Monthly Archives: August 2014

Grampa’s tractor

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Arthur’s first ride on a tractor was actually in London, a wooden tractor he fell in love with in Hyde Park when we visited back in March.

This summer though he has become completely obsessed with another tractor: the one my dad uses to work the land at my parents’ home in Devon.

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It’s one of the first things he says as we wind our way down the lane towards their house and he realises where we are: ‘Grampa’s tractor! Grampa’s tractor!’. If it’s parked in the drive it’s all we can do to hold him back as he fights his way out of his car seat and scrambles towards it.

I’m not sure it’s the safest thing in the world for a toddler to be playing with, but he’s not allowed anywhere near it when it’s moving and fortunately hasn’t quite worked out what all the buttons and levers do yet…

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He just loves to sit on it though, his little hands on the wheel as he goes ‘vroom vroom’ and his imagination takes over.

Anything with big wheels that isn’t a train or a bus is a tractor at the moment – so range rovers, diggers, trucks. And as soon as he’s labelled it as such Arthur’s mind quickly takes him back to Grampa’s tractor and a smile comes over his face.

It’s funny how fascinated he’s become by everything with wheels – it’s certainly an interest he’s developed on his own rather than being pushed into it by us. I can’t help but wonder whether he’d be quite so obsessed if he were a girl, though he is also pretty mesmerised by Mimi’s chickens.

But that’s a post for another day…

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Twenty months

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Dear Arthur,

Twenty months ago today, you came into the world. That might not seem like a particularly important milestone. I meant to make more of your half birthday – that day in midsummer when you turned eighteen months – but there was just too much going on to stop and reflect.

It’s generally been a summer like that to be honest. We’ve had so many adventures – boating and swimming and camping and exploring. I’ve written about lots of them here, snatching minutes to upload photos and try to capture the things that you’ve been up to. But in focusing on what we’ve been doing I fear I’ve missed some of the most significant things that have happened this summer: the changes that I’ve seen in you, all the ways you’ve grown and developed.

Language has been a really big one. You have so many words! We stopped counting back in June some time, and it was seventy seven then. I reckon it might be double that by now – you’re a brilliant mimic, not only of the words themselves but of the intonation too. It’s not just that though – you can use your words independently as well, naming things and making your requests. You’re so thrilled when we understand you, the glee literally lights up your face.

I think you still understand way more than you can vocalise, and that might be why we’re starting to get some tantrums. That frustration we caught glimpses of when you were younger is showing itself more clearly now. It comes from not being able to get your point across I think, from the world going from making perfect sense to suddenly slipping through your fingers. You are still such wonderful company, but there are times when you seem so unhappy in your skin that I wonder if anything I can say or do will make it better.

It’s times like those I’m really glad I’m still wearing you regularly, still nursing you several times a day. If I hold you close, if we focus back in on that special bond we share, then the angst soon passes. The world is a pretty confusing place after all – it’s totally understandable that there are things that won’t make sense to you.

And despite that closeness being so important sometimes, there’s no doubt that you’re becoming more independent too. You love to sit on your own little chair at your own little table in the kitchen, to shake off my hand whenever you can and wander off by yourself, following your own path.

Sometimes you’ll then decide you want company, but on your terms. You’ll reach up expectantly and say ‘hand?’, mainly to Daddy as you lead him into your world. I know he’s treasured every moment he’s been able to spend with you this summer and he’s going to miss you dreadfully when he goes back to school.

You’ve had lots of different playmates over the summer, and you’ve so enjoyed all the different interactions, particularly with children a few years older than you. It almost makes me sad to watch you mistake strangers for your new friends who we’ve had to say goodbye to for now, to hear you call for Abbie or Fifi in the street, but I know we’ll see them again soon and you’re learning something important about friendship and memory. You’ve had the chance to nurture relationships with family too – with Grampa and Mimi, with your uncles and aunts and cousins. Again you’ll sit and run through their names when they’re not here. I hope you won’t be too lonely when you’re stuck with only me most of the time come September. We have lots of fun things planned though, lots of local friends to catch up with. It’ll be good for you to hang out with children your own age, to start to learn those big skills like sharing and kindness and taking turns.

It’s fascinating to watch your interests and preferences develop. You still love music, your little ukulele guitar but also the piano and the drum. You love to move too – dancing, running, climbing, jumping. You’re still working on that last one – it makes me smile to watch you squat down with such focus in your face and thrust yourself upwards only to find your toes are still in contact with the ground. You will get there soon, I promise.

You’ve had your fair share of scrapes as you’ve found your feet this summer. A succession of firsts that would never have come at all if I’d have had my way: first stubbed toe, first nose bleed, first scraped knee. I guess the bumps and bruises are all part of it though. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

And I think I can safely say that for the most part your world is a happy one. That word itself has become increasingly important to you, it’s become our little ‘I love you’: ‘Happy Arthur, happy daddy, happy mummy’ you’ll say, with a look of pure contentment on your face. You get such joy from the joy of others too: sitting around the table joining in with the laughter of adults at some grown up joke, waiting for a lull before you proclaim it ‘funny’. I don’t know whether you know that will provoke even more laughter, but it invariably does.

There’s so much I haven’t found a way to fit in here. Your love of trains and tractors and anything with wheels. The way you can almost count to ten when the mood takes you but somewhere along the way have got six and seven mixed up with chicken and motorbike. How your perception of crayons is slowly shifting from tasty snack to something to create pictures with, and how I want to frame every one even though I know we’d soon need another house to keep them all. 

I have big plans for the autumn, but I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you too. To savouring everything you learn and say and do, and helping you make sense of this crazy world. The memories of summer will carry us through the cooler days and darker nights, and I know you will continue to astound me.

All my love for always,

Mummy xxx

 

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt ‘Memories of summer’. 

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P is for pho

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Often people ask me what I miss most about not living in London any more, and the answer’s always the same. There’s the people we left behind of course, but actually in some ways the physical distance between us now means that we make more effort to see the people who really matter. It’s amazing how knowing someone’s only half an hour away can turn into an excuse not to see them yet the opposite becomes true when meeting up’s a real mission.

But I digress. The thing I really miss about not living in London any more is the food. It’s not like there’s not good food in Devon: the potential for really fresh, really local ingredients is of course much higher than in the city. But without the melting pot of cultures that I used to feel privileged to be a part of, our menu is much more limited.

Where we used to live in London we were surrounded by fantastic Vietnamese restaurants. There was a big Turkish community too, so the kebabs were out of this world. Not to mention the Punjabi lamb chops at Tayyabs, the Sunday dim sum at Yi Ban, the Argentinian steak at Buen Ayre and the special-occassion sushi at Soseki.

It’s Vietnamese food I always seek out first when we go back though. There’s something about the fresh herbs, the slippery noodles, the seafood. And I especially love pho. It’s like the best sort of comfort food, warming and flavourful and healthy. I miss the ritual of the little plate of basil and bean sprouts and chilli, alternating spoons of broth with digging around with chopsticks for more substantial morsels of deliciousness.

When we were on honeymoon in Vietnam I had it for breakfast every day. We’ve tried to recreate it ourselves to varying degrees of success, but without the authentic ingredients it’s never quite the same. The bowl above was devoured moments after the photo was taken in Tre Viet, a restaurant I’d heartily recommend if ever you find yourself hungry on Mare Street.

P is for pho.

 

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast. 

A return to writing with the virtual blog tour

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We’ve had a great summer: lots of exploring and adventures and hanging out with friends and family. Leigh’s had his last really long, lazy summer holiday as a student so we felt we had to make the most of it – as of next year things really start heating up with this training to be a doctor business. I’ve just about managed to keep things ticking over on the blog, but my other writing has been on hold for what feels like forever. And to be honest, much as I’ve had a wonderful time, there’s a growing part of me that’s looking forward to September and getting back to my book.

So when I had an email from Mummy Tries asking if I’d like to take part in a virtual blog tour for bloggers with writing projects on the go I jumped at the chance – I figured it’d be the perfect opportunity to regroup and remind myself what I was doing with all those hours spent on Scrivener earlier in the year and get ready for the next phase of crafting my novel.

But first just a little bit about Mummy Tries

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I came across her blog through various linkies we’ve both taken part in, and not only did I love her writing with its perfect balance of wit and sincerity but we also seemed to be very aligned in the way we think about parenting, education and the wider world. She’s recently finished the first draft of her first book, a self-help book which draws on her own difficult childhood to support people in moving away from dysfunctional pasts. You can read more about this project in her post here.

Back to my book though! Regular readers of this blog will know that I wrote my first novel, ‘Lili Badger‘, in the first few months after my son was born. It’s still doing the rounds with publishers, but rather than sitting around waiting for it to be picked up I’ve been working on a second, and that’s the one I’m going to tell you about here…

What am I working on?

The working title of this novel is ‘A Little Dream’. It explores the darker side of relationships, fitting quite nicely into the relatively new genre of ‘chick noir‘ though I hadn’t even heard of that when I started to write it. The story unfolds from the perspective of Grace, a twenty-something media type living in London. Right from the start we have the sense that something’s missing from her life, and it seems that she’s found it when she starts to dream of the mysterious Drew. But then he comes into her life for real – at least she thinks he does – and everything starts to get a lot more complicated.

On one level the story can be read as a psychological thriller, but that very much depends on whose version of reality you come to believe. One of the things that’s pleased me most about the feedback I’ve had from my initial readers is that their interpretations of what’s going on vary wildly, which is precisely the effect I’m hoping to achieve.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

The books that seem to fall under the umbrella of chick noir vary quite a lot in their treatment of relationships, but what they have in common is an exploration of the darker aspects of humanity and the dysfunctional relationships that can be born out of them. Two of my favourite examples of the genre are S.J. Watson’s ‘Before I Go To Sleep‘ and Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl‘ – both are brilliantly unsettling in the worlds they create, leaving the reader unsure of where reality lies until their shocking twists are revealed.

I think I am beginning to achieve something similar with ‘A Little Dream’ – it’s definitely a key area I want to work on during the redrafting process. There are some aspects of my story that really set it apart though. My protagonist is younger and more naive than the wives in other examples of the genre, and the relationship she finds herself in is younger too. It’s full of the intensity of youth, and all the insecurities that come with that. There are elements of Grace’s experience that are quite strongly autobiographical, but fortunately not all of them given how things turn out for her!

Why do I write what I do?

With ‘Lili Badger’, I had a strong sense of wanting to articulate the experience of young people I had worked with as a teacher, and in particular my fears for their futures in a world which rarely gives teenagers the respect and credit they deserve.

With ‘A Little Dream’ my inspiration was more personal. I’ve watched too many brilliant women fall under the spell of dangerous men, men who make them question their own sanity as they chip away at their self-esteem. There are so many pressures on young women today to achieve it all – the perfect career as well as the perfect relationship – and for some women I think society’s demands can begin to really cloud their sense of self. Grace struggles with all of this, as well as depression and other mental health issues. As the story has developed this aspect of it has grown, and I hope it might prompt some necessary discussions about mental health, something which is still sorely neglected in our society given the number of people affected by it.

What is my writing process?

I’ve blogged quite a lot about different aspects of my creative process – you can read more about it here. In terms of this novel, I’m so far following a similar process to with my first.

At the end of last year I made loads of unstructured, barely coherent notes capturing the ideas for the story that had been swirling around my head for a while. These gradually began to take shape, and I mapped them into chapter summaries which formed the backbone of the novel. After some additional research into areas I felt less confident writing about I set the project up in Scrivener. Working with a deadline of Easter I ended up with a daily target of about 1500 words – and then I just made sure I wrote them!

I wrote for a couple of hours each day whilst Arthur napped in the sling, though often I’d still be in the midst of it when he woke up and he’d have to entertain himself in my study which inevitably resulted in an almighty mess… He was remarkably patient though, and I couldn’t have done it without him.

I finished the first first draft just before Easter, and let it sit for a while before going through and correcting my most glaring errors. I then got ten copies printed out which went to my trusted first readers – a combination of friends and family – as well as my agent.

I’ve collated all their feedback now, and am ready to start some serious redrafting. That’s what I’ll be getting down to next week, and I’m very much hoping I can find the same level of productivity as I had earlier in the year!

So that’s where I’m at with my writing right now. I’ll keep you posted as to how that redrafting goes…

Meanwhile though the next stop on the virtual blog tour is littlee & bean. I came across Steph’s poetry through the Prose for Thought linky and was immediately impressed. She has such a fantastic way with words, and her poems are powerful and evocative without a hint of tweeness. I was really excited to find out that she’s writing a book, one which explores her experience of being forced to convert as a teenager to a very strict form of Islam. I’m fascinated to find out more about it, so make sure you hop across to her blog next Monday to see what she has to say.

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There’s someone else I’ve invited too but in the craziness of summer I haven’t heard back from her yet… I’ll let you know if she decides to join in as I’m very excited to hear more about the book she has brewing.

 

 

Mama and More

Becoming a mum: sleep

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It’s been a while since I’ve written in my ‘becoming a mum’ series, but I couldn’t leave it without tackling the all-important matter of sleep.

I’ve actually been putting this one off for a while now. I think I hoped that perhaps, being almost twenty months now into this whole parenthood business, I’d be able to write and say that I’d finally cracked it: that we were all getting enough sleep, at the right times, and maybe even that we’d achieved the holy grail of sleeping through the night.

Though it’s probably more appropriate that I’m getting these words out through the fog of exhaustion that’s been my general state since somewhere near the start of my third trimester of pregnancy. So nearly two years ago, if we’re counting. Two years since I can say I had a decent night’s sleep.

It’s not that Arthur doesn’t like to sleep. In fact, in the beginning, it was all he really wanted to do. It took all our energy to persuade him to eat – and I wonder sometimes whether his waking in the night since is payback for those early weeks when I had to rouse him religiously every three hours, tickling his toes and blowing on his cheeks just to get enough nutrition in him to enable him to grow. You can read about the start of our breastfeeding journey here – we’re still going strong with that as it happens, so watch this space for an update on the joys of breastfeeding a toddler!

But I digress. That happens quite a lot nowadays – sleep deprivation, probably…

We’ve had Arthur in a bedside cot since the night he was born. We started with a Bednest which we loved, and when he outgrew that at four months old we were by no means ready for him to move to his own room. So we graduated to a larger cot made by Troll – he’s still in it now for most of the night, and I’m hoping he’s not going to grow too quickly as I haven’t quite worked out what we’ll do then.

All of us – me and Leigh and Arthur – have become quite attached to co-sleeping. We often spend much of the night snuggled up together, but it’s great to have the space and security that the bedside cot affords. He’ll roll across when he wants to stretch out, and (usually) I can slide him across too if I’m really shattered. But knowing he’s there, hearing his breathing – that was invaluable in the paranoid early months. There’s something about it that feels so natural. And there is literally no better way to wake up than to hear his giggles, or more often nowadays to feel his hands on my shoulders as he peers into my face to say “Hiii!” before a request for booba or to walk and play.

I mention all this because I’m pretty sure that, were we to turn our backs on co-sleeping, then saying goodbye to night nursing and night waking wouldn’t be far behind. But as of yet it’s not a sacrifice we’re willing to make.

That’s pretty much the bottom line, really, when it comes to how we’ve handled the whole sleep issue. I know even without seeing the raised eyebrows of friends as I describe our ‘routine’ that our approach has been somewhat unconventional. But, tiredness aside, it kinda works.

Arthur goes to sleep late – 9.30ish usually – a time that came from watching him and listening to him and seeing when he started to get tired. We’ve finally made the leap to him going down in his own room so we get a couple of hours to ourselves, then he’ll wake up hungry sometime between midnight and two and we’ll bring him up to our room. He then usually wakes me every couple of hours to nurse – I’m not sure he really wakes up himself to be honest, but he makes his intentions pretty clear – and that continues until either I need to get him up or he decides it’s time to start the day.

I’ve read all the books on ways we could get him to sleep through the night. I know I couldn’t bring myself to go down the cry it out route – even though he’s older now I’d be afraid of what emotional connections would have to break in order for him to accept that no-one was coming for him rendering crying futile however lonely and afraid he was feeling on the inside. I know as well that there are a whole raft of gentler options, ones which I might be willing to try if it weren’t for the fact that, deep down, I’m not really sure I want things to change.

The later bedtime allows him to see his dad for a few hours at the end of the day – we get to all sit down to dinner as a family, and we all benefit from that. The payoff for me is that he generally wakes up for the day at around 8am. I am not, and never have been, an early morning person, so that suits me just fine. And then there’s the naps: when we’re not rushing around too much he will still have two decent naps each day, between one and two hours each. Bearing in mind this is usually preceded by a feed, and it all happens in the sling, it buys me a good few hours to sit and write. I can’t imagine how I’d get anything done otherwise – and as I’m burning to start work on redrafting my second novel as soon as things get back to normal in September I’m really hoping he doesn’t start dropping those naps any time soon.

He’s flexible too – he doesn’t need darkness or quiet to sleep, which is a real bonus for travelling. And if he stays up even later one night he makes up for it with a lie-in the next morning.

And on top of all that, our unconventional routine seems to suit him – he’s happy and healthy, growing well and hitting all his milestones. There are days when he’s tired and I know we need to slow down a little – days when we all have an early night. But once those batteries are recharged he’s ready to go again.

So whilst I know on the surface it looks like we’re doing this sleep thing all wrong, and whilst it sometimes feels like I live for my morning coffee and I can’t help but moan occasionally about that two years without a decent night’s sleep, I know deep down that I wouldn’t change a thing. I guess it’s like everything else in this whole parenting lark really – it’s ok to know the rules, to read up on other people’s theories and talk about what works for other kids. But ultimately you have to do what’s right for you.

Now excuse me while I go and have a little nap…