What it’s like to be your mum, now you’re five

I should maybe write about what it is to be five, but how can I? Being

a mum to a five year old I can tell you about. I think that there
might be only one word for it: awesome. Literally. I see that

tomorrow holds so much. I watch the grown up you appearing in the
embers of babyhood you’ve blasted away behind you like a phoenix. I
remember that there was a point when you were basically a genial blob, and I
remember that there was a time when you couldn’t read and were barely
interested in toys or games. I recall there was a period when your nappies were
full and your gums empty. But now we have these lengthy and complex talks –
ideas shower from you like rain – and you ask questions and stretch out
every bit of your vocabulary, testing out words like you’re nibbling bites from
dense loaves of bread. I cling to the moments when you have daft,

babyish ideas, like when you asked me if peas were dead tadpoles. You
understand why it’s funny, and make sly jokes about your mad idea, when
there was a time not too long ago you would have been too embarrassed.

Generally, you’re a brilliantly good-natured soul, making friends easily
or so your teachers tell me – and I see it when we visit other children. I
do envy this; your easy manners and wonderfully engaging nature are things

I have never felt entirely sure of in myself, gregarious as I am. But I

love that I’ll never have to worry about you fitting in, even with your fabulously
odd sense of humour and the way you gravitate towards geekery. I admit I felt
validated when it turned out that your favourites at Walt Disney World were
every bit as edutainmenty and nerdy as mine. Spaceship Earth! You know what

you like and it’s gentle and smart and sparkly, just like you. And
over and above everything, you know that your mama will adore you, will
understand the weird fears and sharp passions, and love you as you. Always.

Big Hero 6: The four-year-old’s verdict (and the merchandising)

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(For my review of the film, pop over here)

Children are often a peculiar mix of heart-stopping fearlessness and weird phobias, and mine is no different. Although given half the chance she’d be an unrepentant square eyes for huge periods of the day, she’s very up and down about new films and tends to be a bit wary of the cinema. This weekend, I tempted her into a viewing of Big Hero 6 using popcorn as bribery and the promise of a little reward afterwards if she was brave; it was also our opportunity to use a Yo! Sushi voucher we’d be given for a themed meal, and she was already proudly wearing a yellow GoGo Tomago wristband.

These were her reactions:

“That was funny when that robot hit that man in the face!”
“Wow!”
*waves her arms around dramatically* “I’m being GoGo Tomago – like on my bracelet!”
“Imagine if you could fly like that, Mama…”
“Is ‘Lemon’ Honey’s last name?”
*lots of giggles*
“I thought that was really COOL!”
I’d primed her that she could look away or duck out if it got too much for her, but she only dived into my arm once, for less than a second, at a close up on the villain’s slightly creepy kabuki mask.

Afterwards, we popped into the Disney Store, where she chose a small Honey Lemon figure to play with (not the one below). I’ve mentioned before that the women of Big Hero 6  are in general more diverse and widely represented than in previous films; having my daughter play with in a brave, kind Latina scientist who is applauded for what she does, not how she looks, feels good. Casting an eye over the shelves was also reassuring – although Frozen and Marvel superheroes were at opposite ends of the store, all the Big Hero 6 merchandise was together, female and male characters mixed up, with the women shown in action poses on the packaging. I was pleasantly surprised to find a journal set with Honey Lemon on the cover that wasn’t sequinned or pinkified. GoGo’s doll figure was sold out this time, but I’ve seen it before with properly built up leg muscles to reflect both her animation and the fact that she’s a runner and cyclist. When you visit the website, the t-shirts and pyjamas are simply labelled “for kids” (and FYI Disney, this adult would LOVE a Baymax t-shirt if you’d consider sizing up in the UK and not just the US; maybe not this one though, given my proportions…).

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Disclaimer: This was just a family day out, but the Yo! Sushi kids’ meal was courtesy of the screening goodie bag at which I first saw the film.

Ten New Year wishes for my four year old daughter

Hey Pickle,

I’ve been reading back over my wishes for last year, and you know what’s awesome? You pretty much cracked them all. I mean, okay, there are plenty of lifetime ones that none of us will ever exactly nail – that life is a journey stuff? Trite, yes, but true – but all those goals like toilet training and staying immensely cool and surprising me every day? Yep, yes, done. As if there were ever any doubt.

And in the spirit of celebrating that joy and achievement, I have ten more wishes for you. Because I will never stop wishing for you.

1. I wish that you will continue to bring the laughs. I was bowled over when it turned out that your relentless good humour and the jokes and daftness that you bring to everyday life at home turned out to be your default position in school as well. It’s heartwarming to hear that you spend your time making friends and encouraging people to smile. Okay, we’ll probably need to have some conversations about not getting carried away (and maybe also not basing your worth on being the centre of attention), but I can’t really think of a better essential life skill than spreading the happy. You go, kid.

2. I wish for you to have an IMMENSE time at Walt Disney World! I know I’ve invested an awful lot in this since your first visit is to be at the same age as my first visit was. And it was different for me because a) different people and b) I had no expectations – whereas you, lucky creature, have been to Disneyland Paris twice already! But you’ll have your cousins with you, with my nephew the same age as his mum was when we embarked on this manic, lifetime’s love together. And I hope that will help you overcome any nerves about rides (not to mention entertain you in the crazy queues). There are some attractions we’ll experience for the first time together, and some I think will be reignited in my heart by experiencing them with you. I am highly aware that I need to not base my own excitement on yours, and that I need to accept that your experience will be what it will be. So, you’re the lucky one – when I took your father for the first time, on our honeymoon, I told him that if he didn’t love Epcot I’d regret marrying him. You, I leave to your own devices. (But please don’t hate Spaceship Earth!)

3. I wish that you will keep smashing those targets – in your own time. I knew you were a ridiculously good reader, but I had no idea until parents’ evening how good you are at, well, almost everything else as well. And it’s easy to get carried away with that and get complacent or smug – plus I’ll never apologise for being aspirational and ambitious for you, including academically. You’re smart, and that’s nothing to hide.  And I think we should look to find activities that will let you enjoy your love of singing, dancing and performing. But I also don’t want your formal achievements to be everything about the way you define yourself. That kindness and joy-spreading I talked about? Equally, if not more important. So while I will pray for every success and offer you all the support you could ever possibly want to do what you dream of doing, I’m definitely not going to Tiger Mother you to the next level.

4. I wish that you will keep being amazed by small things. I pretty much adore that you are equally blown away by theme parks and the dodgy-looking wobbly Christmas tree across the road from the childminder’s. The awe is so real – so genuine and heartfelt. I love that you find something wonderful in everything and I hope you keep that for a long time.

5. I wish that you will keep liking what you like, regardless of the opinions of others. Your life is an explosion of all colours, superheroes, princesses (and queens – let’s not demote Elsa like everyone else seems to), building, drawing, reading, writing, singing, playing, computer games, puzzles… no boy things, no girl things, just things. And you don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I know school has a way of knocking the corners off and making people hide their interests to fit in, and I really really hope this doesn’t happen to you. Especially after I promised to give you my Captain America leggings when you grow up. I’d really like to keep that promise.

6. I wish that you will get to spend even more time with your cousins. A holiday together will really help and you’d think a couple of hundred miles is NBD, but somehow we never seen them quite as much as we’d like to. And when you are together, it makes me so happy watching the close and affectionate and rowdy and ridiculous relationships that you’re developing between you. It’s a wish for all of us really, because you can’t ever have too much love in your life, can you?

7. I wish that you will keep inspiring me to be better. From drawing a story out of me, to forcing me to pay attention to the balance I strike between time working and time with you, you raise me as much as I do you. I spent the first year of motherhood trying to work out how to follow a script and be a mother. But being a mother can’t be done by me to you. It must be done between us, as a lifetime’s work. You have to teach me to be the mother you need, and I have to teach you to be your most honest self.

8. I wish that you would let me brush your hair more often. Listen kid, I get that it’s boring and sometimes uncomfortable, and from the perspective of supporting your control of your own body I really, truly don’t care if you want a crew cut or Rapunzel’s braids. Just, for sanity’s sake (and so that the school don’t think I’m neglecting you), as long as it’s clean, tidy and not the snarled and knotted haystack you far too often force me to let you get away with. We’ll use the special brush and the conditioner spray and all the rest of it, but for real kid, we need to keep that thing in line.

9. I wish that you will keep playing along. I’ve never been sure whether you know that it’s me moving Kinder Egg Loki around the house or whether you really think he does it on his own, but if you are humouring me well then keep doing it. All our little in-jokes and silly conversations that only you, me and your dad really ‘get’ are what makes our little world so perfectly, unforgettably ours. Also, the bizarre knock knock jokes like “Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Banana, can you paint a wall? No.” Those have to stay.

10. I wish that you will watch Ratatouille. Cos it’s great. And that Care Bears movie thing is doing my head in.

Yours with a full heart,

Mama x

Papercats – a story

Once there was a boy called Tom, and he lived in a world of paper.

Of course it wasn’t literally paper. He had a house, with broad stone walls, a scarred wooden table and a cold kitchen and warm bedroom – a sure sign of someone who spends too much time in their own head. Tom didn’t have a family and he didn’t have friends. Instead, Tom had paper.

Throughout the day and long into the night, Tom made things out of paper. He made animals and plants, buildings and landscapes. He crafted bridges and bred dinosaurs. He built people and sat them around tiny paper plates, cups and saucers. But at the end of every day, Tom would examine his work sadly and realise that something was missing. Perhaps a crease was messy or there was a smear on the crisp white card. And, sadly, Tom would crumple the paper figures up in his hand, stack his paper neatly at the edge of the table and shuffle slowly up the stairs to bed, where he would sleep badly.

Day after day, night after night, Tom worked steadily on his paper world. And day after day, night after night, he went up to bed disappointed. Until the night that Tom ran out of ideas.

He sat at the table, frustrated and dismayed. He had never before been stuck for inspiration, but this time it seemed like he’d already made everything there was to be made. His hands started to itch to fold paper, but his brain didn’t know what shape the paper should take.

IMG_0328Finally, he lifted a sheet, turned it over in his hands, and eventually started to work. He realised that among the many animals he had made – weasels, parakeets, dogs, frogs, zebras – he’d never made a cat. And that’s what he was going to try to make now.

When the cat was finished, Tom looked it carefully. This cat would never do. Its left ear was too small, and its tail a stubby mess. Immediately, Tom crushed the cat in his fingers and started again.

The second cat was better than the first, but still – it simply wasn’t right. There was a smear on the right haunch, and the head was at a funny angle. Usually Tom would simply move on to the next thing; in fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d even given anything a second chance. And now, as he feverishly grabbed another sheet of paper, he was trying for the third time.

Tom set to work. Piece after folding piece, crease after folding crease, the cat began to take shape. His hair began to fall into his eyes, the cold chill in the kitchen crept up around his shoulders and his fingers began to feel stiff and sore, but still he went on. At last, the final fold was in place, and he gently set the cat on the table and eased down his aching shoulders, staring at the paper pet.

This attempt was….

Perfect.

Tom sat back, confused. He could not find a single fault with the cat. It sat upright on its haunches, a neatly proportioned tail curled around to the side. Its head was tilted with a curious expression, its ears were pointed and perky, and the curve of its back was smooth and blemish free.

Tom slowly rose from his chair. He stacked the paper neatly on the table, never taking his eyes off the cat, and then turned his back and walked up the stairs to bed.

In the gloomy, cold kitchen, nothing moved. Until the cat suddenly yawned, stretched and wandered off into the darkness. It was hungry, and thirsty, and bored. It sniffed at the paper stack, and tasted the edge of a sheet. It jumped down off the table, and chased dust across the floor. It clambered up to the sink and tried to lick droplets from the tap, but this made its muzzle soggy so it edged to the lukewarm radiator and stayed there a while, trying to dry its nose.

Upstairs, Tom was having the worst night’s sleep he’d ever had. In fact, since every time he was about to drop off he jerked back awake, sure he could hear clattering and banging in the empty kitchen, he couldn’t even really call it a night’s sleep at all.

Finally, he gave up and made his way downstairs. Everything was exactly as he left it. Well, almost. In the middle of the table, where he’d left the cat, was… nothing.

Tom looked on the floor, in case the cat had somehow blown over. There was nothing there. He crawled under the table. Nothing there either. He lifted the stack of paper, even though it was flush to the table top. Nothing at all. But the edge of the topmost sheet was strangely frayed.

Finally, Tom sat down, placed the damaged sheet aside, and began to make another cat. And it was just as perfect as the first.

After staring at the new cat for a long while, Tom once again left it in the centre of the table and went up to bed. And this time, for the first time, Tom drifted off almost immediately into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

The cats met in the middle of the table, approaching each other cautiously and then circling around and around. Then they began to explore.

Eventually, they came back to the pile of paper. They looked at the stack, then looked at each other. Their noses quivered. Together, they turned to look out of the window, where the moon was still high in the sky. And then they turned back to the stack.

The sun was burning brightly by the time Tom woke in his bed. He felt rested, and that in itself was strange, since he never usually felt rested. He felt calm. He felt happy. He felt… hungry.

Tom got up, went to the bathroom, got dressed. He stood at the top of the stairs and stretched. Then he shuffled downstairs to the kitchen, where he stopped in the doorway, stunned.

Every inch of every surface was jammed full of paper cats. They crowded the floor. They cluttered the ceiling lights. They clustered on the chairs. The table. The worktops. The sink – apart from a space around the plughole, where the cats seemed to be edging away from the drips.

Once there was a boy called Tom, and he lived in a world of paper.

Of course it wasn’t literally paper. He had a house, with broad stone walls, a scarred wooden table and a warm kitchen. Tom had family, and Tom had friends. And every one of them was a perfect paper cat.

A little background: As a result of my #100forchildsi sketching, a few stories to accompany my scrawls began to grow in my head. One of them was just a single image, and I drew it once in pencil and once painted – that’s it above. I hoped to next try a plain ink version… it’s never been quite right. Anyway. It was never intended to be more than just a single image, but then Ramona invented a game where we each had to tell a story, and they were becoming increasingly outlandish. Eventually, this image popped into my head and as we were walking through town, crowds milling around us, she held my hand and listened carefully to the story of Tom and his paper friends. If my 100 days of artwork taught me anything, it’s that an unrefined bird released to the winds is worth two fully-polished articles in your head, so I thought better to commit it to screen, faults and all, than to keep replaying it in my head and watching the colours dim each time I failed to do anything more with it. And besides, Ramona might ask me to tell it again.

Ten New Year wishes for my three year old daughter

Morning Pickleface!

We’re all feeling a bit the worse for wear today, and sadly it’s got nothing to do with partying but with things like fevers, snot and raging colds that Will. Not. Die. Not even on the promise of a wonderful new year! The buggers – oops, I mean, erm, boogers?

Anyway. While you sleep off the Calpol and I create a Matterhorn-sized pile of damp tissues, I have been rubbing my addled brain cells together to think of what I wish you for 2014. Of course, a list of ten can only ever be limiting, and I’m sure that many, hundreds, thousands more wishes of every size will present themselves to me before, oh, the end of the day, but here’s what’s on my mind, right now, as we blearily rub the crust from our eyes and gaze out on 365 fresh days of possibility.

1. I wish that you will crest through the fear phase and show more flashes of your fearsome, awesome side. The threenager period took me by surprise as my previously fearless daughter – who will still hurl herself off the sofa without a second thought and never has unbruised knees – suddenly started to fear things. Weird, random things. Bears. The pirates in Peter PanI Want My Hat Back. Anything new that hadn’t been thoroughly trailered and spoilered. The toilet! And those fears would come and go, and apply to some things and not others, and mean that you could go on Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast three times in a row and gleefully shoot at a huge, deafeningly loud Emperor Zurg, but you ran away from the telly when Toy Story 2 was on and he grimaced on screen. I mean, I get it – I’m a person with a bunch of weird fears myself, who can enjoy Expedition Everest but balks at the idea of ever doing Splash Mountain – a ride it took me until the age of 29 to brave – again. But I also want it to pass because I don’t want fear for you. Except a healthy fear of breaking all your bones, which is the one you don’t seem to have picked up…

2. I wish that you will finally nail this toilet training thing. I knew, like all the family from me and your auntie down to your cousins, that you would be around 3 when you cracked it because every single one of us has rocked up quite late to this party, but a recent burst of pre-schooler resistance has dragged this, erm, shit out way longer than necessary. We’re going to get a handle on this, and soon, right? Right. *high five*

3. I wish that you will continue to develop this growing interest in art and painting. I love how you’ve started to observe things and actually tried to draw what you see – do you know how hard that is?! Well obviously not and I’m not telling you because I don’t want you to think of things as hard, but it is. I also love how your passion for drawing has reignited something in your dad, and started me down a path of sketching and daubing that I’d seriously lost touch with. With two artsy parents, it’s inevitable you’ll be exposed to this stuff, and I really hope you find as much joy and satisfaction in it as we do – more, in fact, since I will always wish more of everything good for you.

4. I wish that you’ll keep up your beautiful manners. Seriously, I’m so impressed! I know you sometimes struggle to speak up when you’re shy, but your many pleases and thank yous are a joy to hear. I frequently second-guess my parenting skills, but no-one will ever be able to question this.

5. I wish that you’ll keep asking questions! My proudest moment reading your nursery ‘report’ wasn’t all the stuff you can do – I know you can write your name, recognise letters, count, build, draw, spell a bit – but the bit where A wrote “when she doesn’t know, she asks questions”. Kid, if you’ve cracked that now, the world is your sea creature of choice. Seriously. It’s so much harder than you think for adults, so if you can get in the habit now, you are So. Sorted.

6. I wish that you will never let me off the hook. Look, I know the job I signed up to. I love the job I signed up to. But it’s a total attention suck of the highest order. When you take my phone out of my hand and say “put it down, Mummy” you are doing a great service to me and yourself. But to make this wish happen I promise to really be with you when I’m meant to be. No more crafty little phone checks when I think you’re busy by yourself. I will mark out time to work and time not to work. I promise you that. No more excuses.

7. I wish that you will gain further understanding of your boundaries. I love that we’ve got into the habit of establishing your bodily autonomy, and you can be very clear about when cuddles, kisses and tickles are welcome and when they’re not. You’ve learned that we respect your opinion on this, and that we expect others to as well. Long may this continue.

8. I wish that you will keep playing Tickle Monster. Because the sound of your hysterical, unexpectedly deep and totally joyful chuckle literally pumps the blood through my heart.

9. I wish that you will keep surprising us. Whether it’s with your impressive vocabulary or your intense sweetness, your unfettered imagination or your madcap sense of humour, I hope you keep making us stare at each other and go “where did that come from?!”. Because that is never not brilliant.

10. I wish that you will watch anything other than Tangled. Please. For the love of God. I love it as much as the next person and Flynn Rider is, well, I think quite popular with many mums, but seriously, there are many not-scary films you could intersperse your 4 millionth and 4 million and first viewings with. That one time you agreed to The Aristocats gave us all hope, and I’m sure you’ll watch Frozen again when it’s out, but we need some variety yes? Good.

You know what, Stinky? I think we can achieve all this and much, much more. 2014, we’re ready for you.

With all my love,

Mummy x

Gender markers, kids and confusion

At the moment, one of our favoured bedtime stories is Dr Xargle’s Book of Earth Tiggers. It’s a shrewd observation of a life lived with cats, most of which goes right over Ramona’s head but she enjoys it anyway.

It also features this page:

Dr Xargle's Book of Earth Tiggers - Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

And Ramona always says “why is the man made to step on the hairy pudding?”. After having tried to explain hairball humour, we then have this conversation, every time:

Me: How do you know it’s a man?
Ramona: Because it’s a he not a she.
Me: How do you know?
Ramona: Because it is.
Me: What makes it a he?
Ramona: He’s wearing he clothes.
Me: Ramona, have you ever worn blue and white?
Ramona: Yes of course, silly!
Me: Well, what colour are boy clothes?
Ramona: ALL colours!
Me: What colour are girl clothes, then?
Ramona: All colours! *laughs*
Me: (knowing she has worn a skirt or dress all of five times in the past year, because she chooses her own clothes much of the time and prefers trousers) Do you wear trousers and pyjama bottoms?
Ramona: Yes.
Me: So if you wear trousers, and blue and white, and stripes… how do you know this is a he?
Ramona: Because it is.

Perhaps I’m being a bit disingenuous here, because I too can see it’s meant to be a man. I know what cues I’m looking for, even if I think they’re silly ones – and obviously so does she, even though she can’t fully articulate them yet. And she’s just 3 years old. If she’s already categorising people according to markers she barely comprehends, that’s really quite worrying.

Yes, it matters. It might be a very small thing in the grand scheme of things, but lots of small things make up big and scary things, so we start here. Let me make it clear that I do not expect this to be of importance to every feminist, much less every person, but I personally think it’s something worth noting.

So I’ve noted it. And now, one way or another, so have you.

A letter to my daughter on the occasion of her 3rd birthday

Dear Pickleface,

I’d like to thank you for being the most fabulous person I know. You have taken the best of me and the best of your dad and perfected the combination – by some way, at that. Your brilliance would frankly be annoying if you didn’t temper it with, well, temper. Like the truly spectacular indignation of someone for whom not getting to watch Meg at the Circus for the 14,024,324th time – that day – is the Worst. Thing. Ever.

I’ve spent some time this birthday coming to terms with how exceptionally wonderful you are. I can’t accept it all in one go, so I have to break it down. Into that time you wrote your own name, beautifully, with even-sized letters and no help from me. Into the moments where you lean over and whisper in my ear “I love you, Mummy”. Into the morning where we had that extensive and ridiculous argument about going swimming and I was really quite mean and I should have known better as the (substantially) bigger person and you open-heartedly and honestly accepted my apology and we were friends again.

The awe has really kicked in now that it begins to dawn on me how much you are and how much you can be. As much as I have many passions and ambitions and a long road ahead of me with much to do and see, you make me aware of the enormous cloud of potential that clings to you; a dazzling, blinding aura of unadulterated future. I think I always thought of potential as a weight, of expectation. Now I see it more as a buoyant cloud, or even a slippery jet stream to be grasped and ridden, joyously.

I am scared of all the things in the world that could happen to you. Terrified. I asked your auntie once, days after you were born, “am I going to be scared for the next 18 years?” and she said “oh, pretty much forever,” and I knew then and I know now she was right. She is inconveniently right about everything. But fear can be motivating; it can galvanise you to – and here I sound a fraction Nuwanda, so forgive me – do more, and be more. You, it turns out, are the best reason I could ever have to do everything I want and need to do with my life. Because I never ever want to put obstacles in your way by being the living embodiment of those barriers, obstructions and immobilising hurdles. There will come a point when your peers become greater influencers of your progress than I am, but how can I offer a counterpoint to any of the limitations the still-confused world wishes to place on your progress if I accept any of them on myself?

Sorry this is more about me than you. Let me tell you more about you. Here are some things that are awesome about you:

  • When someone is sad, and you ask why and you offer kisses and you want to find a solution or resolve the problem right then.
  • When nursery staff told me everyone makes sure to include you in games because you’re such a friendly little soul.
  • When you make ridiculous faces and do silly dances and crack jokes and tickle us because you love laughter.
  • When you realise you’ve done something not quite right and say “I want to do it again,” and you want to do it “righter”. Okay, you say “better” now, but “righter” was kind of adorable.
  • When you can say “obstacle course”, “okapi”, “pangolin” and all your Greek colours perfectly, but a certain common word still comes out every time as “sumpfming”.
  • When you go right along with your namesake and you are Brave. And also kind of a Pest.
  • When you make sure to include Casper as a member of the family.
  • When you play beautifully with your gorgeous cousins and hero worship a certain little boy we’re both related to (it’s easily done).
  • When you open your little eyes every morning and smile and say “Mummy, I missed you!” even if I was there to put to bed just a few hours before.
  • When your best time-wasting, diversion technique is ALL THE CUDDLES. Oh, woe is me.

Look, kid. I’ve done the po-faced “what I’ll teach you about feminism” spiel before. And there are lots of things I will write down for you that will be just for you and won’t see the light of day on this blog. There’s so much, I’ll never be able to capture it all and anyway, you’re developing a pleasing fondness for Oh, the Places You’ll Go! which says it all anyway, and better than I can right now.

I just want you to know: you’re awesome. And I love you. And I’ll keep telling you that every day, until it sinks in and just becomes noise to you and gets buried deep and then one day, when you’re lost in a Slump, and looking for a way out, you find it again. And take it out. And you can say to yourself, and believe it: I’m awesome.

Mummy x