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Breastfeeding my Toddler – Me! Eat! Your boobies!

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Ramona is two now and our breastfeeding relationship is still going strong. There is something incredibly special about having a nursing toddler who can vocalise their feelings about it- the first time she looked up at me with those wide dewy eyes, took a pause from nursing to exclaim “YUMMY!” was a bit heart melting, and I remember thinking every mummy should nurse long enough to get some verbal feedback on the quality of their milk!

This morning I was a little more difficult to rouse for Ramona’s first nurse of the day and her usual snuggling and murmurs of “Mummy. Milk. Please” weren’t getting much response. She began pulling at my PJ’s saying “Me! Eat! Your Boobies!”

Ooh, waking up with a (slightly nervous) chuckle is a good way to wake up.

(Another benefit of cosleeping I guess- waking up with laughter happens quite often as Ramona’s early morning chats are quite hilarious, ranging from random musing about her favourite things to giggling at her own first fart of the day.)

I am 5 months pregnant now and my milk seems to be changing week by week – as early as 12 weeks it seemed I just had colostrum. And Ramona has taken her grown-up food eating to another level, putting away whole bananas, plates of spaghetti and gingerbread in a way she hasn’t done before, so she is obviously getting much less full on my milk. I am entering the fairly well documented stage of, um, finding it a bit hard. She only nurses 4-5 times a day, and most of those are completely fine, joyous for us both even. But the lengthy ones just before nap time and sleep can provide a bit of teeth grinding and cross eyed-ness for me. It is not dissimilar to those first ever new-born feeds where you just had to grin and bear it.

If we can, I am keen to plough through it, hoping that for us, like many other mammas, it is just a short stage of pregnancy. I can just see so many benefits for us still. Breastfeeding such a simple way to fill up her cup – keeping the emotional energy of a wild and rambunctious toddler steady.

Nursing toddler

We had a tricky period early on in pregnancy, when she really cut down her nursing, and I failed to recognise the debt this left, emotionally. I guess people who don’t breastfeed (like her Daddy, who tends not to) really quickly identify other ways of topping up their kid’s well being- knowing the right balance of hugs, games and other “connecting” activities.  Having been reliant on nursing – and her being completely in control of this- there were a few weeks when my milk was changing and she was nursing much less, where we had a bit of disconnect; she was volatile and fractious.

The relationship side of breastfeeding really hit home, I had kind of taken it for granted. For so long Ramona’s nursing sessions had been providing these perfect moments of connection throughout our day, moments that both of us needed. It actually restored us, healed any little snags in our relationship.

We had to find a new rhythm, fresh ways of connecting. In a way it was like beginning another lesson in parenthood. My husband Tim was much more advanced in these activities, having identified the need a year ago, once I left them together half the week as I went to work.

But we had to find our own ways – I couldn’t just steal Tim’s and think they would work for us. (Gah, exclaims my lazy old self.)

Some of the best ways I have found to connect with Ramona, as she weans off nursing a bit include:

  • Taking more hot baths together (such a cool way of spending cold winter afternoons) – we can spend an hour, blowing bubbles, painting the sides, singing
  • Two person dance parties – we put the music up loud and throw down our shapes, impressing each other
  • Kissing Game – you take it turns to kiss funny parts of each other
  • Pulling faces- we try and out do each other with our weird and wonderful facial expressions
  • Hide and Seek – together, so not so much seeking but hiding from imaginary people, usually snuggling under blankets and duvets

I think the key is in activities that involve loads of eye contact, and have the potential to end up in squeals of giggles. Laughter is a healer, no?

Ramona has somehow figured out that sleeping between 11pm and 7 am is a good plan, and doesn’t nurse anymore. (There was a while when I thought she might do this forever) – which just gives me full confidence that these kids know exactly what they need.

Breastfeeding is so much about trust. Trusting ourselves and trusting our children. I am so glad I was able to discount the voices that suggested Ramona’s night nursing would continue forever. And I am so glad I am able now, to distrust the ones that say nursing toddlers will never quit.

They do. And for now, it is still just perfect for us. With a smattering of dancing, playing and splashing, we are connecting more than ever.

What is your breastfeeding story? Have you found the same thing? How have you found ways to connect with your kids?

Feel free to check out my other posts on breastfeeding, including “Nursing a Micromachine” and the letter I had to write to my rubbish, myth-making Doctor.

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Ethical Christmas Toys for Children

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GAH! WHAT IS WRONG WITH TOYS THESE DAYS!

If they are not ridiculously gender specific (pink toy laptop with half the functions of the boys one, anyone?) then they are dictating how to play with their flashing lights and music, created using a scarce resource that sends a world to war, or made by blistered hands just a little bigger than our own children’s.

I am a massive advocate of non-toys, finding that often jars of things, or baskets of odds, can stir a child’s imagination so much more than dictator toys. The toys we do have have been ferreted out from car boot sales and charity shops, we aim for things that are simple and aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, yeah, that just means vintage in my mind! (A few of our favourites, and my second hand shopping strategy can be seen right here.)

We are not massively legalistic though, in fact right now Ramona is utterly obsessed with Ginger the Talking Cat app on our smartphones. I’d go so far as to say they have a kind of friendship. She tickles him, cleans his teeth, he repeats everything she says. This means they argue quite alot. Tim overheard one argument the other day that went:

Ramona: “My daddy”

Ginger: “My daddy”

Ramona: “No, MY daddy”

Ginger: “No, MY daddy”

Ramona: “NO, my daddy!”

Ginger: “NO, my daddy!”

Ramona: “NO!! MY DADDY!!!”

Ginger…. You can probably guess what Ginger retorted, and just how long this argument lasted for. Neither were prepared to concede.

For the most part, when it comes to toys I request secondhand (both sets of Ramona’s grandparents are awesome at this) and I tend to craft things up to give. However, sometimes family members want to know what they can give your children for Christmas, and while you could say “Just write them a poem”  with a virtuous lilt, it can be nice to suggest some stuff they might feel more comfortable with.

For the last 5 years I have run an ethical Christmas Fayre. It began when we were living up in Oxford Circus and  were exasperated at the lack of Fairtrade gifts available, and it is growing each year. This year we have two venues, woot! We had our first one for 2012 this Saturday just gone. It was exhausting but not stressful – in fact the most stressful part was when I turned around to find Ramona had stripped off and was cavorting amongst the stalls almost in the nude. EEEEP.

Anyway, one awesome benefit of running the Fayres is that I get to keep up with the world of fairtrade and handmade, and see how stylish and gorgeous the products are becoming. I wandered around the Fayre on Saturday completely confident that 90% of the stuff blew stereotypes of “ethical consumerism” out of the water.

Bearing in mind all my own criteria for toys – imagination stirring, ethically made, not draining on the world’s resources, gender-neutral – I picked out my top 4 ethical gifts for kids:

Baby – a hand knitted bunny

Kinderkraft are a mother and daughter business based just down the road from me. They have the most gorgeous selection of hand cotton-knitted dolls, with a real modern feel, that are perfectly soft to the touch. They also create bespoke stuffed letter bunting so you can spell out a child’s name and can chose fabric – avoiding any nasty pink/ blue limitations.  Their Etsy shop showcases a lot of their stuff. 

hand knitted bunny

 

 Toddler – a fairtrade bus

We couldn’t resist buying this beautiful Fairtrade bus for Ramona, a cool momento of our time in London, and sure to fire her imagination. It is sold by the AMAZING Fair Share, who are based in Soho and have an incredible range of Fairtrade kids toys that you can also buy online.

fairtrade bus

 

Any age – eco wooden vehicles

These hand crafted wooden toys from Top Wooden Toys are so classic in their design I think they would suit any age, and even parents would get a lot of pleasure from them. Ramona LOVED their stall on Saturday, they had a whole load of stuff not even for sale on their website that she just kept returning to. You can also buy their products on Tinternet.Handmade Wooden Digger

Older kids – Pucket

If you haven’t played Pucket yet, you really haven’t lived. It is the most basic game  involving flinging wooden disks around a board, yet provides HOURS of fun for really anyone who has a little hand-eye coordination. Kids from 6 would love this, and Tim takes it to his Youth Club for teenagers, and they love it too, AND we get it out at Christmas for all us older ones.  A total classic. Find out more, and buy, here. 

pucket

 

All of these, and many more toys and gifts for the WHOLE family, will be available to buy at the Horniman Museum ethical Christmas Market this Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th December. But if you can’t get there, help your family to avoid the tax evaders and plastic creators by giving them a list from the above traders!

Sometimes buying ethically does cost a bit more, but so often it is because you are paying for something that will last a lifetime, and you are paying the TRUE cost of an item. I really believe we can change the world by making good shopping choices, and our children and their generation will thank us!

Peppa Pig Live Tickets Giveaway!

Ramona is in love with Peppa Pig. In LOVE.  When she broke her leg back in February, and I was seeking ways to comfort and distract her (apart from by covering her in porridge etc) we came across it on Youtube and giggled our way through episode after episode. And now, at least once an hour, for the last ten months, she has enquired “Peppa Pig? Me? Watch?” It is incredibly hard to get her to wear anything other than the two Peppa Pig shirts she has – to the point where I am currently working out how to stitch pig faces with scraps of fabric onto exisiting items… (Cor, I am a cheapskate mum.)

I don’t really mind, she isn’t emulating the grunty snorts and there ARE worse characters to love- at least Peppa is feisty and strong and independent, eh?  And I suspect she’ll grow out of this amore by the time it comes to choosing a life partner.

Ramona enjoying the Paralympics with Peppa

When Ramona saw the poster for Peppa Pig Live at the Criterion Theatre she was enthralled. It was pinned on the notice board at Tim’s rugby club and I couldn’t budge her. She stood in front of it, mouth open, gob smacked that Peppa Pig had followed her here! Of all places!

So, you can imagine how completely delighted I am to get to take her and a chum to the show in December. I just can not wait to see her face- I get a huge grin on my own just imagining it. (Although she is a bit frightened of Daddy Pig, she hides behind me whenever he comes on, so we’ll have to see how that goes down.)

And, you know what? I have tickets for YOU too. (Well, not all of you, I’m afraid.)

To enter the giveaway for a family ticket (two adults, two children) to the 2:30pm showing on Friday 14th December simply:

  • Leave a comment below, telling me about why you fancy getting your hands on these tickets!For an EXTRA entry:
  • Like Lulastic on Facebook or share tweet this post on Twitter (mention @lulasticblog)

The winner will be picked by random selection on Friday 30th November, at 9pm. And if you don’t win you can buy tickets from www.peppapiglive.com for showings between 6 December and 6 January.

Thank you and good luck, my friends!

************* UPDATED 30th November*********************

And the winner is…. KAROLINA! I have emailed you 🙂 Congratulations!

So sorry to the non-winners, I wish you many hours of joyful Peppa Pig viewing on Youtube instead!!!

Eight approaches for happier sleep

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Yesterday morning Ramona woke up at 4:30, full of beans. She planted some kisses on our faces, did a morning fart, followed by a belly full of giggles, and began climbing all over the bed. “Awake! Me! Pojo??” Pojo is her word for porridge, she was ready for breakfast and up for the day.

Grumpy is not the word. I was mad all day. Mentally flipping the bird at every stupid email I received, I stomped around the office, grizzled under my breath my whole cycle home. I was reminded what it is like to be deeply unhappy with a child’s sleep patterns.

I spent many of Ramona’s first months feeling this way. She’d take forever to go to sleep at the sensible time of 7 pm and then wake at the crack of dawn. I disliked spending an hour doing a night time routine and getting her to sleep, bobbing up and down the stairs to her throughout the evening, and then peering out of the bed covers at the clock and seeing 6 am shining back at me just a few hours after I rolled under them.

It was only when Ramona was a year old that I realised I wanted to take a more relaxed, less structured approach to her sleep, and since then we have all been much happier. Of course, we still have the odd terrible night, an evening with a wired tot who won’t sleep, or a crack of dawn morning. But on the whole my mind is free of sleep anguish, and that deserves a celebratory doughnut.

I’d say adopting eight different approaches helped me feel much happier about our sleep situation.

  • I got the “sensible bedtime” idea out of my head. The most sensible bedtime for a child is when they are tired. Sometimes, due to a late start or long nap this is ten pm. Mostly for us it is somewhere between 8:30 and 9:30. It took me a while to get this, even 8:30 pm seemed outrageous to me, so I’d try and try and try to get Ramona in bed at The World Will Approve O Clock. Once I let go of this, our evenings got a whole load more relaxed.
  • I decided that beds were overrated. For a year, Ramona took her naps on me in the sling or on the sofa, but always began her night time sleep in bed. Once I realised she was often much happier falling to sleep at night time on the sofa I began to see the benefits. We’ll cuddle up amongst the cushions, then after she has drifted off, while my husband and I read or chat, we can put a film on, or continue the get-together with our friends. Because she is right with us she’ll rarely stir much and then I just take her to bed when we go.
  • We abandoned the routine. Sometimes the bath, songs, story schedule worked. Mostly though, Ramona hated the idea of going upstairs and leaving behind her crate of toys, the lovely people in the lounge and a kitchen of food. She’d be upset about being carted off somewhere else, or we’d end up doing story after story until she was ready to snuggle down. Not making such a palava of bedtime made the transition to sleep so much more natural
  • I watch her cues and set the scene. Sometimes Ramona will ask for “bed”, sometimes she’ll just ask for “mummy milk” (as opposed to “Daddy milk” which is what she she calls dairy! Mahaha…) or sometimes she may yawn, get a bit angsty. At this stage I will put the lamp on, quieten down the house and settle on the sofa with her. This transition is much easier for her mind to cope with!

  • I accepted that kids all have different sleep needs, and they are fairly good at meeting that need if we allow them. Ramona can rarely sleep more than 11 hours at night. If she goes to bed at 7 then that is a 6 am wake up call. ER, NO THANKS! Getting up at 8am makes us all happier but that does mean I have to accept that traditional bedtimes don’t suit us! She still naps for an hour, an hour and a half. But if she has a few short naps then she might go for a number 14 hour night sleep!! I just trust her in all of this and shrug off the concept of a 12 hour night.
  • I accepted our new normal. Once I got used to the idea that Ramona would continue to stir at night, and would continue to need me, my mind calmed down and my new state of contentment really helped! Instead of waking up and thinking “She woke 4 times and she is nearly two!!!” And being appalled at my poor parenting, I now simply recognise that she just has superior survival skills….because obviously, we are built to stir all night so we can respond to danger and stoke the cave fire! Also, perversely, the few times she has slept all night I’ve had a rubbish sleep due to a lack of lovely nursing hormones. Wrong, that is, I tell you!
  • I rejected the “creating good sleep habits” rhetoric. Mainstream parenting advice claims routines, sleeping through, self-soothing and sleeping in a separate space sets our children up for a lifetime of excellent sleep. Erm. There is an MAJOR flaw in this in that we have been repeating this record for decades and we are some of the worst sleepers in the world!!! Nearly 40% of us suffer from insomnia. Mainstream advice is clearly doing something wrong.
  • I embraced a “live intuitively” philosophy. I try as much as possible to let Ramona be self-directed, to eat when hungry, cuddle when she needs it, jump on the bed if she fancies it, and sleep when she is tired. I hope all of this stuff will allow her own gut to be the loudest voice when it comes to making important decisions, that she will be less reliant on the sways of peers and external evaluation. Learning to respond to her body and its need will surely give her a confidence and a wholeness that will give her a much needed resilience. Knowing that I may be suffering a little less undisturbed sleep than others for the big picture, the future well being of my daughter, makes it a tiny, insignificant suffering!

These ways aren’t for everyone, I know.  If you are content with the fixed way you do thing, please, don’t change a dot!!! But maybe some of you are like us, and do want to take a more abandoned approach to sleep and parenting, and I hope our story will encourage you to do that. For me, stumbling across other families that did this gave me the freedom I needed to parent this way boldly, and not secretly! I liked these two pages, especially…

This collection of quotes from homeschool families who just roll with it, sleepwise. 

Letting kids find their own sleep patterns

Finding a bit of freedom around this whole sleep situation has been a part of my attachment parenting journey. For me attachment parenting is all about choosing connection, over control.  I am down with boundaries- i.e, I wouldn’t give Ramona sweets before bedish time, or have a massively exciting game of tickles just as she began to yawn, but integral to my parenting is a relinquishment of my need for high control. Allowing Ramona a certain amount of autonomy is important to me, and these approaches to sleep extend that philosophy to her bedtime.

So… *asks timidly, trying to be brave* … what do you reckon?!

A sibling on the scene

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Every morning when my daughter Ramona opens her eyes, she snuggles up to my face and whispers “Hello, mummy”. These days, this tiny tradition is followed up by her scuffling down and pulling apart my pyjama top and murmuring “Hello, baby” into my tummy. With no bump to reveal my 4 month pregnancy just yet my belly button is getting all the attention.

Ramona is two and loves babies. She loves babies, imaginary babies and Things that Will Do.

Ramona Babywearing

Ramona constantly has to be either pushing a buggy or wearing a baby in the sling, and I normally have to accompany her, with a Cabbage Patch Kid tied to my front.

As I cooked dinner yesterday I could hear her singing sweet nothings “Oh, baby. Good? Baby? Oooh. Baby” and looked over my shoulder to see what she was caressing with her soft words and hands.

It was a bulb of garlic.

Obviously.

Minutes later, I had to help her undo the zip on her jumper because the garlic wanted “milkies.”

(Mind you, a few months ago it was me that had to nurse the obscure objects she chose so I’m quite happy she has taken on that responsibility herself. My days of breastfeeding toy cars and lego are over for a while, thanks.)

When my mum first heard our new baby news, she exclaimed “Crumbs, Ramona will have her nose put out, won’t she?!” I guess it was in reference to the intense attachment we have, and the practices that, for us, are a big part in it. When the baby comes along Ramona will have to deal with not lying starfish like along our bed between us, she’ll learn to share Mummy’s milkies (with a human and not a bit of plastic) and she’ll have to adapt to another little mite being limpet-like in the sling.

And of course, while I feel blissfully relaxed in this pregnancy and perhaps naively optimistic about a second baby, I can’t help but feel a leeetle bit intreipidly curious about what tandem nursing will be like, and keeping them both happy during the night times.

I am fairly confident that all those juicy hormones will smother everything in glazey eyed love for a while, making it all okay for me.

And hopefully Ramona’s love for babies (and I hope she loves the new one a little bit more than the ones she frequently sits on/ covers in Marmite) will help her ride out the changes. We just have 5 months to get her used to the idea that the new kid on the block will be a bit noisier than the garlic and a bit more demanding than my belly button!

Three become four

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We have been rather excited around here for a few weeks- we have had the most wonderful surprise- 2 stripes on a pregnancy test!! Yep – another little person making their presence known.

We are really quite blown away. It took us a heartbreaking 3 years to make Ramona, so were fully expecting another long wait. And, of course I am still nursing her day and night. So impossible did we think it that a whole 2 months crept by before we  even knew. I had a tiny inkling but kept writing it off, until one day I just knew with absolute certainty  so popped straight to the pharmacy for a test and my folic acid.I am feeling pretty brilliant – I remember being exhausted with Ramona but have come to the conclusion that chasing a toddler around all day (and snuggling her all night) makes you so knackered anyway there isn’t another level of tiredness to reach!

So next spring Ramona will have a little sibling and us another darling to squeeze into our fortunately GARGANTUAN bed. This little  delight, catching us unawares. I love her already with her stealthy but audacious existence!

Validate bad times, c’mon!

(sung to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, obviously. You totally got that, eh.)

On one of our trips away this summer we were rushing to get our train back. I jumped on before Ramona and Tim, determined to get us a table seat. We had so much luggage – all our camping gear- and there were three of us so I was feeling pretty deserving. As I entered the carriage I saw an empty one and honed in on it – unfortunately a businessman had spotted it too- entering from the other door. He pipped me to the post by about 0.7 seconds and with a triumphant flourish sat his un-heavy-laden solo self down. Fortunately there was another! It wasn’t over! I shuttled forward to the next table- and exactly the same thing happened again, this time with a women, arms full of shopping bags.  There was no eye contact, just that same  flourish.

OOF! I WAS MAD!

I carried on up the train in, yeah, what was  bit of a rage, and came upon Tim and Ramona who had found a perfectly fine seating arrangement with bags of room. “You will not BELIEVE what just happened!” And I relayed the story, indignantly… “and the way they sat down… with such a triumphant flourish!!!” I was genuinely feeling a bit bruised by it.

Tim, kindly and very rationally,  responded to my woeful tale with “Never mind. These seats are really perfect.”

I was tired. And feeling a bit harassed. And grumpy and bruised. I, er, didn’t appreciate his comment.

I huffed and puffed and sunk into myself. I might have even whispered something a bit mean.

You see, what I wanted was someone to understand my -albeit irrationally upset- feelings. I wanted Tim to agree “What?! That is WELL out of order! No wonder you feel cross!”

And as our train jolted forward it hit me – we deal with toddlers in this way all the time.

Carboot puppy -The best 20p Ramona ever spent

At least once a day I’ll hear a variation of the following -and yep, sometimes out of my own mouth;

“Oh, don’t be silly, we’ve been at the park for hours, it’s time to go home”

“You just can’t scatter cereal all over the floor, that’s the way it is.”

“C’mon, that’s not for you to play with – look! Have a ball instead.”

“Don’t cry about it-  we can do it again later”

We discount our children’s feelings, sometimes outright by saying it is ridiculous, and sometimes more subtly and in a kinder way,  by trying to explain why they don’t need to worry about it.

I have been trying to validate Ramona’s feelings since she was really small – but only in this moment of immaturity on the train did I feel like I was trapped in a toddler’s body – having my feelings kindly, but subtly, invalidated. (By the way. I honestly think I was being unreasonable on the train. I am an adult, with all the right wiring – I hope– and a –fairly– developed brain and my husband has a really good balance in understanding my feelings but also calling me out when I am being a bit out of order myself!)

Another one of our trips was to a farm with a friend and her two toddlers. She parented so gently and playfully, always validating her children’s huge feelings, even when they seemed unreasonable. It was such a delight to see her sitting on the floor next to her wailing child and, in a undramatic and calm way, letting her know that she understands how hard it is.

“I can see that has made you really upset. ”

“It  is really frustrating when you can’t play with the things you want to, isn’t it?”

“You feel as if you should have longer in the haybales, don’t you?”

“It makes you upset when you can’t help me make dinner. Perhaps you could help me make the pudding?”

It isn’t rocket science, but it doesn’t come naturally either. I think it takes a lot of practice to make empathy and validation the first response, particularly when it is over something so blatantly trivial. I am constantly trying to understand that for Ramona the sense of the feeling is often huge, even if the cause of the feeling seems tiny and minor to me.

I think validating our toddler’s feelings often does avert full blown tantrums, and can often save time in the long run. But mostly I think I want to nurture a relationship based on understanding, to take every opportunity to connect with my toddler.  I want Ramona to get that there is a place for her big feelings, and it is right to sometimes feel sad and cross and frustrated. She doesn’t have to bury these feelings, to distract herself by the next thing.

So, isn’t it great when we can learn something from a particularly low ebb in our adult emotional maturity?  Really great. I just probably shouldn’t have slipped a special little revenge parcel in their bags to discover later. (JOKES)

*Sings*

Let’s all validate and have a good time!

PS- If you are interested in this I do recommend reading some of Naomi Aldort’s stuff. I am currently battling through her book, Raising our children, Raising ourselves-  but her articles are a million times easier to read!