Christmas is different now that I’m a Mum

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Before I became a Mum I was all about the Christmas excess. I started my shopping in November and kept going until Christmas Eve. I used to spend a small fortune on gifts. Banjos, helicopter rides, expensive perfumes, cashmeres and computer games. Every Friday during November and December was Black Friday to me. So, naturally, I thought that if I ever had children I would go into festive overdrive. Santa pyjamas, selection boxes and Elves on the Shelves to beat the band!

But something funny happens when you have a child. Things that were once important suddenly don’t seem to matter anymore. Now Christmas shopping, Black Fridays and the endless stream of buying more stuff just rings hollow for me. Little P is only small so she doesn’t want loads of ‘stuff’ (a teddy bear is the only thing she has asked for this year). But at this point in her young life I know that I have the power to make her think that she wants loads of stuff. I could show her toy catalogues and TV ads, bring her to shops and turn her into a mini consumer. But why would I do that. She deserves more from Christmas.

When I think back to my childhood Christmases I get all misty eyed because they were very special indeed. But what was it that made them so special? It certainly wasn’t the amount of toys or presents. I can only remember two Santa presents in detail. One was a Wendy House and the only reason I remember is because there’s a photo of me in said Wendy House looking very pleased with myself after one too many Curly Wurlys. The second one is Crystal Barbie and let’s face it who could ever forget Crystal Barbie! It wasn’t the old cliche about family time that made it so special either. I was very fortunate to grow up with all my extended family living close by so I saw them all almost every day, not just at Christmas.

For  me the really special thing about Christmas, the one quality that set it apart from every other time of the year, was the magic. The kind jolly man in a red suit who visited every child on Christmas Eve to deliver presents. We couldn’t even stay up late and meet him. He was almost too good to be true but we knew he had to be real because all the adults talked about him too. The magic began with the ‘Shop’ Santa visit in early December. it had to be the Dunnes Stores Santa because he definitely wasn’t one of the helpers. He was obviously the real Santa because he had a real beard.

On Christmas Eve we watched the news (even the news people knew about Santa!). We had to check if he had left the North Pole on schedule and had good weather conditions for his round the world trip. They even had official satellite pictures. Then the ritual of leaving out a carrot for Rudolph, a mince pie and a bottle of beer for Santa. Peering out into the stars before we went asleep and straining our ears to hear the sleigh bells. My parents were always just as excited as we were.

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Then in the morning scrambling around in the dark for the lumpy stuffed stocking at the end of the bed. The bedroom filled with the scent of satsumas. We always waited patiently at the top of the stairs for Mum and Dad to fully wake up (there was no way we would dare to go down on our own). There were always tiny bits of white fluff that had fallen off Santa’s coat in the hallway. Finally, after plenty of build-up, Dad would open the sitting room door. The Christmas Tree lights sparkled and each one of us would make a dash to whatever surprise had been left under the tree. The half eaten carrot was left on the fireplace and mince pie crumbs on the plate. Santa had actually touched one of our plates. Imagine that!?

You see it didn’t really matter what we got under the tree, because the real magic was in how it got there. And that’s what I want to pass on to Little P. The magic of Christmas. A special and rare kind of magic that can be shared between adults and children alike. As Dr Seuss wrote way back in 1957:

‘Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, he thought, means a little bit more’.

‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’, Dr Seuss.

Mole’s Star by Britta Teckentrup

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I love children’s books to have a positive message that’s well hidden within a wonderful story. Such is the case with Britta Teckentrup’s Mole’s Star. It’s only when I was writing this review that I really teased out the beautiful messages about sharing, community spirit and empathy that are contained within this magical bedtime book.

Mole loves to come out of his dark underground burrow every night to stargaze. One lucky night he spots a shooting star and wishes he could have all the stars in the sky. But when his wish is granted Mole discovers that his gain is also a big loss for all the other animals in the wood. He soon realises that deer, mouse, bear, fox and owl love the stars just as much as he does. So, with the help of the other animals, Mole sets about getting the stars back up into the night sky where they belong.

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This is a gentle and comforting tale just right for reading to little ones before they fall asleep. Teckentrup’s print effect illustrations capture perfectly the contrasts of the matte dark night sky and the sparkling illuminations of the stars.

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Little P loves to hear about Mole as her bedtime story. The illustrations really capture her imagination and she especially loves the way he manages to get the stars out of (and back into) the sky! This scores a SEVEN out of TEN on the P-OMETER.

Mole’s Star by Britta Teckentrup is published by Orchard Books. ISBN: 978-1-40834-282-4

Foclóiropedia by Fatti & John Burke

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If you’re like me you probably don’t have very fond memories of your English/Irish dictionary or Fócloir from primary school. But if I’d been lucky enough to own a copy of Foclóiropedia with Fatti Burke’s eye poppingly gorgeous Illustrations then learning Irish would have been a completely different experience altogether!

This father and daughter team have covered every word and phrase you’re likely to need  as Gaeilge and as an adult I’ve found really useful phrases that I didn’t know, for example: ‘Is math mar a tharla’ means ‘The story had a happy ending’. Everything is easy to find in the usual categories such as Numbers, Colours, and The Weather along with some creative new ones like Similes, Telling a Story and Small Talk!

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It’s very intuitively categorised so you’ll find useful phrases such as ‘Tá sé timpeall an chúinne’ (It’s around the corner) in the Around the Town section with words for Bank, Traffic Lights, Post Office etc. Or ‘Á, nach bhfuil sé gleoite?’ (Ah, isn’t it cute?) beside the illustration of the red panda in The Zoo section.

The illustrations are a delight and sprinkled with familiar cultural references throughout. My personal favourites are the Loop the Loop, the Aisling copybook and the bag of Siúcra in The Kitchen!

Little P just loves this book because it has pictures of all of her favourite things. Children, playgrounds, farms, zoos, food, vehicles….the list goes on. It functions as a picture book for now and when she starts to learn Irish it will be a valuable resource. This is one of those special kinds of books that can be brought into a home and used by everyone, no matter what stage they are at in the learning process, for many years to come.

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The illustrations are so detailed and there are loads of them on every large page so Little P gets totally absorbed in her favourite categories (currently Ar an mBóthar, Ceol and An Zú!). And I know she’s going to get years of value out of it so this scores an EIGHT out of TEN on the P-OMETER.

Foclóiropedia by Fatti & John Burke is published by Gill Books. ISBN: 978-0-7171-7554-3

A Quiet Quiet House by Georgiana Deutsch & Ekaterina Trukhan

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A quiet house on a quiet street begins to fill up one by one with noisy little mice. But what exactly are they all getting up to in there?

Deutsch’s book is just perfect for preschoolers. Their curiosity builds with every page turn as each little mouse goes in through the red door with a mysterious package. Trukhan’s beautifully graphic illustrations include plenty of detail such as cats and goldfish peeping out through the windows of the neighbouring house providing a running commentary on the proceedings. There are different cut-outs on each page giving a tiny glimpse inside the house at the mice shenanigans! Little P’s favourite was the fox hiding in the bin who doesn’t reveal himself until near the final page.

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Each mouse has their own little personality and mode of transport from a moped to skis! The pages even change with the weather, from sunshine and rain to a blanket of snow (hence the skis!). The mystery continues right to the last page. Convinced that the mice were all going to a party I was just as pleasantly surprised as Little P to discover they were all going to band practice! Each mouse has their own musical instrument and there’s an excellent picture glossary at the back of the book which names all the musical instruments, vehicles, colours and weather that feature in the story.

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Little P is charmed by the quiet house particularly as she is a big music fan. The illustrations really tell the whole story so she can happily ‘read’ it by herself. This scores an EIGHT out of TEN on the P-OMETER.

A Quiet Quiet House by Georgiana Deutsch & Ekaterina Trukhan is published by Little Tiger Press. ISBN: 978-1-84869-845-1

Does every little girl REALLY want to be a princess?

A few weeks ago we were doing our food shopping. Little P was sitting in the trolley and I was strategically trying to wrestle a bottle of hand sanitiser away from her at the till (don’t ask, she has a thing about small bottles!!). There was a very charming American lady in the queue who started chatting to us. She asked Little P her name, her age and the usual stuff. When we were leaving we waved goodbye to her and she turned to Little P and said “You’re such a beautiful little girl, you’re like a real life princess”. We continued on our way and as we were packing the car she asked me “What’s a princess Mama?”. I was completely stumped. I had no answer for the child. The daughter of a King and Queen? That answer would only lead to “but what’s a King and Queen Mama?”. Because the fact is that princesses are no longer relevant in her life or any of our lives anymore. They’re a medieval concept so why do we hold them up as an aspiration? In this time of modernity and freedom and autonomy why on earth would anyone want to be a princess?

Like many people I am completely captivated by the Meghan and Harry romance. It put a smile on my face to hear their good news this week despite the fact that they have no relevance to my life whatsoever! Partly because it’s always inspiring to see two people so obviously in love and partly because it’s an interesting, slightly unconventional romance. Of course it was almost impossible to avoid the media coverage of their wedding and the one “fact” I read/heard repeatedly was that apparently every little girl wants to be a princess. So what is it about the princess trope that just won’t go away.

Is it the lovely dresses? We can all wear as many lovely dresses as we want, they’re not the sole preserve of princesses. It’s a free world. Is it something to do with money & wealth. Again that’s something anyone can achieve if that’s what they really want. Much better to aspire to be a business tycoon or an entrepreneur if money is the goal. Then at least the money you earn will be your own. Is it something to do with beauty? Surely we all know by now that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Anyway a good hairdresser and the right make up can make anyone look as good as a princess.

Maybe it’s a notion about having all of these things without having to put too much effort into getting them. Having it all just by being entitled to it. But I suspect that if any of us could see what life is really like beyond the palace walls we might feel differently. Every family milestone meticulously documented by the media, little freedom of expression and minimum privacy are just some of the downsides for a modern day prince or princess.

I also think it’s universally acknowledged by now that the fairytale story of a princess waiting to be rescued by her prince is one that belongs in another time. It’s been turned on it’s head in popular culture over and over again. My personal favourite has to be “Shrek”. This animated tale mirrors real life perfectly where, at times, we’re all the rescuer and the rescue-ee depending on circumstances.  One could certainly argue that in this modern Windsor romance it is Harry that has been ‘rescued’ by Meghan and not the other way around.

It’s worth noting that Meghan Markle is not a princess. She has given up a highly successful career and a considerable amount of her freedom to take on her new role as the Duchess of Sussex. It would be difficult for any parent to see that as a desirable life choice for their daughter. Of course she wants to be with the person she loves but I suspect she also feels she’s going to be able to make some significant changes in the world in her new position. She already has a history of involvement in various charities including ‘World Vision’ and ‘One Young World’.

So someone who makes sacrifices for the greater good and wants to make a real difference in the world? Forget princesses, these are the kind of real life qualities that can provide inspiration for young women everywhere. Anyway, as Meghan herself knows, it’s a wonderful and exciting world out there for girls with plenty to look forward to beyond tiaras and fancy dresses. And for her and Harry I suspect the best is yet to come!

Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones & Sara Ogilvie

BR-IG.1A little girl with a toolbag who invents useful gadgets and sometimes loses her temper. Not the usual kind of female character that populates children’s books. But then Izzy Gizmo isn’t the usual kind of book. Pip Jones’s story practically fizzes off the page with energy and exuberance. Matched perfectly by Sara Ogilvie’s vibrant illustrations.

Izzy is an inventor. When she finds a crow with broken wings she sets about working on an invention to help him to fly again. But when her inventions don’t quite work Izzy gets a bit frustrated (and cross)! Luckily her Grandad is on hand to give her some gentle encouragement. After trying again (and again) Izzy finally comes up with the perfect invention to get her feathered friend airborne.

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Izzy Gizmo is the picture book heroine I’ve been waiting for all my life! Luckily Little P is also smitten. I can’t imagine why she has fallen in love with this energetic, industrious little girl who is prone to a teeny tantrum here and there!! There are so many positive messages in this book. The main one is truly a valuable life lesson. Success comes with hard work and perseverance. I think this book should be on every family’s bookshelf.

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Little P is a big fan of Izzy and loves the story about her helping the crow to fly. We’ve read it many times and she’ll happily look at the book by herself. So this scores an EIGHT out of TEN on the P-OMETER.

Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones & Sara Ogilvie is published by Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 978-0-8570-7513-0

‘Noddy’ Series by Enid Blyton & Harmsen Van Der Beek/Peter Wienk

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Butterscotch Angel Delight. A memory of pure deliciousness from childhood but I tried it again recently only to be bitterly disappointed. Such is the case with Noddy. I have very fond memories of the little man with the red and yellow car so I was very excited to see these beautiful new editions. The illustrations by Van der Beek (and later Wienk) are still as charming as ever. Although the toys in Toyland are very much from the 1940s they are still as funny and playful for children today. But as I began to read I realised that the stories themselves should remain firmly back there.

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Enid Blyton has peppered her stories with endless moralistic judgment. Poor Noddy is constantly being punished or blamed for something or other. And every story ends with him learning his lesson. Don’t be too boastful, don’t go to places you don’t know, don’t have too much fun! I decided to make up my own version of the stories when I was reading them for Little P. She loved the characters but I felt there was a bit too much trial and retribution in the original stories. She also found some of the illustrations a little disturbing. For example in one of the stories Noddy is robbed by the goblins and there is an illustration of him in the wood crying without any clothes. Even I found that image a bit upsetting!

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So although she loves the character the Noddy stories didn’t go down too well with Little P. They score a FIVE out of TEN on the P-OMETER.

Noddy and Tessie Bear written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Beek/Wienk is published by Hodder Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1-444-93358-1

Noddy Goes To School written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Beek/Wienk is published by Hodder Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1-444-93355-0

Here Comes Noddy written by Enid Blyton and illustrated by Beek/Wienk is published by Hodder Children’s Books. ISBN: 978-1-444-93353-6