Thursday, 27 December 2012

Christmas started with Christmas Peace!

After some years of getting the time difference wrong and forgetting the matter at 10am British time in the Christmas Eve morning, I managed to remember the Declaration of Christmas Peace from Turku. This traditional Declaration is broadcast for viewers abroad only as a direct live broadcast and if you are not at your computer at the right moment you will miss the broadcast for the year in question. You may catch a snippet by watching the YLE (the Finnish Broadcasting Company) news after the Declaration, but for some reason at least in previous years it has not been offered as a repeat viewing for the Finnish community abroad. It is a sober and serious event, but it starts the Christmas celebrations for all Finns.


Declaration in 2009 (photo from Wikipedia)

Everything stops in Finland after the Declaration at noon; the shops close and public transports ceases until Boxing Day. Things do not come to such a complete end in Britain, but the shops are closed on Christmas Day and public transport restarts only on Boxing Day as well. However, the pubs open for dinners or pints at lunch time on Christmas Day. Traditionally, nobody could think spending any time at Christmas in a pub in Finland. Not that we moved anywhere from the TV set on Christmas Day. We even did the Queen’s speech, not to mention Dr Who, Strictly Come Dancing, Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. I felt bad conscious, but it was a very rainy day, so Number One Son did not lose any outdoor time.

This year Archaeologist Husband reminded me about the Declaration of Christmas Peace so that Number One Son can attach to his Finnish roots. I got the laptop on just in time and Number One Son saw the whole event just as one should see it. Beamed from Turku with the Medieval Cathedral at the background, the vice mayor read the Medieval text after the Cathedral bells had stricken twelve times. There was snow on ground and the brass band was playing the traditional songs and men’s choir singing. The music included the standards – the national anthem and the Bjorneborg soldiers’ military march. Number One Son managed to follow the Finnish section, but lost the interest with the Swedish text. He was very delighted to see the children in the audience and waved at them. We rounded up the traditional start to the Finnish Christmas Eve celebrations by watching the Teletubbies Finnish Christmas video over on YouTube. Then we started our Christmas – albeit without sauna, a trip to light up the candles at the cemetery or a visit from a Boy Scout Father Christmas.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Intercultural Christmas

The Christmas holiday is nearing and the planned Christmas activities will take place. We have nothing major planned, but I will try to do gingerbread for the first time ever. I have never bothered to do them for myself or just for two, since the dough has to rest overnight, but this year I will do some with Number One Son. I wish this time I am just not having wishful thinking about interesting activities and good food, but he will be involved in using rolling pin and cookie cutters. It depends if he feels like doing it and there is nothing more interesting for him. Hohum, at least the house will smell Christmassy.

We celebrate a mixed Anglo-Finnish Christmas. We celebrate Christmas Eve according to the Finnish custom and will have some pork for food. The main stack of presents will be given on the Eve evening with us the adults only getting a nominal packet. Archaeologist Husband does insist to do the Christmas Stockings and has been shopping around and stocking stocking fillers. The stocking appears mysteriously onto my and Number One Son’s beds before the morning. Last year I woke up when Archaeologist Husband tried to pass the stocking to the end of the bed. Embarrassing for the ‘Father Christmas’ and me.

In England the Christmas Calendar has one chocolate more for Number One Son than in the Nordic countries. On Christmas Day we will have some duck. I would prefer Goose, but from the previous experience we know that with all the hot fat oozing from the bird and the need to drain the dish it will be dangerous with an unreliable toddler in the tow. I have to surrender and serve some Brussels sprouts at some point, but I so prefer green beans.

On Boxing Day we will have fish following a Finnish custom. No salted cod though, since I do not like it. We will enjoy some salmon with vegetables instead. The desserts will be cheesecake – just because it is so nice. We have some minced pies, but they have a tendency to stay in the pack. Chocolate will do for any other occasion; with coffee or for dessert. I have not made my mind about doing some rice porridge in one of the mornings, but I probably will give it a pass. I will become hungry and want my breakfast before the pudding rice will be cooked.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

First navity play

Our nursery had placed their navity play nicely on 12/12/12 so there is now a date to remember. If only they it had been possible to organise at 12.12 pm...

This was Number One Son’s first navity play. However, he has been on the stage before. Last Saturday he ‘participated’ in an elf sing & play in the local Finnish school in its Christmas party. In that occasion the schedule was late and he and another boy lost interest. They firmly lied down onto the stage and stayed there – no matter how much the teacher and the other children danced and jumped around. The cheeky two did whatever they wanted on the stage. Luckily, the other toddler was leading...

This time the navity play event was packed. The children were delightful, but we at the back hardly saw anything. One had to use one’s smart phone in order to see the stage area properly. Nevertheless, the Whoopsy Daisy Angel was a joy. Number One Son, who had jumped out of joy in a rehearsal I saw when picking him up, was too tired at the end of the day and was rubbing his eyes most of the time. At least he remained staying up with the other shepherds and did not cry or run away or lie flat on the stage area.

The decision to have all the children performing at the same time this same evening resulted with a cramped viewing area and a chaos afterwards. It took ages to find our son and his proper clothes and prepare him for the walk home in the ice cold evening. I can understand that the children looked extremely cute and the stage was lively with all the toddlers on stage at the same time. In addition, the personnel were there after hours, too, and it would probably be too much for them in the days before the holidays to do it all twice. Nevertheless, the parents had enjoyed it more.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

I admit – I feed my child processed food

There has been a series of newspaper articles about families being stretched financially and having to eat cheap processed food instead of buying fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. The prices begin to be shocking with bread being truly expensive when compared with prices a couple of years ago. With dwindling archaeological work available and Archaeologist Husband having to swap his part-time job to potentially occasional self-employed contracts from his stretched boss and enrolment levels being hard to reach, money pinching is familiar act in our family. Nevertheless, the consumption of the familiar children’s foods is not only an economic choice. You should see his face when been served Finnish meat soup. He picks the meat out and leaves the rest – when you are lucky!

Number One Son has always been a picky eater, who luckily likes fruit, dairy and wholemeal bread, so at least some of his diet is healthy. Nevertheless, cooking fresh dishes was dispiriting, when our son declined to eat the dinners I had thought to be tasty and healthy. After observing the things he was happily downing – the bottom line of any nutrition is to actually eat and survive – we have gone along and down the slippery slope of burgers, fish fingers and pizza. Things have not been helped by his avoidance of hot food – it has to be tepid for him to touch it. Some while ago it became easiest and more economic to have things in the freezer, prepare before lunch or tea time and serve when he is willing. The more varied menu consumed and fully eaten in the nursery has to be down to sheer peer pressure!

I feel the tiniest bit of bad conscious, but I am happy to see his cheerful eating. And boy – he is getting hungrier and hungrier with every growth spurt! I find consolation in the fact that fish fingers and fish cakes have fish in them, baked beans combine beans and tomato, if one does not think too much about sugar and salt, and I only buy 100% beef burgers (from special offers, I admit) instead of the cheapest slurry of every meaty bit ever extracted from a carcass available in economy ranges. The cheap margherita pizzas from Aldi actually taste of yeasty proper dough, too, unlike the Goodfellows sugar-added maize and soya fests. I also try to avoid reconstituted chicken and chocolaty cereals. Thus, Special K with red fruit is Number One Son’s favourite (although the wholegrain new rice crispies turned out to be so sugary one can smell it metres away - now he insists of having them every time we give him cereal). In addition, Number One Son slurps grape juice or milk and eats pear or strawberries after most hearty meals and loves toast with Marmite. A full child happily playing after some potato waffles is preferable to a hungry child who refuses to eat hand-cooked gourmet food. This also makes a child to eat at meal times and not to snack continuously.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Academic parenthood – a thing to keep quiet about?

Nowadays, the success of different universities, institutes, schools and departments is measured on the basis of peer reviewed articles produced and grants granted. All academics should be highly productive and many universities have set individual real or perceived targets for their staff. For example, they have to produce 1-3 high quality peer reviewed articles per year – not to mention the pressure to produce books.

As an academic without a permanent post, I manage my own work load and try to get in teaching, grants and other income, while trying to finish off the old projects and produce articles and get them pass peer review. Currently, I have deadlines for peer reviewed articles at the end of November, mid-January and end of February. Sadly, this ‘rumba’ slows down the writing up/editing my long-term project.

Nevertheless, when dealing with one of those publications, it occurred to me that people are not necessarily happy to admit that having children takes time and they have to put time and effort into ‘life’ instead of concentrating constantly on academic tasks and efficiently churning out articles and books. I recently got a slightly obscure e-mail that was rather wordy and could be interpreted in many different ways, while it was drumming how one deadline was really strict and people would be coming to me shortly. This was about seven weeks before the deadline and I was becoming concerned if I will manage to make the changes in the case they were to send the corrections in at the last minute. I was gathering from the message that either there may have been some time management issues behind the carefully worded message or my contribution did not cut the mustard.

After the ‘strict’ deadline had come and gone with no sign of any comments or further instructions, I finally contacted the people in question some weeks later (when I admittedly started to have more time to deal with any corrections). It turned out that one of the involved was on a maternity leave and another was about to become a parent. Thus, the obscureness of it all got its explanation – they were busy or were to becoming very busy being awake at odd hours with small babies. This made me wonder, if they were somewhat reluctant to reveal to their peers that they do not have time to do everything, but like to have families, and may have to reschedule promised timetables and schedules. It makes you think if there is a culture that makes it difficult to balance life and archaeology, since that leaves people less time to enjoy the time, when their children are small.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions. I remember one academic – in a secure position though – leaving every day punctually and strictly around 4pm or 4.30pm in order to be with the children in the evening. I hope that with the current turbulent economic climate that sort of behaviour is not totally out of window.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Chosen his language

The interesting moment in any bilingual family rises when the child has clearly chosen his or hers language. Our Number One Son has chosen his father’s language, English. This was clear already earlier when he ignored the simple word pairs I tried to say in Finnish, and repeated them when I did repeat them in English. Now he has finally started to speak more – even fully sentences like ‘I want to wee’ – this is more noticeable

After putting all the effort in – even before the birth when I read a Moomin book to my bump – I feel a bit short-changed. However, I recognize that the children do have a right to choose their language. After all, English is the language he shares with his friends and his key worker and other nursery assistants. He will also be taught in English.

Now I have to adapt to the situation where I try to keep up passive, secondary language skills. I think it is important for Number One Son to grow up in an environment where he gets used to other languages and be in situations where he does not understand the others. This is often the experience of a Finn abroad, but comes as a shock to many English and Americans. It is so easy to be lulled in a fully monolingual environment, where the foreigners can most of the time fluently one’s language and converse in English in their company. For a Finn learning languages is a natural part of reaching to other people abroad. In England learning languages is not a norm. This attitude was shown even by our speech therapist.

If not anything else, our son is not scared by loud, rather self-confident Finnish mothers and fathers chatting with each other in Finnish. He can also see lovely Swedish and Norwegian cartoons from Finnish DVDs and ‘expand his horizons’.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Not the success expected

As parents we are bombarded with messages that suggest we give our children educational fun and support their development. Nevertheless, the good intentions and dreams of a happy, giggling child in a positive activity do not always turn out exactly as you wish. Recently, I took Number One Son on a rainy day to the Newark Museum, which I think is lovely, with a children’s play room, street-o-rama, a full-sized First World War trench and a small shop corner for children in a reconstructed cloth shop (or was it groceries). In my mind’s eye I saw my son happily climbing the stairs and running around the playroom. Sadly, the only thing way he wanted to run was out of the entrance door. I managed to show him the playroom and the shop corner, but with no success. He wanted to run out. He was much happier in the nearby Waterstone’s and ran around the book stands instead. The experience was improved more by a shop assistant offering Number One Son a Halloween sweet.

Even more recently we headed to the botanical gardens. Again, I had dreamt about a happy, giggling child running around and kicking the yellow autumn leaves. This time around he happily ran to the long water garden, but seeing that there were no fish in the water, he immediately sat back to his stroller I take still with me – just in case. He was crying about our ‘Vrmm Vrmm’ and was totally oblivious to the lovely sunny weather. He wanted away whereas I wanted to see the Pinetum. The only thing he got excited about were the cars on A6 driving by the Pinetum. Afterwards, he was excited about driving in a Sainsbury’s trolley, going for a car ride and seeing clown fish in a pet shop. Have I managed to bring up a retail junkie?!

If there are other children, does not necessarily help. He recently also declined to go to a play group. He was not happy about this particular group with the earlier lady who did not allow children to play and check the toys, but expected them to sit nicely in a ring – something Number One has never been too keen on. However, with new people running it, he was happily doing activities at least a little bit for some weeks. But this time he was much happier going to the rainy park and having a bit of a run. While mummy got wetter and wetter, since I had expected a nice indoors activity.


A more successful activity

What is common for these events was that he was sleepy and was woken up from a nap. However, the days are now short and he should be getting away from napping any way, but I cannot ignore the fact that I may have a better success rate, if I just let him to sleep and took him to the park afterwards. Or for a short walk in the dark to see the street lights on a walk way. Learning fun is not always as successful as expected.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Gender specific colours

When I was a child in Finland in what now begins to seem like prehistory, the primary colour connected with the female gender was red. The boys were dressed in blue – as they continue to be dressed. However, there has been a clear shift in female primary colours and most mothers of girls seem to be choosing pink. The shops with children’s clothing have ‘the dark side’ for the boys and the pink fluffiness for the girls.

It seems that unisex dressing is not big in UK. There are some white or yellow items for babies, but even the less gender specific green and brown tend to be present in girly lines with all kinds of laces, pink ribbons and bows attached. Boys seem to be left with increasingly grey and black choice – especially in the supermarket lines, which reflect a kind of manifestation of social deprivation apparent with the first glance of their racks. If you do not have much money, your son is going to look grim. The choice of blue is no problem, since it is my favourite colour anyway. I tend to buy it as an alternative for Number One Cousin as well on birthdays and such. I am sure all girls are well catered in the pink department.

Colours are important as symbols and markers. Just recently Cadbury trademarked a certain shade of purple in order to have exclusive use of the colour in their advertisements. However, how they are going to enforce the trademark outside confectionary industry is anybody’s guess. I can see that they may try to keep the shade reserved for them in T-shirts and merchandise, but they are not omnipresent nor do people often go around with colour maps. Shade is also a reflection in the viewer’s eye and it will be tricky to distinguish with shades at the first glance. Their colour-scheme is genderless, though.

In the past the colours were gender specific as well in certain situations. The skin of women was whitish in Etruscan wall paintings whereas the men were reddish brown skinned. The Roman Emperor wore purple and the imperial connection continued into the Byzantine period. During Medieval times men used widely bright colours and red was common as a colour of important male garments. Greyfriars and Blackfriars, Franciscans and Dominicans, were recognised by their cloak colours; however, these colours were common also in the cloaks of nuns. A garment exclusively connected to women is a wedding dress; its colour has changed through centuries, though. Now it is typically white, but in the 19th century, if there was a special dress, it tended to be black in Fennoscandia. So may be we have hope that the ‘pinkification’ of our everyday life is just a phase.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Guest blogger

I was recently approached by the What to Expect web pages in order to write a guest blog for their Word of Mom blog. They were after an original blog for one week in October, which I duly provided, although if you have been reading my entries recently you will recognize the themes. My blog is in the Toddler section with a professional photograph to go with it.

This is not related to the What to Expect When You’re Expecting movie campaign – something I was originally a bit worried about taking how blogging is used in different forms of advertising. Both the movie and the web pages have sprung from the famous American baby manual. Luckily, they manuals and the web pages run well into the Toddlerhood, since Number One Son is hardly a baby. Only eternally the my little bump knocking every time when in bed I tried to turn on my tummy or too far on my side when in the womb.

The baby manual has been followed with a full series of manuals and the said online community. I myself was using a manual when Number One Son was small but I think that apart from rooting a strong routine we did not succeed in implementing all the advice in The Baby Whisperer, used before us by Number One Aunt. Her experiences 9 months before us was important, as was all peer support and social life found in the local NCT coffee group and city centre parent and baby group. This is why I ended up in the local branch committee, since I feel the social local side is important – no matter if it is in the coffee group or in the Children’s Centre or group. Number One Son is still playing with other children met in these groups and will go to school with them.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

You cannot hurry nature - no matter how much Gove wants to

It is quite amazing to observe the speech development of Number One Son and compare it to that of his peers. When I go to collect him from the nursery, his friends in the nursery often inform me where he is and what he has been up to. However, Number One Son is only now starting to engage in continuous communication with his parents. Mainly with single words or socially rooted idioms, such as ‘O-oh!’ and ‘Oh dear!’. I am delighted that he has started to explain things – no matter if only on a very basic and rudimentary scale. Naturally, even if I would like him to do this in Finnish, but after all, I want him to start communicating, so currently I am trying to improve his English vocabulary.

Only now, when he is already three and half, he is engaging properly into pointing at images in picture books and repeating simple words like ‘cat’ and ‘chicken’ and taking part into a memory card game. For a year speech therapists have been promoting these strategies together with using simple sentences to describe what Number One Son is playing with in order to introduce the use of verbs and expand his vocabulary. I and Archaeologist Husband have been using these strategies, but only recently Number One Son has started taking part properly and showing interested in words. However, he is not stupid, since he recognizes many letters and can count low numbers. Just the other day he was counting autumn leaves on the pavement up to five or so.

This turns my attention to some recent opinions presented by the current Education Secretary Michael Gove. He has warned that “children are arriving at primary school incapable of learning because of their ‘chaotic’ home lives”. He has also been horrified that four- and five-year-olds are arriving to school in nappies and they are unable to speak in sentences or distinguish between letters and number. With my current experiences in the difficulties of potty training and bringing up a late speaker, I am feeling very much like siding with the parents, even if it may be easier for some parents to keep putting the nappies on instead of dealing with potty training. However, these recent remarks seem to be totally bypassing any notion that the child development is not something that happens at the same time with every child – as the experiences with Number One Son show. I feel deep sympathy towards working-class parents who are basically being demonised. Number One Son has not shown any inclination towards accelerated development, even if he has two highly educated parents, eats plenty of fruit and next to no crisps, is taken to museums and country parks. He has basically ignored every attempt to make him to take part in a sing-along in the playgroups he has been dragged to and cannot lured to sit down with the placid children to sit down and listen to a book somebody else has chosen.

It is scary that Conservatives who do want a smaller state are perfectly happy suggesting that the children who are not developing quickly may need intervention, even if he wants to exercise a degree of restraint. One can only hope that this intervention, even if he refers to the parents who create circumstances so chaotic that instead of neglect they are actively harming their children by failing to create a nurturing environment, will be more speech therapists, Sure Start centres and special tuition and not about taking children simply into care. Somehow those in politics responsible for early education should find an understanding that some children, still inside the parameters of ‘normality’, do not learn properly speak until later – no matter how much their parents try to influence them. In addition, it is the question of poverty, both financial and intellectual, that makes people to struggle – something Conservatives do not want to recognize. It has been suggested that Gove does not change his mind, so one can only hope that the education specialists can keep the agenda of individual development alive beneath him instead of testing reading at four or five and having rigid measures for developments at a young age. These rigid ideas are not restricted to the Conservatives but have been presented by Labour politicians, too, such as Labour MP for Nottingham North Graham Allen.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The reality behind the jokes

While struggling to recover from a virus caught from Number One Son, I noticed one of those hilarious ‘How to prepare for kids’ pieces. It relieved the irritation of yet again not getting the real cold with fever, but one of those minor bugs that bring general muscle-aching, stiffness, dizziness and low level headache that by afternoon makes concentration difficult and requires you to lie down for a half an hour every now and then, if you want to get anything done and not let your blood pressure go through the roof.

Alongside the normal ‘You will not sleep for five years! Ha-ha!’ items that just reinforce your own experience that you do not sleep for a very long time, one item especially resonated with some of those scary moments when Number One Son has disappeared in the supermarket. I have always found him after a runner – normally near the toy section – but you have those random cases where people have lured children away that always are at the back of your mind.

The piece on Mamami by Chet suggested testing the supermarket experience by taking the nearest thing you can find to a pre-school child. Apparently a fully grown goat will do very well indeed. In the case you plan to have more than one child, the piece suggests taking the equivalent number in goats. Then your simple task will be to buy everything you need while keeping continuously eye on your number of goats. If you let your eye wonder – or need to find something – and your ‘goat’ eats, opens or drops something, you must pay for everything the goat destroys. It is left to your discretion to consider how successful this exercise will be. Nowadays I try to keep my 'goat' in a shopping trolley where he can pile up my shopping.

Nevertheless, as is traditional, fathers get the best joke. As is the case with that Cambridge T-shirt that suggest that ‘Daddy = a person with photos in his wallet where money used to be’, the piece suggests that ‘you go home, pick up the newspaper and read it for the last time’.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Aversion therapy

As parents we hope best for Number One Son and wish he will find a career in something more financially rewarding than archaeology. Naturally, it is difficult to say anything about his academic talent, but a vocational career is nothing to be avoided either. Plumbers are still busy – considering the number who were not returning the calls when we needed one. The garage owner in our village is also highly respected and successful; he actually started a MOT business and the other provider immediately dropped their prices. It is definitely something to consider if he turns out not to be any good in practical matters with his hands. If the love of cars is any indication, we are well on way to establish a successful career in motoring.

Maybe one should avoid taking Number One Son to archaeological sites or museums in order to improve the changes of wider choice. These are hard to avoid though, since many country parks in the area have archaeological features by default and as long as museums are free they are good destinations on a rainy day. In addition, Number One Son has not yet shown much interest to the specimens themselves, but enjoyed running around and testing the activities in the children’s area. The Egyptian section in the local museum actually scares him, since it is quite dark and ‘atmospheric’.

Number One Son shows much more interest towards natural sciences with his perfect categorisation of stones or general interest in climbing and exploring. Since these fascinations are quite universal, he may lose these interests in the future. However, an ongoing interest in coins is something we hope to build upon. Number One Son loves to empty Archaeologist Husband’s pockets of coins and fill his own piggy bank full. He fills and empties the piggy bank consecutively, orders the coins in a size order and carries his coins around in his piggy bank. Truly showing Uncle Scrooge like tendencies. He even picks up any loose penny coins he sees one on a pavement and hands them to us – hopefully he will hold on to them soon. Our conclusion is that bankers may not be loved now but we would love a banker in the family!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Under the weather

The autumn has arrived with its colds. This is the time every working parent is afraid of and wonders during the 'season' if work will progress or not in the coming days. In our case the season started early. Before heading to Jersey Number One Son had a bout of cold but just recently he went down with something again. Every time this happens there are visible signs that make us realize that something is going to hit us. We as parents see this coming and have Calpol and thermometer at hand.

If our lively and bouncy Number One Son suddenly becomes withdrawn and quiet, we know that something is brewing up. If we are visiting Number One Cousin’s house and Number One Son prefers to rest on the sofa instead of insisting getting into the garden and to the climbing frame, it is clear that all is not well. If he refuses to have animal biscuits and does not pay any attention to Marmite toast, he definitely has lost his appetite.

A day or two watching DVDs and children’s programmes should result with the kind of boredom that leads to a miraculous recovery. It really is miraculous recovery; one moment Son is lying vacantly on the sofa and the next he just gets up and starts playing with his toys. The colds seem to vanish as quickly as they appear.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Toys in space

Archaeologist Husband noticed something in the web that made me think how some parents are somewhat more ambitious than we are. In addition, while we are trying to make our late developer to repeat and use simple words and progress with fuller sentences, at the preschool Number One Mates are already practising alphabet. Needless to say that Number One Son’s photo or copied letters have not made the wall, yet.

I have written about Alex’s love of certain toys, especially, his continuous affection for Lightning McQueen, the toy car. He is not the only little boy – or girl – with a close attachment to a piece of plastic. Thomas the Tank Engines and Peppa Pigs fill the rooms of Number One Mates. However, not every father decides to send their son’s favourite toy into space.


Stanley goes into space

Ron Fugelseth, a video producer from California, attached Stanley, one of the friends of the above mentioned Thomas the Tank Engine, to a weather balloon and sent it into space. Well, at least into the stratosphere. The balloon had a video camera and a GPS-enabled cellphone attached to it throughout the journey. Thus, Ron had video evidence for the whole trip. The entire flight took the engine about 18 miles high. The attachment of the cellphone allowed Ron and his son to relocate Stanley in a cornfield 27 miles away from the point of departure. Ron videoed duly the encounter between his son and Stanley and could capture the love this little boy has towards his favourite toy.

Naturally, Ron put all the footage together and edited it into a funny short film he uploaded onto YouTube. Since Ron can also make animations, he also created lively facial expressions on toy Stanley’s face. It is pure joy to watch, hits the spot, but makes you feel just that little bit of inadequate... Maybe Archaeologist Husband wants to have a ‘Man Project’ with Number One Son!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Water beast

Number One Son has been ‘swimming’ since he was three. He is really in his element in the water and a visit to the seaside in Jersey proved it. We visited Number One greatgrandmother and stayed on St Brelade Beach. With our happy water beast we did not make any longer trips on the island but explored daily the waves and the shifting water line on the beach.

Number One could spent hours just running into the water, facing the waves against his legs and then running back to the firm sand smoothened by the tide away from the water. He could continue running excitedly back and forth until his legs turned all purple and he had to be dragged away from the waves. He only realised he was shivering when he felt the body warmth of his father.

The beach not only has marvellous soft white sand but also a few granite outcrops. Around one of these tide left a few shallow water pools where it was easy to play. Seaweed and the small stones they were attached to offered additional entertainment, since they could be hurdled into the water and fetched again. The outcrops also provided some suitable low climbs for our future Hillary.

The hotel we were put into had a swimming pool and a spa section, which meant and we could enjoy a couple swims there – to the mild annoyance of the older gentlemen trying to swim distance on the other side of the pool. Number One Son could also revisit his Finnish heritage and stay in a warm sauna with his parents. I tried to keep him away from the Jacuzzi but at one point an older lady enjoyed her relaxing time there and Archaeologist Husband could not hide the existence of the bubble bath any longer. The warm water and the bubbles gave Number One Son further joy on top of his splashes in the normal pool as a true waterboy.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Table manners

Toddlers can be very fussy eaters. Trying to make them eat a varied, healthy diet can lead to unintended consequences. Whereas Number One Aunt insisted from the start that Number One Cousin always eats at the table, I took a more liberal stand after it became clear that Number One Son deserted the dining room table and fidgeted with the offered food. Thus, I took the plates to the living room and created one more ‘couch potato’ eater. He also took into running between the table and his favourite cartoons. Even when the television was switched off!

The need to improve the table manners and eat more often at the same table as a family was made even clearer during the summer holidays and family visits. Since we were eating unusually often out, we had to face the difficulties resulting from our lax ways. Definitely our son was not behaving like those French children who are expected to behave like adults from a young age. No, it is more like a face red with tomato sauce and spaghetti shreds layered both on the table and beside it.

With a fuzzy eater the choice of grub at a restaurant is even more important than at home. Number One Son is known to refuse to eat same food on consecutive days. He wants to have variety. Thus, it could not be spag bol every time. However, for some reason the child-friendly foods they seem to want to eat are suspiciously like general comfort foods. One day Number One Son was scoffing French fries, the other he was making a true mess with :ragù.

Back home the sausages are a favourite when choosing from a children’s menu. Tube pasta is easier to eat than spaghetti but getting our using consistently his fork seems to be stretching it. He knows we insist but he keeps ignoring us. With a visit to his greatgrandmother’s just around the corner, we should probably up our game.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Love of objects

A mother is traditionally made feel guilty about leaving her child for a long day in the nursery. Number One’s normal day there is about 10 hours. I duly take him in exactly after 7.30 am and collect him about quarter to six. A few times I have had to run in order to be in the nursery before that magical boundary of 6 pm.

Nothing prepared us for the disappointment Number One Son had when he was not taken to the nursery on a Saturday. He threw a mini-tantrum but by Sunday he had luckily forgotten the matter. However, we immediately realised what had caused this sudden response. Number One Son recently moved upstairs to the pre-school premises and encountered new play environment. There are also new toys, among which it turned out a ten-year old McQueen from the original Pixar’s Cars movie.

Nevertheless, this McQueen is a blue Dynaco one (you know if you have seen the movie – if you have not you probably are not a parent...). Thus, he can separate his time with a red McQueen at home and a blue one in the nursery. He has a strong emotional attachment for both car toys and he keeps looking them. One day I left him looking for the car with a nursery assistant.

As an archaeologist one rarely gets a more direct reminder of all those theoretical treatise about the importance of material objects in human cultural encounters. Objects are given value and they may even act as living creatures in some relationships. Number One Son’s cars have discussions with each other, and even if we did not allow him to take the red McQueen in the nursery in the fear he may lose it he clearly would like to present the red and the blue car to each other. In his mind they are real and any misplacement is sorely felt.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Simple things

You buy your child complicated toys and what do they like best? Yes, stones and sticks. On our trip to Rome Number One Son found endless fun with dried out oranges in the garden. He piled all oranges up in a heap and ‘classified’ them by excluding all too rotten ones. Those with visible oozing brown holes had to go. We hope this interest can be directed towards biology or similar discipline in the future and does not suggest we have managed to bring up another archaeologist. That would have a severe effect to our ‘pension plan’.


Another simple joy (photo by Archaeologist Husband)

Number One Son also showed interest in santpietrini, reversedly-positioned pyramid-shaped stones that have been used to cobble Rome’s historic pavements. While Italian toddlers were sitting quietly in a stroller waiting for a bus, our pride and joy insisted in sitting in a small earthy square where a planetree was growing next to the bus stop where we were waiting for a bus every evening. He was playing with a santpietrini stone as if it was a handaxe and then kept covering it with smaller stones and dead leaves, that were plenty, and dust. Alternatively, he was turning and piling the dry leaves along the pavement while waiting.

His real passion is diverted towards stones and gravel. In Rome he sat on a park walk way as soon as we stepped out of the bus and started organising gravel stones in piles – to the entertainment of the Romans sitting on a park bench on a hot August day. More entertainment followed when one or both of us tried to lure Number One Son back to our place of stay.

More gravel was available back in Britain. Number One Son’s grandparents live relatively near Brighton and with his Number One Aunt we visited Hove beach. It was a sunny, if windy day and red flags were plenty. It was no time to let him swim in the sea but he could divert his passion towards the gravel of the beach. He was looking for nice stones, big enough to create a heap that stood apart from smaller gravel. He was clearly also trying the feeling of the gravel under his feet in a true explorer fashion.

Friday, 10 August 2012

End of kidadulthood?

There are moments that symbolise the fact that you have become an adult – and a responsible parent. For years every time I went to Rome me and my friends we headed down the hill to Trastevere and frequented Bar San Calisto, a bar with a certain reputation but visited by everybody from retired ladies having their afternoon tea, families buying ice cream to young couples having a beer with their student friends and local drug addicts. The nights were long and wet but now for the first time I did use their latteria service. They are one of the bars that provide milk outside the shop opening hours. After an early supper I and Archaeologist Husband bought a litre of whole milk and a bottle of white wine. Something for Number One Son and something for the parents who stayed in to look after him while he was sleeping. This one act demonstrated us that we are truly older now.


Bar San Calisto (photograph by Daria)

Travelling during the hottest time of the year with a toddler changed the rhythm and the extent of our travels. Since we were on a hill slightly outside the centre of Rome overlooking the city on the western side of the Tiber, we stuck to Trastevere and did not even try to reach any famous squares in the old city centre with Number One Son. Forum Romanum would have been murder; it is a true sun trap. I ventured farther away for some work-related tasks but as a family, we descended the hill and looked for an early evening meal.

We did have a supper around 5.30 pm, which meant that our selection of open restaurants was not great. We were stuck with the ones offering the all-afternoon opening hours that are directly targeted to the tourist market. The food was not necessarily great and service was sometimes lacking but these restaurants did not exist ten years ago so one has to be grateful one can eat somewhere else than McDonalds. They clearly have changed the eating landscape, since one of the traditional Trastevere pizzerias, Ivo, was open for business already at 6 pm instead of the more usual 7 pm on our last night.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ashby Castle, knights and a three-year-old

We finally made it to a Festival of Archaeology event after the return of Archaeologist Husband. Ashby castle hosted the most child-friendly of the events, the Clash of the Knights. Number One Cousin loves knights and has a costume and Number One Son is not averse to Mike the Knight cartoon. However, neither his concentration nor communication is developed enough to truly appreciate the knights giving a show fight. Unlike Number One Cousin who was mesmerised with her eyes transfixed to the clash.


History alive

An active small boy did find interesting things in a castle. Number One Son really liked to climb up the narrow stairs up to the tower. However, he is unfortunate to have a mother with vertigo, which has developed in adult age. There was no way I would have showed him the view over the edge as Number One Sister-in-Law did. I was not always like this but enjoyed hair-rising climbs as a child. Irritating and embarrassing in an equal measure to feel the panic coming when trying to take a photo from the tower.

The second hit was the tunnel under the castle courtyard. Number One Son was unsure first since it was relatively dark in the room leading to the tunnel but when he realized its true meaning he was happily running back and forth. He also found any stairs upwards more interesting than the clash of the knights. The only times he was interested in the knights was when he wanted to run beyond the ropes lining the safe area for the audience and join the knight performers in their compound.


Preferred activity

The real hit with Number One Son was the huge green in the front of the castle were many visitors were enjoying their picnics. The sunken areas of the past garden gave him an opportunity to make most of the sunny weather. Up and down he ran, following other children every now and then. Up by the blue bells and back down on his backside as long as the adults allowed.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Finally summer!

I did not expect that two sunny days in a row over a weekend would make me this happy. It also meant that Number One Son could enjoy adventures locally in a relatively dry landscape. Despite of the loud protests from Archaeologist Husband who had to stay at home to see through a visit from a potential house-buyer I and Number One Son headed again to the Bradgate Park. This time we left the car to a car park nearest to the Old John folly. This choice was made after my friend suggested that there should be good outcrops for Number One Son to climb.

Archaeologist Husband protested especially against me calling some food for Number One Son and I as a ‘picnic’. This was mainly because I decided to take our picnic rucksack with us in order to carry the nibbles and my purse. But suggesting that we would enjoy ourselves while he was in a more mundane duty only one day after he was back was too much for him to bear. Which I feel bad about, but since this summer has been so dismal, one cannot let a sunny Sunday to pass by without some serious time outside. At least he did miss carrying around all the stuff needed. Naturally, I had to take Number One Son’s change bag and the potty. Number One Son is afraid of public toilets and placing a potty onto ground and let him to do his business ‘al fresco’ makes things tolerably to all parties. His stroller is needed to move all little bags needed around as much as cart Number One Son after his energy will run out.

It was a good thing that I did take the change bag since there was a smelly accident – despite Number One Son protesting the contrary. Luckily, there is a small woodland enclosure next to the Old John. Number One Son could keep most of his modesty intact while I got him back into a presentable state. It turned out that Number One Son also likes to climb trees – albeit of a stump and trunk variety. As my friend had suggested the slate outcrops were just right for Number One Son, He also enjoyed the Old John and the war memorial. Not as we would, as monuments in beautiful view spots but as constructions to climb and walk on. The ledge around the Old John seemed to be a hit with other small children as well.

After enjoying the sun and the views for a couple of hours and having an ice cream we headed back to find the grumpy Archaeologist Husband explaining that there had been a no show. Taking into account the weather the only right move was to take him to a pub beer garden to down a few well-deserved pints while exhausted Number One Son was snoozing in the stroller.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

I am a wussy

It is the time of the Festival of Archaeology, which I had only half-acknowledged, since I am temporarily a ‘single parent’ and the rainy days are a rule not an exception. When asking if my friends wanted to go for a picnic on Sunday – the weather forecast did not predict rain – they said they were heading to the Bury Camp in Ratby. For some time I have really wanted to visit that site that is on private land; taking advantage of an organized walk would make sense. However, knowing Number One Son made me hesitate.


The soft option

I have seen other people taking part into site tours with energetic little boys and this usually turns out to mean that they are not really taking part into the site tour but running around in the fringes of the site. This walk would have involved leaving the car in the car park of a nearby pub and walking to the earthworks further afield. I have the Bury Camp marked on Google Map so I checked and found out that the walk would have been such that I should have taken a stroller. Number One Son probably had opposed to any longer stretch and could have wanted to be carried; he just begins to be too heavy. The soggy grassland would have been a nightmare with a stroller. I could have hoped that Alex would have run to the right direction following his friends but any wish from his part to stray from the tour may have resulted with a tantrum. In the end, all I wanted was a lovely picnic and running around without a need to go anywhere particular. The site tour would have been for me and I would have imposed archaeology on Number One Son on one of the rare nice days this summer.

The weather was not full-on sunny and it was not hot but it was not raining and there were sunny spells. Number One Son also had new trekking boots on that I had thought would be an ace thing to have on for some rock climbing on the Bradgate Park shale outcrops. Number One Son starts to be of an age for climbing, which I truly loved as a child myself. We marvelled the rapids of the waterfall, with a much stronger flow than normally, and ate our picnic in a civilized manner sitting on a park bench. There were deer and a large kite to entertain Number One Son. Not to mention the obligatory ice cream provided by the customarily sellers. And no, Number One Son did not want to share but to lick it all himself!

What I did find out was that my motherly sensibilities overran any wish to let Number One Son to climb freely. Any cliff looked twice the fall and unwillingly I ended up dragging him away from the edges. Not quite the dream of letting Number One Son to roam freely. Luckily, there were smaller outcrops where he could entertain himself. He turned out to be even a better climber than I expected. Those babygym sessions did their trick after all. The lovely day came to an end with a quick visit to the Bradgate House ruins and bothering a peacock, one of two summer residents there.


An outcrop I could stomach

This visit taught me that I was not as ‘hardcore’ as I thought. The Bury site visit would have coincided with the time of the day Number One Son often takes a small snooze. I may have gotten away with carting him around in the stroller. However, I could not be sure and the situation in reality would not have necessarily turned out to be funny for me or other participants. As with the rock cliffs, I turned out to be a wussy.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Home alone

Staying behind when Archaeologist Husband travels to fulfil his salaried contracts in Turkey would go much smoother if he had not ended up having ‘adventures’ at the beginning of both stints. The first time around his luggage – containing his laptop and camera – went haywire for days resulting with him not having any change and us being worried about a possible loss of equipment. There are enough outgoings in the near future without any that kind of unexpected expenses. The reason for suspecting that the luggage had truly disappeared – being nicked – was that he had an internal flight to the south-east. There was an indication to the contrary, however, since a group of passengers had lost their luggage from the same flight. This suggested that one cart full of suitcases had got lost somewhere, perhaps in Istanbul in transit. Luckily, it turned out that the suitcase had never left Gatwick and after a week of stinking Archaeologist Husband got his clothes back.

This second time around the situation seemed much scarier. I knew that Archaeologist Husband had changed planes at Istanbul and had landed safely. Then he did not meet the rest of the team and decided to take bus to the site that was supposed to be nearby. I did not suspect anything unusual although I was wondering why he left the airport so quickly without waiting a phone call. Thenl I got a mysterious phone call that turned out to be his host from the excavations. He was checking if he had the right mobile phone number since he had been unable to reach Archaeologist Husband. After this call my imagination got better of me and I could imagine a clueless Englishman with a sunhat and Galaxy Notebook being fleeced in the dark evening countryside. I could not reach him either but luckily my text message got answered pretty soon. Archaeologist Husband was safe but continued zigzagging the countryside for some hours after this incident. I hope this taught him waiting for just a little b it longer the next time.


A very British summer

In the meantime I was wondering if the village is to be cut off one day or another. The local brook had burst from its stream and the sports field of the local elementary school was under water together with many of the surrounding flood plains. The current weather patterns are not necessarily totally untypical but their reason is. It is sunny and unusually hot in the Mediterranean whereas the central and northern Europe is chilly and wet due to the horizontal position of the Jet Stream in the atmosphere. Thus, the British summer is a washout. Luckily I had my few sunny days in Rome...

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Does he miss us?

Number One Son seems to have hit another phase of personal development. The previous occasions we have been away, he has been visibly missing the one not present and calling him/her. When Archaeologist Husband was recently away for two weeks, there were signs our son was settling to the occasional periods with just one parent. His potty behaviour was improving all the time and there were no sudden reverse developments. When I and Archaeologist Husband were skyping each other, Number One Son was more interested in admiring his own image visible on the web cam window than any sight of his father or the sound of his voice. Then he just ran away to play with his cars or watch a cartoon.

Number One Son clearly noticed that there was an absence in the master bedroom when he woke up in the morning and was let through the baby gate. He did point to this fact in the first two mornings or so but there was no great burst of emotion or any sign of tears. There was just a muted recognition from his part that Daddy is away. He stayed in good spirits throughout but this may have been helped by the fact that the first day Archaeologist Husband was away was one of those days with a birthday party. Also, getting a pair of remote-controllable Cars2 racing cars with his favourite McQueen and his nemesis Bernoulli for a Fathers’ Day present distracted him as well. The weather was marginally better on that particular weekend so we were able to have a nice stroll down the New Walk and in the Lanes and managed to arrange a trip to the sunny Abbey Park while waiting for the car to be fixed. Then there was the Finnish midsummer and Number One Cousin’s birthday party with yummy non-dairy vanilla ice cream to ease the possible pain.

The next period of absence will probably be harder since first I will be gone for four days just before posting this and then Archaeologist Husband will fly away for a fortnight. This period seems to be devoid of parties or national celebrations. However, there may be a sauna evening if our head mistress’s sauna will be installed in time before they fly to Finland for summer holidays.


Just a short recap after I came back. Did he miss me? He had been very huggy the first day I was away and wanted a cuddle when I picked him up from the nursery after my flight had landed. He also wanted to have more physical contact and hugs in the evening. He also cherished a small memento I brought (a fridge magnet in the shape of a bright red Vespa). After that, it was all back to normal. So, yes, the he misses us but then he seems to survive since he knows we will come back. I just hope he does not get too attached to getting a small present every time...

Friday, 29 June 2012

Summer fairs and barbecues

The last weekend of June seemed to be extremely busy for all kind of summer events. There were school fairs everywhere, including our village, and other summer events. I and Number One Son took the full advantage of the convenient coincident when the local Finnish midsummer celebrations and a village carnival in Thurlaston were on the same day. Although the weather forecasts were suggesting an overcast day with rain in early evening, we stayed dry.

The only drawback was that Number One Son was much more interested in other children’s toys in the garden of our headmistress than any event on the village green. Similarly, biscuits were preferred over the country dance presentation by the local elementary school children. I had to drag Number One Son away from the toy cars in order to see the Melton Mowbray brass band performing. Agility show was no big hit either; an old-fashioned roundabout was much more fun. The entertainment was provided by dropping Number One Son’s coat in the green. I had not even realized losing it but I heard a tannoy announcement about a yellow and black coat, probably fitting a three-year-old. A trip to the announcement car was fruitful and we left the green with all our possessions.

The only event Alex got really excited about was the crafts marquee. Unfortunately, I had left my purse in my rucksack in the headmistress’s house; thus, I had to convince Number One Son to pass the tables selling cup cakes, jewellery, postcards, knick-knacks and ceramic arty items very quickly. The floor surface of the marquee was a mud swell and I felt I really should have put my old shoes on. Now my better leather shoes are caked with mud and require thorough cleaning. Nevertheless, I managed to flavour this very sympathetic carnival before heading to our Finnish barbecue.

The midsummer barbecue was a very civilized event; after all, most people had to drive to Thurlaston. At least one mother did drink the obligatory midsummer beer. The barbecue was very successful though since there were a couple of new families who had just recently moved to the area with their boys. This suggests that the future of the Finnish Saturday School will be very noisy indeed. However, Number One Son just kept running around with Number One Girl Friend and her older sibling. Even if he hardly remembered to eat, I was content he got definitely enough exercise this Saturday!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

To speak or not to speak

Finally we had the home visit from the speech therapist. She felt more positive this time around since Number One Son was not grumpy after having woken up from his nap but was happily taking eye contact and bubbling away in his own special toddler language. Nevertheless, I was left unsure about her advice since basically the first thing she said was that Number One Son finds words in different languages difficult and I should do more speaking in English in order to avoid making him confused and undermine the interaction he has in English in the nursery. When asking about his ‘baby talk’, I said that the intonation do not sound that of Finnish and volunteered to show her a bit of a Finnish-voiced DVD in order to give her a sample. She declined and was joking that she has enough to do with just English. Since she is advising a lot of parents with English as a second language and mixed bilingual families, I found this lack of interest in understanding how different the language sounds her customer hears at home alongside English puzzling and slightly alarming. How can I trust the validity of her advice when it is served on the basis of one viewing and she shows no interest in the first language? He statement sounded more like a sweeping general opinion than advice based on evidence.

It is clear that Number One Son has chosen English as his language of communication even if he says ‘No’ in plain Finnish at suitable moments. It is a positive development that he interacts more verbally and sometimes I can catch clear sentences. Like one day this week he said ‘How are you?’ to a friendly cat when we went for a short walk in a nearby residential estate. He understands my Finnish sentences most of the time – or at least part of the time. He is also happy to watch Incredibles or Shrek2 in either language. Naturally, I have to support his wording when he says ‘car’ or ‘more’. This has to happen in English but I do not want to drop Finnish chat altogether or not saying the same things in Finnish in order to underline bilingual situation in our family. After all, I want to support the development of his spoken English and widen his vocabulary but offer Finnish stimulation and an opportunity to maintain some level of Finnish understanding in the future.

Luckily, we had a play date with Number One Finnish Girl Friend recently and the Finnish midsummer celebrations are just around the corner. This means that Number One Son will hear other people speaking Finnish – and other Finnish children chatting in English. Apparently, there will also be two new male toddler arrivals from Finland so there will be truly Finnish-speaking boys available in the future for play dates. In addition, now when the potty training is almost done, we can start playing with memory games and naming different animals, colours and objects in children’s books In English and Finnish on a more regular basis. If only he wanted to take part into these educational activities all the time. He does not necessarily respond in a way he is supposed to.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Success at last?

Number One Son has finally overcome his fear of potty and is now voluntarily pulling his jogging bottom and pants down after fetching the potty himself and before sitting down for a wee. Every time he does this fills us with pride whereas every time he still poos his pants fills us with fear. It is a messy life and one has to have rags and disinfectant ready all the time.

The final change came after his nursery stopped taking him to the potty hourly. He fought this practice to the mutual frustration of both parties. It took about a week for him to settle down after a continuous struggle against the pot but then he started to make real progress. Now he collects an occasional star at the nursery when he manages to go to the potty or alert the personnel using his own initiative. He does not still speak properly but his take on the crossed feet is recognisable to those with the ‘know’.

Number One Son even uses both his potties, which means that we can use the smaller one ‘on the go’. He still loathes normal toilet bowl that is visibly too high for him. He occasionally wees standing there but he has now taken his cues from his peers and is sitting down. He just cannot keep his balance and the sight of a baby toilet ring makes him scream.

The most problematic issue is that he still does not go to the potty when he needs to poo but just ‘lets it go’. I chatted with a fellow mum when on a play date and her daughter is exactly the same. It apparently hurts to poo and the children find it VERY uncomfortable and do not wish to sit. They also know that the parents will clean up...

Additionally, poor Number One Son keeps getting confused every now and then and it is totally our fault. It has been the celebration season with the Jubilee, not to mention the ongoing birthday season in the nursery, with parties in both public places and private houses. There has also been occasional baby gym over the half-term. You cannot expose other people’s carpets or ball pits or bouncy castles full of other children to the unreliable spurts of poo or wee. It is totally unacceptable and unhygienic. Thus, sometimes you have to put a nappy on. Afterwards you risk a few occasions of random peeing and pooing either as a protest of changing standards or as a sign of confusion.

Before I had Number One Son I never thought I would write a series of posts about potty training but it is hard work! It was something we did not know absolutely anything. Now we know that potty training is different for every child and succeeds at different ages. Maybe this blog will be read by somebody that is or will be in the same position as we were – totally clueless mature parents – and will find solace that they are far from being alone in this. Another fellow mum admitted that potty training her daughter took a long time and it was not necessarily straight forward. And girls do it earlier and quicker normally! Naturally, it does make you look infantile, mundane and downright unsavoury to an outsider, i.e. a childless person, when you are chatting away with other parents about nappies and potties but alongside any work trip or ghant chart for your plans it is something to juggle in a parent’s everyday life. Certain responsibilities come with parenthood – your fridge and fruit bowl cannot be left empty as it could be when there was only one or two of you.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Memories forever?

When asked which people’s first memories are, most answer remembering something that happened when they were three or four. In exceptional cases people remember events from the time they were around 18 months of age. The festivities taking place for the Jubilee may thus be recorded in Number One Son’s memory.

Number One Son in the streetparty (photo by Archaeologist Husband)

Has it been memorable this far? We attended a street party but the grey weather seems to have flattened the atmosphere a bit. Nevertheless, the free bouncy castle and the company of Number One Cousin and other children seemed to cheer him up. Bouncy castles are the staple of all children’s parties so I am not sure if they are so memorable that it sticks to his mind for forever. Naturally, we were anywhere near the Jubilee float that was something truly unusual but it probably looked better on TV than would have along the grey banks of the Thames. The Jubilee concert or the parade would have been something different but the crowd on the Mall could have been frightening - and more to the parents to lose the quick Number One Son.

The marvellous sunshine welcomed the Anstey Picnic in the Park but again the bouncy castle was on offer. Number One Son is developing a habit of wrestling with other children plus hanging holding older children’s legs. I am not sure these habits bring any happy memories to the recipients and one has to try to wean Number One Son out of it. These things are not necessarily truly memorable and a toddler may not appreciate a large crowd with their deck chairs and tables on a village green. However, running around with a nursery friend brought him visible happiness.

Picnic in the Park (photo by Archaeologist Husband)

When I think about my first memories, they all involved a trauma. There was the osprey that attacked our large lounge window seeing its own mirror image that had to be put away by police while I and my mother were huddling in the toilet. There was the birth of my baby brother when I was three and a half. There was the time when I learnt the meaning of a cactus while on a play date. Then there was the occasion when my tongue froze to an iron handle I licked when it was below zero during the winter. I assume this Jubilee did not involve any event of that memorability.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Cultural differences and confident little boys

It seems that the life guards at the local swimming pool have a new manager since I and another mother of a small strong and lively boy have been told off because our toddler sons run from the baby pool to the children’s pool. We both have taken our sons to the swimming pool from as early as recommended around three months of age and they both are very confident if not head strong. For months they have been allowed to run back and forth. Even if their behaviour irritates us mothers, we allowed it to happen since we trust our sons and know they need to burn their energy in a safe environment.

However, now we have to start a new routine with walking hand-in-hand from one pool to another and trying to figure out when our son wants to switch the pools. I managed to keep Number One Son under my influence this time around. The other mother did not manage as well and was given a notice when her son was walking alone and joining the baby pool. As this mother pointed out, stopping her actually made her joining her son later than would have happened otherwise. During this 'telling off time' Number One Swimming Buddy had already made it to the water in the baby pool.

I must say I ignored wilfully the signs saying ‘No running’, since I had been extremely happy when Number One Son had finally learnt to walk and run. I also hoped him to burn his daily energy in a sporty environment. Now I feel a bit embarrassed since I did not properly think the safety aspect and did not recognize that the other mothers did not let their children run. It took a swimming instructor to tell me to consider changing his behaviour. In the end it is good I now have to start educating Number One Son properly about how to behave. It just takes some determination not to wither when he gives a tantrum or pretends to cry. After all, he understands eventually that you are not supposed to run across a parking lot or break the rules.

Nevertheless, I think cultural differences may partly be in action. In Finland the children are supposed to become independent and be able to do things on their own. There is no legal requirement for parents to be with their children or organize a chaperon when they are school age and definitely not until they are twelve or so as in Britain. Most Finnish women work and the children manage to be safely at home after they return from school. The school does not start until they are seven so they have plenty of time to learn how to behave at home by then. My perception is that there is less expectation to perform before seven but more so after this watershed. This may be the reason the first-year undergraduates in Britain at the university seem more childish than in Finland.

I myself try to teach Number One Son to walk without holding my hand all the time since I have to be able to reach products in the supermarket or take a letter to the village post office. Nevertheless, on the same day as Number One Swimming Buddy was having his way, Number One Son did a runner in the supermarket and I could not find him for five minutes. After panicking I asked a shop assistant and she could see some action further afield. Two other assistants were coming to our direction and they could tell me that my son had been found. They found him very cute when he had entered their Jubilee tea party set up and was blowing party whistles, helping himself with the tea cups and was visibly excited about the bunting. I am afraid that being restrained unexpectedly in one familiar environment makes him to rebel in another.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Parental pressures and extra activities

I have found out that the musical education is mostly a private enterprise in England. Number One Son’s nursery is planning to start musical half-an-hour playing and dancing sessions on one day a week. This will be against extra payment and the children who are not taking part will be playing in another room. While I do understand that nurseries have to rise more revenue in this economic climate, the extra expense will present an extra dilemma for us, the parents.

I am not the only one who has asked another parent if their child is going to take part. Since Number One Son is developing at his own leisure, he wondered off during the taster session. He has never been interested in group singing sessions in any play group and he has only recently begun to have enough concentration for crafts. He does boogey to certain music on TV and this physical part and any dancing with his mates would appeal to him.

I am not sure Number One Son is ready for more formal musical learning experience – especially if he will wonder off and play on his own during the set time. I have also found that the set price is a sum I have been paying for 45 minutes or one hour with the council activities so it seems pricey. I think the other parents are feeling the same, too, since one parent asked me on Friday if Number One Son is going to attend.

I had to be honest and say that I will ask the following week if many of his friends will be attending. I do not want to leave him playing alone and being separated from his mates – even if they are in an age when they are more playing in the same room than playing together. However, there is no use paying if Number One Son was one of the few attending. His attention span is not enough for such an experience and if he wanders off the money will be spent for nothing. Archaeologist Husband wants Number One Son to learn an instrument and have musical education but it makes sense to wait until he definitely wants to do it himself and can express it unmistakably.

We parents have the pressure to do the best for our children and give them the best changes in the world. In the real world not all of us are wealthy and we have to consider how to use our money. When we are facing the situations like the one explained above, we are drawn by the financial realities and the need to consider how we spend our monies in the harsh economic climate on one hand and the wish to give our children fun, learning experiences and enjoyment.

How do we manage to solve this? If only a few attend, then the answer is easy – we will wait for a later time when Number One Son is clearly willing to take part in extra activities. If most of his friends take part, we probably have to pay the extra cost. Luckily, the other parents chose for me. The nursery may not be able to go ahead with the sessions, since the interest just was not there. I was not the only one hesitating

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The lack of exercise

The bad weather lately in Britain has resulted with Number One Son staying inside more than usual. For a small boy this is a problem since small boys have a lot of energy to burn and need all the exercise they can have. Even if we manage to keep the television shut and DVDs out of hand, playing inside in his room is not going to be enough. He needs to run and climb in order to sleep well.

Luckily, the last weekend was sunny and we had Finnish School on Saturday. Even if the teacher of the pre-school group said that this was the first time he sat properly down and did some arts and crafts, he ran and played with other children and managed to wear himself down. On Sunday I took Number One Son to the Abbey Park to see the Pet Corner and run through the Oval. Running around in the sun is the best activity for a growing male toddler and anyone likes the peak of a peacock. Nevertheless, the most exciting part of the day for Number One Son was handling and feeling sand in the play area. Cool, fine sand - one could mentally tick off that day's messy play!

After a day full of exercise Number One Son heads happily to bed with blurry eyes. If we lucky he falls asleep even before In the Night Garden finishes. After a rainy day inside with cartoons, cars and playdough Number One Son wants to wrestle in the evening and runs around in his room just before going to bed. After the bedtime story and the lights off he keeps calling Mummy and Archaeologist Husband standing at the baby gate of his room at the top of the stairs for a long while even if the black-out curtains have been drawn. This visible and audible difference in behaviour underlines the importance of ‘quality running time’.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Out for a night

We are very lucky since our neighbour is a nursery nurse and she does a fair share of babysitting. Recently we went out for the first time so early that Number One Son had not gone to bed, yet. We were anxious how the evening would pan out since Number One Son had recently been very volatile at bed times. He has just kept calling us from his room door and refusing to go back to his bed. However, Number One Son likes the neighbour and is known to have tried to enter their house on our way to the park.

When Number One Neighborough arrived Number One Son was looking visibly tired after an early bath. However, the sound of the voice of the neighbour refreshed Number One Son and he requested to join her downstairs. He chose his favourite movie and started to present the Cars to Number One Neighbour. Thus we could make our way to the Warwick Arts Centre.

It is Jack Dee with the panel! (photo from the ISIHAC.net)

We headed to the recording of the Sorry, I haven’t a clue Radio4 programme. It turned out this series is the 40th anniversary tour and due to having been invited as part of Stratford-upon-Avon festival we heard an extensive amount of Bard related content together with games retracing the different events of 1972. Not to mention the jokes making the most of the fact that this Warwick is actually in Coventry. The panel was headed by Jack Dee and his style is just right for this type of ‘antipanel’ show. Even Mornington Crescent made sense this time around – with anagrams.

The house was full and the atmosphere was delighted. At one point the whole audience joined Barry in singing Harry Nilson’s version of ‘Living without you’, the song more recently warbled by Mariah Carey.

This night out was fabulous. Good company and I were not driving. This meant I could have a pint of beer at the interval. We just made it to the bar after queuing for a while. As Jack Dee said “thousand people were buying beer from three pensioners”.

When we got back home – later than we expected – Number One Son was happily sleeping. Admittedly, he had been asking for ‘Mama’ but I think this was a joint name for both of us. He misses his mummy but loves to play with his daddy.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Away

This was the fourth time I was away for work on a foreign work trip with Number Son in the care of Archaeologist Husband. This time they also have a birthday to go to; however, you can guess who had bought the present and the card in before hand... Some mothers seem to feel horrible when they leave their children behind but since none of my trips happened before Number One Son’s first birthday I do not feel any guilt. I do miss him but as an archaeologist has said, nowadays we go to the conferences to sleep. Short trips alone give me some quality time with the things I like and time to chat with my friends and acquaintances.

For some time Skype has made video telephone calls easy – if you consider finding the right WiFi network in a block of flats or watching pixels jumping up and down with a general shape of a child easy. Nevertheless, the child sees me and hears my voice. Anyway, Archaeologist Husband spends potentially more time abroad so I will get my quality time with Number One Son sooner or later.

A trip to Finland brings other responsibilities even if Number One Son is not travelling with me. I have to deliver photos of our son to different parties so that people like my mother and his godless-mothers are kept well-informed. I also have to stock Number One Son with Finnish book and find new items to his DVD collection. This time I only bought two books but I managed to find two different CDs from his favourite Norwegian cartoon character and a DVD from sympathetic Swedish cartoon makers so I definitely got a good catch. One could say that I even was slightly carried away. Naturally, I have to bring Finnish bread, coffee and chocolate back and in order to give Archaeologist Husband something to make him to cheer up I do buy his preferred liquorice vodka.

Just as a matter of luck, I was flying back on the May Day Eve with all the people getting ready for the big carnival with the first sights of silly dresses in city centre on my way to the coach station and the market place filled with sellers of colourful balloons, toys and snacks. Angry birds were the flavour of the month with different softtoy birds and pigs filling the airport shop. I decided against buying one since I have to get across London in the underground on my way back quite late in the night and I prefer not be dragging a big bird with me.

The return to home made me feel a little guilty, though, since Number One Son seems to have a more volatile period with a lot of tantrums and quickly temper. He really had missed me but as soon as I was back, his father was his favourite again.

Friday, 27 April 2012

The tiredness in parenthood

I read an article in the i, the in the “concise newspaper”, last week discussing the shape of modern relationships. It pointed out how many more mature professionals throw themselves into parenthood in their mid- or later thirties when they have known each other only for a short time. This then results with many of the relationships breaking down when the reality dawns. There will be money and work issues, parenting issues, relationship issues and sleep deprivation. Trying to keep all balls rolling can lead to communication breakdown, bickering and rows.

Trying to concentrate on your own thing and shutting out the extra detail is supposed to be a male thing but I must confess that in order to prioritise my own interests when not spending time with Number One Son means that I can be a bad listener. The previous weekend I did do some gardening in order to put all flower pots in order and to plant some bedding plants. I had bought some marigolds, sweet peas and geraniums. I happily used all empty flowerpots and weeded some green growths from the pots next to our shed. When I invited Archaeologist Husband to see my handiwork (I am not famous for any inclination to do housework), I encountered a horrified comment of ‘where are the flowerpots?’. It turned out that he had planted herb seeds into the pots and I had been weeding basil, thyme, parsley and marjoram over the last couple of weeks. No wonder the herbs he had lovingly been tending had not been sprouting out properly!

I felt horrible and realized that when he had explained the progress of his herb project, I had ignored him and concentrated on reading one of those bumpy weekend editions (newspapers), web editing or working on my laptop. I had totally missed an important pastime in his life. I am gutted! On top of this we are both exhausted all the time since Number One Son – like so many toddlers – is an early bird and normally up at 6am both on weekdays and on weekends. My deep sleep is around midnight whereas Archaeologist Husband likes to have it around 6am. This setup means that he ends up hearing any night time murmurs and be disrupted by me heading to take Number One Son downstairs early in the morning. I am a real dormouse and could sleep up to 12 hours so having a child has left me permanently short of sleep. Thus, we both parents think we get the short straw with sleeping. No wonder I could recognize the patterns in the i article!

The reality is that with parenthood your life changes and you will never be totally sure that your lives are changing at the same pace, in a similar manner or in a way you personally like. You can see that it is a relationship minefield – especially if one’s relationship was still in the more blissful ‘a movie, a gourmet dinner and some drinks in a swanky bar’ phase at the time of conception. Your lothario will not be looking as handsome when he fails to change nappies and disappears for a work trip to Los Angeles for a week or two and your ravishing beauty will seem to turn into a haggard after waking up every two hours 24/7 if and when breastfeeding and will sit opposite you snoring in the breakfast table with baby puke droplets on her shoulder and hair all undone not in a good way.

There are those mythical children who sleep their nights and eat everything. However, the reality is likely to be less rose-toned and more challenging. Most people have real children to bring up and a three-way relationship with real people to nurture. In addition, trying to keep your family in the black in this harsh economic climate just adds that extra dimension to the proceedings.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

My late speaker and his second language

My attempts to bring up Number One Son bilingually are naturally hampered by his natural slower pace of speech development. I have for a long time repeated his strongest English words in order to encourage him repeating them after me although I continue to speak in Finnish most time. This flies against all advice I have been given but I feel that I must help my son to communicate in the language he clearly has chosen for himself. He shows few signs of repeating Finnish words – how different it is with English when he repeats happily different colours, counts to eight or so and name many of the most usual animals. However, after a Finnish school session with an access to other Finnish speakers he tends to say ‘Hei’ instead of ‘Hay’. Sadly, the kids speak English with each other so this improvement is down to the activities of the adult preschool group leader.

Happily, Number One Son has slowly started to tie two words together. His early attempt was ‘This route!’ on the way to the nursery. Sadly, the late intensification of tying two words together has come in the form of ‘Go away!’ said loudly to me so that Number One Son can continue playing with daddy without his mother interrupting the idyllic scenes. I was not a very good player as a child myself so it is not a great suprise that clearly his daddy is much more fun. I am also the ‘bad cop’ parent who is firmer and louder denying Number One Son from having his own way.

Even if Number One Son does not say any other Finnish words than a loud ‘Ei!’ (no to any English speaking readers), he seems to understand his second language well. His English ‘No’ to anything he does not want to do is very firm and clear. He also likes to view Lion king in Finnish and pronounces Rory [the racing car] in a way that is half-way between Rory and his Finnish name-sake Lauri. I am soon heading to Finland and one of the tasks is to buy more classic Disney and Pixar movies in order to give him plenty to watch in his second language. Even if the speech therapists emphasize that children should watch as little television as possible, our early bird needs something to watch at 6am when his mother and father are not properly wake, yet!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Potty anxiety 2

The Easter break gave us an opportunity for another stab in trying to properly potty train Number One Son. He does not voluntarily go onto a potty and is totally hostile towards the toilet bowl – no matter how many toddler rings we have. The things are not helped by my total hate of poo and wee, stemming from the time I worked in the hospitals as a student. Now without the nappy things get easily to the boiling point when I see the signs of the poo alert and try to get some of the stuff to hit something else than the floor or our son’s underwear. I must admit I am totally useless in this. ‘Dirty holidays’ got a totally new meaning.

The toddlers also get canny. Number One Son loves chocolate and we can get him to sit on a potty by waving a small bag of Cadbury’s chocolate buttons. Sadly nothing is actually produced and the potty stays as clean and dry as before. He gets his glorification but I am not sure I am any nearer of seeing the end of pooy pants.

It is clear that otherwise Number One Son is totally ready to drop the nappies and at three it is definitely the time to get him out from them. He knows how to hold his bladder but the long use of nappies means that he does not fathom properly what to do when the pressure gets best of him. Things are not helped by the fact that he will try to avoid potties and toilets. You get the feeling from the general remarks in the media that those parents who have children in their nappies after three years of age are somehow lazy and inadequate. Nevertheless, I was told by one older lady when Number One Son was about one that the boys often stay in the nappies until they are three. Now the nursery has blown the whistle and declared that the nappies will go on next week if no progress is made this week.

I have understood from what other mothers’ are saying that potty training is generally considered one of the least liked experiences in child rearing. I am definitely not alone in this but it does not make it any easier. Boys can be very lazy and find using nappy easy. Late developers like Number One Son naturally are not among the wonder kids who drop nappies at six months and want to go to potty. At that age Number One Son was hardly sitting properly, not alone making any ‘boo boo’ sounds. Our son started to pay attention to his bowel movements after two and half and the attempts in potty training around the Christmas time bit the dust. We were self-evidently trying it too early. He was not ready, yet. Now he might be readier but is fighting against it – both at home and in the nursery. It looks like it will be Parents 0 - Toddler 1.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Two hours of happiness

The weekend saw Number One Son’s birthday party. A childless friend wondered why we put ourselves through the ordeal. As most parents know, it is not truly an ordeal. True, finding a venue, ordering a bouncy castle and dealing with catering take time but it is all worth it when excited happy children sneakily snap a ‘whatsit’ or two or excited guests come down an inflatable slide or beaming toddlers try to catch bubbles.

I must admit we passed a couple of party conventions. I did not even consider doing party bags since it is fiddly, costly and requires you to know exactly who will be coming. We ‘owed’ parties so I wanted to catch a wide selection of nursery mates and friends and to give some open invitations to some groups of friends. I also prefer that the siblings can join, too. It is easier for everybody and if you are paying for the venue and the bouncy castle it is nice to use it to the maximum.

All the children in Number One Son’s nursery group are really good mates – naturally along the boys and girls lines – and enjoy each other’s company. Thus, this birthday party was not about the presents but giving our child some quality time with his friends. A few had been waiting for days for Number One Son’s party. A few good friends could not make it due to a chicken pox epidemic going through the nursery and local elementary school. One of them was really spotty when I took some left over cake over for consolation.

As a chief organizer – yes, this normally falls on to me; guess who organized the honeymoon – I learnt a few new things (to be fair, Archaeologist Husband did keep eye on health and safety and the inflatable bouncy slide in the party while I spread the food onto the tables). For example, Tesco doesn’t do party sandwiches but Sainsbury’s does and the selection is good and they platters are relatively cheap. Tesco’s off-the-shelf cakes are the best and the easiest way to have too much good quality chocolate cake on a budget. Sainsbury's fruit shoots are apparently the only ones with sucralose only without aspartame or Acesulfame K or nasty colorings (why are these bright colourings, banned in the Nordic countries, still used in UK is a mystery to me). Why bother with crudités when grapes and strawberries are popular and give you an impression that your child is eating something healthier than just crisps and cake. Crisps from Aldi are rubbish but their ‘holahoops’, ‘whatsits’ and tortilla chips are good. However, the nasty food surprise of the day gong goes to the Tesco veggie vol au vents that were truly awful, acidy and sharp. No wonder Number One Aunty did not want to take any home...

The bottom line is that with a bouncy castle hardly any other programme is needed. We had a bubble making machine since the mini-mes are still too young to truly pass the parcel without wanting to keep it all but everything would have probably been bumping happily along otherwise, too. Nothing beats a good bouncing with your mates!