2 March 2017

New Mum Essentials

I've done the "new mum" thing three times in the last 5 years. Each time has been different, a different ratio of unbearable to wonderful. Each time would have been easier with the following 5 things. I had none of them the first time, some of them the second time and all 5 this time. Despite having 2 whole other children to care for this time, it has been hands down the easiest newborn time yet. 

So if you are having a baby or know someone who is, try to get all of these things sorted before the little bundle of 'joy' (exhaustion) arrives...

1. A thermos flask

If you don't own a thermos, get one. They will come in so handy. For warming up bottles in the night (take boiling water to bed in your thermos and save yourself from going downstairs in the night, every short cut helps at 3am). Or for breastfeeding mums, always make your tea in the thermos and increase your chances of drinking hot liquid 10 fold. Also when they are older and you spend half your life taking them outside to run off some energy, nothing beats the smug feeling of drinking hot tea in the park! Major mum win. 

2. An extra long phone charging cable. 

For the many hours of being (happily) trapped under your sleeping or feeding baby with nothing but your phone to occupy you. There's nothing more lonely than feeling stuck under a baby you can't move and your phone dies. Of course sometimes being phoneless is actually lovely and calm and relaxing, but if you're having a hard day it can be a lifeline to someone else who is going through the same things as you (see number 5).

3. Dry shampoo

Dry shampoo is a godsend for those days when a shower (or one long enough to include a hair wash) just hasn't been possible. If you are about to have your first baby I know, I know: YOU won't be that person who can't even manage to wash yourself... But maybe, just in case? Get yourself some dry shampoo. 

4. A comfortable bra

I'm a combination feeder myself, all 3 babies have had happily had both breastmilk and formula milk. I breastfed the boys for a year each, so have been wearing nursing bras for half of the last 5 years. Comfortable boobs can make or break you during the new mum phase. First time around I bought some really nice looking (on the website) lacy numbers thinking that I would feel all womanly and 'like my old self'. I did not. I felt bizarre shoving a breastpad into a sheer lacy number and mostly unsupported (breastwise, not emotionally). The second time I bought cheap white nursing bras from the supermarket, which quickly became grey. I felt mumsy and a bit drab but better supported...

This time around I was sent a Bravado Silk Seamless Nursing Bra to review. I wore it during my pregnancy and have been wearing it for the past 3 months of breastfeeding (not continuously!). It's genuinely my favourite bra... Of all time. Excluding a lovely turquoise satin one I had pre-kids when I was at my wedding weight and had basically no boobs at all... Ah those were the days!
It's more like a sports bra than an ordinary bra and feels soft but supportive and gives a nice shape (anyone else ever found normal nursing bras made their boobs look sort of triangular?).
If it was less weird, I would but this bra as a new mum gift because it's so comfy and uplifting (I do mean emotionally this time: the bra doesn't give you enhanced cleavage but it makes me feel better than when I'm wearing my less nice bras). 

5. Your Village

Most importantly, you need to forge yourself a village, because it truly does 'take a village to raise a child'. Sadly none of us live in small, family focused communities anymore. Many of us don't live 2 minutes from our mums or mother in laws (although, after 2 kids I in fact did move 'home' for the benefit of 2 Grandmas and Granddads within a 10 minute drive!). If you don't have helpful family on the doorstep, get out there and make your own village. Find some other mums who have been or (preferably) are going through the same things as you. Your village can be anyone: old friends who live miles away but are always on the end of the phone, local women you meet at a baby class or antenatal group, or even total strangers you can share with through social media. My village consists of all these and more. I feel really lucky that there are so many women who I get support from and who (I hope) I support right back. With my first baby I didn't have this and life was extremely hard. Looking back I can't believe I tried to 'go it alone' and I'm in no way surprised I struggled. Find some other mums, share your experiences and support each other. I promise it will make life with a new baby much more enjoyable!

So those are my top tips for surviving new motherhood, whether it's your first, second or fifth time. 

What were your essentials for the newborn era?


22 September 2016

Go Jetters Toys Review

Do you sing Ubercorn's "funky facts" song in your sleep?

Do you know where the Segovia Aquaduct is thanks to 4 cartoon explorers?

Do you shout "GeoGRAPHIC" when something is awesome?

Yeah me too! We've got Go Jetters Fever in our house, and we've got it bad.

Sure, we liked the Go Jetters before we were sent these amazing Go Jetters Toys to review, but now? Now we are obsessed (and I include myself in that). The boys and I have had so much fun with these toys and they (and the programmes) have really sparked an interest in travel and geography with my new school boy.

Just so you know he's planning on visiting the Northern Lights next year and swimming in the Dead Sea when he's "about 7 or 8 because it will cost a lot of money to get there". Don't get me started on how much he loves the Statue of Liberty!

In case you haven't seen the show (have you been living under a rock or is your Iplayer broken??) it's basically four little people who travel around the world looking at amazing geographical landmarks. Inevitably when they get there the hilarious moustachioed Grand Master Glitch is there causing some kind of havoc and they have to save the day. Their 'leader' is a funky 70's disco themed unicorn called Ubercorn, who tells them 'funky facts' about the 'place we're at'. Sounds amazing right? It is.

The toys we were sent to review included this musical Ubercorn cuddly toy which sings the Funky Facts song, the Go-Jetters theme song and says cool phrases too. He is a big hit with the boys and only marginally annoying to have around the house (as with all talking/singing toys the potential for a keen toddler to abuse the ability to make repetitive noises and drive you up the wall is high here). The only thing that would make Ubercorn cooler in my eyes is if you could TURN HIM OFF. The boys wanted to take him to bed one night, so I looked inside to see if I could switch a switch to stop him talking or singing in the night but there isn't one so we had to take the batteries out for his sleepover. Now he lives downstairs! Forever.

We also received the Go Jetters Jet Pad, which is their spaceship-like vehicle HQ. (My 4 year old repeatedly informs me it's NOT a spaceship because they don't go into space, they only fly around planet earth, but y'know... it is like a spaceship.)

The Jet Pad comes with a ladder and a slide, one Go-Jetter (it's Kyan if you're interested) and 2 click-ons for Kyan (which for the uninitiated means cool gadgety things: he has G.O. Boots and a G.O. Grab Arm)

My favourite bit of the Jet Pad is the projector (yes a real projector!) which shines images of different landmarks onto the back of the Jet Pad. Or if it's closed the projector shines onto the floor or the wall as you "fly" around. It also makes a range of sounds, one of which is Grand Master Glitch's voice (the boys like that the best!)

Other Go Jetters are sold separately and each figure comes with a 'click-on'. We have Lars who comes with an ice drill and a little ice sculpture of Glitch, and Foz who comes with a G.O. Mag (big giant magnet - not actually magnetic) and a mini Statue of Liberty. These figures fit perfectly in the Jet Pad, each with their own seat but if you do get the extra figures you'll need somewhere to store all their click-ons as they don't fit inside the Jet-Pad.

The only problem we had with the toys was that one of the figure's arms broke very soon after we opened the packet and the next day a vital piece of the 'click on' broke off too. This was quite disappointing and upset the boys as they were so into playing with the toys. However, we had excellent customer service and received a replacement within 2 working days. We are also the only people to review the toy who experienced a breakage and it hasn't put us off buying more Go-Jetters toys. I've got my eye on a Grand Master Glitch figure next! (I'm thinking the new baby might bring Glitch and possibly Xuli too as "please like me" presents for his or her big brothers).

My boys (aged 2 and 4) have been playing with these toys incessantly for 2 weeks. It's the first set of toys I've seen them stay so engaged with for so long and they both love the whole set. If you've got a Go Jetters fan I would definitely recommend the range of toys.

(You'll be less surprised than my two year old to discover that the talking cuddly toy unicorn doesn't fit inside the Jet Pad!) 


21 September 2016

Ed Vere's Max the Cat Series

These Max books by Ed Vere are my latest must-read recommendation!

I was a little late to the Ed Vere party, but now I'm hooked. The first two Max books came out last year but after winning a copy of Max at Night in a twitter competition a few months ago I had to get hold of the other two and I wasn't disappointed (the lovely people at Penguin sent me them to review and will give one lucky reader a set of all three books! See below for details). 

I won't give away the stories because it's as fun for the grown ups reading new picture books as the kids. Actually, is it bad that I'm so into kids books that I'm concerned about spoilers? Maybe I need to get into Game of Thrones after all. 

Anyway, without spoilers I can tell you that Max at Night is about Max going to bed at night, Max and Bird is about Max becoming friends with a bird and Max the Brave is about Max being brave and chasing a 'mouse'.

All three are just right for bedtime, in fact we often read all three. The illustrations are simple but have so much character. They're the kind of pictures that make me think "wow! these pictures are so simple but so effective... I could probably write and illustrate my own children's books!" Except I'm wrong in so many ways... 

This is how it worked out when I followed Ed Vere's simple instructions to draw Max and Bird for myself (you can have a go too!)

So Ed, and illustrators everywhere... please accept my humble apologies for all the times I thought I could do your jobs. I think this has finally put that fantasy to bed once and for all. 

As well as nailing the pictures, Ed manages to get actual humour into a few words which make the stories as enjoyable for the adults reading as for the children. There are some books that the boys love and I think "what the?!" because they're dull, but I breathe a sigh of relief when they choose a Max the cat book.

Enter the competition below for a chance to win all three books! Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

19 September 2016

Strategies for surviving SPD

If you haven't heard of SPD or PGP (same thing different names) you are one lucky mama!

It's basically the worst. Ever.*

(*please forgive exaggeration... I'm pregnant, tired and in the most pain I've ever experienced.)

SPD stands for Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction and PGP stands for Pelvic Girdle Pain. There's a really helpful website all about it here.

It means you have a painful pelvis in pregnancy (it can last longer but I'm choosing not to even consider that possibility right now thanks). It can hurt you in a number of different ways, like one really sore hip, or killer lower back pain but mine feels like my body is being ripped in half from the pubic bone. Maybe not ripped, maybe sawn in half with a rusty saw is a more accurate description.

There are a "few" things that make the pain REALLY bad. Just little things... like standing up, walking, sitting down, kneeling down, driving, turning over in bed, lifting up anything heavier than a teaspoon, using stairs, putting on shoes, getting dressed... you get the picture.

I thought I'd share with you some of the tips and tricks I've learnt for dealing with this agony.

Keep your legs together in bed. 

I don't mean in the biblical sense. Literally squeeze your leg together when you're rolling in bed. Some people even go so far as to suggest tying your legs together with a scarf. I don't know about you, but when I'm heavily pregnant and have my legs tied together like a fat mermaid, I find it a teensy bit tricky to maneuver myself around a bed full of cushions.

Keep a pillow between your legs in bed. 

Every pregnant woman knows that pillows are your new best friend. This rule confused me a bit to start with because I'm supposed to keep my legs together... but apart? Do I tie the scarf around and THEN try to wedge a pillow in, or tie the scarf around the pillow? Either way, what am I a bloody contortionist? I'm PREGNANT and IN PAIN, all this pillow origami is too much.

Get in and out of the car like the queen. Using a plastic bag.

This means: keep your legs together and spin them around before you stand up. Like you're wearing a very short skirt and there are paparazzi. When you're huge and immobile, spinning daintily is tricky, so you're advised to sit on a plastic bag at all times in cars to make swivelling easier. This is actually a useful tip, but have you ever sat on a plastic bag in a heatwave while pregnant?  #Iwassweatyalready

Sit on your bed to get dressed.

This takes some getting used to but is vital. If you stand on one leg then your whole body falls apart and you scream in agony for 5 minutes, so putting on a pair of maternity leggings standing up is simply too painful for words. My clothes are on the same side of the room as my husband's side of the bed though, so every single morning I get my clothes, say "budge over" to my husband and then sit on his feet when he inevitably doesn't. Also the bed is squishy so I still actually find getting dressed quite painful. I should probably get a hard chair to sit on. (Super top tip: sometimes I'm so pathetic I get him to literally put my legs in my trousers for me!)

Use heat and ice for pain relief.

Warm baths (I obviously want to say hot baths because mmm hot baths, but you're not supposed to with a human swimming inside your belly are you?) and ice packs are both very soothing.  Of course, baths are tricky because of the standing on one leg equals agony problem so unless you have a hoist installed in your home you're probably gonna need someone to help you in and out. I have yet to work out a way to make this seem at all elegant and feel like a hippo being pulled out of it's swamp every time. 

(Also note your GP can prescribe proper actual pain killers too!)

There are also a number of things you should avoid:

Pushing things:    Pushing things, like a double buggy with 2 kids in it. Or a shopping trolley with food in it. Or a hoover. Or a broom. So, you know, basically all of the things you need to push every single day of your life. 

Lifting things:     Like shopping bags. Laundry baskets full of clothes. Children. 

Sitting on the floor:     Playing trains, or dinosaurs, or doing puzzles. 

Crouching, kneeling, bending down, twisting:     Putting on small people's shoes. Getting small people dressed. Tidying up after small people. 

Essentially, if you could list the 20 most common actions you do as a Mum every day, which are necessary to the smooth running of your life... It would match up EXACTLY with the list of things you're supposed to avoid if you have SPD.  

Despite seeing a physio at the first sign of pain during this pregnancy, following the exercises, trying my very best to avoid aggravating the condition and even seeing a chiropractor, I'm now using crutches to walk further than the length of my lounge. I haven't been able to look after my boys without help for weeks. 

If you get to the "entirely useless excuse for a human being stage" like I have, there is just one more tip you need:

It's a two-parter... Part 1: ASK FOR HELP. Part 2: ACCEPT THE HELP.

This is no mean feat. I have a stupendously supportive husband who is running the house like some kind of stepford wife and keeping down a full time job and still acts like he actually enjoys spending time with me even though I'm a moaning, groaning beached whale. I also have parents who have devoted hours and hours of their week to driving me and the boys around and taking care of us all at their home (which I now refer to as my daycare centre!). I've also found out that I have the most amazing friends who are bringing me dinners, picking up the kids for me, baking me cookies and generally going totally overboard looking after me.

I've got it made in terms of support and help. But it is very hard to accept all that help. It's hard to always be the passenger in the car (I can't drive because pressing on the clutch is too painful) and to watch someone else run and pick up your baby when they fall over and to see everyone you love doing so much for you without being able to give anything back. [There is a good page here about the emotional impact of SPD and how you shouldn't bottle it up. I do this by sobbing all over my husband on a regular basis and then demanding he makes me a light evening snack of spaghetti bolognese.]

I feel like I owe everyone I know about 700 favours and I'm going to spend my life trying to pay them back. Maybe I'll win the lottery and be able to buy them diamond watches to say thank you. But getting help to do all the things I need to do means I can still (sort of) be a Mum to the boys. Without accepting everyone's help I am sure I would have ended up in bed for several weeks missing out on EVERYTHING.

Also, looking on the bright side: I've done the newborn thing twice, it's bloody hard and exhausting, I spent the first half of my pregnancy dreading those early weeks with a newborn... Now I can't wait for it! In comparison to this, having a newborn will be a doddle!*

*Watch this space for my post moaning about how I preferred being on crutches and in agony to the endless sleepless nights of feeding a hungry baby. 


8 September 2016

Wicked Uncle Challenge

The gift site Wicked Uncle set us a challenge last month to see if a childless grown up in our lives could use their site with no advice and choose gifts for the boys that they would love.

We set my brother in law and his fiancee Sarah this challenge and it was a huge success. They had £40 to spend on the site and I think they had a lot of fun choosing!

Sarah liked the fact there were lots of unusual toys that you don't see everywhere and a really good selection of non-branded toys. It WAS nice to receive something that didn't have a TV show or film associated with it!

She told me that she liked the wrapping service and was pleased to see non-branded paper to choose from. The boys certainly liked opening the box and seeing beautifully wrapped presents!

Like me (although perhaps not as avidly as me), Sarah is a big believer in letting toys be toys, so she said initially she was slightly put off by the pink for girls and blue for boys selection process. However, she said her annoyance was off set by the fact that many of the toys featured in both the Boy and Girl categories and by the "Girl" graphic at the top of the page being a girl pirate! The categories are the same for both boys and girls too. So you can choose Boys and then Fashion and Style or Girls and then Adventurers, which is great!

So happily, Wicked Uncle have saved themselves from my gender neutral wrath!

Sarah certainly made popular choices with the boys. They got a Ninja costume (which I find frankly scary, but the boys ADORE) and a wooden sword and shield set which they could decorate themselves.

Both boys love the costume, which came with a foam sword and were more than happy to pose for a photo or two for me!

The sword and shield came with a poster to colour in too. I wanted to paint the shield but the boys chose to use felt tip pens! I'm not sure the colours will last, but I suppose we can always paint it at a later date if they feel the urge.

I was really impressed with Wicked Uncle and found it extremely difficult to let Sarah choose. I think I would have gone with something like the ant farm kit or the caterpillar to butterfly kit... which is why I'm boring old Mummy and they are the cool aunt and uncle!

We were given a voucher for £40 to spend on Wicked Uncle for the purposes of this challenge. All opinions are my own (and my soon to be sister in law Sarah's!)


1 September 2016

The letter I wish I could write to my baby's first teacher

Dear Mrs T,

Please look after my baby. You know he's a baby still don't you? He might seem grown up and boisterous but really, he's a very sensitive soul.

(Conversely, if he seems like a timid little mouse, please know that he's a fun, outgoing, boisterous boy too... don't write him off as a shy kid!)

Please make sure he loves school, his entire education kind of depends on the spark you ignite in him this year. No pressure. 

Please be on high alert to any signs of emotional distress so he doesn't develop school-phobia. 

Please don't let other children laugh at him or leave him out of their games. 

Please give him a cuddle if he needs one.

Please offer to clean his glasses if they look so grubby he can't see through them. (Oh and tell him he looks smart in them, they're new!)

Please show him where the toilets are and tell him repeatedly that he's allowed to ask to go whenever he needs to. 

Please listen to him even if he doesn't shout the loudest.

Please don't let anybody tell him boys don't cry. 

Please make sure he eats his lunch. Neither you or I want to deal with him when he's tired and hungry.

Please tell him that you don't like guns or weapons either. I've been telling him for months, but maybe your disapproval will be more powerful.

Please accept my apology that he will bore you to death talking about superheroes and baddies. I promise that he enjoys other activities, if only he can be encouraged to stop running for long enough. He loves building things, gardening, making music, reading, putting on shows and playing with dolls.

Please don't think that I haven't taught him to speak properly. He knows that water has a "t" in it and that twenty isn't pronounced "twenny", but enjoys missing out the "t"s to get a reaction. 

Please never mention it if he tells you embarrassing things about me. Like that my poo smells. Or that my bottom is wobbly. 

Please don't believe him when he tells you that Daddy pushes his little brother off the swings at the park: it was one time and it was an accident! 

Please gently tell him when his joke isn't funny anymore. If you don't he'll repeat it for several hours. 

Please put him back together with kind words when he feels all the feels over getting something wrong. 

Please let me know if he's left or right handed, I can't work it out.

Please tell me how I'm supposed to "sound it out" when he wants to read the word the. It doesn't sound like t-h-e. Actually also the same for practically all the words

Please don't judge me by his creased clothing. I'm an excellent mum, I just don't iron. I made that choice a long time ago and I'm not about to start now. 

Also if he's late once in a while, or I forget a form, or if he still has yesterday's felt tip pen marks on his arms sometimes, or has weetabix on his shorts... Please cut me some slack. I will do my best but I'm new to this, I'm about to have a baby and I have a 2 year old at home too.

Most of all, please notice him. He's amazing, he's kind and funny and thoughtful and curious and energetic and brilliant... but I'm worried he won't stand out in a sea of other children. He won't be the loudest or the naughtiest or the clingiest or the cleverest. If he blends in to the background, please put in the extra effort to get to know him, I'm pretty sure you'll love him. 

Yours neurotically,

That pregnant mum with the kid with the glasses