What ‘Slow Parenting’ Means To Me

IMG_1499

 

Over the past few weeks, we have had a few interesting things happening. Birthdays, a holiday with Nana and Grandad and ‘Little P’s first road trip! All things that took us out of our usual routine. They were all great fun, very exciting and she certainly enjoyed the new faces and all the moving around. But now that things have settled back to normal it made me realise how much I treasure the small mundane details of our days.

We do pretty much the same thing every day. It varies a little depending on weather but it’s generally breakfast, beach, playground, lunch, nap, garden, dinner, playground, bath and bed.

On rainy days it’s drawing, reading, dancing to The Beatles and playing with the toy farm animals. Not exactly thrills and spills but I have to confess that I love it. I love the little chats we have over breakfast about whether seagull poo is bigger than pigeon poo. I love the fact that we have to do the toddler swing BEFORE the big girl swing in the playground and I love the way she always pick the same blue colouring pencil no matter what she decides to draw.

img_1569.jpg

It’s a world away from my previous life. I used to make television programmes and no two days were ever the same. I was always travelling and meeting new people. My life was exciting but at times exhausting. There was so much to do and very little time to savour the moment. Often months would pass in a blur where I didn’t take the time to really enjoy the experiences I was having. When I became a parent for the first time I was determined not to allow the same thing to happen to the time spent with my daughter. So, kind of unwittingly, I made my decisions about slow parenting very early on.

As parents, we are bombarded with rules, advice  and ‘best practices’. There is so much information out there about every aspect of parenting that sometimes it can add to a never ending cycle of worry about whether you are doing everything correctly. It’s possible to become so focused on the routines and the practicalities from feeding to sleeping, weaning to potty training, screen time to exercise and forget about just being with your child. Suddenly months then years can go by in a flash. Babies become children, then children become adults. All of us recognise that feeling of ‘where has the time gone?!’ For me that is really what slow parenting means. Taking time to enjoy the moments. Forgetting about what I ‘should’ be doing and just ‘being’.

IMG_0820

Usually the most joy can be found, not in the big monumental occasions, but the small moments of togetherness. While I’m in them I’m not concerned about whether ‘Little P’ should be eating that biscuit, or climbing on that rock, or whether I should have brushed her hair or changed her grubby t-shirt. I just enjoy her giggles or watching her get totally absorbed in dropping stones into the water, or listening to her try to remember the lyrics to her favourite Beatlessong. Slow parenting is not about trying to be the the best parent or the perfect parent it’s simply about enjoying being a parent. Sometimes it’s very low key, maybe even a bit routine. Other times it’s exciting and exhilarating. But the important thing is that it’s happening and happening to me.

So I’ve yet to make my plans for the future but for the moment I’m happy with my choice of the slow and simple life. Or boring, depending on your point of view!

Why Are Breastfeeding Mums Still Being Sent to the Toilets?

While I was pregnant we went on holiday to Portugal. It was Christmas time and the markets were full of tiny Nativity figurines. One thing that really struck me was the number of miniature breastfeeding Marys. They were everywhere and perfectly detailed complete with tiny nipples and a milk-drunk baby Jesus. There were real life ‘Marys’ everywhere as well. Women breastfeeding on public transport, park benches, sitting outside Cafés among the crowds sipping coffee and having loud animated conversations with their companions. They were not using shawls and blankets or hiding in special breastfeeding rooms. Why would they? They were occupying the star tables in the restaurants and the front seats at events. As I was pregnant and intending to breastfeed all this positivity really buoyed me up.

wildmum_brfeed_3

But that was Portugal. Almost three years of breastfeeding later I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve read in the media or heard anecdotally, in Ireland and the UK, about women being asked to feed ‘somewhere more private’ or ‘do that in the toilets’. At this stage I’ve fed my daughter in many places. Beaches, playgrounds, restaurants, shopping centres, churches, garden centres….. A good eclectic mix of locations (but I’m sure others could offer up many more exotic or unusual!). Some by choice, others by necessity. I’ve never fed her in a toilet nor would I ever. But once she grew from baby to toddler I have to admit that I felt awkward and embarrassed about feeding her in public. Often retreating to my car instead. That Mediterranean positivity had left me.

But how do you think a Portuguese woman would react if she was asked to feed her baby in a toilet? Or a Norwegian, or an Italian, or a Dane? I bet the person asking would be told in no uncertain terms where to go. So when I read yet another story this week about a Mayo fan being told to use the toilets when she needed to breastfeed her baby at a GAA match I felt angry. Not just angry with the steward who had asked her but angry with myself. What was I doing allowing other people (with dysfunctional ideas about breastfeeding) make me feel awkward or embarrassed?  I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons why some people still hold those dysfunctional ideas. Religion maybe, lack of education, lack of experience? The truth is, I’m tired of making excuses for these archaic attitudes. But if I want my country to have the same positive attitude toward breastfeeding as other Europeans then it’s time for me, and all breastfeeding women, to step up to the plate. Yes, we may feel a bit awkward, a bit shy, a bit embarrassed or exposed but we have to just do it anyway. We owe it to each other and to our daughters, our nieces, sisters and every woman who makes the choice to breastfeed. If there are more of us out there publicly breastfeeding then WE can make it far too embarrassing for THEM to send us to the toilets.

IMG_2050

So, while I was out this week late one evening my daughter, over tired and cranky, asked to be fed. We were in a public place surrounded by people I didn’t know very well. Ordinarily I would try to fob her off until we got home but this time I channelled my inner Portuguese ‘Mary’ and fed her there and then. And you know what? Nobody batted an eyelid.

 

 

Why I’ll Never Tell My Daughter She is Pretty…..

 

IMG-0575

Recently I had to do that thing which seems to cause parenting angst the world over. Give my daughter her first haircut. Unfortunately she seems to have inherited my hair. Fine, flyaway & somewhere inbetween curly and straight. Watching it falling into her eyes when she was trying to play, sticking to her food when she was trying to eat and covering her face when she was trying to run I knew it was time for the chop. So, I cut her a fringe and gave her a bob. She was thrilled and no longer had to squint or constantly push it out of her eyes. But I wasn’t prepared for the extreme reactions from everyone else. My mother practically refused to speak to me for a whole 24 hours. ‘Her lovely blonde curls’ she cried. ‘But she looked so pretty’ she wailed. ‘She looks like a boy now!’ was the final accusation.

It got me thinking about how we can send a message to our children, from a very early age, about the importance of how they look. Particularly girls. Was my little girl supposed to suffer discomfort just to look pretty?

During my teenage years I spent a huge amount of time and efforts on my appearance. Imagine all of the other stuff I could have been doing. Learning a musical instrument, skydiving, bungee jumping, having fun, living! I also missed out on alot because maybe I felt I didn’t have the right outfit or I had a spot or a bad hair day.

I don’t want my daughter to grow up with a skewed notion about the importance of her appearance. Of course I believe that it’s important to be clean, look after your body, brush your hair!! But hours in front of the mirror worrying about eyebrows, fake tan, nails or waxing. Is that really necessary? Think of all the other great stuff that girls could be doing with that time.

I realise that when my daughter becomes a teenager she will most definitely get distracted by make up and clothes, just as we all do. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Clothes and make up can be a fun and creative way to express yourself. But I don’t want her appearance to become a burden, an obsession or an impediment to anything she wants to do. Most of all I don’t want her to feel defined by it.

She has a life to live and she’s not just here for decoration. There are people to meet, places to go, food to eat and fun to be had. My daughter is kind and brave, funny and smart, noisy and impatient. I’ll tell her all those things. But I won’t tell her she’s pretty. She is so much more than that.

IMG-9577

 

My 15 essentials for a toddler wardrobe

I’ve long given up on seasonal clothing, it’s just not practical in Ireland. I no longer pack away my winter jacket, it’s often needed on a chilly July evening! And I have been known to wear sandals in November. So when it comes to ‘Little P’, I have about fifteen items of clothing that are in her wardrobe all year round. They come from a range of shops including well known German supermarkets, local boutiques, discount outdoor superstores and regular high street retailers. One thing I’ve discovered is that a toddler doesn’t necessarily need loads of clothing just enough of the right clothing.

Waterproofs

i9kyVwgpROKGKUWe+Om9DA

These have been essential since Little P started to walk. She wears them on the beach sitting in the sand and in the water. It also means she can play in the garden or the playground after the rain. The suits come in all sorts of styles with fleece lining or without, zips or buttons, full body suits or dungarees, so take your pick. I find the dungarees really handy just because they can be worn on warm wet days as well as cold. A good waterproof jacket and she’s basically weatherproof!

Fleece

iGCBd2iATXaCE3pDpZx61w

These thin fleeces are great for really cold winter days layered under a jacket. On summer evenings when the temperature drops they’re cosier than a cardigan and they wash really well too. When Little P is very cold after a swim they warm her up in no time.

Wellies & Welly Socks

fullsizeoutput_88

We have both worn wellies for the entire winter. The grass is always wet and there are always puddles somewhere so with wellies on she can walk anywhere. It also means we don’t get wet feet on the beach. Welly socks (or any thicker than normal socks) keep little toes nice and cosy on very cold days.

Polo-neck

Layering is the secret when dressing for Irish weather. Thin cotton polo necks are a great base layer. They’re breathable so no overheating but they keep little necks protected from wild Atlantic winds. It also means she doesn’t have to wear a scarf (and there’s no way she would keep one of those on!!).

Helmet Hat

fullsizeoutput_86

Those winds can also be hard on little ears so a hat that keeps her ears warm, and one she can’t take off, is invaluable. She finds wool a bit ‘itchy’ so fleece again was the best solution. We’ve even worn this hat with a wetsuit on wild and windy summer days!

Wetsuit

DBtJ5EAKRWO1HTEwXFnEMw

If you live near the coast or are holidaying on an Irish beach then a wetsuit will make life so much easier. Irish seas are always cold but that doesn’t deter a toddler! Put on a wetsuit and they can spend as much time as they like in the water. It also means they’re protected from the sun, scratches from climbing rocks or possible stings from jellyfish.

Sunhat

We may not get very much sunshine but that’s all the more reason to protect young skin when the sun does decide to come out. A simple cotton wide brimmed hat shields their eyes as well. I couldn’t manage to find one with an under chin strap so I just stitched in a piece of soft elastic to stop it blowing off (or being pulled off!)

Leggings

 

 

These are just the best for active toddlers. Soft and stretchy they fit over nappies and are toilet training friendly! They come in a wide range of prices so you can spend whatever your budget allows.

Swim Shoes

fullsizeoutput_89

These are our welly replacements for summer. They stop little feet getting too cold in the sea and also make it easier to walk on stony beaches. During July & August weever fish can often be found on some Irish beaches so it’s good to have protection on small feet.

Thermal Vest

Back to the layering. A thermal vest is great if you have a little one who doesn’t like to wear too many clothes or bulky jackets in winter. They are thin, soft and keep in that extra layer of body heat.

Padded Jacket

o5UkPeHASlCSP+5XqfMT7g

It’s worth making the effort to find the right jacket because it will be worn for at least eight months of the year. ‘Little P’ went through that stage of refusing to wear one but when we got her a new lighter jacket she had no issue with it. It’s a good idea to try on a few in the shop if possible and see if they like how the jacket ‘feels’. Look out for ‘toddler friendly’ features like snug hoods, zip guards, buttons, pockets and fleece lining.

Long Sleeved Cotton Top

Comfortable and cool I find these much more useful for summer than t-shirts because they protect her arms from the sun.

Loose Cotton Trousers

These replace the leggings for summer. Again, better than shorts because they protect legs from getting burned.

Vests

It’s worth buying good quality vests because this is obviously the layer that goes right next to skin and they are worn every day so it’s worth spending a little bit extra if you think of the cost per wear. Look out for super soft or organic cottons.

Non Slip Socks

fullsizeoutput_85

We bought about twenty pairs of these when ‘Little P’ started to walk. They’re just regular socks with little rubber spots on the soles. If you have wooden floors and a speedy toddler they prevent plenty of falls.

So seasons may come and go (pretty much daily in Ireland!) but these are the items of clothing that ensure ‘Little P’ is weatherproof come rain or shine.

For my daughter, future environmental warrior…..

When ‘Little P’ was a baby we lived in a house perched on the side of a valley. Our nearest neighbours were sheep and every day the valley came alive with birdsong. In Springtime both of us would sit outside in the sun just listening. ‘Little P’ propped up in her pram enjoying the warmth of the sun on her downy head. One morning we heard the distinctive call of the cuckoo ringing through the valley. It was my first time to hear it in reality but it was an instantly recognisable sound. Even ‘Little P’s eyes widened as though she knew she had just heard something special. So, for the duration of our Spring and Summer in that house, we heard the cuckoo every morning at the same time regular as clockwork.

I was thinking about this recently while reading an article by Michael McCarthy about the bird population in the UK. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/26/wildlife-modern-farming-insects-birds
Pesticides used in modern farming have reduced the insect population and as a result the bird population. Over the past fifty years in the UK 56% of farmland birds have disappeared from the countryside. Pretty shocking statistics. In Ireland we are also suffering the effects. ‘Birdwatch Ireland’ have an action plan in place to try to save the 19 species of farmland birds under threat from changes to our biodiversity. These are the birds that use farmland for feeding and breeding, birds like curlews, corncrake, lapwing and plovers.
Nature has always been a huge part of my life and especially birds. As a child my Dad used to take me birdwatching. I can still remember the excitement of sitting quietly for ages then finally seeing a plover or a heron through his huge heavy binoculars. We used to watch Eamon De Buitlear programmes together and read ‘To the Waters and the Wild’ at bedtime. It’s important to me and to Little P’s Dad that she also grows up close to nature. She already loves birds. Willie Wagtail and Robin Redbreast are her favourites. She can see a heron fly over the house most mornings and she loves watching the little finches bathing in the puddles. It makes me very sad to think that she may grow up in an Ireland with significantly less of those perfect little creatures. Maybe the cuckoo she heard as a baby will be the only one she will ever hear. Maybe her children will never get the opportunity to hear one at all.
I know at this point I should finish with a rabble rousing, inspiring paragraph about how her generation can save the environment from destruction. How I will raise her to make a difference in the world. How I’ll fill her with such a love and respect for nature that she’ll dedicate her life to preserving it. Some days, thankfully, that is exactly how I feel. But today I feel less optimistic. A bit defeated.
Maybe the statistics in that article just shocked me. Maybe I’ve just pulled one too many pieces of plastic from our beautiful beaches. Maybe, like Michael McCarthy, I’m worried that most people just don’t see this as an important enough issue. Maybe, I just feel too small as one person against the vast wheels of industry, intensive farming, or giant corporations.
So tomorrow I’ll go back to fighting the good fight but for today I’m going to bring my little girl outside to listen to the curlew and the gull. To watch the robin and the wagtail do battle over the seeds. To see the blackbird wrestle with a worm and the magpie guard his nest. And I’ll hope that she will still be able to see them when she’s a young woman. Or, at least, I hope that she will remember them.
This post was also inspired by Michael McCarthy’s book ‘Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo’

My Quest for the Ultimate Breastfeeding Top

Little P has never spared my blushes when it comes to breastfeeding. Ever since she was a newborn she’s insisted on full access to the breast (preferably both of them). She gets both hands on and woe betide anything that gets in her way. So scarves, cover ups or muslins demurely draped over my boobage area have never really been an option for me.

Breastfeeding

I’ve been breastfeeding for over two years now and basically muddled through with various unsatisfactory items of clothing! Tops with low necklines are perfect at home I just pull them down and that’s easy but out and about it can make me feel a bit exposed (and chilly!). A top that pulls up from the bottom is fine in theory but leaves a handful of fabric that always ended up falling in Little P’s face. Button through shirts I thought were the perfect solution until I left the buttons open on more than one occasion (thankfully the postman averted his gaze in a gentlemanly fashion). My mother, aunt and sister in law have all bought breastfeeding tops for me. But I never managed to find one that functioned well, was comfortable and looked, well, cool (is that too much to ask for a breastfeeding Mum?😉). Most of what is available is either very dull, impractical or far too expensive.
So, I was pretty excited when Cecilia from Handmade by Cece offered me the opportunity to review one of her breastfeeding tops. All of her clothing is handmade from organic cotton in a lush variety of colours and patterns. I chose a pretty leaf pattern in my favourite shade of purple and the ‘Eva’ style top (€35 breastfeeding or non breastfeeding).  I emailed my fabric choice along with my dress size and to say that I was excited about the arrival of my top is something of an understatement. I have technically been waiting over two years for this moment!

Little P was with me when the package arrived so she did the opening and was suitably impressed with the contents. ‘Oh Mama it’s so soft’! And it is! The softness of the fabric you wear when breastfeeding cannot be underestimated. Suddenly when you’re holding a delicate newborn every item of clothing you own feels like sandpaper. Handmade by Cece cotton is supersoft with a generous stretch. The colours are vibrant and the pattern is a modern Orla Kiely-esque print that is eye catching but neutral enough to match what is already in my wardrobe.

IMG_2017
Eva Top from Handmade by Cece (check out my supermodel pose!)

I tried it on (is there anything more wonderful than getting a parcel with clothes for yourself and not for your offspring?😀). It fits perfectly, even down to the sleeve length and is really comfy with a scoop neck. The length is just right, sitting on my hips so it will work well with trousers or a skirt. I told Little P it was a special top for giving her ‘Mamas’ (that’s what she calls breastfeeding!) and she was very eager to see if it worked so we didn’t waste any time testing it out!

 


As you can see from the video basically the ‘bust’ part of the top lifts up and the fabric underneath the ‘bust’ pulls down. Simple as that! There was no extra fabic hanging over Little P’s face while feeding, which is obviously even more important when feeding a newborn.

IMG_2050
It works!

The top can be opened as much or as little as required. This was one the major things I found lacking in other breastfeeding tops. Now I can use this top both for nap feeding at home when Little P wants to snuggle close to my skin or out and about for more discreet (or less chilly!) feeding. There is plenty of fabric covering the boobage area so it can be worn just with a bra (or without) with no fear of anything falling out! Or layered with a vest top underneath for chillier days.
And guess what? It looks cool too! At last. But there is one major negative I have to point out. I have had to wait over two years to find THE ultimate breastfeeding top!
Handmade by Cece where have you been all my daughter’s life?😀😉

www.madebycece.ie

 

 

 

Why ‘Snow Days’ are so special

While trying to find radiator space to dry Little P’s snow soaked clothing after her first day of snow fun I had a flashback to my own Mum doing exactly the same thing so many years ago. I can remember snow days probably as my clearest childhood memories. I can’t tell you the years, the dates or my ages. I don’t think childhood memories are neatly filed in date order, mine certainly aren’t anyway. They merge and overlap, categorised by people and places, emotions and sensations. But the snowy ones are among the most vivid.

Obviously there was no internet or social media back then (in the olden days!) so we relied on ‘the weather’ on RTÉ for our snow forecast. There were the important predictions in the schoolyard for days beforehand, little bits of info combined to convince us all that it was definitely going to snow the following day, definitely. ‘Sure look at the colour of the sky’. ‘My Mum says it always gets a bit warmer before the snow comes’. Then after school came ‘snow watch’. Running to the window at regular intervals to check for a single snowflake. When I was just falling asleep my brother would come rushing in, ‘It’s snowing’, and we’d stare out into the dark hoping fervently that it would stick.

In the morning we almost knew before opening the curtains, the room was extra bright, there was a stillness, no cars and none of the usual morning busyness outside. Sometimes we could hear shrieks and laughter from the really early birds. Then on with the layers. Tights, tracksuit bottoms and jeans. Polo necks, jumpers, anoraks and wellies. We didn’t have wet gear so after ten minutes we were soaked through! My poor Mum spent the day rotating clothing on the fire guard trying to dry woolly tights and jumpers.

I can remember the big walk to the shops with my Dad’s homemade sledge made from a teatray and a black binliner. The random food we ate, partly because my Mum was using up whatever was in stock, but also because the cold weather calls for comfort food. A bit more stodgy than usual. Snow days were the only days we had dumplings in our soup or a casserole. And there was always a hot dessert. My absolute favourite was hot custard on a slice of jam swiss roll, sticky sweet and warm!

So what was it about those snow days that crystalised the memories so vividly for me. They were certainly alot of fun but I think there’s more to it than that. They are days when we are all forced out of our routine, a bit like Christmas or holidays. We can’t go to work or school and the days take on a different shape. Adults play like children, the normal rules about bedtimes or mealtimes are relaxed a bit. Watching movies in the afternoon or playing board games together, extra special things reserved for these days.

Of course our regular day to day routines are necessary and important. But it’s equally important not to be a slave to them. Otherwise days merge into weeks and before you know it months can pass by without much life being lived at all. So I’m going to take something from these snow days. It’s good to shake up the routine now and then, even abandon it altogether sometimes for no real reason other than the most important one. They will be the days that remain in your little ones’ memories forever.