On putting children to bed

You have a confession to make. You are still putting your son to sleep. You lie next to him for ten minutes while he strokes your eyebrows and gently tugs on your nose and then he drops off. If he is really having trouble descending into the land of nod, he licks his finger first. The resulting sensation isn’t one you wouldn’t be in a hurry to recommend that other people to experience, but it seems to do the trick so hey. Sorted.

What, other people’s children do not find eyebrow stroking the perfect soother? How odd. It’s been the Star’s preferred comfort rag since he was quite small. At least he has stopped assuaging his nervousness at meeting new people* by stroking their eyebrows now, which was a phase he went though at around two and a half. There were lots of startled toddlers in Saaaaf Laaandaaan in those days, I can tell you. He’s also got the message that Papa is not keen, and that Mama would prefer not to have her nose pulled when she is trying to do up shoelaces, which is all progress too.

You do not quite know how this started, but you can probably say it had something to do with your failure to give the Star a dummy. Mind you, the Comet also never got a dummy but she does not try to smooth down any parts of your face in order to calm herself down.

No, she twiddles her hair. What there is of it. Had you known how long it would take to grow, you would never have let your husband shave it off just after her first birthday.**

She also fiddles with her own eyelashes.

Now that really is weird.

But then when you were a kid, you slept with your old cot blanket over your covers proper. And you called it your ‘sucking quilt’.

And you didn’t give it up until you were in double figures at least.

Wonder what happened to it.

*No sniggering at the back there. The Star does get nervous. He just shows it in funny ways.

**If anyone is thinking there’s a story here, there is. But not a very interesting one.

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The Toddler’s Guide to… Paradise Wildlife Park

The Toddler’s Guide is written by Solnushka’s eighteen-month-old daughter, who is generally accompanied on her travels by her Mama, her Papa and her Big Brother, who is four and a half. She wishes everyone to know that the spelling is Mama’s.

Has Mama mentioned that my Brilliant Big Brother is quite keen on animals? She has? Then it should surprise nobody that when Mama discovered an opportunity to visit somewhere for FREE (Mama does like the free) with a promotion from a MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts (whatever that is), she chose a zoo. The Paradise Wildlife Park, specifically.

A white tigerIt’s an interesting name, that. It suggests a certain… commercial approach to zookeeping. To Mama. And she did experience grave misgivings when as we went in we were greeted by the ‘put a pound in this ride… and this one…. and that one…. and look, there are five more over here too’ area. Mama also thinks that the rabbit enclosure plastered with advertising as the first animal attraction you see isn’t ideal. She wondered if she was going to have to pay extra for everything, and be fobbed off with orange dyed, stripily painted pet cats in lieu of your actual tigers. Although I don’t know what’s wrong with that. Cats! Woohoo!

In fact, nearly everything else, and there is a lot else, is included in the entrance price. And the animals are, Mama thinks, a very carefully chosen mix between, small and manageable, large and impressive, familiar crowd-pleasers and the full on exotic. And reassuringly well looked after. What a relief it must be to be released from the terms of your latest scientific grant meaning you need to try to convince the punters that forty-two species of slugs hiding in the leafmold are interesting. My Brilliant Big Brother really liked ALL THE ANIMALS. And the snakes. Papa thought the tapirs were pretty cool. Mama enjoyed all the big cats, especially when they roared, which they did quite often. She was also thrilled to find the roosting, squeaking bats were oddly unnerving, even as she resisted the temptation to clutch at her hair.

Tapirs

Me? I liked the stairs. There are stairs because there are a lot of viewing platforms and walkways that take you right over where the animals are hanging out. This is fabulous, especially for someone my height. I also loved the ostriches. This was because an advantage of the evils of capitalism approach is that Paradise Wildlife Park lets you feed some of the animals. Cabbage, mostly, which I don’t like, to Mama’s everlasting relief. There are signs telling Mama which animals you can throw bits of limp veggies at, and it definitely increases you chances of getting up close to those animals, but the ostriches will peck the food right out of the bags. Oh, how I shrieked with delight!

Feeding the tigersAnother highlight was watching some visitors feeding the tigers. Not only was there the remote but thrilling possibility that someone might get their fingers bitten off, but the Keeper who was supervising imparted quite a lot of interesting (to Mama) information about the care of tigers in captivity. Plus, the tiger stretched up really high, right on his hind legs. Coooooooooooooooool.

But enough about the animals! They also have a (free) bouncy castle! I’d have paid to get in just for that. And a variety of slides with (yes!) more steps to climb to get to them. And an actual fire engine! And an actual steam engine!! Both of which you can climb all over to your heart’s content. Papa had been so softened up by the quality of what had come before that he put a whole 20p in a slot and the steam engine roared and whistled and puffed for hours. There was a pirate ship, and an assault course, and some go carts to pedal around, and a (pay for) miniature railway, and a (pay for) crazy golf course as well as a full on (free) soft play area/ café that much to my disappointment we didn’t get to go in because we’d spent so long on all the other things.

It really is a full day out, and then some. Start early.

Train

A couple of other things Mama seems to think are important. There are plenty of places to eat, both for those who have taken a packed lunch and for those who wish to buy something in site, hot or cold. For sheer coolness value, Mama recommends the snack bar overlooking the tiger enclosure.

The zoo, Mama says, is easy to find. This is good as she had to drive us across London to get there. Nice clear signposting and only a short ride from that big M25 road we seem to spend our lives whizzing around is just the sort of thing calculated to keep her calm and happy under these difficult circumstances.

When we arrived, we found the parking is also ample, another thing Mama seems to rate highly, even if it was a chilly January holidays day and therefore highly unlikely to be an issue. That the zoo works as a venue in winter is another of its plus points, of course. In fact, given that there are distinct signs that the place may be rammed to overflowing in summer, Mama rather thinks off-peak is the time to go, even if that means you sacrifice a few live shows or something. We always seem to miss them anyway. Too distracted by the camels.

And finally, they play you music in the toilets. Result!

LemurAnyway. The Paradise Wildlife Park was thoroughly enjoyed by a family who are quite the connoisseurs of wildlife experiences. In fact, it’s so good that Mama suggested we return sometime soon and play actual folding paper to get in. And Papa didn’t say no.

You really don’t get much more highly recommended than that.

Previous Toddler’s Guides:

London SEALIFE Aquarium

RAF Museum, Hendon

RichmondPark

Hyde Park

On the Elefun Snackin Safari

Toys are tricky things, or at least they are when you don’t buy them at car boot sales for a pound. Luckily, you can buy a lot of toys for a pound at the car boot sale. You particularly recommend such places for random plastic animals, small cars and things that go beep, because mostly they still go beep when you get them home and put a new battery in. Oddly enough it is also quite good for jigsaws and card games. Perhaps other people are as obsessive as you are about keeping track of the pieces. This never ceases to surprise you.

The car boot sales are less good for things that come in large boxes, have many parts, need adult assembly and have instructions for the obvious reason that with the best will in the world, which mostly sellers have, there is a much higher likelihood that some crucial part has gone missing and got broken. But since the Star, and now the Comet, started to take an interest in the world around them can reasonably be expected to enjoy something a bit more complicated than a shape sorter, you have entered the world of paying actual tens of pounds for things like this, particularly at times like… well, like Christmas.

Now the problem with this is that when you are paying real money, it really helps if the toy is appreciated and played with. At least once. Unfortunately, or so it seems to you, the attrition rate for toys increases exponentially the more complicated, the bigger, and the more expensive the item is, and you find this very stressful.

So when you were offered one of the newer toys on the market this season, the Elefun Snackin Safari, to review, you rather jumped at the idea.

The Elefun Snackin Safari is a sister toy to the original Elefun game. There you catch as many little butterflies in a net that the elephant shoots out of his trunk. Hours of fun, although the Star always tended to just run around with his hands out yelling and crashing into the other kids on the occasions he got to have a go with it.

Here, with the Elefun Snackin Safari, you race to sucker up more little discs of foods than the other player, by bouncing your elephant’s slinkyesque elephant trunk up and down. Lovely simple premise, and the elephant heads are also splendidly easy to assemble, and to store too. The noses clip neatly back onto the main face, so you aren’t dealing with yards of increasingly battered spring all the time. In fact, the Star and the Comet are perfectly capable of getting the game set up and put away all by their four and a half and one and a half selves. Which is pretty much what you want in a toy.

The anticipation level generated by the game was pretty high. The Star was, of course, won over by the animal connection

You also appreciate very much the utter gender neutrality of this piece of kit. There has been no attempt to make this for little girls or boys. The packaging shows a child of each sex playing, GASP, together and even the handles for the elephant units are in green and orange. You can’t describe what a relief this is in this blue and pink modern world of ours.

Elefun Snackin Safari

In fact the only slight problem with it is that your son has terrible trouble actually getting the elephant to actually pick up any of the snacks. He is not the most manually dexterous of children, and had the patience of a not very patient thing. You recall that you were the sort of person who couldn’t ever get a yoyo to work, not that you tried much once you couldn’t do it immediately, so the apple is definitely not falling far from the tree there.

This doesn’t matter much because, while you daughter seems likely to get the hang of it all far earlier than the Star, she is still too young to really be able to play the game as advertised with him properly. So while she flails happily around the living room with her elephant trunk, you and the Star take it in turns to bounce it up and down in order to stick the little sucker to the floor. The score is about even there.

In short, the Elefun Snackin Safari it is the sort of toy that even if you aren’t actually hoovering up the snacks you cam still get quite a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Certainly your kids are still voluntarily hauling it out of the toy corner and having a go after a week, which in your book, counts as a win.

Elefun Snackin Safari: aimed at 3 and above, £14.99.

Full disclosure: I have not been paid for writing this post, but I did receive the Elefun Snackin Safari free of charge.

On statistics

So the Comet has just woken up with a raging temperature and in the same 30 minutes, the Star’s cough got the better of him and he has thrown up.

All over his Papa, which makes that a 100% record. Papa covered in 100 litres of sick in the last four and a half years, Mama zero. Result.

You have resisted the impulse to take a picture of the carnage for blogging purposes. Just.

On why my children are cuter than yours #3,743

Your daughter spends a lot of her time these days moving chairs about.

You spend a lot of your time trying to wash up, stir hot liquids or chop things without her noticing.

Sadly the Comet’s observation powers are far greater than your ability to conduct covert cleaning or cooking maneuvers,  particularly as you have an open plan kitchen-living room.

You suppose you should be grateful that she is more interested in doing something other than watching TV. That she is clever enough to have figured out that is she is small but standing on something makes her bigger. That the solution to her not being able to reach the excitingly sharp object, the thrillingly hot thing  or the oodles of wet Mama is playing with up there is to toddle to the table, pull out a chair, turn it round, push it, adjust for corners or other inconvenient barriers such as Papa, push a bit more, frown at Babushka standing in the way, arrive at the destination, scramble aboard and arrive, grinning, next to you at the least convenient moment. And that she is now able to do this more and more quickly, given that both you and she have turned her pitching up next to you into a sort of race against time. You both know that you will turn the water off/ hide the washing up liquid/ fling the knife away/ move the saucepan on to the back burner as soon as her little head pops up, and her new purpose in life is to try to get there before you can decently do so.

But you are not. Grateful that is.

Quite apart from anything else it’s still a hell of a shock seeing a chair come screaming across the floor towards you without any immediately visible form of propulsion.

Having another pop at this Yeah Write thing.

On dogs vs children

OK, so I am submitting this post to something over at a site called ‘Yeah Write’. Quite what that something is I am not sure yet, but I do know that they seem to take blogging as an art form quite seriously. Obviously I couldn’t agree more. Anyway, here goes nothing.

You have always been more of a cat person, but since having children you are finding yourself becoming increasingly anti-dog rather than merely meh about other people’s bouncy, yappy, toothy best friends.

This is mainly because your kids love dogs and you live in London.

London is a place where only the well off or extremely lucky have outdoor space, and even then it often consists of a balcony. So parks are really crucial places to take the animals for a run. Which is also what dog owners think.

Now this is fine, except that somewhere along the line many of those dog handlers seem to have got the idea that their right to let their mutts run free and unfettered is at least equal, if not more so, to yours to let your children have a bit of fresh air and exercise.

You don’t want to drag your kids around the parks by the hand, forcing them to walk sedately by your side on the pavements. If you wanted to do that, you wouldn’t be in the park in the first place. No, you want to let them off the lead and so they are frequently well out of grabbing reach when some unaccompanied pooch bounds into sight.

Naturally what your kids then do is run joyfully towards this new playmate. At which point a certain type of dog fancier will pop up and point out that it isn’t a good idea to let children get too close to unknown barely tamed wolves.*

It’s probably a good thing they didn’t see the Star before you broke him of the habit of recklessly throwing himself on top of the dog and ruffling its ears affectionately, but what you have had to do in order to make that stick is teach your son guile, and no good will come of this in the long run you feel.

Anyway, now he actively seeks out the dog owner. He smiles winningly at them. He asks, ‘What’s his name?’** It’s a question he isn’t remotely interested in, but it gives him an opening to say, ‘Do you have a ball?’

God help you all if the answer is yes, because then you will be there for hours. You have seen the Star tire out grown dogs with his ceaseless ball throwing, although this was not half as surprising as when he taught a startled looking terrier to sit. Laboriously. It only took 30 minutes.

And then there is the dog shit.

Even in a culture where people mostly pick up their pets’ poo, you have still had to douse first your  son and now your daughter in disinfectant after they have proudly opened their hands and showed you the interesting object they have found on the ground. It must be a feature of 18 month olds. ‘Be fascinated and not at all repulsed by canine crap, check’.

To add insult to injury just the other day you were forced to make a polite face at a woman whose dog went very… wetly all over a nearby bit of grass and cheerfully remarked ‘Ah well, can’t pick that up then!!’ At which point you had to rugby tackle the Comet, who thought that would be an excellent thing to roll in.

In fact, you realised just how much you have come to hate the over-friendly barking machines recently, after you and the Star and the Comet had been having a very satisfying leaf fight in amongst a large pile of autumnal offerings. The park keeper approached and you noticed that the three of you had made rather a mess. But no, he wasn’t at all bothered about that, he just wanted to tell you how often he saw dogs pissing in the leaf banks.

Eeeeeeeeeeeyuuuuuuuuuuuw. Lengthy baths all round.

However, all of this you could live with, although any dog owners who meet you and engage in pleasant conversation about their little darlings should know that mentally you are cursing them behind your smile and lacklustre questions about breed.

No, the main problem is that you can see with increasing clarity and every new labrador your children stroke, that being a dog owner is an inevitability in your future.

And really, while you love the kids, you also look forward to those milestones that show they are getting more independent. Since September your son has been wiping his own bottom. In fact, he insists on going to the toilet alone. You feel glee every time he does, as you do every time your daughter picks up her own spoon in her own hand and shovels food into her own mouth herself.

The thought of taking on another responsibility, a responsibility which, basically, stays a small child for the entirety of its far too long life makes you want to scream and run away.

Although at least you wouldn’t have to dress/ undress/ dress/ undress/ dress/ undress/ dress/ undress/ dress/ undress (sorry, where were you?) it.

This is the picture prompt from ‘Yeah Write’. Apt, no?

*The only comment from dog owners more annoying than this is the one that all the ones with bulldogs say which is ‘Oh, he’s great with kids! Just a big softie really!’ What is particularly annoying is that they always glare at you when you hustle your children away anyway.

**Mind you it has done wonders for his social skills as previously his main way of making new friends was to leap on them in much the same way he did dogs, which hardly ever worked. Now he has learned to stop, smile winningly, ask ‘What is your name?’ and ‘Do you have a dog?’

Also, on a very much related note, the Comet gives you: a toddler’s Guide to… Battersea Park.

On Mama’s little helper

The Comet is a much more fastidious child than the Star. The Star is oblivious to dirt and will be covered in it before he has even left the house in the morning. What he looks like when he comes back from school is beyond description. You keep trying to think of cleaner packed lunches but you know that this is only the tip of the iceburg.

The Comet is also quite adept at getting dirty. Especially when she is eating. Well, you will try to feed her soup and she will insist on eating it herself. Lots of chicken broth and noodles all over her front. No, she won’t countenance any kind of bib. She also likes to eat rice pudding with her hands and then clutch her hair. She doesn’t have much hair, and has discovered that food is an excellent spiking agent.

After a while, however, the Comet will frown at herself, look around and start making urgent motions with her hands. She will stare at you pointedly and squeak. And she will keep doing this until you give her what she wants. The teatowel.

Once she has the teatowel she will carefully clean all the parts of herself that she can reach, and then she will start on the table, which has also suffered terribly in her feeding frenzy.

As a feminist, it’s a terrible thing to say but there really are compensations to having a daughter. All that help with the housework.

And the Comet is guest posting again here: a toddler’s Guide to… the London Transport Museum.