Friday, 27 July 2012

New BabyCentre blog!

I am very excited to be part of a team of writers contributing to the brand new BabyCentre blog, which launched yesterday!

My post today is: How do you get your kids out in the rain?

(I know there is currently a heatwave, but it ain't going to last!)

Friday, 20 July 2012

End-of-year emotion

By Betty, aged 5
There was end-of-term merriment and happiness at the school gate this morning.  The sun was shining and there was a definite buzz in the air.  But there was also a little bit of sadness.

As I walked Betty up to her classroom, it dawned on me that this would be very last time we would be making this walk together.  The walk up to her little Reception classroom, a little haven, tucked away at the back of the school.

Betty has been at school one whole year, and today we are saying goodbye to Reception, and Betty's amazing teacher.  A teacher I credit with single-handedly teaching Betty how to read and write, and making her feel completely secure and happy in her first year at school.

In the last year, Betty has flourished, and grown and changed as a person.

She now says 'awesome' in response to everything; she has set her sights on the boy she is going to marry; she comes home singing a new song she has learnt almost daily; she is obsessed with the Olympics; she has made many good friends; she has learnt to skip with a rope; her favourite game is 'horses'; she draws around twenty identical pictures of a rainbow each day; and she has two new 'grown-up' teeth.

Betty is very much looking forward to the summer holidays, but also to starting Year 1 in September...

Drawing bugs with children

One of the members of our camping party last weekend, was the very talented Lizzie Harper, who draws the most incredible bugs, animals and flowers for a living (a few of them are pictured below).

On Saturday morning she whisked Betty and some of the other children away on a jaunt down to a little cove. Two hours later they returned, all buzzed up about their finds, and plonked a dead mole and shrew (carefully wrapped up in a leaf) down on the picnic table.

Lizzie encouraged all the children to stroke the soft velvety fur of the mole, and I was completely struck by her enthusiasm and passion for these dead creatures. I was also surprised at the usually squeamish Betty, delighting in the whole thing. Lizzie went on to tell me that her freezer at home is packed full of road-kill, for drawing purposes.

While on the school run this morning I saw a dead hedgehog and a blackbird on the road and wondered if I should have scooped them up for her.

Lizzie has kindly written a piece below about drawing bugs with your children - it will hopefully inspire and enthuse you, as it did me - it may even change my attitude towards the mice we are currently co-habiting with...

Drawing bugs with kids (at school)

I’m a natural history illustrator with two children, and have recently been doing a few sessions in local schools; trying to share my passion for all insects, and getting them
to draw from some specimens I have hanging around.

Chrysochroa beetle
First I talk to them about my work; I show them pencil roughs and then some finished paintings (asking them if they can name the insect drawn. Gratifyingly, they mostly can). I also show them my watercolour paint-box which excites and alarms them in equal measure as it is VERY MESSY. The tips of my brushes are teeny, so the children tend to be amazed by these, too. 

The show stopper, however, is my very old and battered collection of dead insects. Some are butterflies, begged from a butterfly house; one is a big box of stuff found in a friend’s greenhouse; and then I have a few posh beetle specimens bought as a teenager. They are all really excited by these, the appeal of “bugs” seems to be fail-safe and universal.

Then we get onto drawing.

Peacock butterfly
To be honest, there’s very little one has to do to get kids to draw insects, except to procure a dead beetle or bee and put it in front of them; then provide them with a pencil, paper, and magnifying glass. They take time to look, and their powers of observation are acute. With only a few pointers; asking them to count the wings, if they know what symmetrical means, to look for hairs on legs or vein patterns on wings; they’re away. 

The best bit is looking at their pictures. Those children that get lost in looking produce the best – worked and strained over til the pencil lines are matted, or cut into the page, often out of scale and askew. But these pictures have real power for me, and I find the effort and enthusiasm that’s gone into their creation inspirational. 

Drawing bugs with kids (at home)

Thus far, I have almost completely failed to get my own progeny to draw much, let alone insects. So, for now, I’m concentrating on getting them to love invertebrates of all sorts with a passion. Nothing breaks my heart so much as a little child, overcoming their natural curiosity, squealing “ugh!” at a spider, worm, or bee. 

Dung beetle
Put these things on their hands (well, maybe not the bee). Get them to look for woodlice under stones, for bees sipping up nectar from flowers through their straw-like tongues, to describe what a worm wriggling between their fingers feels like. Take time to observe a spider spinning a web, or even better, feed a hapless fly to a spider and watch. It’s far more brutal and deadly than any movie. 

Bugs are very cool indeed. And I hope that someday my poor oppressed children will not only talk to them and carry dead ones about with them like talismans (which they do now), but may even pick up a pencil and try to draw one. 

And once you’ve got them to like bugs, get them to look closely at dead creatures like baby birds who’ve fallen from their nests; a rabbit on the edge of a path; or even (and ask Ms Buttons about this one) a dead mole and shrew, neatly swathed in a leaf. We love it, and I bet you and your children will too.

Lizzie Harper  

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Bell tents and Buckfast

After a lot of 'shall we, shan't we' we finally got to try out our new tent last weekend.

I spent the journey whingeing about not wanting the new tent to get wet and muddy, the kids moaned about there not being a constant supply of Hula Hoops, and Tom said he was feeling ill.

We drove deep into Wales through dismal greyness, hit a horrendous rain storm, and spirits were very low indeed.

But, on arrival at our campsite, the rain seemed to miraculously stop, the clouds moved away, and our friends were there to greet us with Buckfast and chilli.

And what followed was a truly wonderful weekend.  The sun shone, the kids played out of our way, the company was fantastic, the food delicious, and all was happy.  We even managed a swim in the sea.

However, unfortunately by Sunday morning Tom had kindly passed his illness onto me, and I felt awful.  And while everyone else went off to the beach, I stayed behind on my own and got progressively worse.  

Tom arrived back at the tent that afternoon looking truly awful.  The girls were asleep in the back of the car still in their wet swimming costumes, and covered in sand and snot.  And I felt so weak and dizzy and sick that I just wanted to curl up under a gorse bush.

Now raining, we hastily got our stuff together, and haphazardly shoved it into the car any which way, with half my beloved tent hanging out of the roof pod and caked in mud - I didn't care.

We looked a real state as we left the campsite that afternoon, and it was a long and torturous journey home, with bunting and guy ropes flapping in the wind as we went.  

Although Tom momentarily felt happy when he stopped briefly in Llandeilo to eat a kebab.

A fantastic weekend, with an unfortunate ending.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Domestic violence: Don't Cover It Up - I did

In my early twenties I met a boy at a party in London. He was good looking, clever, and very charming. We quickly got into a relationship, which went on to last for three years.

My friends would tell me how wonderful they thought he was, how lucky I was, and that I had bagged myself a real catch.

I spent three years being thrown against walls, having cutlery hurled at me, being punched in the stomach, bitten, and spat at. One time he threw me out of the car at a service station miles from home and drove away, another time he threw me out of the car and left me on the hard shoulder of the M1 motorway. He continually humiliated me, told me I wasn't good enough, and knocked every last bit of confidence out of me.

I became insecure, paranoid, and unsociable, but weirdly felt I needed him in order to survive - he had some sort of hold on me. I never told anyone about what was going on.

I remember going to give blood and when I rolled up my sleeve there was a huge purple bruise with teeth marks on my arm where he had bitten me. I told the nurse that I had whacked it against a door knob. She gave me an odd look, and part of me wanted her to probe, but she didn't. 

He finished the relationship in the end. And after two weeks of devastation, I felt overwhelming feelings of relief and freedom, and vowed never to speak or see him again, which I haven't. I also vowed to never ever let myself get into a similar situation again, which I haven't.

Before that relationship I was confident, outgoing and certainly no pushover. I have never really understood how he took a hold of me like that, but he did.

It took many years for me to start getting my confidence and self esteem back and to let myself trust anyone or get close to them. It wasn't until I met my truly wonderful husband Tom, that I learnt to trust again and feel secure. Tom completely believes in me, and makes me feel like I can do ANYTHING. He is the most amazing person I have ever met! 

Twelve years later and I am talking about it publicly for the first time. Domestic violence charity Refuge and make-up artist Lauren Luke are launching a powerful online campaign telling victims of domestic violence, and wider society, ‘Don’t cover it up’ (65% of women who experience domestic violence keep it hidden).

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, says: 'For too long, domestic violence has been allowed to fester in the shadows of our society. Women who are abused often feel too afraid or ashamed to speak out. People frequently turn a blind eye when they know or suspect abuse is taking place, even when the victim is a loved one. This must end.'

Further support and information about domestic violence can be found here:

Who will look after my baby?

Betty, at five years old, is consumed with worry about who she is going to marry, and who is going to look after her baby, if and when she has one.

She regularly questions me about where she is going to live, who is going to drive her and her baby to the shops, and whether or not she can still have her princess night light when she is married. She even asked me: 'Will you sort out my baby's milk for me?'

She looks slightly horrified when I tell her that she will have to look after and feed her own baby, and maybe even drive herself to the shops.

Almost every afternoon, when she gets home from school, the only information that she will offer up, is which boy in her class has proposed to her that day.

With a very serious, slightly worried look on her little face, she will say: 'Dan says he is going to marry me.'

'Oh right' I say, with slight intrigue.

'What? Did you think I was going to marry Robert?' she says. 'Robert told me today that he HATES you because you are always buying hoovers.'

'Probably a good job that you aren't going to marry Robert then,' I tell her.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent