Posted in Comment, Uncategorized

On sleep… (perchance to dream?)

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

-Irish Proverb

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Poor old Hamlet couldn’t sleep

and he was a right old misery-guts.

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“It doesn’t matter how ready (or not) you think you are for motherhood, nothing, but nothing, can prepare you for the brain-numbing, bone-aching reality of new-parent sleep deprivation.”

Mumsnet on babies and sleep

In your vulnerable, zombie-like state you will seek answers to many, many questions:

  • How do I teach my newborn that day is for waking and night is for sleeping?

  • My baby wants to feed every two hours all night long. What am I doing wrong?

  • How do I settle a baby with colic?

  • How long should I let my baby cry?

  • Do I give my baby a dummy?

  • Should my baby share our bedroom or sleep in her nursery?

  • What will happen if I let my baby sleep in my bed?

  • Will my baby ever sleep through the night?

  • Will I ever get a proper nights sleep again?

The Mount-Everest-size heap of info that’s out there in books and blogs, on Facebook groups and dedicated forums and websites, may only serve to bamboozle you further. Every opinion seems to have a counter opinion. For every expert you find you will also discover an equally knowledgable detractor.

And beware – new mums can, at times, be both defensive and critical: nothing stirs up a hornet’s nest like telling someone how they ought to be bringing up their baby.

But, to be fair, lack of sleep has never led to a calm and reasoned thought process.

In an article on the Sleep Junkies website, Jeff Mann gives us a brief history of sleep deprivation and torture. 

“In a torture or interrogation scenario, sleep deprivation tactics are used to bring about a change in psychological state, although the associated effects on the body’s immune system and vital functions will undoubtedly cause additional damage. Lack of sleep brings about a number of neurobiological effects affecting reaction time, memory and cognitive functions. It also has the effect of quickly bringing about hypnagogic hallucinations – feelings of ‘altered reality’ caused by the incursion of REM activity into wakefulness. Prolong these conditions and it can lead to severe moral and emotional impairment and ultimately psychosis.”

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So, the one most helpful thing you can do is:

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

  • Cut yourself some slack and take as much pressure off yourself as you can.
  • Use a calendar or diary for everything. Tiredness affects memory, so write it down.
  • Take a nap. The housework can wait.
  • Get to know other new mums (the NCT is great) for support and sympathy.
  • Get some fresh air everyday. Fresh air makes everything smell better!

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  • If your husband or partner needs their sleep because they are working ask them to allow you a few hours at weekends to either sleep or bathe or just put your feet up with a cup of tea. It will make all the difference.

Although the average newborn sleeps for 16 to 20 hours a day, it’s not all at once. And not all at night. This can be a pretty devastating revelation for those of us used to the autonomy of adulthood. But new born babies have no respect for rules and routines…

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The early weeks are worst, when your baby’s doing a random, round-the-clock waking and dozing thing, often displaying a distinct aversion to sleeping anywhere other than your arms. Sometimes babies wanting to feed continuously, particularly throughout the evening. If you’re breast feeding the quality of your milk can dwindle during the course of the day, especially if you’ve had little sleep, which is another reason you need to look after yourself. Try to rest, and try to make you sure you eat a proper, nutritional meal so your body can produce the milk your baby requires. Sometimes it might be that your baby just loves to suckle, for comfort, which brings us to that other hornet’s nest…

To dummy or not to dummy?

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Hevea natural rubber dummies

“It’s amazing how much emotion a small piece of plastic can stir up. But it can – and does. Ranged in the ‘against dummies, no matter what’ corner are, generally speaking, the older generation, mutteringly darkly about bad habits and wonky teeth. Facing them from the ‘for dummies, actually’ corner are, equally generally speaking, an evangelical crowd of new parents who’ve finally found the way to get a moment’s peace.”

Mumsnet on babies and sleep

Before I became a mum I had no intention of giving my baby a dummy. I didn’t like dummies. My baby wouldn’t need to use a dummy. A dummy had never been something I would even consider.

Then I had my first baby.

I breast fed, which all went really well, but by the evening (and most of the night) my baby seemed to be permanently attached to a boob. In fact, there was no ‘seemed’ about it. As soon as he dropped off I would  ease my nipple from his rosebud lips and he would instantly awaken, eyes and mouth shocked wide, and scream until I shoved it back in.

I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t eat, unless my husband cut up my food into tiny pieces and fed it to me. 

One evening a couple came round with their baby who was six months old. When my friend saw me struggling to eat, unable to put my baby down, she asked if I’d thought about trying a dummy? She happened to have a box-fresh spare in her changing bag and before I could protest it had been unpacked, rinsed in boiled water and was dangling tantalisingly, like The Holy Grail, in front of me.

I prised my nipple out of my babies mouth, which gaped in dismay, and before he could utter a sound, popped in the rubber teat. His lips clamped shut and he began to suck. A hush descended on the room. I sighed with relief, re-arranged my clothing, nestled the baby into his moses basket, and poured myself a large glass of wine. 

“There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap, even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.” -Edward Lucas

Probably true, but if the one is denied to you the other can at least make you feel, even if only temporarily, slightly less of a sub-human.

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Remember what I told you earlier about all the confusing info out there?

Mumsnet shares a few positive comments on dummies:

  • They soothe your baby’s cries when nothing else can.

  • They can reduce your baby’s risk of cot death. (There are indeed studies that show an association between giving your baby a dummy while he sleeps and a lower risk of cot death. But it’s not yet clear whether it’s actually the dummy itself that’s providing this protective effect or simply the action of sucking which a baby could do just as well on his fingers or at the breast).

  • They’re simple to get rid of because you can chuck ’em out when the time comes. Unlike a thumb.

And for balance, a few negatives:

  • They are ugly.

  • They can delay language development.

  • They can cause night-time waking when they fall out of your baby’s mouth.

  • Some people say they are used by lazy mums who can’t be bothered to find out what their baby’s really upset about.

See what I mean?

IMHO, dummies are neither good nor evil. They are just a choice.

And, generally it’s the baby who makes the choice.

Here’s a few choices you can make that might help you get a few hours kip…

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“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.” -Wilson Mizener

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“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.” – Leo Burke

If you’re still as miserable as Hamlet why not cheer yourself up with this adult picture book…

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Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

Go the Fuck to Sleep is a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world, where a few snoozing kitties and cutesy rhymes don’t always send a toddler sailing off to dreamland. Profane, affectionate and refreshingly honest, it captures the familiar and unspoken tribulations of putting your child to bed for the night. Colourfully illustrated and hilariously funny, this is a breath of fresh air for parents new, old and expectant*.

(*You should probably not read this to your children.)

And you can listen to Samuel L. Jackson read it here. (It’s great, give it a go)

Further reading for you:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/26/why-dont-babies-sleep-at-night?CMP=fb_gu

Still red-eyed and clueless? Want my advice?

Ditch the plans. Plans are made to be ditched.

Contended parents are flexible parents.

Do whatever works best for you and your baby.

Whatever.

And remember, all kids eventually sleep.

Indeed it may seem like your teenagers do nothing but. 

If you have any tales or tips you’d like to share with us please leave a comment in the box.

And do tune in next week for On sleep part 2… when we’ll be discussing co-sleeping and sleep training…

Posted in Comment, Uncategorized

On the F word…

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Shush Gordon! Not THAT F word.

Today I’m thinking about Feminism, and how we can better raise our children to become Fearless Feisty Feminists

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The question of how we do this effectively has often occupied my thoughts, but recent events have caused me to give it serious head space.

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My fear is that this man (who I refuse to namecheck on my blog) acts like it’s OK, it’s normal, it’s BIG to treat women as commodities, things to use and abuse as he sees fit, things that do not deserve respect, things to be discarded when they are no longer of use, a sub-human species without opinion, voice, or feeling.

It strikes me that rather than teach our girls how not to make themselves vulnerable, what not to wear, how not to conduct themselves lest their behaviour be misconstrued as a ‘come-on’, we need to teach our boys how to respect girls.

In other words, we need to teach our boys how to be feminists.

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Photo Today’s Parent

“Why has the word [feminism] become such an uncomfortable one? It is not the word that is important; it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.” said Emma Watson in her 2014 #HeForShe campaign speech at the UN headquarters in New York.

Emma, who was appointed a UN goodwill ambassador for women, campaigns for women’s issues around the world.

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Her speech (which you can catch here) has been watched over 1.5 million times on Youtube. 

Emma called on men to champion women’s issues and also highlighted the problems men can develop because of the pressures to be stereotypically masculine.

Joanna Shroeder, in her article 18 Ways to Raise Feminist Boys, recommends starting at the very beginning (always a good idea, and Julie Andrews agrees too!)

  • ENCOURAGE HIM TO UNDERSTAND A FULL RANGE OF EMOTIONS. Too often, men aren’t allowed to be sad, hurt, or fearful. This expectation is really bad for our boys, setting them up for higher rates of suicide and other mental health issues. So hug and snuggle your son, and let him cry when he needs to.
  • BUY HIM DOLLS. Sit down with your son and dress, cradle, and feed the dolls together. This is especially important for dads. It’s okay if dolls aren’t your son’s first toy of choice — their presence and your enthusiasm teach him that you believe nurturing is a natural and healthy part of being a boy.good-father
  • PLAY HOUSE WITH HIM. And let him play all sorts of roles. Ask him if he’d like to be the mommy, and you’ll be the child. Let him decide what happens in the action, and never make him feel bad for wanting to play the sister, grandmother, or any other traditionally female role.
  • LET HIM WEAR ALL THE COLOURS. Debunk the myth that there is such a thing as a “boy colour.” All colours are for boys and girls, and if you explain it simply, he’ll see how silly the traditional rules are.
  • ARRANGE PLAYDATES WITH GIRLS. Make playing with girls a normal part of your son’s life. After all, he will be in a future workforce full of women and will probably have a woman for a boss, too. He needs to know that girls are his equals and not just romantic partners.
  • SHOW HIM DIVERSE IMAGES OF FAMILIES. Seek out books and media that shows all sorts of families, from same-sex parents to adoptive families to single-parent homes to Mum, Dad and 2.4 kids. Emphasise love as the central connecting factor that makes a family.

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World Family organic dolls available from Natures Purest

Meg Kehoe in her blog post 8 Things to Teach Your Child About Feminism, because starting them early matters suggests we should:

Let them know feminism means equality…

“From the get-go you should teach your children the true definition of feminism. And, for those who need a little clarification, feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.”

And we should choose Our words wisely…

“Phrases like “boys don’t cry,” “that’s not very ladylike,” and “you _____ like a girl,” are all phrases that can pigeonhole children. Choose your words carefully when speaking to children, and remember that kids learn from what they see.”b3d53f32a2f788994ec1936ff0d840c4

“The idea of being a feminist: so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex, but what feminism is about is equality and human rights. For me that is just an essential part of my identity.”—Lena Dunham

“A feminist is anyone who recognises the equality and full humanity of women and men.” ―Gloria Steinem

So how do we raise our girls…

“I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ― Malala Yousafzai  – watch her Nobel Prize acceptance speech here.

“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilisation in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” — taken from a wonderful blog post by the lexicographer Erin McKean

But,

it  *IS OK* to wear *pretty things*, to like pink if you like pink, to choose a dress and heels one day, jeans, hoody and trainers the next.

 The fabulous novelist, essayist, and totally one of my heroes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the new face of No7 Make-up. She has written extensively on feminism. Her essay, (do read it, please) which she posted on her Facebook page is a most extraordinary and wonderful piece of feminist writing.

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In a statement about the No7 beauty campaign, Chimamanda says, “I love make-up and its wonderful possibilities for temporary transformation. And I also love my face after I wash it all off (…) There is something exquisitely enjoyable about seeing yourself with a self-made new look. And for me that look is deeply personal. It isn’t about what is in fashion or what the rules are supposed to be. It’s about what I like. What makes me want to smile when I look in the mirror. What makes me feel slightly better on a dull day. What makes me comfortable.”

It’s that confidence in THEIR OWN beauty that we want to instil in our girls. That same confidence that enables Chimamanda to say:

“Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.”

“I believe that the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.” —Hillary Clinton 

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First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, China. Listen to/read the full speech on the American Rhetoric website.

And here’s Emma Watson again – “In 1997, Hillary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly, many of the things that she wanted to change are still true today.”

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

“Let this conference be our – and the world’s – call to action. Let us heed that call so we can create a world in which every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every boy and girl is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future. That is the work before you. That is the work before all of us who have a vision of the world we want to see — for our children and our grandchildren.”

And to end with another of my heroes,

the United States’ First Lady, Michelle Obama.

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In the incredible speech she made in response to the ‘locker-room revelations’ from the current Republican candidate, she says,

 “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.”

Do share your stories with us. Tell us how you have raised/are raising your own little feminists. Did you/do you think it’s an important issue? Why do you think, so many years after the ‘sexual revolution’, and the ‘women’s liberation movement’, we are still having to have these conversations?

Footnote:

Give us Female Heroes, not Girly Superheroines!

Responding to the swathe of leggy legends either present and correct or imminently due on printed pages and screens both big and small, Julie Burchill writes in Porter Magazine (issue 17)

“Superheroines embody the notion that the only reason a man ever put a woman on a pedestal was to get a better look at her bum.”

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Posted in Simple Pleasures, Uncategorized

On Simple Pleasures…

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Due to the usual commitments of work and school

and because they live in London, we don’t get to see my partner’s daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Noah, as much as we all would like. We finally arranged their first visit to us since we moved to Yorkshire and we were really looking forward to it. When my youngest son, Julius, who is one of Noah’s favourite people, decided to come home from uni for the weekend too, everything fell into place. 

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Illustration – Quentin Blake

“Come and give Moo-Moo a big wet kiss!”

As soon as I see Noah I want to squeal with delight, scoop him up and give him a kiss, but that would totally freak him out (as it would most people). I know I need to give him space so he can remind himself of who we are, and shed his shy-cloak. 

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Although half a year is nothing for a grown up, it’s an age for a four year old. In the months since we last saw him he’s grown several inches, started school (It’s not school Moo Moo, it’s reception!), and experienced a whole heap of stuff way more interesting than visiting two people you only vaguely remember in a house you don’t know.

With this on my mind, and because all Grandmas (and Moo-Moos) love to spoil their little ones, I’d been wondering what I could get to help him feel at home. I researched all sorts of toys (but I’m not sure what he’s already got), and books (but I always end up buying him books), and clothes (but they’re a bit boring for a boisterous wee boy) and then I had an
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Because everyone loves a bicycle

I took myself off to Halfords, had a long chat with the charming sales assistant and settled on an emerald green dinosaur bike with stabilisers and matching helmet. We parked it in the hall so he would see it as soon as he walked through the front door. We couldn’t wait to see his little face.

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We met our guests from the station on Saturday morning and, although Noah was a little bashful, he did allow Grandpa to hold his hand while we walked to the car. When we opened the front door of the house Noah ran straight past the bike and shouted, “Where’s Julius?” I should have known that the memory of play-fights with a tall, burly, nineteen year old is much more exciting than an inanimate object, even if it does have wheels.

Julius wasn’t due to arrive until the evening so after lunch we managed, with a bit of cajoling, to persuade Noah to try out his new bike. It was, in the end, a resounding success! (Phew!)

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We picked huge rosy apples from the hedgerow down our lane and fed them to these beauties. Noah didn’t quite dare get near enough himself, but he was mesmerised – eyes big brown buttons – as Grandpa held out his palm. The nostrils snorted clouds of grassy steam. The soft downy lips grappled with the apples. The big tombstone teeth bit down hard and crunched them in two.

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After all that excitement we curled up on the sofa and read our two favourite books. They are by the fabulous children’s author and illustrator – John Burningham. I used to read them to my own three boys and Noah’s favourite teenager is, in fact, named after the crazy child in one of these books. I thoroughly recommend both these titles, and indeed anything by John Burningham. ‘Courtney’ always used to make me cry, something which I tried, but failed, to hide. As I would blow my nose and wipe away a sly tear all three of my callous children would nudge each other and titter. If you want sympathy don’t have sons.

I was over the moon when Noah asked to come with me, in the car, on his own, to collect Julius from York. We chatted away in the dark about bestest friends – Leon and Isla, and bestest lunches – fish fingers and beans, until – mid sentence – he fell fast asleep. He didn’t wake up again until we pulled up at the house, but his face did break into a beaming smile when he realised who was helping him out of the car.

Thanks to a fully-recharged-wide-eyed-and-raring-to-go-Noah, Julius saw his first Sunday morning in years.

After a hearty breakfast, we all went for another bike ride. And then we made a pie for our lunch. When my boys were small they loved to help me decorate the crust with pastry shapes and Julius showed Noah how to roll out the pastry scraps and cut out shapes. They made cats and cars and stick men and smiley faces and at one point an enormous rather too anatomically correct willy which Noah found totally hilarious and I obstinately refused to use. In the end they plumped for a personalised Autumnal theme. (Julius– “so boring…” Moo-Moo– “so pretty…”)  And it tasted pretty damn good too.

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Before we knew it, it was time to pack up the car and head off for the station. Grandpa and I each got a kiss, but Julius got a full-on-bear-hug.

The joy of a weekend filled with simple pleasures.

I can’t wait to do it all again.

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