Author Archives: Helena

‘Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying’ ……or possibly not.

Having children brings with it lots of new challenges some of which I rise to readily and some many of which fall way beyond my zone of comfort and creativity.  Amongst the list of parenting jobs I am not much cop at comes the complicated, time-consuming and frankly pointless task of doing my children’s hair.

Now it is probably worth mentioning at this stage that I favour a no-fuss, minimal effort approach to make-up and hair and my current hairstyle is super short and designed to require absolutely no time or attention:

me

 

This is partly because I am lazy (and favour an extra 10 minutes in bed over 10 minutes doing my hair), but mostly because I am physically incapable of imitating, even in part, the hairstyles created so effortlessly by the professionals.  Too many times I have left the hairdressers overjoyed with my new style, only to wake the next morning to find that – like Cinderella’s beautiful ball gown – my hair has turned to rags overnight.

Aging has few advantages, but recognising where you need to cut your losses is one of the skills it brings.  I have ditched all attempts to have long, luscious hair and my life has been simpler ever since.

But I have children.  And they have hair.  And they vehemently disagree with my attempts to insist that super short hair would suit them too.  And so we have begun a dance with haircuts and styles that they will continue into adulthood and that will, no doubt, see them with some serious dodgy barnets over the years.  We all know this is an inevitable part of growing up: I once memorably bleached my hair and ended up with two-tone orange.  My housemates laughed uncontrollably and I cried myself to sleep.  But lesson learnt, I never bleached my hair again (although there were also ‘the dodgy perm’ years, but that’s another story).

Anyway, I digress, my post is about the difficulties of keeping children’s hair neat, tidy and as far from looking like they have been dragged through a hedge backwards as I am able to achieve.

My eldest daughter has thick, luscious, beautiful hair, but man, is it impossible to keep it secure in any kind of hair band or clip.  I have spent an inordinate amount of money trying to find the elusive hair tie that will tame her hair into submission, but time and time again I have failed in my efforts.

Luckily, I am pretty nifty with the scissors and always ready to ‘have a go’ at a new haircut, with my eager reluctant hair model always willing ground into submission and ready to try a new style.  So I lop it off.  And if it’s a bit wonky, I chop a bit more off. And then maybe a bit more….just until it’s even you understand…although, maybe a bit shorter than I had intended…..

ana messy hair       ana

So that’s the eldest sorted with some help from the (slightly blunt) hairdressing scissors.  That just leaves the little one and a completely different type of hair.  No thick, dark locks here but thinner, blonder, fly away hair that may stay in a plait better, but is still far from manageable.  In the case of my youngest daughter, I am inclined to blame her tendency to throw herself around the place and crawl around the floor pretending to be a lion for the fact that her hair style lasts all of 5 minutes (and the length of time it stays in place appears to be directly inverse to the amount of time I have dedicated to trying to create a neat and tidy hairstyle).

Because Faith’s hair is easier to plait, I have attempted some more advanced hair styles with her as my model and in this task too, I am frequently unsuccessful.  Any trip to a school or preschool will show you that there are many talented parents out there capable of getting up early enough; being patient enough; and having the required skills to produce amazing, impressively secure hairstyles whereas I am happy if I manage a neat(ish) plait or two.

If I can finish plaiting without a) having to start again 3 times because Faith has moved her head to see Pokemon better.  b) losing patience with the whole thing and screeching ‘I’ll just do a ponytail then!’ or c) getting to the end and finding that the hairband is missing, then I call that a job well done.

faith plait             plaits

Clearly, if you spot my daughter in the playground mere minutes later she will look something like this:

faith hair

And you will assume that her unkempt locks indicate a worrying lack of care on the part of her parents, but honest guv’ I tried my best.

Bruno Mars idolised a girls whose hair fell perfectly.  I challenge Mr Mars to find this elusive woman and I warrant that when she was growing up, she spent a significant proportion of her time with her hair looking more like this:

1507211_10152474958192693_7832496954772692232_n      ana jumping

 

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Smells like ‘tween’ spirit.

As I was taking my girls up to bed this evening, Faith’s eyes alighted on the homemade perfume we bought from a neighbour’s children as they carried out door-to-door sales on the day after Boxing Day.

Now, let me make it clear, that I couldn’t help but be impressed by the industrious and impressively enterprising response of those children to a traditionally slothful day of over-eating and laziness and that this did spur me on to pay the requested £3.50 charity donation in exchange for a jar of ‘mint perfume’, but since that day, the jar has remained forlorn, unloved and unused on the bookshelf by the door.

It may be unjustified snobbery on my part that has led me to snub a product designed primarily as a children’s craft activity, but I have significantly greater cause to be mistrustful of potentially unappealing perfumes than most given that I have no sense of smell.  As a consequence of this physiological defect, I find myself unable to judge perfumes on their merits and am forced to rely entirely on external, artificial and not necessarily reliable sources to help me in my perfume choices.

There is a parenting issue buried somewhere in this post, I promise, and it revolves around the fact that my children have recently been introduced to the world of perfumery via a collection of Christmas gift sets.  In theory, this appears to be a fairly harmless move towards the fast-approaching ‘tween’ years, but for me, it has brought a nagging feeling of uncertainty and worry about the future smells that may emerge from our house without my knowledge!

So far Ana has showed very little interest in the perfume collection, but Faith – always one to sniff out (excuse the pun!) a chance for mischief – has already begun to put it to use, albeit in a slightly more inventive way than that intended by the manufacturers.  Since Christmas, she has managed to use up an entire bottle of her own Japanese Momiji doll perfume as well as her sister’s (goodness knows what she did with it all and what she may have being walking round smelling of!) and only last week I was forced to confiscate her Hello Kitty perfume when I discovered her spraying it all over the walls of her bedroom.  According to her sister (only too eager to reveal all) Faith had also spent a happy afternoon last weekend using the Hello Kitty scent as a ‘strength spray’ which involved squirting it all over a birthday party balloon and then launching an attack to see how well it resisted destruction.

Given that the balloon survived, I can only report that I am now worried on many counts.

I am worried that my daughter may be wafting round school smelling of a Kitty’s boudoir;  I am worried that my soon-to-be-teenage child may manage to escape the house cloaked in a smog of pop star-endorsed scent without me being able to advise against it; and I am worried that Hello Kitty’s ability to protect a balloon from the merciless power of Faith’s highly trained assault suggests that it is stronger than I may have first thought….and even I know that this is not always a desirable characteristic in a perfume!

For now, I will concentrate on advocating to my children the potential business opportunities in perfumery demonstrated by my enterprising neighbours and attempt to downplay the strengthening qualities achieved by the liberal spraying of cartoon character scents.

Hello Kitty do your worst, I am armed and ready with the very best homemade mint perfume!

First published by: Families Solent East 18/03/2015 11:41 am

http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/LOCATIONS/Solent-East/Family-Life/Parenting-advice/Smells-like-teen-spirit

Things I won’t miss about having small children

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been nostalgic reflections on the things I miss about when my children were smaller, but time is notorious for tinting the past with rosiness and whitewashing out the things that were not so enjoyable. So this week, I thought I would turn my attention to the things I actually WILL NOT MISS about having small children:

1) Nappies
I feel this one needs little explanation. Seriously, who in their right mind enjoys wiping poo from a wriggling baby (let alone a much larger, much wrigglier toddler!)? Enough said!

2) Having to strap toddlers into car seats
Nothing (well maybe some things, but certainly not many) can be as frustrating as trying to strap a small, uncooperative and surprisingly strong little person into a seat they have no wish to be in and will fight to the death to escape. Many a time I found myself sinking into the driver’s seat in exhaustion, drenched in sweat and bruised from battle as I listened to the piercing shrieks of a safely strapped, but seriously unhappy toddler. When this was accompanied by the hungry bawls of a small baby too, then I knew it was going to be a long drive home. Sigh….

3) Cleaning the high chair table….and its legs………and the back (which surely never even sees the food?) ……and each and every joint in an object that appears to have far more than its fair share of joints!
Who makes these things? And why does the difficulty to clean level of objects appear to rise directly in line with the number of times it needs cleaning? I mean is there no-one looking out for those of us who fail miserably at any type of cleaning-related task?!

4) Learning to read:
Given that I have a deep love of reading, you would think that I would relish the chance to introduce my children to this wonderful world and watch them take their first tentative steps towards independent reading. I thought so too.

I adored the pre-school years when my children and I shared magical moments with a whole host of gorgeously illustrated, beautifully written, (and generally tear-inducing) stories and some of my favourite memories are of reading TO my children and seeing their love of story-telling grow. BUT (and clearly there is a BUT or there would be no post!) when we graduated from shared reading as fun, family time, to big school ‘learning to read’, things rapidly went downhill. I very quickly learnt that, as far as word recognition goes, early readers appear to have the memory of a goldfish!

I get it, honestly I do, reading is an incredibly hard skill to master and English is the most ridiculous language imaginable, but despite all my good intentions to be patient and supportive, after 5 agonising minutes (yes, it seems short, but trust me, it’s longer than you think) listening to a 5 year old attempting to sound out the word ‘she’, it is beyond frustrating when they turn the page to be faced with EXACTLY THE SAME WORD which appears – in spite of the huge efforts only minutes before – to have completely vanished from said 5 year old’s memory leaving them to begin ALL OVER AGAIN in their attempts to sound it out! ARGH! And breathe….

So there you have it, some (but definitely not all) of the things I will not miss about having small children. The things listed above will never (I am willing to bet) make it to a nostalgic blog post where I wax lyrical about how much I miss those nappy-filled days. There are some things about parenthood that are most definitely best left in the past!

Do you have anything you would add to this list?  I am all set to compile list mark 2 so have your say in the comments below. 

 

Le-go of the stress

Feeling stressed?  Need an activity to calm those rushing thoughts and quell the thoughts of thousand and one things currently bouncing through your mind?  Take my advice and raid the kids’ rooms for the perfect solution to a turbulent mind:

1)     Puzzles:  Now if your children are under 4, this may not work quite so well, as the calming power of puzzles lies in there being just the right amount of challenge.  Putting together a four piece farmyard puzzle is possibly not going to tax your brain sufficiently even if you have managed to survive a day on only 2 hours sleep having been up all night with a teething 2 year old and a feeding baby!

I find that anything ranging from between 50 and 200 pieces requires a bit of effort and concentration and, as such, manages to fully absorb you in the task at hand for a few peaceful minutes.

Clearly, the whole idea of puzzles is that you complete them alongside your children and – I admit – sometimes this can work.  Despite my competitive nature and over-powering urge to take over any situation, I have managed to spend many a puzzling session working in companionable silence with my offspring as we combine our efforts to complete a glow in the dark Scooby Doo spectacular, but I must confess that I also enjoy it when we take a puzzle each and I get the satisfaction of knowing that the final outcome has been all my own work.  A reminder to myself if one were needed -and it definitely is – that even if I am in a rush, I should try harder to allow my children the time and space to complete tasks (like laces, or zips, or hair brushing) on their own, rather than jumping in to sort it quickly and deprive them of the satisfaction of a job well done.

scooby puzzle

2)     Lego:  Yes, I know it is the most painful thing known to man when you tread on it with your bare feet. Yes, I know it is beyond frustrating when the crucial piece ends up in the hoover, or in the cat, or – God forbid – in the digestive tract of a younger sibling, but Lego is great isn’t it?

When your children are in the mega block stage, there is nothing better than building a tower as high as you possible can make it (and yes, again, you could do this with your children if you really must, but you know you want to have a go on your own when they are in bed too), but when they get older and the Lego sets start to come with 50 page booklets….well that’s where the fun really starts!

There is something strangely therapeutic about following instructions step by tiny step; building block by colourful block; watching the piles (from the carefully sectioned and labelled bags 1,2 and 3 which quickly morph into disorganised chaos) decrease and the construction slowly take shape.  There is beauty in creating something whole from something initially so disparate:  if it is not too melodramatic to say so, then I would add that it can be a cathartic and healing experience.  In the hectic life of parenting, where so many things get left half-done (well, they do in my world at least!), then taking something from start to finish and seeing it complete is a rare treat.

lego

3)     Colouring in:  I have saved the best until last here, folks, because you and I both know that there is nothing so transcendentally soothing as time spent colouring in.  Not drawing, mind, at least not for me: my drawing skills are so poor that this is generally a frustrating experience with little in the way of beneficial de-stressing!  But colouring in –  that long forgotten art of staying in the lines and trying to keep the pen strokes even and neat – that is a de-stressing therapy that should be offered immediately at all spa destinations.

Now my children are a little older, they have gathered a small collection of the ‘doodle pads’ of my youth: you know the ones where you have a repeating pattern to colour in, often in intricate detail?  Not only do I LOVE these and relish the opportunity to enjoy them now in adulthood, but they also bring (as do many things now my children are a little older) that lovely, warming blanket of reminiscence.  As I colour, I find myself transported back to my own childhood and flashes of long-forgotten memories are suddenly presented to me with such clarity that I am shocked to find I am not, in fact, 9 years old once more and happily seated in front of my Flower Fairies Illuminated letters colouring book.

doodle pad

The grown-up world may offer us all sorts of stress-relieving solutions, and many of them work very well, but for real nourishment for the soul, I’d recommend you attempt to capture your inner child and ‘le-go’ of the stress!

First published by Families Solent East
04/03/2015 10:10 am

http://www.familiesonline.co.uk/LOCATIONS/Solent-East/Family-Life/Parenting-advice/Lego-of-the-stress

 

The Dad Network

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.

Both of my children have recently discovered the communication tool that is outlook.com.  At first, it was merely a vehicle to allow them to register on prezi (presentations are very sophisticated in our household, don’t you know?!), but then they discovered that they could actually send messages to people who would reply to them.  Not only that, but they could add limitless emoticons (often line after line) to illustrate their carefully curated thoughts:

emojis

So far they have been emailing my friends and this is proving a perfect opportunity for them to develop their own unique writing styles.  My approach has been to leave them to write as they wish and then check it at the end (and generally chortle to myself a little!).

Here are some of the clear stylistic features I have observed in the writing of my 9 and 7 year old:

Ana’s style:

1)      She uses some strange expressions that she surely must have got from watching TV.  For example:

this

2)      She is also endlessly enthusiastic in her missives, with a liberal sprinkling of exclamation marks peppering every message and statements that read like the script from a motivational seminar:

I feel great

3)      She loves to add in interesting facts, often slightly from left-field:

‘I really love animals. My favourite is an owl. Owls can fly silently and there are lots of different types of owl like Barn Owl, Little Owl, Snowy Owl, Eagle Owl, Long eared owl and one with a pointy sharp beak but I can’t remember it’s name.’

Faith’s style:

Faith’s approach, at 7 years old, is one of pure stream of consciousness.  She hits the keyboard and just writes the words that pop into her head.  This makes for entertaining, if not always completely coherent, reading:

1)      Ummm….say what? :

what are you doing

2)      Not sure about the relevance of the illustrations here:

a long time ago I got glasses

3)      A perfect example of the rambling stream of consciousness :

‘I now have three folders at outlook.com even though I only just started it is really funny to me now at the moment. Have you been on outlook.com yet because I have. I haven’t seen you for a long long time yet. I would like to see you some day or week I would ask mummy now if I forget I will keep trying on and on so I will see you.’

And so what have I learnt from this exercise?  Well I have learnt that my children have more original thoughts going round their heads than I give them credit for; that they are curious explorers of the world and that they enjoy the freedom of writing their thoughts with the words ‘flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.’

What a great habit to begin: we may yet provide competition for the lyrical might of the Beatles!

This used to be my playground

During half-term I met a friend for coffee in a café on the far side of a nearby park. Walking through the park to meet her, I passed the play park that used to be my regular haunt when the girls were just a little smaller. As I walked round the perimeter heading towards the café, I glanced across at the children and parents climbing and hiding and shouting and laughing and my head was filled with memories of the times I spent there with my own children.

My very first solo walk with my tiny, fragile new born in the gaudy green-checked pram we were kindly gifted from a friend was in that very park and my memory of circling the play park with my heart in my mouth tempting myself to believe that I really was taking a walk in the park with my very own baby, just like a real parent, is still so vivid. I still have the large reddish brown leaf picked up from the path as a memento to place in my baby’s box of memories as a reminder of our very first outing (I started out with good intentions at least, although this habit of collecting keepsakes did not last much past her first birthday, and my second daughter was lucky if I managed to keep her birth certificate somewhere safe!).

As soon as Ana was old enough to sit in a swing, I made this play park my home from home. I quickly discovered that a visit to the park with a 6 month old was not a significant time filler and, after 20 minutes maximum in the toddler swings, we were pretty much all-parked out and ready to move on to the next brief activity, but as she got bigger and began to venture onto the slides, this park became as much part of our routine as tea and cake with friends (and distinctly healthier!).

Many a Saturday morning was spent with Ana, and later her baby sister too, crossing the park to visit the library before wandering round between the climbing frames braving the chilly winds or enjoying the sunshine depending on the season.

Many a day in the summer holidays was spent packing up a picnic and heading to the park to meet with friends and spend a few hours enjoying the luxury of free fun, fresh air and green space offered by a city park.

Many an afternoon was spent standing below the monkey bars waiting to catch a falling child or just to be there as a security blanket as they demonstrated their considerable muscular superiority over their puny mother!

And so, last week, as I walked past the play park, I remembered with fondness the part it has played in our lives. Its role is not quite over for us: at 7 and 9 the girls have not yet outgrown the park and we still visit reasonably frequently and still will for some time I imagine, but the days when it figured as the centre point of our entertainment schedule are fading now.

Much like the rest of parenting, I realised that afternoon that we only really appreciate things when they are soon to be gone. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent many days shivering in that park and wishing I was at home in my nice warm house; I spent many hours cursing as I was begged and cajoled to run round the edge of the lopsided circular tyre shape that has replaced the roundabout in many modern parks but is frustratingly difficult to manoeuvre without scraping your limbs on the floor; I have spent many trips to that very park attempting to find a secluded spot behind a tree for one or other of my daughters to pee because there were no nearby public toilets.

At the time, I did not relish any of these things, but now – when I see my play park years drawing to a close – I rush to cherish those memories, to box them up and hold them close and chide myself to remember the times when this used to be my playground.