Dancing Cowboys, Defying Crawling & the Dreaded Chickenpox

We all would probably prescribe to the notion that no two babies are the same, much as no two adults are the same. But that doesn’t stop us comparing our little princesses to the princess next door or the baby at music class. But why isn’t my precious duck smiling/ sticking out her tongue/ rolling/ crawling/ growing teeth/ saying ‘mama’/ pulling herself up/ walking yet??
Maggie has been lagging behind her little baby peers on the crawling stage, preferring to sit on her bum and streeeetch to things she wants, or using her ninja rolling technique to roll anywhere she pleases. No real need for crawling in the conventional way for our little bean.
But that all changed in the last week. And I think chicken pox was to blame.

Last Wednesday night as I was getting Maggie ready for bed I noticed a couple of spots on her head underneath her thick hair. It wasn’t until Friday that she developed full-blown chicken pox, covering every inch of her belly, her neck, her back and her head with a few token ones on her knees and face. John, who has a thing for numbers, tried to count them. He lost count at around 400. More than the sheer number of the things, their intensity was horrid. Maggie coped reasonably well with them during the day but at night she was in agony, first with the pain and fever that often accompanies chicken pox; but then with the dreaded itching. She was up most of the night and only calmed down when she was brought into our bed and we both sleepily took it in turns to lightly rub her back or head to relieve some of the itch. We also used a chicken pox relief cream called Virasoothe, which visibly calmed her and stopped the tears. Wonderful stuff. We were advised by a paediatrician not to use Calamine Lotion due to the secondary itching it can cause when it dries on the skin. This can sometimes cause more harm if the secondary itching results in the spots being picked and then becoming infected.

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So it’s been a long week to say the least, not helped by the fact I have been performing this week in our annual show, ‘Oklahoma!’, with my lovely am-dram society Twickenham Operatics (TOpS). But despite the lack of sleep I’ve had a great week performing with the talented TOpS crew at Richmond Theatre – dancing and singing with cowboys, cowgirls, farmers and farm-hands. Last year, the bump and I waddled around the stage in the chorus of ‘Guys and Dolls’, after relinquishing the role of Sarah Brown to my little sister as soon as I found out I was pregnant. It is so good to be back in the truly beautiful theatre on Richmond green and, as always, show week has been so much fun. I’m playing a small role with a big (and very annoying) laugh, so apologies to anyone who has come to the show and left with a migraine or ringing in their ears!

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But, back to the chicken pox. My neighbour told me that often children experience a growth spurt after they have recovered from this common illness. This is due to the fact that, as they fight off chicken pox, they are building up their immune system for the future. So despite the often horrible effects of it, I read that chicken pox is an important developmental disease for children and a necessary step in the development of their immune systems. After they have recovered, children can experience spurts in growth physically and mentally, often making jumps in their ability to walk and speak. So whilst it has been a big week for all of us, it has been most significant for little Maggie. In the last two days, she is properly crawling (in the traditional way!) and pulling herself up and standing against the sofa, the bed and the cupboards. Last night when we got back from the show, she woke up and played with us for an hour and, for the first time, walked for about 10 steps on her own while pushing her vTech baby walker. Wow! So stunned I nearly cried! With her big front teeth she now looks even more of a toddler than ever.

Still no sign of ‘mama’ though.

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25 Things about Me and My Girl

1 When I was younger I wanted to be an artist. My dad always laughs at this because, at the time, I had said I wanted to be ‘a’ artist. I guess it is quite ironic that I didn’t become a artist, but went to study English instead.

2. I don’t get bored. I once wrote that answer in one of those ‘Things you didn’t know about me’ quizzes, and John was quite taken aback. Because it was only then that he realized that it was true, I don’t ever get bored. I don’t believe in boredom. There are so many things to do if you have free time – think, read a short story, write a short story, learn to play the piano, learn to speak Italian, or French, have a singing lesson, sleep, go for a run in your new gutties, join an am-dram society, go to a car-boot sale, try out a new ‘Flat Belly’ diet, write a blog, bake a cheesecake with disastrous effects, plan a birthday surprise, learn to juggle, tidy the house, do some hand washing, have a glass of wine, play the guitar, phone a friend. Of course you can also have a baby and you’ll never ever be bored again.

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3. One of the greatest pleasures in my life is Tea. There is sometimes nothing more comforting in the world than a good cup of tea. It makes me smile and often makes my toes curl.

4. I have Raynaud’s disease. It sounds serious, but it’s not, it’s just a disease that affects the blood flow to my fingers when it is cold and makes them go bright white as if they are dead. I often worried that it is a sign that I will develop arthritis in my hands when I am older, because then I couldn’t play the piano or write my best seller. But apparently the two things aren’t linked, which is good. It is more likely to cause gangrene.

5. My life changed when my niece Molly was born. Honestly, I realised then that I had so much love to give little people and I have adored and been inspired by her and her sisters ever since. It also prepared me in the best possible way for having a little bean of my own. All of a sudden bringing a child into the world was not as overwhelming as it perhaps once felt. As the Beatles profoundly said, All you Need is Love.

6. I would like to have four children, mostly because I am from a family of four and I couldn’t bear to think of my life without my siblings. My best friends in the world are my siblings, without doubt. Years ago I said that my four children would be called Maggie, Jack, Katie and Frank, and now I have my real life Maggie who is, without doubt, the love of my life. She makes me laugh every day and already I can see the fun, energetic, mischievous little bean that she will become.

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7. The thing that makes me sadder than ever is cruelty to children. And I don’t necessarily mean abuse and neglect which is the worst possible thing, but even just unkindness and uncaring. I see it all the time – on the bus, on the street – and it makes my heart bleed. If I could, I would adopt every child who is in need of a hug, a kind word, a bit of attention. Alternatively, I do think of retraining one day and becoming a teacher. I’d love to become the Miss Honey to all those Matildas in need.

8. We thought it would be pretty easy to have Maggie, but in the end we waited for her for three years. I tried to stay relaxed about the whole thing, but towards the end I got really fecked off. My sister’s friend lent me a blessed medal of St Gerard Majella and I do believe he came through for me in the end. That along with the vigils and candles that were lit for me by my darling aunties and my dear dear Granny Campbell who sadly passed away three weeks before Maggie was born. Already I can see that Maggie has inherited Granny’s mischievous smile and sense of humour. Only time will tell if she is as good at storytelling.

9. I have a thing about pillows. If I had to bring 3 luxury items into the jungle they would be a good pillow, earplugs and a supply of teabags. I have been lucky enough to stay in some of the most amazing hotels in London but often the nights are ruined by a fat, hard pillow, or a really soft one. Goldilocks knew what she was talking about – it has to be just right.

10. At work I am ‘commendable’ but not ‘outstanding’. I can cope with that. When I was 10 days overdue with Maggie they told me I had an ‘unfavourable’ cervix. I didn’t cope too well with that.

11. I do a lot of talking in my head. That includes arguments too. I can have the most productive argument with John, put across all my points, listen to his, rationalize with him and come to a merry conclusion, all in my head. It is really quite satisfactory because it means we rarely argue. But it frustrates the life out of John, as he is a talker.

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12. I love being part of my am-dram societies; it is as close as I will get to being a real actor, and half the time it is pretty close particularly when I get to perform in great theatres. Some people don’t get the am-dram thing, but it’s not that bizarre really. You just have to be a real show-off or very shy and I’m not very shy. I guess I’d love to be on the West End stage some day. My secret ambition is to make my début at 60 playing Mrs Schumacher or Aunt Eller. Or perhaps I will just live my ambition vicariously through Fra.

13. One of the favourite stories I like to tell is how I once stabbed my ear while picking mushrooms. Not only is it a great story, but it’s the ‘what if’ element of it that intrigues. What if the midge had flown into my eye, would I have stabbed it? Probably.

14. I have a phobia about flying things which fly near me and I put it down to two events. 1. The Mushroom incident. 2. The swarm of ladybirds myself and Mairead encountered on a sandy path to the beach in France. Now, I have to cover my ears if I hear a buzzing sound.

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15. I run a little clothing and accessories business called ‘Bean Boutique’ with my sister Mairead. She’s the brains behind it really – she’s always had a thing for fashion and can root out a piece of fashion gold anywhere. We source beautiful, pretty, sparkly things like dresses, hairbands and children’s shoes, and now we are venturing into proper vintage-wear, mostly because we love it ourselves! It’s such a gorgeous little hobby. It’s like dressing up for grown ups.

16. One of the most bizarre experiences of my life is definitely winning £51,500 on a national TV quiz show hosted by Robert Kilroy-Silk. I am not sure if people believe me when I say that I spent the whole time saying Hail Mary’s, praying that he wouldn’t ask me a question, and wondering when I was going to wake out of this dream where people were gambling with monopoly money. Before you ask, I gave half away and spent the last of the rest on my wedding.

17. I have always hero-worshipped my Da, but ever since I’ve had Maggie I appreciate my Mum in a whole new different light. Mummies are amazing and rule the world. Still a daddy’s girl, though.

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18. I think it is a shame that people give up their dreams so easily. Like me, really. I have worked for Coca-Cola, one of the biggest multinational corporations, all my working life, despite having completed an English degree, and once having read Naomi Klein’s No Logo, and declaring that I would never fall foul of the corporate rat race. My attempts at writing, my new-found love of blogging and my am-dram keep me from really thinking that I copped out. I have so much pride for my friends who have gone after their dream – my Johnny, our Nan, Mairead, Seanie, Barry, Twiglet, Burgess & Ed and, of course, our Fra.

19. Moving to London was quite a rash decision and I had no intention of staying here as long as we have. But I don’t regret it one bit. We are having the most wonderful time in London. The only thing I hate about it is the fact that Mairead and her girls aren’t here. And now Burgess has left – again. But Fra and Nan live down the road, Sean and Barry are here, we have made such great friends in Barnes and is it only £80 away from Belfast. I am secretly glad that Sam and Rosie are moving back home and Twig and Cormac are planning it next summer, so we won’t feel so bereft when we finally move back. But I really want Maggie to go to school back home, to grow up with her cousins and her grandparents, and I am looking forward to us building our little family life in Ireland.

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20. Sometimes it feels as if I live on Wisteria Lane. Today I popped next door to borrow tinfoil to cook some salmon, yesterday my neighbour’s little girl just wandered in to play, I say hello to everyone who passes and we often stand outside and watch the trains go by or chat to the folks working on the allotments opposite. It’s wonderful! I just hope we don’t find a dead body buried in the back garden someday. No, wait, that was Brookside not Desperate Housewives. Phew.

21. I have an item of clothing in every colour in my wardrobe.

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22. I have married my best friend. He makes me a better person. And Fiesole, Italy 2008 with 110 of our nearest and dearest by our sides will go down in the history books as one of the best times ever.

23. I guess I am a bit of a square. I once started a one-man anti-drugs campaign, and painted posters that I wanted to hang up on the school notice-boards. They had really naff slogans like, ‘Sometimes it’s hard to decide which one is the dope’, ‘Have you ever wondered why it’s called dope?’ and ‘leave the cows to have the grass’. I have become a lot more tolerant and I hope better at copy-writing, since.

24. One of my strangest memories from my time in London will be when I was in a taxi which hit an 18-year old boy called David. As the taxi screeched to a halt, I looked behind and saw him being hit again. I instinctively ran over to him and brought him to my car, and took him home to Wimbledon. In the car I found out that he had jumped out in front of both cars as he wanted to die, but he was just really drunk, and had changed his mind by the time we got him home. He hugged me and asked if I was his guardian angel. I loved that. I sometimes wonder what ever happened to David from Wimbledon, but, sure, if I saw him again I probably wouldn’t recognize him.

25. I have a thing about smells. I think that because I have very poor eyesight, my sense of smell is over-compensating. There are some seriously minging smells in the world – bins, egg, smelly cheese, bad body odour, cigarette smoke – and I can sniff out a smell at forty paces. I once said to Sean that a cheese and wine party was my idea of hell. But I have since changed my mind, because I love wine. And I’ve got used to the smell of manure after years of living in the country, but I still couldn’t marry a farmer. Jeezus.

The Crying Game

For most of us, the first six weeks with our new little bean is one of the most physically and emotionally challenging experiences of our lives. Just before Maggie was born my sister and mum-of-three warned me about those 6 weeks when the ‘fog’ would descend; a time that was likely to be quite hellish. For this reason I was more prepared than perhaps I should have been for the challenge that was to come. I expected to feel wretched, to not leave the house, not to be ready to see visitors, to not shower for days, and probably be in pain. I was in awe of the first-time mums I met during antenatal classes who told us how the birthing experience was difficult, sure, but they had still been out for dinner on Day 4. Day 4? I didn’t think the tears would have dried by then, and dinner would be frozen pizza for at least another fortnight yet. But as it turned out, it wasn’t quite as hellish as I had thought. The rush of hormones; the overwhelming sensation that this little being was YOURS, she was your responsibility, she was finally here; the absolute and all-encompassing exhaustion that hits you like a brick on the third or fourth day; the constant demands on you and your body and your brain; the sense of detachment you feel to your own body: this floppy, alien thing you can hardly bear to touch; the pain, the pain – all these still happened and tears were duly shed. But…I had half expected this (as much as you can, anyway) so I could cry and move on.

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That’s not to say that those first 6 weeks weren’t foggy, distracted and difficult. You are landed slap bang in a cyclone of nappies, feeding, nappies, tears, feeding, more nappies, feeding, (not much time devoted to cleaning or cooking then) while you function significantly below par on lack of sleep, cracked nipples and ‘baby brain’. I can’t even imagine doing all that with an unsettled little baby who cries constantly.

My friend Kelley’s wee girl had a really tough first 6 weeks; for her first fifty days on earth she was either crying or sleeping, after crying herself to sleep. Persistent criers have a hard time dealing with the world around them. And it is often a vicious circle – once they are upset, it can be hard for them to calm down. Coping with this at any stage in your life is tough, but try doing it when your body has just been through the most intense physical workout it is likely to face. Kelley was beside herself. The constant crying meant that her baba couldn’t really keep down her food, so also suffered from reflux. What was even more frustrating and alienating was that her doctor didn’t really take her anxiety seriously and she was left to get advice from pharmacists and other mummies. A constantly crying baby is a very real situation, whether it is diagnosed by a doctor or not.

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‘Colic’ is a term used to describe uncontrollable crying in a healthy baby. It is generally accepted that this is caused by abdominal pain, but we still don’t know what exactly causes colic; scientists have been trying to figure it out for more than 50 years. One theory suggests that half of all babies suffering from colic is caused by lactose intolerance. This is when babies, particularly premature ones, don’t produce enough enzymes in their guts to break down lactose into the more absorbable sugars, glucose and galactose, and so suffer from colic conditions such as wind and bloating, abdominal discomfort and crying. Because of the ambiguity around its cause, there is no real cure for colic and so it can be easy for doctors to be dismissive.

Kelley tried lots of remedies without success – from the Dr Brown’s ‘anti-colic’ bottles to ranitidine to help control the reflux. Her situation only improved around six weeks after another mum heard of her plight and suggested Carobel powder (carob seeds) to add to her baby’s bottles to thicken the milk. This helped to control her reflux and almost immediately her baba calmed down and smiled for the first time.

The first thing all new parents get used to is that crying is the only means a baby has to communicate, so it’s not a bad thing in itself. But it can be very overwhelming if you are recovering from a traumatic experience of childbirth. Crying usually only means that she is hungry, she is tired, she’s too hot or too cold, she has a dirty nappy or trapped wind. If it is none of these check to see if she is ill. Invest in a good digital thermometer and act straight away if she has a high temperature or if it just feels like something is amiss. Remember, your instincts are usually right so if it feels wrong, get it checked out straight away. Try every colic ‘cure’ you hear of or read about, and you hopefully will hit on the right one. One friend whose baby suffered terribly from abdominal pain went to a woman who had ‘healing hands’ and claimed to have the cure for colic. It worked for her little boy, whose knees visibly lowered and the pain in his belly seemed to dispel right in front of her eyes.

But if you have done all this and she’s still crying you just might have to ride it out with her. She might just be a ‘touchy’ baby or a ‘grumpy’ one, as Tracy Hogg the Baby Whisperer suggests, and you’ll soon learn what she likes and doesn’t. Those first foggy (and difficult) weeks don’t tend to last forever, but it is usually impossible to believe that things will improve when you are in the middle of your storm. For most babies, after six to eight weeks they settle into the world and become much happier little souls.

In the meantime here are some bits of advice I have been given or have since learnt to help you get through those first mad weeks:

1. Some babies are just über-sensitive little souls, and balk at loud noises, harsh lights, or strong smells. You will soon learn what elements annoy them, so try to avoid them if you can until your baba is a little older.

2. For some sensitive babes, low stimulation (soft lights and quiet) is best; for others, lots of repetitive stimulation like noise or a walk outside works well. The Sleep Sheep I recommended in my first post ‘Top 10 Things’ plays lots of white noise, or you can stick on the hoover or hairdryer, which lots of babies love. All Maggie needed in those first months was to get outdoors to calm her straight away. Even now just opening the front door is usually enough to do it. You’ll learn very quickly what level of stimulation keeps your baby happy.

3. Help your baby find ways of self-soothing, like sucking on her hands or snuggling with a soft muslin or toy. Controversial as it may be, sometimes nothing beats a good old suck on the dummy.

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4. Cranky o’clock in our house starts around 5.30 and lasts until bedtime. Many babies have a fussy time between 4 and 6 pm which is apparently caused by an overload of sights and sounds of the day as the babas try to unwind. This is the time to have a relaxing wind down to the day, put their jammies on and have a bath or chilled out playing.

5. Lots of babies react well to baby massage, which can be a calming way to chill out for both of you!

6. I have read that once your baba gets upset, don’t try ten things to calm them, stick with one thing for several minutes before you try something else. But often, stopping shaking the rattle or bouncing them up and down altogether is all that’s needed. I do think that over-stimulation can cause many babies to get annoyed when all they want is to be left alone.

7. I made the mistake of changing Maggie’s nappy at night every time she woke up as I just couldn’t imagine how she could go back to sleep with a wet bum. But now that she sleeps all night, it’s quite amazing to see how much liquid those nappies can hold. After all they are designed to keep baby’s bum dry. So, from the very beginning keep night feedings as sleepy and brief as possible. When baby bean cries, go to him immediately so he has no time to get into a wakeful misery. Don’t play or talk while you feed him. And do try to settle them as quickly as you can so they don’t have time to make themselves wide awake.

8. A very wise, wonderful, Irish mammy once said that what every child needs is a good sleep. Gosh, such wisdom in such few words. Maggie is only ever cranky and upset when she’s tired, and my older nieces are the same. Hell, you know yourself how good you feel after a decent sleep and how wrrretched you feel when you are wrrrecked. This is why I do agree with the mantra of never waking a sleeping baby.

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9. Don’t forget to take care of yourself so you don’t start crying too! Remember, as my friend Suzy says, happy mummy = happy baby.
Having a crying baby while you are recovering from childbirth is horribly stressful. Ask friends, family or good neighbours to help you out, do your laundry, or babysit for a little while. Taking time out will help keep things in perspective. Don’t worry about home cooking for a while; honestly, frozen pizzas are really very tasty nowadays. (Just don’t forget to stick it in the oven first). Do as much prep as possible before bambino arrives – enrol in antenatal classes, either through the NHS or NCT (or both!) so you know what to expect during those first weeks. After all, you won’t have the time, energy or inclination to look up information when you are right in the middle of the storm.

10. The good news is, the madness will end and your precious bean will grow into a bubbly little person who isn’t as needy or emotional as they had been during those first few weeks and months. That, or you’ll just get used to living on 6 hours sleep a night with a baby who is a bit grumpy most of the time. That’s when the coffee and wine come in handy.

Good luck, and remember – even in the dark moments, in the middle of the night when you and baby bean are both crying – you’re not alone!

An Apple a Day Causes the Dentist Dismay

ITV’s Tonight programme last night discussed ‘Our Kids’ Rotten Teeth’, a modern phenomenon which sees children as young as four getting most of their baby teeth surgically removed because of the extent of decay and rot. It was brutal telly, enough to put me right off my Cadbury’s Creme Egg. It was also relatively easy to dismiss it as ‘bad parenting’ or a curse of the lower classes who can’t afford a luxury item such as toothpaste (as one of the experts on the programme suggested), especially as it showed one parent giving her child a lollipop straight after surgery. But only last weekend I read an article that suggested that, despite their best intentions, even ‘good’ parents are unwittingly helping to rot their children’s teeth. How? By insisting on them eating their five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day. So, you are damned if you buy lollipops and damned if you don’t (especially if you insist on apples instead).

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The five-a-day mantra constantly chanted by the government and the NHS is an interesting one. Once again the principle is right; it is a simple way to encourage children and families to eat at least five portions of healthy fruit and vegetables. However, it seems that health-conscious parents, desperate to do the right thing, are giving their children juices and smoothies bursting with fruit, and all the while the high acid content could be doing long-term damage to their teeth through dental erosion. Fruit also contains a high level of natural sugars which can cause tooth decay, although this tends to be the lesser problem as most of us are diligent about brushing our teeth. In fact, research published last year by King’s College London Dental Institute, suggested eating an apple could be worse for teeth than drinking a fizzy drink, due to the acid it contains. An apple a day? Causes the dentist dismay, it seems.

So, what should confused mummies do? The Department of Health tells us it has no plans to remove fruit juice from the five-a-day. It does however recommend that children have only one 150ml glass of fruit juice per day, ideally taken with meals. If taken solely children should drink water or eat something like cheese afterwards, as the calcium helps to neutralise the acid.

So, yet another thing on the To Do list for us parents who are desperate to do everything right. Gawd, wouldn’t it be much simpler if broccolli and cauliflower tasted like honey? Or Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Ymmmmmmm.

To Pray or To Pay

I met my old boss last week for a colleague’s leaving drinks at The Marylebone Pub. He’s originally from Norn Iron, married to a girl from Belfast and has settled in London with his four kids. Before long we were sharing notes about childcare, accents and primary schools.

We have recently moved to Barnes, one of the so-called ‘Nappy Valley’ areas of London. That is, an area where bugaboos outnumber automobiles and other modes of transport, and where that oft-quoted entity known as ‘yummy mummy’ resides. We didn’t actually move here for its Nappy Valley credentials, but now we are here we can see the huge advantages for kids – the facilities, the quality of schools and childcare, the general baby-friendliness of it all. The downside of living in Nappy Valley areas, however, is that there is generally tough competition for school admissions, particularly faith schools it seems.

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Some parents apparently give serious thought to which primary school their child will go to before they have even given birth. Many primary (and secondary) schools are oversubscribed, particularly in cities, and obviously this issue is even more compounded in London’s ‘nappy valley’ areas where there are just so many children in the area who want to get into the high achieving local school. In fact, the admissions criteria is usually so strict that even if your child goes to a nursery linked to the school of your choice their place isn’t necessarily guaranteed. This is why parents-in-the-know plan ahead and find out what they need to do for their child to get a coveted place in a ‘good school’, long before they need to apply, which is in the autumn of the year when they will turn four.

I have only started to appreciate the complexity of the whole school admission malarkey now that I live in Barnes and talk to other mums-in-the-know about it. And so the conversation went with my old boss, who has been through the school admissions nightmare four times (apparently it doesn’t even get easier with each one, as having a sibling at the school isn’t one of the admission criteria). ‘So, do you go to mass?’ he asks me. ‘Mass? Well, of course I do. In fact, I’ve just joined the folk group’. He was thrilled. ‘Brilliant. Brilliant’, he says. ‘And at what age did Maggie get baptised?’ ‘She was actually only 4 weeks old, ’cause John’s uncle is a priest and–’. He stops me there. ‘Perfect’. No need for further explanation. It was evidently a good thing that I was a mass-goer, and even better that I had proof through her early christening.

He explained: some over-subscribed faith schools have a points-based entry system, which gives points for early baptisms and parents who help in church. Nothing wrong with the principle of course, so long as the enthusiasm of parishioners is motivated by faith rather than the fate of a school place. I read about an oversubscribed Catholic school in Croydon, South London which was told to change its admissions policy by England’s admissions watchdog, as they argued it was discriminatory. In their investigation they were told that some parents were deliberately carrying out church activities in order to gain extra points. They heard evidence of one parish where there were 100 children on the waiting list to be altar servers!

So, after all this effort, what happens if your child still doesn’t get a place? The general consensus is that you pay for them to be privately educated at a high achieving public school. ‘So’, I said to my old boss somewhat incredulously, ‘you pray or you pay, is that it?’ He smiled. Now I was getting it. ‘Precisely’.

Blogging Awards

BritMums is the UK’s largest network of mummy (and Dad) bloggers which started life in 2008. There are now thousands of parent blogging sites, something I only realised after I launched Baby Loves Porridge (Mummy Loves Wine) last month. BritMums are launching their annual Brilliance in Blogging Awards – the BiBs – highlighting the best of parent blogging and recognising the most creative, inventive and compelling blogging of the year. Honestly, this blogging malarkey is Big Business.

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It’s a bit early for a little blog like mine to get nominated for big girl awards, but if you think it deserves it click this link now NOMINATE ME
and fill out
Blog name: Baby Loves Porridge
URL : http://www.babylovesporridge.co.uk

You can nominate your favourite blogs in 12 categories, but I would say if Baby Loves Porridge qualifies for any it would only be in 2 categories – Fresh Voice! and Lit! (their exclamation mark, not mine).

Voting closes in 2 days, so get voting!

Thanks bloggettes & bloggeurs

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A vintage weekend

We spent the weekend back in Belfast, where myself and my sister Mairead worked on our ‘little hobby’, Bean Boutique. Bean Boutique offers fashionistas everywhere a range of previously loved and vintage fashion, fabulous hand-made hairbands and a small range of Baby Bean Boutique items. It has been involved in Belfast’s monthly Fashion Souk since its inception in February 2010, a monthly market dedicated to promoting green fashion – revamped, upcycled, previously loved and locally made fair-fashion and accessories.

On Saturday The Fashion Souk officially opened its boutique souk shop at its new location at the In Shops, just behind trendy Victoria Square. So if you just can’t wait until next month’s fashion market, you can pop into the boutique souk any Thursday-Saturday and pick up some fabulous pieces. They are stocking retro chic bags from
Hola Lola, recycled handmade jewellery, offering a tailoring service to upcycle your wardrobe favourites and stocking a range from Bean Boutique (and more!) It is a treat just to walk through the french doors to the treasure trove beyond. It is the culmination of many months of hard work and dedication to fashion, and Aly and the girls have done an amazing job on it. I wish it every success.

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Press call at the official opening of Boutique Souk, modelling a gorgeous dress from Bean Boutique

Basking in the glow of TV shows such as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Pam Am’, both set in the 1960s, there has been a huge revival in vintage clothing which is great news for Bean Boutique. In fact, at the weekend we took some time out from baby food, hide-and-seek and swings in the park to model a few of the vintage pieces we have just added to our collection. Little Nancy insisted on being involved in the photo shoot too!

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Coming soon – Mairead’s fashion guest posts on fabulous maternity wear, yummy mummy gear and more. We can’t wait!

Baby Weaning

According to the books, Maggie – who is 9 months old today – should be eating her three square meals a day and these should be fulfilling most of her nutritional needs. Around this age she doesn’t need as much milk as she’s been used to and will probably reduce to two or three bottles of milk max. In fact, she really should be sitting up at the dining table and eating with the rest of the family like a good girl.

Indeed. It’s not quite working out like that. Missy’s diet hasn’t been great, although it is improving. She’s not a great fan of vegetables and she openly rejects meat and eggs. She’s on the typical toddler’s diet of bread, cheese and fruit. Her favourite food is still porridge (hence the blog name!) and she’ll eat almost any fruit. I was freaking out about it for a while until other mummies-in-the-know pointed out a few truths to me:
1. No babies are the same or take the same amount of food or wean at the same time or do what the books tell them they should do.
2. As long as she was taking her bottles Maggie was getting enough nutrition. The main thing that formula or breast milk doesn’t provide at this age is fibre, but she was taking bananas and cereals so she was fine.
3. Just when you think your baba (and you) have got the hang of it, she’ll get a cold or will start teething and…all that delicious, lovingly home-cooked food will go down the drain. Or in the bin.

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Maggie eating her first spoonful of baby rice (we bought the proper spoons later!)

Some babies eat everything they’re given, and even throw in a smile as if to say ‘Awh thanks mother, I really appreciate you slaving over that hot stove all afternoon so I’ll make sure I eat every bit’. That kind of response warms your heart. Maggie’s little friend Otis came to play recently and happily slurped all my homemade vegetable and lentil soup that I had been defrosting, heating and chucking out every day for a week. I was absolutely expecting to throw it in the bin as always and when he ate it up and asked for more I nearly cried with gratitude. At the other end of the scale some babies eat nothing at all. I’ve heard stories of mummies distracting their babies with rattles or empty bowls and spoons or their favourite TV show or even really loud dance music, all while they try to sneak in one precious spoonful of food.

I read an interesting article recently from Plum Baby which suggests that fussy eaters like Maggie might just be ‘supertasters‘. Scientists have worked out that about 25% of us are “supertasters” – meaning their tastebuds are much more sensitive to flavours, especially bitter ones. I read this eagerly. Excellent, I think, ‘supertaster” sounds much better than ‘fussy little madam who turns up her nose at her mummy’s yummy home-made food’.

However a few weeks ago we had a breakthrough. Inspired by her love of (powdered) porridge, Johnny suggested that we should try powdered food. Sounds mingin’, I know, especially considering how delicious the organic baby food on the market tastes. But I guess it is probably what we were all fed all those years ago before Ella’s Kitchen and Annabel Karmel (the Jamie Olivers of baby cooking) came to save us. So I bought Heinz Mediterranean Vegetables & Rice and served it to her with trepidation and….by Gawd she ate it! Hooray!

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The second breakthrough came a few weeks later in the form of Ella’s Kitchen pouches. Dismayed by the rejection of my home cooking, I invested in a range of ready-made baby food to try out different flavours and textures, most of which were spat back out or slapped away. I carried on undeterred, however, buying a rainbow of puréed vegetable and fruit goodies and taking it much less to heart when, one by one, each of these were rejected. One day, without any expectation, I tried a Carrot, Parsnip & Apple pouch and almost shed a tear as she slurped up every single morsel. Her first vegetable, goddamnit. She had the same reaction to their Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, Blueberry & Apple variety. We both squealed around the kitchen that day. It was only later that I realised that both foods had a very high percentage of apple which cunningly disguised the taste of the other veggy stuff. But, hey ho, it was all 100% goodness.

Last week Maggie finally got her first tooth and, like the proverbial bus, two more have arrived since. It has proved somewhat of a turning point as yesterday she ate a floret of broccolli. I’m not counting my chickens just yet but it’s definitely a good sign. Now we are getting to a good place, my sister has advised me to invest in a Beaba Baby Cook, a dual device which steams on one side and purées on the other. It sounds wonderful but I can’t quite imagine going through all the baby food malarkey without using 2 saucepans, a sieve, a food processor and a measuring jug for good measure. But then I can hardly imagine having a baba who’ll actually eat the stuff I’ve prepared, so it’s all new territory. Wish us luck!

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The Old Woman who lived in a shoe

I’m in a financial predicament. Ironically this is in part due to the incredible maternity package offered by my employer which has thus far enabled me to take eleven months off and be considering another two, much of which time has been at full pay. (Apparently the maternity policy was written by a woman and signed off by a woman, but that’s beside the point). The predicament had occurred because, despite affording me deliciously long maternity leave, my employer has failed to set me up on the right tax code. I now face a hefty £3,000 bill from HMRC for underpaid tax and the prospect of going back to work one month earlier than planned in order to pay it.

Not a major issue, you’d think, considering how long I have enjoyed being off so far. But with my tax code issues finally rectified, I will be returning to work to a lower wage (albeit my proper wage!) Coupled with the high cost of childcare – a benefit of living in one of London’s ‘Nappy Valley’ areas – it is looking very financially dodgy indeed. No need for a degree in economics to work out the Profit and Loss calculation on this one: Lower Wage minus (Hefty Childcare + High Rent) = much less money than budgeted for Life In General.

My maternity package is so good, it would make more sense to get pregnant again and get on maternity leave quick! I would almost consider it if it wasn’t so….wrong. I do hope to have a big family some day, but surely this shouldn’t be the motivation behind it. Can you picture it- ‘Mummy, why do I have so many brothers and sisters?’ ‘Maggie, darling, your father and I just couldn’t afford it any other way’.

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We have a Toof!

This week, Maggie’s Toof finally arrived. Hoorah! As if she wasn’t cute enough, there’s now one little sharp stump of enamel where once there was gum. I am very excited, as it means she is finally part of the Tooth Gang with the rest of her baby peers, despite being one of the oldest in the group. More importantly, of course, I hope that it means the start of the end to her teething pain and thus the end of her very limited food choices. She’s been surviving on a diet of porridge, toast, cheese and banana for ages now, so perhaps she’ll feel more up to trying out weird and wonderful things like meat, vegetables and spuds.

Thankfully we haven’t had it too bad. Apart from her Healthy Hunger Strike, there have only been a few days of teething tears. But it does seem as if she’s been teething for months now, bless her. There’s not lots you can do about it, but here are some of the Teething Tips I’ve come across so far to help ease the pain.

1. Over the counter medicines

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Teething solutions you can buy in any chemist or supermarket include teething gels, powders, Anbesol liquid etc. I use Dentinox and Nelson’s Granules during a bad flare-up and the odd spoonful of Calpol when Missy has woken at night. For some reason she loves to chew on the tube of Dentinox too, but I don’t think that’s recommended.

2. Teething Rings

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Biting helps to relieve the pressure on the gum, and you’ll often find that your duck will use your finger or knuckle to bite on for some respite. You can get a teething dummy that reminds me of a mouth-shield you would use on a rugby pitch. This was definitely one of Maggie’s favourite things when she first started teething a few months ago. You can put teething gel inside but I couldn’t figure out how to do that without it sticking everywhere so I tended not to use it. It was still very effective. There are lots of teething rings in the market, but again for best results keep them chilled in the fridge.

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Of course the teething toy du jour is the original French teething toy, Sophie the giraffe. Ever since it has been seen clutched in the hands of Nicole Richie’s daughter, Harlow, it has been something of a status teether, with yummy mummies (and doting daddies) everywhere forking out the £12 or so for this cute rubber friend. It has been consistently one of the top 3 baby products on Amazon’s wish list since they started selling it in 2008. Hype aside, it’s a very cute and effective little toy. And it squeaks too, which allows for hours of annoying pleasure in the hands of an older toddler cousin as we have learned!

3. Frozen fruit & vegetables

Let your baba chew on some cold vegetables or fruit to help numb the pain. The ones most mummies have recommended are cold sticks of cucumber, frozen carrots or frozen watermelon. My childminder recommended letting a few frozen peas rattle around their gums, but sure I was terrified of choking so wasn’t too keen. I shouldn’t have worried, though. Due to Missy’s Healthy Hunger Strike she rejected them anyway!

4. Muslin Squares

Take a muslin square, twist the end of it, submerge in water and put in the freezer for the duck to gnaw. Or dip it in some chamomile tea instead. Another reason why we adore the humble muslin square. Its uses are endless!

5. Homeopathic remedies

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There are lots of homeopathic remedies I’ve read about. Clove oil and Chamomilla seem to be mentioned often for helping to relieve red, sore gums. (Or using stuff from the kitchen, mix ground cloves or root ginger into a paste with water and rub onto their gums). I’ve often seen the Amber Teething Necklace mentioned on websites and blogs, which is a natural painkiller, releasing succinic acid which relieves inflamed gums.

6. Nappy Rash

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One of the first signs of teething can be a sore, red bum. I have just discovered Kamillosan Nappy cream from my friend Sarah which I do think has worked well, especially since I was lashing on the Sudacrem and it wasn’t clearing it. Weleda also has a nappy cream in its range. If you can bear it, let them roll about for a while in the buff; it is bound to be a relief for them. Maggie’s nappy rash did worsen a few weeks ago so we used Canesten to clear it up.

But of course, there is a long road ahead. We’re only just at tooth no. 1 so we’ve quite some way to go. If other things have worked for you and your little bear, please share your wisdom. Now we are off to buy baby’s first toothbrush. Oh, joy!