Friday, 19 July 2013

Packing it all in!

Recently I’ve felt like I was hurtling through the last few weeks of term at warp speed. My family has navigated reports and reviews, parent meetings and ballet shows and thank yous and tears (the proud, happy type!!!). And we’re all exhausted! But it’s all about to come to a grinding halt and thankfully I can switch off that 7am alarm and we can walk around in our PJs until lunch (well except Daddy, his boss takes a dim view of that sort of behaviour in the office…). 

Time to re-think your holiday wardrobe...
And finally, we can look forward to the summer holidays – with exciting overseas trips planned, time scheduled in at the grandparents and a good old fashioned Cornish seaside holiday with boogie boards and rock pools to enjoy. But alongside my joyful anticipation of all the sight-seeing and sand between my toes, lurks a terrifying spectre. And one that I fear I must face alone. PACKING! Yes, that time when suddenly Mummy must anticipate every need her children will have and every request they will make in the space of a week, and accommodate all those by simply packing a suitcase.

Travelling in style
For many years, one of our family’s favourite holiday accessories was the Trunki. With our youngest contained in her pushchair, our elder daughter could pull along her belongings and still hop on for a ride when her little legs got tired. Unfortunately the Trunki will not be coming with us on our next trip because it cannot accommodate the much-loved bear-sized suitcase seat from Build-a-Bear. Both my girls will now be using their far less resilient wheelie suitcases, just so their favourite soft toy can come along for the trip. I’ll even be asking the security staff to stamp the ‘pawsport’ one owns… (cringe).

Have teddy, will travel.
Other great toys to take along on a trip, where suitcase space is precious but bored kids could turn travelling into a nightmare include good old fashioned card games like ‘Go Fish’ or word games like Bananagrams. Sticker and activity books are great too – and can be bought cheaply on the high street before you go. One of the best ideas I’ve seen lately is this lovely book of Eggnogg colour-in postcards that children can complete in holiday downtime. Paper doll books also work well for my girls – with the most beautiful coming from Belle & Boo (which also provides extra clothes downloadable free on its website). If you are really pressed for space, this teeny colouring set might also be a perfect fit! And finally, Pass The Bomb proved to be highly entertaining for girls and boys on a recent camping trip.


Being a bit of a Penelope-Panic-Pants, I do worry about losing a child on our upcoming city break to Paris. My anxiety might be slightly heighted by the fact that last time we visited the Pompidou Centre, my eldest got into a lift while hubby and I were elbowed out of the way by a confused-looking gallery goer (rude!). Rather disturbingly the doors closed before we could get in and she was whisked away – all I could hear was an anguished ‘Mumeeeeeeeeeeee!!!’ drifting down the lift shaft. Thankfully the lift only went up and down between the two floors of this particular gallery and I was able to run down the nearby stairs at full pelt (pushing arty types out the way as I did so) and press the ‘door open’ button to find my poor child still inside the lift, sadly sat crouched down on the floor awaiting rescue. Not an experience I want to repeat!!

So along with my passport, I will be packing some ID bracelets for my girls. If you want something to cover every eventuality and a solution that will last, check out OneLife iD. The bracelets come in varying sizes and styles, and use QR codes or webpage links to connect the bracelet to all the details, contacts, documents and links recorded on a OneLife iD profile page. Several of the products allow you to engrave additional medical (like allergies) or contact information too. 

Never lose your child (again in my case...) with the OneLife iD products.

For a more temporary solution, you might want to stock up on some tattoos that allow you to write on a mobile number, you can get a whole range of colours or ones with pirates and ladybirds. Alternatively you could just use beads with numbers on and make your child a bracelet with the number to call if they get lost.

Kids of today

Oh technology, how it has developed since I was a child sitting, unstrapped in just the normal rear car seat of a Datsun as we navigated the ‘A’ road that led us out of Kent!! Those were the days of poor suspension and scratchy wool blankets that meant many a motion-sickened child would weakly enquire ‘are we there yet?’ Well parents today are lucky I tell you! Not only can you take along your tablet as you travel, you can fill it with apps that do everything from keeping up your phonics and number work over the holidays to serving as handy reminder for the signs and symptoms of meningitis. The Barefoot Books Atlas app recently picked up the top award from Junior Magazine for both its educational content and sheer interactive enjoyment – ideal for teaching as you travel this summer.

And if you can wait until the end of this month before assembling your dream team of holiday essentials, the new animated WOW PACKS will be released onto the market. These are eye-catching animated backpacks with a remote control that operates the eyes, nose and eyelashes. Available in the girlie pink Cutezee the Kitty style or the rather revolting green Snot the Zombie, you can be assured the resulting funny faces and sound effects created will keep your little ones amused on tedious journeys and longer-than-expected walks and waits. 

An interactive backpack buddy called 'Snot' - who wouldn't want one????

BUT – have I forgotten anything? What do you always take – and is there a travel item that has got you out of a kiddie-sized pickle? Let me know in the comment box below, there’s still (a little) room in my suitcase…

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Oops I did it again!

There are certain things I have realized in life. One is, for example don’t pick four different types of alcoholic beverage (like PIMM’S, gin, white wine and beer let’s say) and consume them rapidly and consecutively in one night. Unfortunately I don’t always heed the lessons I have learnt, a point which I was able to ruminate on quite extensively last Sunday morning, and indeed, well into Sunday afternoon. (Thanks for the paracetamol Mum – and to hubs for entertaining the kids).
Go home Barbie, you're drunk.
But it got me to thinking that as parents we also make the same mistakes over and over – even though we know better. These are my top five poor parenting techniques, which although I know they achieve nothing, and sometimes even make matters worse, I still manage to do:

1 Shouting

If children actually behaved simply because you shouted at them, there would be no naughty children in the entire world. I think we all know that our children heard us the first time we asked them to ‘Stop doing that!’ And since it wasn’t their hearing that was at fault – simply repeating the request at a far louder volume is unlikely to improve matters. However, I still find myself shouting pointlessly at my offspring – I think I believe I am using it for emphasis (I really do mean to get off the sofa with that melty ice-cream) but actually I am using it as a way to blow off steam. I’m pretty sure the real solution is counting to ten. Quietly.
A megaphone is no help - they are ignoring you!

2. Transposing the authority

I hate hearing that ‘the man over there will tell you off’ from other parents when I’m out and about. Not only is it likely to give a child issues in meeting new people above and beyond the required ‘stranger danger’, it means that you’re not making it clear who is in charge (in case you are wondering it’s YOU!!). Children need to be told quite clearly that their parent makes the decisions, and that the children get to follow those decisions. And yet…I do find myself telling a certain little lady that if she doesn’t decide which summer dress to wear within the next five minutes, I will be taking her to school in her knickers and letting her teacher deal with the decision. What can I say? I’m not at my best in the morning…

3. Empty threats

Picture the scene – your child is happily involved in some highly creative imaginary game when you come along and ask her/him to stop everything and get ready for some real-world activity. Like now! Somehow for el kiddo, the imaginary world that they control is far more enjoyable that the one where you are in charge, banging on about the time, the rules, what’s allowed and what’s not. What is needed here is a few minutes warning, a calm explanation of how the next ten minutes are going to go and some parental persuasion. So there is absolutely no point in making an empty threat of punishment – along the lines of ‘if you don’t get dressed immediately – you won’t be able to go swimming’. Because both you and I know, that those swimming lessons cost cold hard cash – and you’re not sacrificing one unless your child is missing a limb or something.

4. Telling fibs

For some reason in our society we value honesty and want our children to grow up trustworthy. However, I am regularly telling my children tall tales about the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. I also tell them if they don’t brush their teeth properly they will all fall out and their peers will think they are witches and refuse to play with them at school. It’s at times like this I wonder where my eldest daughter got her over-developed sense of imagination from…I’m not proud of my lack of honesty, and am slightly worried how I’ll justify my embellishments when they discover that it’s me putting a pound under their pillow (and yes, leaving glittery fairy dust and notes written in teeny, tiny handwriting too). In the words of my teenage muse Scarlett O’Hara – ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow’.
'My life will be just like this romantic novel' (lies, all lies!)

5. And telling the truth

Let’s face it, some kids can be little shits. Not mine, or yours, of course (research* proves those people that read parenting blogs have perfect children…), but some people’s kids. And if a nasty piece of work upsets your child, you see red. And I might have, in the past, told my children truthful, yet not very nice, things about the perpetrator of such meanness. Just hypothetically speaking, if a child persistently told my child that she was much clever than her, I might just of, hypothetically, have suggested that my child replies something along the lines of ‘well if you are so clever why did you have to go and see the head teacher for fighting?’ I’m not proud of what I did (hypothetically) – but I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell for it.

*I just made that up.
So, knowing all this about myself – I have to ask – what kind of parent am I??? A pretty average one I’m hoping, since we all make mistakes once in a while. The important thing is that we acknowledge where we go wrong – and approach looking after our kids not with military precision and rebukes but with a sense of humour and enjoyment. It’s true that our kids learn more from watching how we behave than from listening to what we say, so be natural, be normal and be happy around your children – they’ll thank you for it in the end!

What parental confessions can I prize out of you? Are you a perfect parent – or can you admit the occasional slip up to me in the box below? Please do, otherwise I might think it’s just me…it’s not right?????

Thursday, 4 July 2013

End of term tactics

Next September my eldest will start Junior School. It feels like a significant step – and one where I can take stock of her achievements and developments since that very first day in the ‘big’ school playground (when I was trying very hard not to cry!). She leaves behind her a teacher she’s had for both Years 1 and 2, a lady she has really bonded with.
It's the most wonderful time of the year - if you're a teacher (maybe?)
I hold her teacher in high regard too – summarising her approach to her charges (and yes, even the grown-ups who try to monopolise parents' evening!) as ‘firm but fair’. She suits my girl’s understanding of the world perfectly – rules are rules and those that break them should – and are – given short shrift. Mrs S isn’t afraid to tackle those few disrupting the class but never does so at the expense of the attentive majority. She seems to have an arsenal of interesting ways to help children overcome everything from shyness to incessant fidgeting. She could certainly give all those parenting gurus a run for their money!
So I’d like to buy her something to show that I appreciate her job is far from easy – and that my daughter really has blossomed under her care. I want something original but useful, something that simply says ‘thank you’! What I don’t want to do is get involved in some crazy ‘one-upmumship’, where parents feel they have to go large or go home. Or give the poor woman diabetes by handing over the 30th box of chocs she’s received that day (that would freak me out if I was her as I’d eat every last one of them, even if I made myself sick…).
So, just in case you find yourself in a similar conundrum (admit it, you can’t read that word without hearing the Countdown tune) – I’ve had a little poke about the Internet to seek out alternatives to the bog-standard biscuits, chocolates and wine.  I should add, for the purposes of editorial transparency, I did not receive any of the items below free from friendly PR people (yeah, I know, must try harder next time…).
Drink up!

Scrabble mugs from Graham and Green
While it always feels a bit wrong to take alcohol into the classroom, I’m pretty sure teachers (must need to) drink a fair amount of coffee and tea to make it through the school day. So, scoring high on the practicality front, a decent mug must surely be a suitable gift? And there are plenty of sophisticated options. Try the Scrabble Mug from Graham and Green, or if your budget is a little lower the matching coasters. For slightly more ‘educational’ mugs try Pedlars, it offers drinking vessels decorated with the Greek alphabet, a weights and measures chart and the periodic table. Alternatively get a personalised mug (here and here) and spare your teacher the staff room sink mix ups! The Handpicked Collection also does a fetching Tap Water Bottle for just £4.95 if your teacher is immune to the lure of caffeine.
Tap water bottle from The Handpicked Collection

Desktop distractions
Is it just me, or is there nothing quite like new stationary to fill that gaping hole in your life? By definition teachers need a desk – so why not add a little cheer to their day with functional yet funny items like the ‘Stampler’ (half stamp half stapler – kids would love that!), some tasty Tetris style sticky notes and highlighter pens disguised as nail varnish. Suck UK do a stunning rainbow and cloud pencil tidy, a giant pencil sharpener pen pot and a hole punch that leaves behind hearts – bringing some extra joy to those Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. And the fun doesn’t stop there, pencils can look like drumsticks, pens can look like lipsticks and a tiny army of rubber soldiers can help you in the ‘war against error’! Or for a touch of luxury, why not buy teacher a velvet pencil case? Beautiful and practical.
Rainbow and cloud pencil tidy from SUCK UK

Dig a little deeper
Outside of school teachers are just like regular people (shock!!) – which means they have a variety of hobbies. It’s gifting gold when you uncover a piece of personal info about a teacher – be it that they are a keen gardener, own a dog or that they collect tiny mirrors. If you do find out what your child’s teacher gets up to at the weekend make it work for you! For some beautiful gardening gifts head over to NotOnTheHighStreet, where you can source everything from pleasing pots and delightful outdoorsy decorations to a monthly seed subscription. Maybe your teacher is also a dab hand in the kitchen? Then head over to Lakeland for everything from guitar-shaped spatulas and potholders masquerading as vinyl to beautiful bakeware. Or perhaps they spend their school holidays on the road? Then look no further than the Travelogue notebook from Firebox.

Monthly seed sub from Notonthehighstreet

And finally, don’t forget that what the teacher really needs is a thank you from the heart. Luckily, children often aren’t quite so uncomfortable with telling people how they feel, so as well as proffering a gift on the last day of term, my little lady will be writing a card to her teacher, to let her know how much she will be missed.
How do you feel about teacher gifts? Do you have any ideas you can share with us in the comment box below? Perhaps you are against the idea altogether – or are hoping someone will organise a whip-round? Let me know by adding a comment…