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.