, not making a peep when she’s in her cot/pram/recliner.

Don’t get me wrong, my mum loves children, babies in particular (good thing, as she had 6 of her own!), and I know she’s just trying to be nice. Especially as she experienced all sorts of baby personalities in her own brood.

But there are many reasons why the phrase “good baby” annoys me…

Perhaps most importantly, I think it contributes to our society’s poor understanding of normal infant behaviour.

So you’ll get strangers telling you you’re spoiling your infant if you carry them (the first time this happened to me a perfect stranger told me I was spoiling my 4 week old son for carrying him in a sling – she said “why isn’t he in his pram? He’ll never sleep properly if he’s not in his pram” and I was actually too surprised to answer, how on earth was it her business?).

Or you’ll be met with horror if you admit to breastfeeding your baby to sleep – you’re making a rod for your own back! He’ll never self-settle! Are you mad?!?

Breastfeeding in particular is undermined by this mythical “good baby”. Breastmilk is so easily digestible, and babies’ tummies are so tiny, that breastfed babies are just not designed to go for hours between feeds (which makes breastfed babies more “challenging” apparently, though it’s more a case of the “good baby” myth rearing its head!). So having to feed just an hour after the last feed ended does not mean you have an excessively hungry baby, it does not mean you’re not producing enough milk (though your baby may be helping your body produce more milk by going through a growth spurt). Crucially, it does not mean you’re failing your baby in any way.

But where my real hatred of the phrase lies is that the flip side of good is bad. To say that this baby is good implies that that baby is bad. And I just cannot accept that any babies are bad. How can it be bad to have your needs for love, food, comfort, company met by crying? Why is wanting to be carried or in physical contact with your parents a bad thing? Why can’t more of us just accept that babies are babies and will behave like babies? It may mean less stressed out parents trying to raise some sort of textbook “good baby”.

The Longest Shortest Time

10 Jan

I have discovered the most lovely podcast series, and accompanying website, about parenthood: The Longest Shortest Time (podcasts are here). The creator and interviewer wants to help new parents know they’re not alone and so is collecting stories from a huge range of parents.

Warning: will cause tears (but good tears I hope) *

I’ve just listened to the first three (short) podcasts and had tears running down my cheeks…I was brought back to those early weeks and months – the highs of utterly loving this miraculous baby who had grown inside me, of marveling over how myself and my husband had produced such a beautiful creature…the lows of sleep deprivation, of a stressful painful start to breastfeeding, of worries about weight gain, of wondering if it would always be this way…

Of course I look at my 21 month old son now and I know that the newborn stage really is the longest shortest time. Our babies grow up, and continue to amaze and delight as they do. But I’m glad to remember where our parenthood began.

* Disclaimer: I’m nearly 30 weeks pregnant so am perhaps more emotional about all of this than I would usually be!


Reflections on breastfeeding

9 Jan

A friend on Facebook shared this lovely Youtube link today. It asked parents to share what they would tell themselves if they could go back to when they decided to breastfeed. The responses are lovely – I particularly like the “Real men support breastfeeding” one!

It got me thinking back to when I was pregnant with my son and thinking about how I would feed him. I always assumed I’d breastfeed and didn’t think I’d have any problems, since it’s what breasts and babies are designed for. I didn’t think about it in much depth but assumed I’d breastfeed him for six months, when I’d introduce solids and switch to formula. This is what seemed normal based on the experiences of women around me. I didn’t really have any other template for the breastfeeding relationship.

But I had a terrible start to breastfeeding. Feeds were tremendously, toe-curlingly painful and my nipples were terribly cracked.  I was determined to fix whatever the problem was. My son’s birth had been traumatic and I felt I owed it to him to breastfeed him. I had the capability to find support to overcome my problems whereas he had no choice in the matter.

Finally, thrush was diagnosed when my son was 4 weeks old. But I had to buy fluconazole over the counter, as my GP wouldn’t prescibe it (despite me being armed with Breastfeeding Network’s great leaflet).  But one nipple wouldn’t heal, and was still so painful, so I ended up with antibiotics at 10 weeks. Finally, the crack healed and suddenly feeds were properly pain-free – a revelation!  Our nursing relationship immediately switched from a grim count-down to 26 weeks to being properly enjoyable and relaxed.

In the end, I breastfed exclusively until we introduced solids via baby led weaning at just before 6 months. I continued to feed on demand alongside solid foods. And kept feeding when I returned to work when my son was 12 months. It was great for helping my son transition from being at home full-time to being with a childminder 4 days a week. He eventually self-weaned at 19 months, which I was very emotional about – my baby is growing up! But I have this new baby squirming away inside me and I’m looking forward to having a whole new nursing relationship in the spring.

So what would I tell myself if I could go back in time?

Keep seeking support until you overcome problems – it’ll be worth it! And it’s OK to feel proud of your achievement.

The simple pleasure of paper-cutting or How to Cut A Paper Snowflake

8 Dec

I find it incredibly satisfying to take a blank piece of paper and transform it into something decorative. It reminds me of childhood, when I would spend hours making things out of cereal boxes and scrap paper. This afternoon was a bit windy and rainy (and I was feeling all festive and organised after sending our Christmas cards this morning!), so I decided it was the perfect afternoon to get the craft scissors and paper out so we could make paper snowflakes. It was great fun, even if my son is still a little young for the scissors (he’s 20 months). He got stuck in with the folding and unfolding and seemed very impressed with the transformation from boring piece of paper into beautiful snow flake!

So I thought I’d share my simple method of cutting paper snowflakes.

Step 1: Start with a square piece of paper. I prefer to use a square as it ensures symmetry in the snowflake.

Step 2: Fold one corner to its opposite, creating a triangle two-layers of paper thick.

Step 3: Now fold the bottom corner up to the top corner, creating another triangle four-layers of paper thick.

Step 4: Fold the right-hand corner over towards the middle, creating a 60 degree angle. It looks like this:

Step 5: Then fold the left-hand corner over like this:

Step 6: The sticky out bits at the top are now surplus to requirements and need to be trimmed. These are the extra bits:

Step 7: Once you’ve trimmed the extra bits, your folded paper looks like this:

Step 8: Get cutting! You can make cuts as big or small as you like, so experiment with whatever appeals to you. This is how I cut this snowflake:

Step 9: Unfold and reveal your snowflake!

The easiest way to flatten your snowflake is to stick it in a big heavy book for a while. You could also iron it on cool…but I avoid the iron at all costs so I prefer the heavy book! You can also experiment with the size of your snowflakes by having bigger or smaller initial squares of paper.