Thursday, 29 December 2011

A touchable feeling of disappointment

As expected Number One Son got Pixar’s Cars 2 as a Christmas present. This was the most certain thing about this Christmas. We knew that the critics had panned it but nothing really prepared us for the real problem of the movie – it had been pitched for a totally different audience from the first one. It is clear that the makers have a limited options for a sequel; it recreates the plot of the first movie, is part of a story line arch in a series or diverts from the original. The people behind Car 2 have chosen the third option and created a spy caper. However, this was no Spy Kids but a love letter to James Bond and somebody has clearly taken their eye from the ball. Thus, this movie is actually totally unsuitable for its most loyal audience, the car crazy male toddlers. The same person must have been behind a collection of the dinky car models of all the Cars 2 main character that had no working wheels, i.e. they were just cast models you cannot roll across a surface. You can guess if I bought that product from the Disney shop - or not!

Cars 2 scene by Pixar.

No, the problem is not the way characters are presented in this movie since all the main characters are there – even surprisingly and seemingly pointlessly the hippy van (the reason for his inclusion is revealed in the end). It’s not even the postcard stereotypes of international places, i.e. Tokio, Porto Corvo or London. Actually, I found some of the stereotypes quite funny and the Queen car especially was quite sweet. Since this is a movie made for children and Americans who are unlikely to have visited Japan or an Italian Ligurian resort, the use of any easily recognisable attributes is totally understandable. No, the real shame was the surprisingly high violence content, the frantic waving of machine guns, grim grins and the number of those occasion when a character promises to ‘Kill you’. The spy action, the gangsters and danger could have been presented in a sweeter, toddler-friendlier way.

As a peace march participant back in the 1980s I feel that my child does not have to learn to hit and kill. Peter Bradshaw, feel very ashamed since you did not flag the violence up. You are writing for the Guardian and should feel your responsibility since you wrote about how the first movie had an addictive quality the adult in you could not see. The shame is shared by Mark Kermode on his DVD review in which he keeps lamenting the lame plot without pointing out the loss of innocence.

Movies sometimes grow with their audience and it may be the makers in Pixar banked on the pre-teen viewing instead of the small DVD addicts at home. We as the parents were hoping for another movie to show alongside Cars, Wall-E, Monsters Inc. and Toy Story 3 to have novelty value and variety. Luckily, Up was as marvellous as it was in the movies. However, Archaeologist Husband is now seriously considering if Cars 2 gets any further airings in the perceivable future.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Clowns and Father Christmases

Number One Son attended a big Christmas party and encountered his first Father Christmas with Archaeologist Husband. This was not a happy occasion and we have a photo to prove it. Nor is the primeval fear of a Father Christmas at a young age a rare phenomenon. Number One Son’s Number One Friend could stand the situation even less and was quickly carted away from the venue – as I could testify myself when picking up the ‘Christmas party people’.

The fear of colourful characters in costume and the horror on the faces of small children who have not realised yet the point of such figures as Father Christmas or clowns are related to each other. The suspicion towards characters with masks is understandable from the anthropological and evolutionary point of view. If you do not know something, you should be suspicious; this lesson should have been remembered by the Aztecs and the Inca when faced with pale men with beards on funny animals.

The Father Christmas of my early childhood was my grandfather in disguise. His costume was not of the warm, happy Coca Cola Santa Claus but that of the scarier traditional Nordic ‘Santa’, the bearded billy goat character with a black furry coat. This character asked if there were well-behaved, nice children in the house. These were due presents whereas the naughty children only got twigs for slashes and punishment. Maybe the small children sense the decay behind the rampant consumerism of modern Christmas or see a hint of darker historical characters that predated the well-wishing gift bearer.

Friday, 16 December 2011


Apart from cars, tractors and trains Number One Son loves airplanes. Living reasonably close to the East Midlands airport and an ambulance helicopter service a large amount of planes crosses the skies above. Almost every time Number One Son sees or hears a plane or helicopter he shouts ‘Airplane!’. This is relatively recent development and he was not this encaged with the planes during the summer.

Thus, he could hardly have been more excited than being at Heathrow and Helsinki-Vantaa during our visit in Finland over a long weekend this December. The planes are not as visible at Heathrow unless taking the airport bus to access the plane – which we did. However, at Helsinki-Vantaa he could see the planes below his feet from the terminal through the rain in the dark winter afternoon. He really treasured this moment before dragged away towards the non-Schengen passport check by his parents.

Not only were the planes a joy for him, so was the airports. All those wide and long corridors joining the terminal buildings made him run joyfully. The archaeological eye spotted the differences in the use of space at Heathrow Terminal 3 and Helsinki-Vantaa: the difference between denser and spacier possibilities for building and the different take to the need to engage the travellers with shopping in order to get revenues. Heathrow 3 truly is an arena for shopping! However, the real use of space for our son was taking a stroller trolley meant for carting tired children provided at Helsinki-Vantaa and enjoying a ride provided by his mother along the corridor during a quieter moment when waiting for our delayed flight.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Love for a Car

Some children have their teddy bears and our Number One does have his Mr Hare, too. But he likes toy cars very much indeed and his heart belongs to a very special red McQueen. His ‘Vroom vroom’ is constantly misplaced and looked for. It is taken to bed and it travels with him everywhere we go. Most sweetly, he put rhe Car to a swing the other day and gave it a ride like it was another toddler or a teddy bear.

We parents are constantly anxiously trying to keep track of the Car and many times Archaeologist Husband ‘excavates’ the cushions of our sofa or armchair and moves the furniture. The other day in the twilight on the way back from the park Number One Son threw the Car to an ornamental bush when we passed by. I managed to find the other Car he threw with his Vroom Vroom but not the anxiously missed article. I had to take a torch and return to the scene in the darkness. Luckily to all concerned, I did find his Vroom Vroom.

Unfortunately, the Car was less fortunate a couple of days ago. On the way to the nursery Number One Son tumbled and in the hurry to clean his hands and to run to our destination before the breakfast time, I did not realize that the Vroom Vroom was not with us anymore. I only realized it was gone when he did not hand it over in the nursery and it was not on the armchair arm at home. On the way to the car before driving to Cambridge I checked the point where Number One Son had tumbled. Yes, I did find the Vroom Vroom but one of the neighbours had been quicker and driven over the Car, which was now flatter than it used to be. Archaeologist Husband wanted to spare our Son from the view of the damaged ex-Car. Thus, we needed some replacement action and hope that the Car Number Three is luckier than the previous ones!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Potty anxiety

The fact that we had little experience in small children before the arrival of Number One Son is apparent from our lack of awareness about potty training. We paid some vague attention to the few failed attempts the parents of Number One Cousin had in potty training. In addition, Number One Son has shown little awareness of his bowl and other movements until lately.

When we all seemed to be ready for potty training as a possible next move, it was already well into the autumn. It was also well into the local birthday season, which gives plenty of possibilities for comparing experiences. Since many of the toddlers we now head for their second birthday, I have realized that many of the parents have now managing to get their toddlers out of nappies. One should never compare but how one manages not to!

Number One Son showed marked hostility towards his blue potty. This may have something to do with me losing my temper once when he pooed on the bathroom floor... The potty was pushed aside when we tried to show it to him. However, in the nursery he has been ‘trialling’ sitting on a potty.

A friend suggested to try a potty of a different colour and model. Her son always heads downstairs to avoid their blue potty and uses the yellow one. I took her advice and managed to find one of those bright Fisher&Price potties from the Nearly New Sale. To my surprise and joy, Number One Son loves it and voluntarily sits on it – for two seconds or three. Now all we need is a dirty, dirty Christmas. We have to remove the rugs for the festive season!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A bed matters

On our summer holiday we ended up testing which sleeping arrangement with a toddler works the best. In order to save money, we always took the free option, which came with the room. The hotels and B&Bs were chosen on the basis of some kind of concession for under fives.

In Volterra we could have him in the room for free using the existing bedding. I thought that Number One Son would be happy on a den placed on a floor but he ended up rolling under an armchair since like me he rolls around while sleeping. Our good night sleep was thus very fractured.

In Chiusi he had a travel cot of his own for free and this was a perfect solution, no doubt. However, the most comfortable alternative was the one in Murlo. There we could choose our own room out of the plentiful empty ones and our son ended up having a nice normal, relatively low lying bed of his own – for free. This was so convenient for all concerned. Shame only that with no air conditioning or fan our room was boiling in the morning sun.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

New approaches

This summer on our summer holiday before heading to Archaeologist Husband’s father’s house we had a small tour of a few sites in Tuscany. Unlike before we faced visiting the sites with a two-year-old. This meant a new approach to sightseeing and an acknowledgement that the days of spontaneous walks and long lunches were over. This trip was all about realistic timetabling, baby food packs and sensible accommodation.

However, it is the sites unvisited before in Italian towns that underlined the change in our circumstances and our new responsibilities. Never before have I visited intentionally a playground in Italy or paid any attention on their whereabouts. Except that new one in Trastevere next to the market – you see it when you pass it but think nothing more about it.

In Volterra the Etruscan acropolis turned out to be disappointing with no proper view across the town or landscape. Nevertheless, this public park had a play area with a climbing frame and slide. This made at least one member of our family content. The park also had public drinking water fountains and a cafeteria, so it was THE place to spend a hot afternoon even if the steps there were quite steep and we had to carry the stroller up and down.

In Murlo on the way to a minimarket we spotted a small but delightful play area next to the town hall whereas in Chiusi I Forti Park on the eastern side of the town had one. Conveniently, the large play area was next to a free car park and the view over the river valley was decent, too. Both these playgrounds were in a relative shade covered by some trees. Luxurious on a hot day!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Feline friends

Our cat Shelly, the venerable 18-year old, was a particular favourite of Number One Son. They clearly liked each other and Shelly patiently let our son stroke her even if it often happened to the wrong direction. However, the older Number One Son came the quicker Shelly started to vanish from the spot. She never used her claws against our son but there was clearly only so much she could take.

Sadly, her time came to an end in the early summer after of a period of not eating or drinking. Her near-last moments took place just before the whole family was sitting on the sofa watching ‘Dr Who’ waiting for the Number One Son to go to bed. He was gently cuddling her while she was lying in her favourite sunny spot, naturally very fragile and weak, and after he went upstairs she was gone in ten minutes.

For a couple of days Number One Son was looking for Shelly and was puzzled of her disappearance. He also kept calling other cats Shelly. Even if Archaeologist Husband is pining for a new tabby, we are waiting for a new summer. Thus, our son has to find joy in other cats. During our summer holiday he was making happy squeaks when he realized that there was a young ginger cat in one of the B&Bs we stayed in – there they also had children of his age. The joy, the joy on a hot, sunny afternoon...

On the way from nursery this very fat black and white cat sometimes lingers in front of its home. It is happy to be cuddled and eagerly places herself on her back on the pavement slabs and expects to have strokes on her exposed tummy. When Number One Son sees her he jumps up and down and makes happy high note giggles. He is excited about dogs as well but does not normally make his happy noises. Cats are truly his favourite living animals! (The fish in ‘Finding Nemo’ are a matter of another story...)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

In and out of a pool

I and Number One Son have gone swimming almost every week since he was three months old. The only longer intervals have been the two month cycle of colds he had when he started the nursery and some occasional travel and illnesses. He likes water and I feel that apart from the gentle exercise it gives him an important skill that may turn out to be lifesaving.

For a long time one had to support him, which became more straining when he grew bigger. A mother asked me recently when Number One Son learnt to hold himself in a right position with arm floats and I suddenly could not remember. This is apparently a normal feature of childrearing that you cannot pinpoint afterwards the key developments unless you write them down or memorize them actively. Any way, he definitely was moving independently last spring even if learning to use his legs took quite a while. By our summer holidays he was ready to face his grandfather’s swimming pool in Italy.

This swimming pool also turned out to be the feature that reconfirmed him that swimming is a nice idea. Just before leaving for holidays we had an incident at the swimming pool that left him clearly shaken and he did not want to enter the deeper water at all for a while. He had learnt to swim with the arm floats but did not realize that these kept him on the surface. Once when I turned away just for a couple of seconds to grab the arm floats, he had walked down the stairs to the baby pool. When I turned back, I could only see the top of his head gently bumping up and down from the water. Even if I managed to lift him up to my arms almost immediately, he was upset but continued to swim that day. However, he apparently had nightmares that night and the swimming was not the same the coming weeks.

Luckily, we headed to the Luningiana area in northern Tuscany and spent almost a week and half in extremely hot temperatures. The sunny and hot weather made the pool attractive and we spent long afternoons in the water. They were new environs and there were new water toys to play with so after two weeks in Italy – even if it started to rain for the last three days – he was won back. Now he also realizes that he cannot swim without the arm floats and shoots towards them the first thing at the pool.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bringing up bilingually

It is clear that trying to bring up a child bilingually is harder than one imagines. Especially, when the Archaeologist Husband has only learnt to say ‘Hello’ in the minority language that is my mother tongue Finnish. To make things harder, it is not an Indo-European language and is spoken only by a handful of persons in our area as their first language. You only hear Finnish on TV about once in two years when there has been a horrible accident or event in Finland and you hear a police or ambulance driver uttering a sentence in the background or Sheldon wants to learn an obscure language in the Big Bang Theory.

English is everywhere and DVDs have different languages on totally randomly. Our selection of DVDs bought in UK includes DVDs with audios in Hindi or French or English only or all Scandinavian languages and German. One could watch Pikku Kakkonen children programmes over the Internet but we disconnected our old PC from our TV when we turned our living room furniture around to maximize the effects of heating. No matter how much I try to talk in Finnish I cannot keep chatting over Alex’s favourite film or be in the nursery on his nursery days.

The example of the other Anglo-Finnish children is that the children choose what they want to speak. In the Finnish Saturday School the children tend to speak in English with each other and flatly answer in English to their parents’ or mother’s (since it is mainly women who marry to UK) Finnish questions. It looks like it will be an uphill struggle when even the older children of the Finnish parents translate their parents’ Finnish to the younger children… Thus, I can only give an opportunity to learn a very difficult language from birth and hope that he will like to have a ‘secret’ tongue when he will be slightly older.

Suomenkielinen blogi Kaksikielistä kakkua

Friday, 21 October 2011

Royal BC Museum

A visit to Victoria is not complete without a visit to the Royal British Columbia Museum. Archaeologist Husband’s Aunt was kind enough to drive us to the harbour area next to the Museum so we had a free afternoon for ourselves. This is a very enjoyable museum and we spent hours there. Naturally, for a long while Number One Son took his default museum position and had a good snooze in his stroller.

The museum had quite a splendid Behind the Scenes exhibition in which all different collections at the natural history department are introduced. The exhibition did not only show which insects or mammal specimens there are but it described the local habitat and explained how different researchers use the collections and why these collections are important. This dimension – what use the collections actually have beyond their basic preservation function – is so often not apparent in the museums but here it was crystal clear. The displays also presented curators as persons with their own specialities and interests. Number One Son performed his favourite museum act and ran around the exhibits. He was just too short and not tall enough to see the selection of live creepy crawlers on display. However, he enjoyed some of the children’s activities. This is truly an inclusive museum for all to enjoy.

Of the more adult offerings I enjoyed the street scenes in the modern history gallery. Different structures presented the different industries in British Columbia, among them mining, salmon fisheries and logging. The most memorable section without doubt was a reconstruction of streets with little shops and other establishments that showed how the town life was in Victoria during the 19th century. These also displayed the versatile collections of the museum.

Museum also has a large section describing the history of the First Peoples. Luckily, Number One Son was blissfully asleep throughout this section so we could properly find out how these peoples were wiped out by the western diseases. It is tragic how their villages with their totem poles were left deserted. All those empty villages for Emily Carr to paint.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Spiders and star fish on Victoria Island

Earlier this year we finally made it to Canada to see Number One Son’s Greatgrandmother. Although the cost was considerably higher than with the originally planned date before our Son turned two, him having a seat of his own was heaven sent. The idea to try to make him to sit on our lap in turns for hours (eleven to be precise) still makes me shiver. He was already quite big and heavy and on the inward flight he was rather unsettled. Luckily, the return flight was overnight so he was sleeping as if it had been a normal night.

For me the memories of the whole trip are a bit hazy because of Number One Son’s jetlag and his habit to wake up at 2am and stay up for hours. Nevertheless, I really liked Victoria Island and hope we one day have enough money to visit the island, Vancouver and the area properly. After all, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia with a theatre, museums and universities. The landscape is vaguely familiar to a northern European with dark green forests and grey bedrock.

Since Archaeologist Husband’s Cousin has a day nursery, it was natural that we visited a few toddler friendly places. Number One Son may have a limited attention span but even he enjoyed the creepy crawlies in the Victoria Bug Zoo and he was curious about all those petting star fish in the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney. For a short while in the Bug Zoo he got excited about spiders and grasshoppers but then the buzz and the crowds of the local half term became too much and he lost interest. In the Ocean Discovery Centre the sea life puzzle with a magnetic fishing rod was the highlight of his day. It was a shrewd move from the owners of the centre to put this puzzle on display since we were not the only ones who left with one from their Discovery Centre shop...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Child’s play at the playground

The playground time is the most intriguing part of child rearing. On a grey day there seems to be absolutely no one else there at the playground and you follow your toddler around the emptiness out of duty. Unless your toddler is learning new skills, is trying to make continuous escapes through the gates to the drive through road or you have something interesting to think, this can be extremely tedious. Some of the other mothers on the playground have happily admitted how boring they find this whole business. You know that it is good for your child and they have to get fresh air and run freely but it can be mindbogglingly boring on those grey days when your toddler just wants to revisit the helter skelter again – and again.

On a sunny day, especially just after the end of the school day the playground and the park may be heaving. If there are any other children from the nursery, they normally giggle together or hug each other and then Number One Son and his best friends run amok. There are a series of regular mothers with whom I tend to chat about our common experiences. Often we compare notes on the local play groups or Children’s Centre activities. With some I tend to cover a more varied selection of topics ranging from politics to vegetarianism. Sadly, unless my friend who took part into solstice festivals at Stonehenge is present, we do not discuss archaeology.

Unlike the common perception, there seem to be quite a lot fathers on our playground. Is it the current economic situation or are the hands-on fathers like Archaeologist Husband more common than realized? I think the reasons are as many as are the childcare solutions. Many toddlers come to the park with their grandparents.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

How to survive in a restaurant: lessons from Italy

One way of making sure that your panoramic lunch on a holiday is enjoyable is to make sure that the foods keeps the toddler content and are among his or hers favourites. At Montepulciano, famous for its vino nobile, we were lucky to encounter a restaurant looking up towards the hillock town serving pizza. At lunchtime! This is not guaranteed in Italy before dinnertime. We ate a nice meal of local cheese, honey and ham, wild boar and steak while enjoying the landscape in the heartland of Tuscany.

A stop in a nice street cafe and an ice cold beer makes Archaeologist Husband to suffer happily any short-lived periods of entertaining Number One Son during our museum visits. For a successful – or bearable visit - to a cafe the key is to pay attention to detail. First of all, it is essential to sit. Yes, it costs more in places like Italy but a chair and the props provided by a menu and such like guarantee some relieve from an immediate run away around one pedestrian area or worse - roads full of traffic. Number One Son quite enjoys being entertained by a straw.

Another way to survive even a higher end establishment is to burn our toddler’s energy before contemplating lunch. Air conditioning makes life so much more enjoyable in the Mediterranean but these restaurants often clearly target the local town people and lack the terrace area essential for attracting tourists. In Chiusi we visited Zaira where the food turned out to be beautifully executed. Archaeologist Husband enjoyed his marinated trout starter and I marvelled with my angelotti with local pork sausage filling and truffle sauce. It was not a busy day so other clients and staff hardly paid attention to our son’s antics. Only cooed a bit. We were able to enjoy the food of a highly decorated and awarded gourmet cook because the business was slow. However, even with understanding staff and quiet dining room, a three-course meal just doesn’t happen. The short attention span of a toddler just wouldn't take waiting for a dessert. Even if it was chocolate...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Among the record crowd

The Dinosaur Gallery in the Leicester Museum on New Walk opened on the 3rd of September. During that weekend more people visited the museum than ever before during ones weekend. Instead of the normal 760 visitors 5,244 individuals entered the museum. Among these visitors were Archaeologist Husband and Number One Son. This visit was more suitable for the Son’s slightly older Number One Cousin who is in an age where dinosaurs start to be interesting.

Museum visits make parents feel good about themselves since they see themselves giving their children an opportunity to explore and learn – a good constructive experience. However, Number One Son sees a museum, not matter what is on display, as a huge open space where a toddler can run around and express himself in the way two-year-olds do. Preferably, he likes to chase or be chased by other toddlers. The more delicate Cousin was not too keen but there were many other children to see the dinosaurs with whom to have a contact and run. Additionally, the displays with their stands created a landscape where to hide. The TV screens caught his eye – not the least because of his very bad Cars habit – although he did not interact with the displays.

I was in London and got my constructive experiences in teacher training and the British Museum. Archaeologist Husband said that the new display was well designed but that he really did not have an opportunity to see it. The huge dinosaur skeleton is still there but otherwise Number One Son was having his kind of museum experience by enjoying the space and the hubby was running after him....

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Luni – a small person’s view

Number One Son has his own take into museums and archaeological sites. Museums are not necessarily interesting but they may have fascinating additional features, such as large rooms and wide corridors to run through or steps and different bits meant to help wheelchair users to climb over. In the Roman town Luna at Luni near Carrara that managed the marble trade from the famous quarries the clanking metal ramp that was part of the wheelchair access was much more captivating than the reconstruction of a Roman kitchen in the museum. Similarly, the narrow space in a doorway in an additional exhibition building, sadly closed due to the limited number of personnel, besides the imposing ruins of the main excavated temple made him giggle and smile since he could squeeze himself between the door frames whereas the ruins themselves did not mesmerise him one bit.

It became apparent that his little bag of crispy snacks (healthy, of course) was much more important than a possibility to wander in this famous heritage area. One must admit that most of the area is relatively flat and the ruins, while worth visiting, are not like in Herculaneum. Most structures have preserved to the height of perhaps one metre and the distances feel vast across relative emptiness – this was a large town with urban magnitude after all. We also had slightly unfortunate timing since the morning visit to the amphitheatre organised by the guards was just over when we arrived to the museum, and there was no way we could spend the hours with the little one before the afternoon visit. However, that kind of standing features with a connection to blood, tears and sweat will probably feel exciting when his is slightly older, enjoying his knights and cowboys phase.

No matter how much we parents appreciated to see the town forever associated with the best building and sculpturing materials of the Roman Empire, widely on display in Rome and most key museums around the world, the highlight of the junior’s day was a moment of play in the play area by the cafeteria at the car park. The column drum he climbed onto became only second.

Monday, 5 September 2011

It's all uphill!

The castles tend to be on hillocks for safety, control and good views. This is a problem when you are visiting culturally interesting places with a toddler who is happy to walk in the pedestrian areas on flat land but gets easily tired and dispirited when faced with a steep slope. Dragging a stroller uphill is very dispiriting for a parent and when a ‘lazy’ toddler decides even not to try the parent who is in duty to push the pushchair is under strain.

The Lunigiana area in the boundary of the northern Tuscany is interesting since its local geography has formed how its dispersed settlements were governed through centuries. The foothill areas of the Apennines north of the famous Carrara are filled with small castles that were outposts in a sparsely occupied wooded area. This area remained hostile to Roman dominance for a long time and seems to have stayed relatively pagan during the time when Christianity was the dominant religion across Italy.

Although most of the castles remain in private ownership some of them are museums. When we headed to Potremoli to see the famous stone stelae I was hoping that the museum would be somewhere in the outskirts of the local municipality but secretly expecting in fear that it may be in the local castle. After we had parked the car the reality hit; we saw the posters – and yes, the museum was in the castle on the hill. As we archaeologists say, Il castello del Piagnaro has a dominant position. But for a parent – an uphill struggle.

I was the unlucky parent doing the pushing since it was my photo call in the museum. Even if most of the stelae are from the Bronze Age, some of them are Iron Age and probably part of the same traditions that resulted with the Etruscan stelae in places like Fiesole and Volterra. In addition, the stelae are a phenomenon widespread in the Alpine area and together with idols an art form that was shared across large areas of prehistoric Europe. Thus, I was able to read the information boards and make notes in peace while the Romanist Archaeologist Hubby was tending Number One Son. Our son really needed some tending since the stelae were erected into gravel in the museum displays. Number One Son took a shine to the gravel – grabbing it in a room with an elaborate alarm system.

This castle was deemed ‘grim’ in one travel guide. In reality, it was quite cute, though functional small castle. It was under renovation and a bit in a flux. I found it interesting and Number One Son will probably find it a lovely place to roam in a couple of years’ time when the knight and cowboy phase kicks in. However, now he was far too young to get excited next to a several metres’ drop to the cobbled courtyard level. Thus, together with the start of Italian lunchtime this was the reason to usher the toddler downhill in his orange stroller.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

At their own pace

Number One Son has just had his first and perhaps only speech therapy session. This was the initial assessment and it seems everything is alright; he just develops at his own pace. A parent cannot be without comparing one’s offspring with others’. At least this parent can’t. Archaeologist Husband seems to take the moral high ground and frown on my slight anxiety. He is right in the sense that if I air my doubts and other children’s perceived superior development when our son is around he may pick up the negative words and feel inferior – or think I, his mother, think he is inferior. But he is not; it is just me losing my nerve and my patience.

It is blatantly apparent that this is the pace our son develops at. He did not start crawl before nine months and was older than 18 months when he started to walk. He does make continuous development but he is not among the quickest. He does things when he is ready. I am in awe when observing this all since it does not matter, if the other babies and toddlers are crawling or walking or whatever left, right and centre, he ignores them. He takes notice eventually and sometimes you know exactly the moment when the penny drops. When crawling he was very quick in it and did not seem to need to walk. But at the swimming pool he saw another toddler running and seemed to realize that this walking malarkey may be a good idea. Now with speaking he seems to make himself understood with grunts, squeaks and pointing out things. He talks but in his own tongue so the moment of truth must be near. He does shout 'Airplane!' every time he sees one.

The therapist explained different techniques to use in order to give him incentives opportunities to use other expressions than ‘yes’ and ‘no’. However, just making comparative questions does not seem to make the trick. Number One Son has inherited Archaeologist Husband’s diplomatic, very English manner. When asked if he prefers to have biscuits or fruit, our son stubbornly answers ‘yeah’ – repeatedly. Ho hum, Archaeologist Husband only started speaking properly when he was three...

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Boys do like their Cars

I am writing this while Number One Son is watching Cars for the umpteenth time with a happy smile bursting every time Mater comes to the frame. This all started when we visited Archaeologist Hubby’s father and his house in northern Tuscany. Our son is an early bird so owe had to have something to entertain him in the mornings before or after the morning swim. Not to mention those grey rainy days when the closeness of Ligurian coast is felt even in the middle of summer.

We had two Pixar movies with us, both of which have been watched and rewatched ever since. But Toy Story 3 does not get the same repeated viewing as Cars. Nor do any of the other films we have bought since. It is not only the movies. His Lightning McQueen follows him to the nursery and to the bed. He grabs anything with a McQueen or Mater in the supermarket and I must say Archaeologist Hubby seems to be softer than me – although I must to admit to that chocolate bar pack.

Almost as soon as Cars is over our son starts to make it clear he wants to watch the film again. Sometimes he has tried to secure a third showing. I do like animated films myself but since there were no DVDs when I was a kid and the videos came out only when I was in my early teens, I do not have this experience of repeat viewing. However, I remember blasting some horrid songs on the tape recorder again and again (and let’s not discuss my Abba vinyl collection). Archaeologist Hubby has bought me a few Pixar and other animated movies for present. However, now we learn about the taste and preferences of a small boy. Ratatoille is too wordy and Robin Hood was voted against with continuous loud whaling whereas Monsters’ Inc and Finding Nemo are both winners. Even the robots in Wall-E get silent admiration.

The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw suggested that Cars has been repeated viewing in his family and his children are hooked with it (see Cars2 review). He also wondered what allures the children and what are the parameters the children rate the movies with, since their standards seem to divert from those of this adult critic [and others]. He does not rate Cars very high and Cars 2 even less. Unlike him, we are eagerly waiting for its release in DVD. Number One Son is still too small to stay a put in the dark for one and half hours even if we were watching Cars. Most importantly for us, it is a different movie with a different storyline. No matter how colourful the imagery and breathless the spaciousness of the Route 66 three-dimensional landscapes, nothing beats variety.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Joy of Waybaloo

Every now and then parents discuss on the Internet or at meetings the children’s programs they truly hate. I switch channels when Tweenies is on and hope that I am not faced with Fifi and whatever. Waybaloo used to make both me and the archaeologist hubby puzzled – until Number One Son started to watch it either at the dawn or as part of the bedtime hour. The puzzlement turned into irritation when we saw it daily. It is the combination of the reinforcement of gender stereotypes, faux orientalism and simple baby talk together with out-of-sync dubbing of real children’s speech that make it truly awful – no matter how cute everything is and how laudable promoting exercise [in the form of yoga] is. Number One Son makes some of the moves while watching and that makes it tolerable for us suffering parents.

However, Waybaloo turned out to be a saviour on the eleven-hour flight to Vancouver, Canada. The earphones were too big for Mr Wriggly but the familiar colourful big-eyed faces kept him captivated throughout the fight. It did not matter that there was just one episode and we watched it again and again and again. His concentration was focused.

In Canada Number One Son had a bad case of jet lag. His internal clock was totally all over the place; he woke up around or after midnight and we spent hours watching 24/7 children’s channel before he fell asleep again just before dawn. Waybaloo and Thomas the Tank Engine provided the familiar relief for him. Somehow Canadian programs looked grimmer but it may just have been the unsocial hours I or the hubby were watching them. The tediousness of staying awake and watching the paint dry in threes (as they showed the episodes of most of the shows) was agonising. 4 Square was as irritating if not even more so than Waybaloo!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Babies, toddlers and conferences

Number One Son is a conference veteran – not to mention conference nurseries and other facilities. It is OK when the talks and sessions you want to hear are not at the same time and you can share the child minding duty. However, if both of you are giving talk, what is a chance that these talks will run simultaneously? It is almost guaranteed that you are on at the same time. In addition, if you are presenting a joint paper, you need services.

Increasingly, archaeological conferences in UK have some kind of child care provision. Since we are talking about archaeological conferences, these come with an added cost. Although we have not been the only archaeologists heading to a conference holding a baby, this is still a minority pursuit and the services are not that sought after. However, this means that your child will get almost one-to-one attention. TAG has lately organised either a childminder or a crèche but not all conferences do that. In the recent Oxford TRAC there were no facilities so I ended up e-mailing the childminders on the Council’s list. Luckily, there was a willing person available on a Sunday morning.

The major problems when in a conference with your baby are the amount of stuff you have to take with you and the lack of sleep. Since the latter is only the way of life at this stage with a small child so let’s not dwell in it. The packs of nappies, wipes, a buggy/stroller, a travel cot, change for day and night and toys mean that you really cannot go to a conference and carry all this without a car. If you are lucky and can breastfeed, you do not need milk powder, milk bottles and bottlebrush. Not to mention porridge powder, fruit puree and other foods when the baby is older… As every parent (mother) knows, this all requires planning and preparations. It is a good thing one has run fieldwork and had some practise!

So it takes time but is it worth it? You move around with a mountain of luggage and enter the sessions blurry eyed. Face accommodation behind stairs and keep your neighbours awake when the little one wakes up in the middle of the night (not so much a problem at the TAG on the Christmas party night). Have to make a chart of the talks you alternate the babysitting with. Oh yes, it is worth it – at least to the mother. You will hear fewer talks but you will appreciate them more and enjoy the intelligent content on your favourite subjects after all those nappy changes. You see your friends. And the hubby archaeologist actually enjoys all the attention from the ladies and chats with all those other fathers with hands-on experiences. Just not mention discussing who goes to the party…

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Pregnant at conferences

Naturally, early into a pregnancy when the tummy is small the only difference for most is the not drinking or socially smoking (that very archaeological vice). The cocktail parties are normally a yawn with the almost non-escapable orange juice. The more thoughtful organisers have also mineral water and apple juice but there is a definite lack of more adult options – probably for cost reasons. Non-alcoholic beer or tonic water would cut the mustard. Tonic water was also a saviour in the TAG annual Christmas party!

Sometimes those foods pregnant women are told to avoid are unavoidable. When expecting Number One Son, I went to a seminar in Finland where I was faced with a selection of gravadlax and blue cheese for supper; luckily, there were some salad and meatballs. However, when attending this conference I felt for the first time how my ‘jellybean’ kicked and moved. A friend with a young child with whom I shared a room convinced me I was not having wind.

I was one of those mothers who faced insomnia late into the pregnancy. Ironically, when one was not hangover after a conference party, there was the tiredness after waking up at small hours. The insomnia was at its worst around the TAG that year and it would have been more relaxing if I could have been able to sleep. Hot bath in my hotel room before six am helped and my paper went swimmingly.

Later into my pregnancy I was waddling around Liverpool just after the first proper snowfall. If only people from Southampton hadn’t been hindered coming because the motorway was closed. I really had waited for hearing their talks. Walking around was slow and I ended up using taxis and buses more than ever. I even had to leave early from an event to make it in time for the conference dinner. Sitting was slightly uncomfortable but otherwise all was fine. It was a computing conference and in those pregnant ladies definitely are a minority group.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Bright Orange Stroller

I ended up buying this orange stroller totally randomly in the January sales at the end of my maternity leave. I had no intension to buy an orange one, just a stroller of a particular maker my friend who tested strollers for her work as a freelancer in a baby magazine had recommended. However, I could not resist a bargain and little did I know that that bright colour would be very useful when visiting different landmarks in grey central Rome the same chilly January.

Although parents like me are normally eager to see their offspring to pass different milestones of their development in an average time if not earlier, the truth is that travelling with a baby who is not crawling or walking is a blessing. No fingers in any plugholes in unfamiliar rooms, no danger of falling down steep, long stairs. Just a small stationary smiley person happily giggling to an adoring waiter while sitting on a restaurant table - with the orange stroller folded away in the corner.