Sunday, 22 December 2013

Skype Mom lands home

I can finally spend some quality time with Number One Son as we did yesterday when we took a bus to town from moment’s inspiration after seeing our former neighbour at the bus stop or today when participating in the local NCT coffee group’s excellent Christmas party in Markfield Community Hall. If yesterday we were just walking around and viewing the Christmas decorations and funfair in the pedestrian area in the city centre, today the children were running around, hopping down the inflatable slide, using the toys in the hall, popping the whatsits and grapes and enjoying the disco lights.

One of the Christmas party's attractions

I missed Number One Son’s turn as a camel in the navity play, but I managed to write at least a couple Christmas cards to his class mates. The first school morning after flying back from Sweden and the first morning after a conference trip to Bournemouth were tiresome, since both times the weather made all my plans to go pear-shaped and both times I was home much later than anticipated. Nevertheless, I had been partially lucky on both occasions. On the first occasion my flight was the only one that reached Heathrow from Stockholm. This was thanks to the minister Willetts who flew back from the Nobel festivities on this flight – in the economy class. The arrivals board at Heathrow showed how many other flights reached London; they were from places like New York and Cape Town. Our flight was an anomaly – and we knew why. On the latter occasion my connection from Birmingham was late as well, so I got onto the last train to Leicester. Thus, Number One Son’s teachers and teaching assistants did see a glimpse of me during this term.

Luckily, all the presents are bought and wait for the Christmas Eve to be given to Number One Son. We decided to celebrate two Christmases - Finnish and British. I give my presents first and Archaeologist Husband takes care of the Christmas Day - both the night and day shift. In that way Number One Son will get small presents across one night and two days. I would have died out of happiness as a child from such a practice. This means that he may have been a contender in the 'who got the most presents' competition we had among my childhood friends. I never won, but Number One Son's numbers are brought up by different Godless Parents and pass-me-down DVDs. Nevertheless, it means that the day will be memorable. He is already loving the Christmas tree and the lights.

On a positive note, his speech is also improving and we are having discussions, even if they are still short and consist mainly me confirming that I have understood his words correctly. In any case, this shows significant improvement and his numerical skills are outstripping easily his vocal and literacy skills. I learnt in the TAG that the numeracy and literacy exist separately in the brain, so they can develop separately; one can excel in one and be less impressive the other, but some tasks require both skills. I must thank this morsel of knowledge cognitive archaeologists who try to understand the beginning of counting in the early prehistory. I must say I did not expect archaeology being useful in parenting knowledge dissemination...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Finally a name

Sharing your problems sometimes pays you huge dividends. On my visit to Finland my girlfriend, who I have known since we were in the play group together in the 1970s and who also has a son, listened my son’s difficulties. She said that his difficulty of pronouncing words and their random outcome together with lacking phonemes sound like ‘dysphasia’, a special difficulty related to the language development. It was earlier called dysphasia, but it is often described with the longer description including the words ‘difficulty’ and ‘development’. I am sure our speech therapist has included all these words in her discussions with us and she has tested Number One Son’s syllables and how his ‘k’ sound is still left wanting regardless his love of cars.

December 1 in Finland

Archaeologist Husband has passed me the information from Number One Son’s teacher that his speech is improving. My girlfriend explained that slowly her son found all the sounds and now he only mixes up difficult, similar-sounding words, such as ‘astronomy’, ‘astrology’ and ‘archaeology’.

What I learnt from googling was that this condition is apparently inheritary, but the term covers a range of conditions for which the ultimate reason and total outcome is unclear and can vary. Thus, the change in name from a precise word to a wider, more general description.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Parenting from Whiskey Bar

Keeping regular contact when travelling around for work brings its own challenges to distant parenting. This week I travelled to Finland for a seminar organised annually by the Archaeological Society of Finland. I had two extra reasons for travelling; firstly, to promote the Monographs of the Society (MASF) for which I am the Editor-in-Chief, and secondly, to promote the Nordic Archaeological Theoretical Group Conference at Stockholm, organised by my employing institution. Naturally, I have our session to flock, but to inform my colleagues about the relatively early deadlines for papers and registration (the cheaper registration fee will disappear already on January 11).

I was unsure where I will have an opportunity to skype and I was worried about this, considering how regular our routine had become. I heard that we were to have a wifi connection on the Finland ferry to Turku, so I headed to the direction of the bars and cafeteria that were flagged out for laptop connection. A friendly bartender explained how the connection is normally the best at the certain end of Whiskey Bar, so I ordered a pint and placed my laptop onto one of the bar tables. Getting the connection was easy and I could check the Guardian before logging in to Skype.

So good so far, but I should have known that it cannot be this perfect. I was on a moving boat after all and the picture quality was poor and pixellated and it froze at random intervals. Number One Son was initially happy to see Mummy, but his interest vanished, when Mummy did not move and the sound quality was poor. He disappeared into his room without coming back. Archaeologist Husband informed me that the sound was cutting randomly and he had great difficulties of making any sense of what I was saying. Thus, the skyping session was short and I could head to have my dinner before a comfortable session in my cabin with Miss Marple and salty liquorice.

The following evening I was unable to skype, since I had taken the Christmas presents instead of a laptop to my brothers. They did have a wifi network, but now Skype on their computers, so I ended up upsetting Number One Son who did want to see his Mummy. Luckily, the biological research centre of the University of Jyväskylä did have a well-functioning wifi system, so the peace was restored on the home front after Mummy could fulfil her parental duties. The same was true with my friend’s house, although I managed to lose the image with Skype after mistyping the password. But he could fall asleep to the sound of me reading his bedtime story. Tonight I am waiting to hear, if my return ferry has a wifi service and if I end up skyping in the pub or cafeteria.

The evening ended with a fail, when my laptop decided that a half of the battery life meant that it was totally flat. It shut itself automatically down and I had to text Archaeologist Husband that I had failed.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Guilt of a Skype mom

Now I am slogging through the long stretch from the visit to home in November to leaving for some work and Christmas in England just before mid-December. The weekend that would comfortably be spent at home in England will be spent in Finland instead – partly to go to the Finnish Archaeologist Days, but also to visit my brother and mother. Not to mention my old friends. This time the time I will spend with my mother – first time in more than 18 months – will be away from Number One Son. It is harsh when one has to prioritise.

This visit coincides with the first time Number One Son is truly missing me. He is jumping out of joy when my face appears on the tablet and he is kissing the screen. He is also asking ‘where Mummy is’. It is sweet, but it is also breaking my heart. Things are not helped by the fact that Archaeologist Husband looks tired. Luckily, he has now contracts and work coming in, so at least him staying back in England has paid dividend. In addition, one can detect a slight improvement in Number One Son’s speech. He is asking questions and conversing.

However, this time around I am not so stupid that I will try to subdue my guilt by buying stuff. No, I will buy some Christmas presents from Finland in order to complement the very Swedish ones I have purchased already. Then there will be a lot of peaceful family time over Christmas. Even if I will be just sitting in the background when he is tapping the tablet, I will still be at home and be a presence. Until the mid-January.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The power of ‘surf board’

A tablet computer is called ‘surfplatta’ in Swedish. This term makes me smile a little bit every single time; well, we all use it most to surf, don't we? Number One Son’s godless father has uploaded a photo of him losing the fight against the tablet that shows Number One Son playing intensively with his tablet. Somehow I doubt it was the monkey counting game, even if he does like it as well.

We have now a new favourite at home: the Angry Birds. Number One Son's red mini-Daleks have now taken the role of the red birds, so the cars or whatever is playing the part of the green pigs in his imaginary games are definitely on the losing side. One just wonders, if this smash-up play will wane when the Doctor turns 50 in a week's time and Archaeologist Husband and Number One Son will share quality time together watching the anniversary episode. I just have to hope it will be repeated ad nauseam on BBC3 during the Christmas time, so I will get to see this source of joint joy.

The grasp of the Cars figures had waned already during this rise of the Daleks, but with the emergence of the Angry Birds Lightning McQueen could have lost altogether. However, all his cars and air planes are now involved in elaborate plays where the Dalek stand for good and other characters have been dedicated their own bit parts. This shows that our son is not turning into a 24-hour-playing monster, but learning important skills at the same time. He has finally started to ask me proper questions. Some children have run their parents crazy with their questions - we still have to reach that level.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

It is my turn! Just one more game...

It is surprising how much the daily routines changed when Number One Son got the tablet. Naturally, when I am in Sweden things are not normal anyway – and the mutual skyping was the reason he got the tablet in the first place. However, when at home, Number One Son can be bribed to do things with a promise of getting to play Angry Birds – or by the threat of taking the tablet and the Angly Birds in Space away. More effective than sweets but not necessarily as effective as the promise of jelly.

The scary part is that I quite like Angry Birds and Archaeologist Husband has suggested that downloading the game onto my mobile phone may be the end of my productivity for – like forever! Sometimes Number One Son comes to you offering the tablet and the possibility of playing one round only to take the tablet away before you can begin, since he is lured by the grinning green pigs. Sometimes we end up having a tug of war of the tablet when Number One Son wants to play and I just don’t want to let him to get the tablet just yet. Just one more round!

Some of the levels are more addictive than the others and often you have no idea what the particular birds do, if you poke them or tap the screen. Sometimes the bird just speeds to the opposite direction or disintegrates on the spot. Sometimes you have to know the special capacities in order to get through the level in the first place. If you do not know, you start to play the same level again – and again – and again – and again – and....

The way Number One Son has fathomed how to move the scene and zoom in and out is amazing. He is much better with the tablet than I am. He even often manages to find his favourite programmes on iPlayer. That is the other change. He does not have to wait for his favourite programmes anymore but can normally choose between a series of episodes of Sarah and Duck, Timmy Time, Shaun the Sheep, Octonauts and Abney and Teal. And watch a series of episodes of Swashbucklers.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Partial daily routine fail

After working away for a month I did parachute myself as a mother back home for a week. It was a time to let Archaeologist Husband to attend his friends wedding and take care of some practical work issues, such as the MOT. Thus, I thought that it made sense to spend some time at home before another month away before the conference season and Christmas. It takes a couple of days to acclimatise again and the first school morning was going to be tuff. I was not sure what time I had to be in – I thought at 9 am, but was ascertained it was already earlier. And the pick-up was not going to be at 3 pm, but 3.15 pm.

I did not know Number One Son’s current preferences and I definitely was not certain what steps I had to take and where Number One Son had to put different school-related items. My downfall was going to be the choice of the wrong coat – and not picking up the right sounds from my son’s slightly mispronounced words. He feels deeply for his light blue winter coat we bought him from Finland two years ago. Just how deeply I was going to learn when trying to drag him towards the school in his raincoat. He was crying and screaming and by the first junction – while getting unnerving looks from other mothers heading to their primary schools – I had to admit my defeat and return home. After the change of the coat Number One Son headed happily to the school, even if he had to be prompted and we just made it before the tambourine.

Archaeologist Husband has happily created a new routine around the school times and I took the new mealtime routine little bit shakily. Breakfast is quite straight forward, since Number One Son is an early bird and simply becomes hungry by 7 o’clock. However, it is unclear to me how much he has to eat right after school, when we are going to eat as a family a shared family tea after 5 pm. I cannot starve him, but it is not nice to see him push his plate away at mealtime when he has been munching and snacking on and off after school. Luckily, I had to go to Cambridge on my second day back home, so I face the evening routines more relaxed and briefed next week.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Gold, water, fire and sea

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. In the Historiska Museet in Stockholm Number One Son liked exactly the things I had expected him to. He paid almost no attention to the actual archaeological objects – except when they were the ‘treasure’ in the Gold Room. The most eye-catching thing for him was a video of a waterfall, at full wall’s height. He sat on the floor and stared at the water. He was puzzled by the different shades of blue in the ‘Ice Age Room’ and the videoed fire in the hearth of the Neolithic hut. He got mildly enthusiastic about the models of the Viking Age ships and was happily using the brush in the ‘Excavation Room’. He even matched some clay beads in the images on the exposed surface and the finds cards.

Similarily, sticks, dead leaves and straw was the best at the seaside. He enjoyed throwing small stones to the sea; I did honestly try to keep him from throwing the stones from the boat’s landing place. Luckily, we could find some small stones nearby so he could walk back and forth the landing place and throw the stones one by one to the sea. This activity was done while Archaeologist Husband was preparing for his guest talk in the Classical Studies at Stockholm. During the guest talk Number One Son was kept occupied with the Angry Birds. The same medicine kept him happy in the restaurants during the lunches and dinners. What did the parents – and we – do before the tablets!

We did actually visit a library. But there I had to admit to a helpful member of staff, but we did not really come there for the books when they suggested we could look at their English collection. No, we went there for the alphabet exhibition with an M-slide, an A-climbing ladder and a B-train. We went there for the hiding places, climbing tower and big chairs and the room with the lights in the ceiling where the children could run around on the cushioned seats. We went there to see the other children and their many fathers. There was a lot of running around and the occasions when Number One Son hugged unknown babies and tried to carry them. I had to tell him that they were not ours...

Another big hit were the busses, trams, trains and underground. Number One Son loves public transport, although it pales in comparison with the airplanes. He was a happy boy when he was heading to the security with Archaeologist Husband.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


What is the more traditional way to start a joint holiday than a bout of tummy bug! My bed got a free flow of yuk and the sunny day in Stockholm did not see a stroll of Old Town and a lunch in the city, but a lot of Angry Bird, a lunch in the suburb pizzeria – naturally straight from the 1980s – and a sunny stop in the local playground. Maybe it is just leisurely togetherness we need after a month-long separation.

At the playground

The beginning of the visit saw my mobile battery die before the much awaited couple walked through the arrivals door – this time of Facebook would have required a photo. How tall did my son look and how ruly his haircut! I have been too busy of organising the first school day or working away in Stockholm to notice. He looks like a small boy, now his cheeks totally red out of excitement when he takes turns with his father in playing Angry Birds. The game with strangely Central European music you just cannot securely place anywhere. Hungarian? Polish? German oktoberfestband? A band from Transilvania strengthened with some horns?

The poor boy who was so whacked in the morning that he did sleep until 8 am and just meekly whispered ‘morning time’ instead of jumping onto your tummy looks somewhat better but is prone to lose his perk. He suddenly went all huggy and sleepy in the pizzeria and starts to look glassy eyed little by little. Let’s hope we see Gamla Stan tomorrow morning!

Monday, 14 October 2013

The screaming sound of silence

The daily event that really makes my heart bleed as a mother who tried to bring up her son bilingual is my daily ’Good night’ routine. As you know, this happens over Skype, since I and Number One Son are in the different countries due to my temporary contract. But every night I try to be there at the same time at my lap top and read a stretch of a Finnish or Nordic children’s book in Finnish. And every night I finish with wishing him ‘Good night’.

When I say this in Finnish, he does not react in any way. When I say ‘Good night’ in English, he may answer. At least he will do it when prompted by his father. Nevertheless, those few silent seconds after my ‘Hyvää yötä’ are the longest in my daily life. They scream the fact that my son has made his mind up.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Worried about behaviour

The worst part of being away is the moments when you hear that Number One Son has misbehaved in the school. In his school the reception class children have a special system they enter, if they are naughty and misbehave. Illogically, they get a green card that follows their behaviour after any fracas in the playground. This must be signed by the parent after the school day, so he or she knows how the child has behaved after misbehaving. Three moments of naughtiness and you are out, i.e. you will not get playtime outside. Archaeologist Husband thought this was to be for a week, but apparently it is only for one day. I was wondering before hearing the latest details how the teachers are going to cope with a child who cannot go out for a week and will be bursting with energy...

I am sure Number One Son is not the only child giving smacks to their friends in the playground in the heat of the moment. In a way these systems are good, since they help everybody to learn that certain behaviour is not correct in a big group and you are not supposed to hit anybody. However, how these things are conveyed to a child who cannot communicate fully can be tricky. Luckily, it was obvious that Number One Son knew that he had done wrong. And apparently not allowing him to play Angry Birds helps too!

The thing with these reports of naughtiness is that you are never told who the other child is. On one hand this is good, since you cannot build up a perception of a child that may be wrong. However, when Number One Son was still in the nursery, it was common that he and his best mate were play fighting, smacking or biting each other. It was not right, but we, the parents of both children, knew that they were the best of friends and that the both were quite rough and ready. In those situations it would have been good to be told, since we could have been able to tell both children off simultaneously when taking them home.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Parenting and the ‘antisocials’ at the conferences

This time around we headed all family to a conference at Cambridge. Having a child with us meant that we did look for outside accommodation, since Cambridge colleges are not really meant for families with children. And I do understand, if the people preparing their conference papers at the last minute or trying to get a good night’s sleep before their big day would feel short-changed with the happy shouts of our early bird Number One Son at six o'clock in the morning...

Our life has been so busy with me dislocating to Sweden for a year and Archaeologist Husband keeping the everyday in England running with the school runs, hot evening meals and such like – not to mentioning trying to sort out his work space in the new house – that we had not even remembered to sort out the babysitter we had considered, when we first discussed being in this conference together. Even if it would have been nice to discuss with our colleagues during the candlelit dinner in the college, we had been thinking more about a dinner for two in the city, but in the end we were happy just to oversee that Number One Son got to sleep properly and ate sandwiches and sipped wine while whispering in our hotel room.

Naturally, the socials in the pubs and discussions at the dinner table are part of the conference experience and networking, but as a parent you have to balance all aspects of your life and sometimes prioritising family moments to the networking opportunities. This does not mean that you do not network. No, it just means that you network quicker and in a more decisive and planned manner than previously. Pauses between the papers and the coffee breaks, they become the prime moment for a parent to network. You stop lingering around the edges and walk directly to the people one needs to meet and discuss with. You cannot any more wait until the wine loosens up the inhibitions of your inner wallflower during any of the evening dos, but you have to use your time effectively and speak and act up during the daytime.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Guilt buys

Now I know how those parents working long hours and concentrating single-mindedly on their careers in fancy international firms feel like. After a couple of weeks in Sweden I was heading for home for a brief visit and felt I have to bring a present. I saw this marvellous red knight’s shirt with a golden lion and silvery netting across the sleeves. I could have bought something simpler – like a T-shirt from Gamla Stan, but I wanted to buy something special, something that shows that I care, even if I am away for weeks in one go.

Suddenly I realised that I was trying to give some shiny wonderful thing in lieu of my presence and buy myself a better conscious. And I felt really guilty. However, the guilt was replaced by disappointment when Number One Son showed zero interest to the shiny wonderful thing I thought he would love because of his interest in castles and knights and dragons. But no. And otherwise the reception of mummy back home could be called somewhat lukewarm. At least it was less dramatic than I had imagined. No tears, no shouts nor cries. Just a couple of hugs. He may survive.

Friday, 13 September 2013

My son the Whovian

It is clear that Number One Son is growing, since his ultimate hero has changed from Lightning McQueen to Dr Who. It is clear that he does not worry about the fact that from one Dalek-themed DVD to another the actor playing Dr Who changes and the personality of Dr Who moves from between an oldish dandy to a funnily clad loof. Not to mention the various assistants and sidekicks that range from a man with red hair to the lady who provides nowadays the voice of Tree Fu Tom.

The floting dalek from the Remembrance of the Daleks

Nevertheless, one Dr Who character is above the others: the Daleks. Instead of the many Lightning McQueens our little Whovian is playing with his father's big golden Dalek, with the medium black Dalek and the small red 'baby' Daleks. He has a lego Tardis and a small model Tardis to add to this imaginative play with the Daleks. It is still quite unclear, if he has properly cottoned on that the Daleks are the baddies and Dr Who is really saving the Earth time after time. It really doen't matter as long as he can run around shouting 'Obey! Obey!' or 'Exterminate!'. I think he really would like us the parents to obey...

I even watched with Number One Sonthe special programme on BBC when they revealed the latest, the coming Dr Who. Number One Son jumped up and down with joy when Capaldi was presented as the new Dr Who. Archaeologist Husband did miss that sight, but he is proud of his son and knows that our little Dr Who fan can only be his son. A Whovian from one generation to another!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Skype mom

Now I have entered the select group of parents who are working away from their families and trying to keep up with their children with Skype. It is amazing how a laptop, a tablet and one free service allow families keep contact across the world. It would have been so different in the late 1980s when there were no mobile phones, no Internet and no video link from your table corner.

Using tablet computer to read a bedtime story does not work in practice as well as I imagined it to do. I did not consider that the camera in the front of the tablet is actually quite high up and Number One Son will be lying down in his bed. Thus, when the tablet is beside him, I alternatively see a ceiling or a wall and, if I am particularly lucky, I may catch some of his hair or one eye at the base of my view.

In order to celebrate the country I am visiting, I have chosen Astrid Lingren’s Emil as the reading of my choice. We did not quite finish the Moomin book I had started earlier during the late summer, but I will finish it during my next visit home. Emil is a good choice, since one of my memories from my childhood is to watch it on TV. When in England, the stories in the books remind me of the Nordic summer and winter and different customs and manners we have in the north.

The most horrible part of this new status is the lack of hugs and kisses. You can always say ‘I love you’ and ‘Good night’, but there is no happy ‘smuck’ before the lights go off...

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Parents: a clear fail!

The anticipated day came and Number One Son’s first school day was due. We had all required for the school uniform and we checked the start time from my notes. The morning was sunny, so it was going to be a nice walk to the school for all the family. But Number One Son did not want to have any of it. He really fought against putting any piece of the uniform on and he did not want to come out of the door. We tried to take photos for the greatgrandmother who had asked for them, but he was truly miserable in the one’s took outside the house.

Somehow we were under the misconception that the school day would be six hours from the start. On the way to the school we saw one of Number One Son’s nursery friends with her big brother who was smartly in his uniform, but our son’s friend was in her ‘civil. Clothes and her mother explained how it is a pain that she will only attend that day in the afternoon. Suddenly we were wondering, if Number One Son should even be at the school. But we went ahead.

When we approached the school those people we knew were going to the reception class had parents with nice decorated boxes with Peppa Pig and other figures in a colourful wrapping papers with glitter or photos on top. I started to dread that we had missed not only one thing, but something else, too. When we entered the class room, most adults were carrying decorated boxes. I had to ask Number One Son’s teacher “But what are these boxes”. She told us that there had been a letter that had asked us to make a box with things that told about Number One Son. Archaeologist Husband was totally clueless and I had only faint memory that the word ‘box’ may have been uttered in the induction evening for the parents, but that had been forgotten during our house move.

Still under the impression that Number One Son would be at school until 3 pm, we went to pay for the school lunch. After the payment we walked home and by chance saw the lady who is responsible for the SEN support. She said that the school will finish at 3 pm, if Number One Son is ‘full-timer’. This did not mean anything to us, so we thought all was fine.

At home I found the letter posted to us sometime in late May. It stated that those children born after New Year did only half day the first seven days. Suddenly our plans were drawn anew – and I felt really stupid.

The only consolation was that we could find no sheet with any instructions of a memory box among the folder of papers the school had sent us early in summer. I also heard from another mother that she had given her instructions to a third mother who had not had them. A fourth mother who came later to the park had turned up at school empty handed as well.

I and Number One Son did do a box that afternoon. It was covered with golden wrapping paper and has all the Doctor Whos on one side. The next day - when Number One Son wanted to put the uniform on willingly and was bursting to go to school too early - we noticed that it was the biggest of them all. It was our only box of the approximately right size with a lid. We did not compensate...

Friday, 23 August 2013

Beach lessons

It was marvellous to see how differently Number One Son responded to the seaside this year. Last year it was all about climbing the rocks and marvelling the rock pools whereas this year he wanted to direct the drainage, build sand castles and create moats. Archaeologist Husband ended up doing most of the digging whereas I was providing the water for the moat.

On the first beach day we did not arrive to St. Brelade’s Bay until in the afternoon just before the tide coming and thus the castle and the moat were destroyed by the tide. It was a spectacular view, with the first splash of advancing water pouring into the farthest side of the moat and not all waves reaching the moat, yet. Then, there were a series of serious splashes and suddenly the sides of the moat were collapsing and the castle structure melted to the water. For a moment it looked like Atlantis was going down.

This was nothing in comparison to the large castle a whole family was building nearby. It basically ate itself from inside after some efforts to keep the sides of the moats and banks repaired. In 15 minutes everybody understood more about the workings of tide than in multiple lessons in any class room.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Lasts and firsts

This is a scary and exiting time of life. Our little toddler is not so little any more and tomorrow will be the last day in the nursery. I have bought a card and chocolates for the staff and lollipops for the children to take home. Then in two weeks time it will be Number One Son’s first day in the reception class - first day at school. And after just two full school days I will take a flight in order to start a year-long contract abroad. Archaeologist Husband will take care of the normal everyday and I will be the parent who skypes in the evenings in order to read a goodnight story.

Many parents have asked me how I can do it, but I have put Number One Son – well – number one for four years while trying to build up a teaching portfolio and write up old things. Now I will have 12 months to make a big push and get things published with a proper salary that will keep us afloat. However, I have butterflies in my stomach and we will know how things will turn out after the first two weeks have passed. We will then know, if Number One Son will have taken to the school like a fish to water – or if he will be unsettled. Luckily, I will be back in September for a conference and then there will be a half-term in Sweden. After that it will be regular trips to home - or for Number One Son and Archaeologist Husband a trip to the north to see relatives at Easter and during the summer.

I suddenly realised that our Aquatots session I have done with Number One Son, since he was just three months old, was going to be our last. Similarly, a play session in the local Sure Start centre was the last one. Now it is the countdown until our short holiday in the south – around Brighton and in Jersey in order to see relatives. Then it will be the time for the ‘big school’.

Number One Son has suddenly grown tall, but his speech is still at the level of a two-and-half-year or three-year-old. One reason he cannot come with me is that he will have special support in his future primary school – just what he needs for the future.

Now he also has a clean haircut; Archaeologist Husband took Number One Son to the barbers for the very first time. We have been scared to take him before due to the communication gap, but now it was the time. Archaeologist Husband has been clipping his hair and the result has been ‘modernistic’ to put it politely. Most of the time his hair has been quite long. But now Number One Son is presentable for his Grandpa and Great-Nana. Barbers may feel like a small step, but it is a symbol for the things to come.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Patronising and out of touch

Even if I could not cut it as a stay home mom, I cannot understand how the treasurer can say that being a stay home mom (or dad) in Britain is 'a lifestyle choice'. In a country where childcare is extremely expensive many families where there are two children are in a situation where it does not necessarily make any sense for one parent to work, if one has to travel to work and the children are small. A millionaire can afford to make lifestyle choices when working does not actually create overcoming travel or other costs.

In addition, at least in the Nordic countries the conservatives normally are singing from the song book that emphasises the importance of the motherhood and encourages all mothers (yes, mothers only) to stay at home when the children are small. Not in Britain. In Britain the noble thing to do is to work in all circumstances. Well, the British conservatives as a party do not seem to resemble much the kind of conservatives you have here in the villages. They do not appreciate the countryside and peace. They do not deride wind farms, fracking, endless new planning permissions in order to build houses in greenfield sites in places where the road infrastructure is already struggling. They do not appreciate libraries, playgrounds or youth clubs. Apparently, they would be happy if the plebs just would work endlessly on zero-hour contracts...

Thursday, 1 August 2013

From things to action

The character of the speech therapist appointment became clear this week. Number One Son’s verbal communication skills, understanding and pronunciation were assessed. He did not perform as well as he sometimes does at home, but his problem areas were very clear. He is not very good with comparisons or negations and did always choose the alternative the speech therapist negated.

Number One Son communicates mostly with nouns. When the speech therapist tried to get him to say that a girl was cutting a cake, he just said “Cake” and pointed at it. When he was shown a baby crying he was repeating “baby, baby” enthusiastically. Thus, his grasp of verbs is poor and now we have to change the way we support his speech.

So far, it has all been about “red cars” and “black cats”. Now we have to emphasize action. It will be “cat running” or “boy playing football”. I have to start describing what he is doing – or what mummy or daddy are doing – so that it will all be related to his own life and physical action.

The unfortunate part with the appointment was that since it was in Coalville, I changed Number One Son’s nursery days. Naturally, it was pouring down and instead of having an active day at the Rothley station, we admired the iPlayer and the possibility of seeing ‘Sarah and Duck’ again and again and again and...

Friday, 26 July 2013

What did he say?

A novelty approach to Number One Son’s speech development is by his peers who ask me to tell them which language he is speaking and what he says. Of course, I have to say that, actually, he is speaking English, which they are quite surprised of. After all, I am pretty good in telling him off in Finnish, which they can definitely hear is a foreign language. And no, most of the time I do not have a clue what he is saying. There is some hope, since he is pronouncing some words and expressions better. For example, ‘ice cream van’ is the new favourite every time he hears the easily recognisable jingle. However, if he says ‘pain’, most of the time he means ‘train’. Thus, it is easy to see why it is difficult for everybody to understand him and why there is confusion.

However, he wants to discourse, which is more than this time last year, so it is definitively progress. Next week I have an appointment with his speech therapist. I am not sure what will happen. It may be a first of the sessions to improve his pronunciation. It may be the proper referral session, so his support at school will be official. Or it may be a routine assessment. I will see.

I think, if the weather is good, we will go and see steam trains again. We did use the Great Central Railway’s family offer and rode the train on a discounted fare. Number One Son wanted to go to the children’s rides temporarily set up at the Rothley station and drive Thomas on the Garden Railway. I was not sure how well he will take to the instructions, but afterwards I thought I may be downgrading his ability and have to go and give him an opportunity. In this way I can also span the fun across multiple days!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Lost to a TV programme

In the short term Number One Son’s life will be defined by the parents who will take turns in being away. Archaeologist Husband is half-way through his first stay abroad, wondering if he will get to visit the second project he is involved with over the weekend. He will soon after returning fly for another stint, that time for a week only, for an interesting training project.

Nowadays, families are blessed to have Skype in their use; parents can keep in touch with their children in another country and hear what has happened home and away. It is unbelievable that it was only twenty years ago, when one did not even have mobile phones, but had to call from abroad using telephone call cards in public phones. Now one only needs a computer linked in Internet in both ends and one can discuss with video. Hearing the cicadas and all.

So far so good until last night when Number One Son was extremely tired and the time slot for Daddy’s Skype call coincided with a children’s programme that had already started and that is part of Number One Son’s bedtime routine. After a couple of minutes listening to the screams ‘No Dad’, ‘No Dad’ and after exchanging the quickest of the countdowns of daily happenings, he threw his towel to the rink and we finished the call. And the silence fell, when the children’s programme was resumed. Lost to a children's programmes. The juniors do have their priorities.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

'Graduation ceremony'

Americanisation of European culture continues. This is not only a phenomenon in Britain or Finland, but concerns other countries as well. However, here at home we and some other parents were slightly dismayed when we were informed that the children starting reception class this autumn will have a graduation ceremony. Graduating from what? Preschool? They also had a photo taken with a home-made paper gown and a board. More Mid-western high school than Oxbridge college I say...

We and the other parent we talked to had decided not to air our doubts, because after all the whole occasion was for the children. This was an extra occasion for seeing all parents in one place. In the end it turned out that it was quite simple. Their names were read in the alphabetical order of their first names and they went to receive a ‘certificate’, which was more of a ‘thank you for having been here’ variety. Then we all had a picnic in the baby room (where the babies were was a mystery – probably where the preschoolers normally are). Predictably, the white shirt had not survived to the occasion after lunch, so Number One Son’s ‘best party clothes’ were not as supreme as in the morning...

Sadly, we had to be bad parents and leave Number One Son in the nursery after the event that was on a Friday after lunch, since we had errands to run. I was advised against taking Alex to a cook shop, and boy, Archaeologist Husband was correct! After house move one needs surprising items and while looking for spice racks is quite safe, when it is done in an environment where you have pottery items, large knives and glasses, it would be a nightmare. Luckily, the birthday parties during the sunniest weekend in memory wiped any bad feelings from part of Number One Son.

Thursday, 4 July 2013


I and Archaeologist Husband were worried how Number One Son would take the new house. We should not have been! He really enjoys the fact that the staircase is with angles, so we could get rid of the baby gates and he can get to the toilet when he wants to in the morning. He can now freely climb the stairs and move between upstairs and downstairs.

His room is not filled with our chest of drawers and wardrobe, but has only his toys inside. We will need some more furniture, but that will not be a problem. Sooner or later, when the time and money matters allow, the piles of clothes will vanish.

We now have a garden that does not have the right of way of two different neighbours. The lawn is not in shadows most of the day, but draws full sunshine facing south. It also has a spacious patio area next to the kitchen in the shade.

Number One Son was upset by the emptiness of our previous home, when I showed it to him on the moving day after it had been emptied and cleaned. I hoped to give him closure with the old place and a sense of not belonging there anymore. His little shouts of ‘hempty’, ‘hempty’, while moving from one empty room to another were slightly heartbreaking, but afterwards when we have tried to fetch any post, he has just wanted to go home from the empty house. He also enjoys his longer walk to the nursery with passing cats, alley ways and interesting cars and trailers.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Parents’ school induction: praise for a county council school

It is scary – very scary. Number One Son will start Reception Class in late August and we parents had an induction last night. One has to move proceed from a simple toddler mode to something more advanced. The Early Years Foundation class look pretty much like the room at the nursery, but Number One Son have to still brush up a couple of skills in order to be prepared for a new environment. Luckily, he can put his socks on now, if he really wants to. If there is something interesting enough outside, he will also master his shoes in no time. But coat is still beyond his capabilities.

As a Finn, I am totally lost at sea with the school uniform and had to ask REALLY stupid questions from the school administrator about purchasing their crested sweatshirts and bags in the near future. First time ever I heard the words PE kit said to me and Archaeologist Husband. This was something I may have overheard in the sitcom Outnumbered. Luckily, the induction pack comes with lists of compulsory items (with photographs). Now it is down to trying to figure how many shirts and pairs of trousers Number One Son will be trashing in a week.

One element we were made feel more comfortable about is the practical help in encouraging Number One Son’s speech development. The school has a classroom assistant who is trained speech therapists, so he will get two short special sessions a week. Where other parents can have sensible discussions with their offspring we are still doing very basic tying up words together as in ‘dog gone’ and ‘Tom home house’. It is a mystery to us what he thinks about going to school and if he knows what a school is. He does not usually answer to our question about how his day has been, so we are not totally sure who he counts as his best friends now. He makes progress all the time, but we cannot always understand what he tries to say - to the frustration of both parties.

The situation where you have an educated classroom assistant who is helping children in need of help with their speech and pronunciation monitored and helped by a county council speech therapist makes me think about the new policies on stand-alone primaries with an academy status and the promised cull of classroom assistants. They are doing a good job here and now the government tries to close down these existing services and make schools to cobble together some kind of provision – if there is enough money in the academy budget. How lucky we are with Number One Son’s school! And just a thought that it may be at just the right time makes me shiver...

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Mr Grumpy

Sometimes driving with Number One Son is far from fun. There is this window in the late afternoon when his blood sugar is low and he starts to be tired of all the activities during the day. This time of the day coincides with the time when you normally are returning from different places. If it is the Finnish Saturday School on every other Saturday or a visit to the park on Sunday. When walking, you have to drag or trick your off-spring to follow you. If you are driving, you may have more noise than you have bargained for.

Just today I was returning from a shopping trip - against Number One Son's will. Even going to the shopping centre was too much - which I can understand - but you cannot avoid necessary purchases. I am sure he would have liked to have a pop to the museum or to the city farm instead. Naturally, being a weekday after his nursery, it was also the time all the workers were returning home from the Walkers factory nearby. Not only did I have to queue, but also listen to the continuous chorus of 'No, no, no', Followed by my repeated 'yes, yes, YES'. Slowly, slowly, the resistance was futile.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Finding their limits

Some teachers and commentators have lately called for adults to let children to find their limits and even to have small bruises in order to get an idea of the dangers and possibilities of the world. I have previously in my blog discussed the fact that I would love my son to do more rock climbing and enjoy nature fully – but I just cannot bare watching, since I am dead certain that the next step will lead to a fall down the nearest cliff. I was reminded of this feeling this Bank Holiday Monday.

It was a glorious day – not your average rain-washed Bank holiday. Unlike the every grey day afterwards. It was starting to be cooler and windier, but the sun was shining brightly and momentarily in a more covered spot one could feel the heat. Archaeological Husband had naturally fallen ill exactly the moment the long weekend started, so everything was slightly mooted and the farthest one would consider wandering was driving to Bradgate Park.

After taking Number One Son to the Finnish School on Saturday and to see dinosaurs on Sunday, it was time to have a walk in the park. When looking at Number One Son falling flat on his belly on the tarmac after trying to come down, a.k.a. unwillingly running down, a steepish slope, I realised how little he has actually faced the elements. This has not been helped by the longest winter ever. It is late May and it has been so cold. Number One Son insisted having his winter hat, scarf and gloves on one morning this week before heading to the nursery!

Nevertheless, in Bradgate Park I found a spot where I can let Number One Son to learn how to deal with the elements. A stream runs through the park and in one of the bends after the waterfall water is not too deep and the sides of the stream are not too high. It is a perfect spot to let Number One Son to take his shoes off and leaving his trousers behind (after they became wet) and paddling in the stream. At least he learnt that the stones in the rivers are slimy and it is easy to slip. Luckily, I had change for him with me, so I did not have to return to the car with a drenched son!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not listening – no problem with ear hearing!

Now it has been scientifically proven that Number One has no problems with his hearing, so any moments of not hearing are totally related to his ‘selective listening’. Funnily enough, recently there was an article online in a Finnish newspaper about the children between about three and six years of age who ignore regularly their parents. Poor parents feel like talking to the walls, but it is apparently just a phase.

At least I and Archaeologist Husband have learnt to confiscate whatever toy Number One Son is fidgeting with at any moment, if he refuses to listen to our suggestions to go to bed, have lunch or fetch his shoes so we can go out from the house. If the toy is dear enough, we may be making progress to the right direction. Literately tempting our son towards the wanted direction.

Nothing is worse than a headstrong son. Firstly, you see your own stubbornness reflected on you. Secondly, you have to live with the consequences. Recently, I made a mistake to go one afternoon to a bookshop in the centre to use a book token. Sillily, I expected Number One Son to listen to the reason and follow me back to the parked car after our fleeting visit to the History and Children’s sections. No – I had to carry him in the end, since the paid time was almost up and the parking wardens have been lately more than active. Scarily so. Heading towards the museum and park way would have been more for his taste.

Nothing quite makes you feeling unsure as a parent as the passing police when you try to drag your screaming outspring pass their car...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A parent on the go

It is tough both for both parents when their child falls ill and the other parent is away. I got an advance notice what will lie ahead, when Number One Son suddenly fell ill, while I am travelling from one place to another in order to fulfil work and other commitments. One will happily attend a conference or work away when one knows that everything is fine and childcare will provide decent working hours for the other half.

Only the phone messages tell about the agony in the other end, while the other party tries to get ahead with the task in hand. When one does not see one’s child, there is no tangible idea how ill the child is and how deep is the unhappiness and possible sheer pain. A parent can only hope that the other party does not become too tired to cope in the short term.

The situation is not so bad when one can head to home in the evening and comfort the child and give the other parent a respite. However, if one has to run off the following days in order to keep the promised work commitments and the other half can only keep holding the 'baby', there will be guilt. Hopefully not blame, if the other half at home does not face too much of a loss of income.

Potentially, this situation will be lived as a long-distance reality in one season’s time. This thought is scary, but unfortunately, during these harsh economic times, one has to try to ‘bring in the bacon’. Of course, Archaeologist Husband may get his revenge when he will be working abroad during the summer and I will look after Number One Son.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The importance of support

After Number One Son started to misbehave in the nursery, we approached the speech therapy services and asked for more support. As a result we got a long extra home visit that has been really beneficial, since we got advice relevant to the current developmental phase Number One Son is going through. Archaeologist Husband was present during the visit as well, so we had intensive training into the correct strategies and the speech therapist could assess Number One Son’s speech properly.

Now we know to apply input modelling in order to improve his pronunciation and try to introduce more verbs – partly helped by the game cards found under his bed when cleaning up. Storing all the presents and keeping his room at least in some order means that you forget what he actually has. Now we can play with delightful Finnish animal cards. It is good to have relatives and ‘godless parents’ who remember Number One Son.

It seems that his developmental progress is the key element to the new gains. Now he happily repeats words and goes ‘mm-mmm’ with you. Six months ago this was a distant dream and I was getting frustrated explaining everything in two word simple sentences and supporting his English while trying to keep his passive Finnish skills intact. Now he even occasionally repeats a word of Finnish. Not often, but ‘Ei’, ‘No’ in Finnish comes quickly if he really does not want something.

What does this learning curve teach us? It shows that one has to keep asking for support and inform authorities of any negative changes. With the normal schedule of monitoring visits, the speech therapist would have realised the need for support well into the summer term, and Number One Son would have got improved help only by the time of the reception class entry. One now only wonders how the families shy to ‘cause trouble’ or insist for help are managing to get support is anybody’s guess. Same question was aired by another NCT mother, whose child has a joint condition that was only spotted after they asked their GP for a referral to a pediatrician after the child did not learn to walk properly.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

School induction already!

Suddenly my baby has grown so much he is going to go to the reception class in September. How daunting when he still does not pull together proper sentences and runs around and is not listening the nursery assistants like a three-year old. More alarmingly, it seems that I will be a working away researcher mother that adds an extra butterfly to my tummy. However, one archaeologist has to have a steady salary, and although the coming position will be only for a year, I will be partly clearing the decks and partly looking for and testing new ideas. One never knows: may be they will be able to offer us a small family flat, but it seemed unlikely when I asked the accommodation office.

Any way, now a busy archaeologist mum has to put her sight to more earthly matters and scrub the toilet and head for a birthday party picnic after that.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Bad behaviour

Number One Son’s behaviour has taken a turn to the worst and our bet is that this has to do with the frustration of not being able to communicate effectively with his peers. He makes progress, but it is still painfully slow, even if Archaeologist Husband did notice a clear difference over a couple of days he was away in the TRAC. Nevertheless, our son is far behind from the other children, who converse in full sentences and can tell their parents what has happened during the nursery day. Number One Son may be conversing, but we cannot decipher most of it.

When trying to understand what is happening, it turned out that we at home have been using totally different language in telling Number One Son off from the nursery. They have had problems when Number One Son throws a tantrum or pushes other children, and worse. When they have put Number One Son apart, he has not stayed 'on the naughty spot' and has not understood the significance of the practice. I asked them, if they make it explicitly clear that he has been naughty, it turned out their house practice does not allow using that word and they say ‘you have been very silly’. Many families may use this expression, but we do not. For us, as the children of the 1970s, silly is a walk by a tall Monty Python and refers to funniness. Thus, the message may have been totally muddled.

Now we are trying to incorporate the silly word and ‘brainwash’ Number One Son not to push other children. He is in the phase in his personal journey where he tries to rule the roost, so everybody has to be very firm and consistent.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Steam trains a plenty

The last weekend of Easter holiday ended up being a railway themed. A friend who is also the organiser of the local NCT coffee group sent a text circular telling people that there was a model railway event in the ‘poo’ museum, a.k.a. Abbey Pumping Station. This turned out to be an exciting visit for Number One Son. He got really excited joining the other boys in following the travels of a plastic poo in the model toilet and drain. The museum itself was interesting and gave the children a lot. Not only the definite ‘poo demonstration’ but also other machinery and the original decorated features of the pumping station itself.

However, the real draw was the marvellous model railways presented by different local societies and private hobbyists. Number One Son really enjoyed the model of a harbour in Yorkshire made in a year by a model railway society member from Syston. It combined tiny model trains, painstakingly prepared harbour scenery and boats. The older children could help in operating the model, which was ace for them. Suddenly, I got a glimpse of a possible future where the local model train shop will get a new small customer...

Even better was the ride on the narrow track railway on site. It was marvellously sunny day after the greyness of this ‘cold spring’ and the surreal sight of the Space Centre added to the experience. It just then occurred to me that even if we have had a ride on the Great Central Railway with Number One Son, he has never travelled with train. We have to take him to the British Museum relatively soon.

On Sunday I could not resist going to the Rothley Station to check their outdoors model railway and see a real full-sized steam engine in operation. Number One Son was so excited following the stopping train in the Charnwood Forest (Garden) Railway that he was running back and forth checking the end points. He also enjoyed playing with Thomas the Tank Engine outside the cafeteria as well. The real engine made him hopping in excitement. We waited two services to pass so he got a good look. Although he did not appreciate I did not allow him to run to the track in front of the stopped engine but kept the gate hooked!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Looking for Richard

Masses of people have visited the exhibition on the finding of the remains of Richard III. Now with the Easter bank holidays we as a family were drawn towards the presentation. Naturally, Number One Son probably would not care a bit of the panels or information, but Guildhall is a beautiful Medieval Hall and the cobbled courtyard would have given him an unusual place to explore.

Leicester's Search for a King (Leicester City Council)

But it was not going to be. We had hoped that the variable weather and the coldness had kept people away from the centre. The New Walk Museum was definitely less crowded than I expected, but that may have something to do with their children’s area and the Egyptian collection being closed for some building work next door. The dinosaurs the small boys come to see anyway were there and the computer graphics and joysticks were once again roughly manhandled by our toddler. But appreciated, much appreciated.

After spending quite a lot of the holidays indoors due to the grey and chilly weather, we wanted to have a proper walk and let Number One Son to have enough exercise to give him a good night’s sleep. Thus we continued down the New Walk towards the Cathedral. Just when we entered the Cathedral precinct, the snowflakes started to float in the air. We had just one look at the not-so-long-but-long-enough-when-holding-an-impatient-small-boy queue and decided to return to the car. Richard can and will wait. Unless he goes to York after the court case.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Pirates ohoy!

Number One Son’s birthday party this year could have not been more different from the last year’s. Last year all the children from his nursery group were invited to a big party in a hall with a bumpy castle. This year we had a small party for his best friends in our house. It was slowly snowing outside and the temperature was freezing, so there was no egg hunt in the garden. The bubble machine arrived two days after the party, but that had been better to use outside in sunshine – that was not on offer.

Last year it was partially overcast, but it was basically a T-shirt wearing day. This year one would have been blue in a couple of minutes without a coat. People arrived with skiing suits and warm hats. Wellington boots were a hot ticket.

The theme was pirates, but Number One Son refused to have his costume on. Anyway, for him it was more important that he could jump up and down with his best mate. Archaeologist Husband had baked a treasure chest chocolate fudge cake filled with fruit sweets and chocolate coins. It was a sure hit with all the mothers who apparently wanted to have Archaeologist Husband to come and bake their birthday cakes as well!

The food hit among the children was the bright orange cheese puffs. They vanished without a delay. Grapes were popular, too, and all the kids liked to drink their juice from their cartons with straws. Just when the atmospheric temperature was rising after all the children had eaten a lot of salty and sweet treats, I draw my ace from my sleeve. I had found pirate sticker packs from Poundland and all the guests became visibly more concentrated and relaxed when sticking treasure chests onto island scenes or pirates onto a sea map. We avoided any accidents or children starting to fight when the children did not get overexcited. Only one kid was missing a bumpy castle, but perhaps next year...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Praising Finnish Saturday Schools

Being a Anglo-Finnish bilingual family is made a lot easier by the international network of Finnish Saturday Schools. These Saturday Schools are not unique, since the Germans have their own Saturday Schools and the Chinese tend to teach their children communally Chinese. The Finnish state sponsors through the Finland Society fortnightly lessons during the ‘Finnish’ term time between September and May/early June for children with a Finnish parent or two. Finn-Guild and the Finnish Church in Finland are essential to provide training and support for the teachers on annual courses.

These schools cannot teach children who mainly speak English, who are spoken very little Finnish or have decided to speak English Finnish. Not the lessons are not frequent enough without an extra input at home, but they help to maintain the existing language skills, meet children in the same situation and just have plain fun by running around during the break and playing games and participating in activities during the lessons.

The schools often mark the main national celebrations, such as the Independence Day in December, May Day in May – or May Day Eve – and Midsummer and have special parties. The last is often the biggest celebration back in Finland, but many families cannot join the bonfire night in Finland, since it is school term time in England. Thus, a barbecue in UK is a fun day out in late June.

This praise is not only because I happen to be in the committee of our local school and have been updating our East Midlands web site for a couple of years. No, I would be happy about the Finnish peer support, even if I only popped in for an occasional coffee...

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Bad mother...

I and Archaeologist Husband realized last week that we really have to plan Number One Son's birthday party. You have to give the invitations at least two weeks before. We managed this after opting for an intimate home party (‘intimate’ in this case referring to the size of our front room – estate agents would say ‘bijou’). Somehow the actions where left for me, but that does not matter so much, since I quite like parties. At least I got it right this time.

There are small things I miss when dropping Number One Son to the nursery. The continuous flow of different charity activities normally passes me totally by. I do not bake – mainly from the consideration for the others – and I dare to say that I am not that excited about the Children in Need or Red Nose Day. However, I really have to start pay attention to these dressing up days, though, since children actually like them. I managed to take the costume to the nursery after dropping Number One Son there. I even managed to be without handing in my contribution afterwards – nobody collected the money and reminded me at the end of the day. Or the beginning of the next.

However, I have totally forgotten about providing Number One Son a drinks bottle to the nursery. Since the nursery has been handing out the old ones, I was wondering, if they had started to make the children to drink from the cups or mugs as Number One Son does at home. I had just finally realized that the bottle I had taken to the nursery a long time ago had somehow wandered back to our home. My assumption of ditching the bottles meant I did not leap into the action. On the contrary. However, about a week ago I realized that the bottles are still there and Number One Son was slurping from some random bottle. Thus, I managed to buy a bottle that duly wandered back to our home. Luckily, I managed to get the slippers in a long time ago. After contemplating it for weeks...

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Drawing and painting

For a long time Number One Son was totally ignorant of pencils, pens, paints and crayon. He was not apparently interested in colouring or holding a paint brush. In a playgroup I could manage to get him to stick absent-mindedly a couple of stars onto a paper, but then he normally wondered off. Similarly, toy cars were always preferable to a sing-along-a-song, and I ended up learning all the English nursery rhymes and songs while Number One Son was running away from the point of action. Keeping him sitting down was a chore.

Suddenly, all has changed profoundly. He absent-mindedly joins a familiar song in a playgroup, although he is still more likely to wrestle with pillows or go and look for a toy car. With his slowly improved talking, he has also found a flair for paints. We customarily keep paint bottles visible in his room and he quite often asks for a paper and paints for a while for surfaces of colours or smiley faces or crosses and zigzags.

It just seems that with the creative activities and music just as with anything in Number One Son’s development everything is related to the point when he is ready and decides voluntarily to start doing something. As a parent, you get a lot of brainwashing about the beneficial effect of singing, listening to stories and crafts to early learning. It is so easy to feel guilty, when your son just likes to run and be physical. Nevertheless, the right time for everything is crucial and it seems the right time is so personal that there is no point ‘forcing’ involvement in educational activities when there is no interest. You want to keep their enjoyment and excitement in crafting and creativity.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Night terrors

You can be almost 100 % sure that any major inconvenience will happen when you are extremely busy. Last week I missed my blog, since there were more important urgent matters and any early morning I normally can scribble my thoughts down while Number One Son is doing his early bird act was spent by having a snooze by all family.

Number One Son had a bug going through his system and his sleep pattern was all over the place. Recently, he has also had an occasional night terror – sometimes also during the day time when having a rare afternoon nap. Night terrors are apparently quite common with boys and they are basically random night time screamfests, when your child does not wake up but keeps crying and possibly screaming for a time, normally around half an hour. Hugely alarming when it happens for the first time and very irritating when you know what is happening. Neighbours are definitely not happy. Back rubbing helps sometimes and settles him down. Sometimes he regains semi-consciousness and finds a more comfortable position.

Last week Number One Son was generally feeling uncomfortable during the nights, so apart from the general stirs and cries during the night, there was a night terror or two. One night was especially bad and of course it was the night before the day I had to finish a major grant application. Basically, after a badly slept night I was copying and pasting figures to a budget sheet, totally aware that there was an item I should have included, but was feeling so spaced I just could not fiddle with the figures. I knew that in its current state all the figures added up and I knew what the figures contained. I just did not have the confidence to change the figures, since I was afraid to make a last minute mistake. Well, after reading the Himanen proposal that got €700,000 from different foundations and organisations in Finland with the most rounded of estimates and calculations, I probably should have just added an extra €10,000 for a conference without even breaking any sweat and estimating the true costs...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Kingdom and horses

This week’s combination joke could make fun out of the fact that Richard III has been confirmed to have been parked in Leicester and the beef in many processed foods seems to be horse rather than cow. Shakespeare put the words “kingdom for a horse” to the mouth of the infamous king, but today it is more like “horse for a kingdom”. Or more correctly, one could joke, if the matter was not as serious as that. If we are fed something else than promised on the label, it is fraud.

The industry, FSA and the government seem to be playing ball with the responsibility. The conservative-led government, clearly ideologically bent towards a small state apparatus, says that ultimately the retailers are responsible for what they have on their shelves. One of the meat processors in Britain says that it is the responsibility of the FSA to tell what kind of meat is safe for human consumption. Findus was slightly sluggish in withdrawing their ‘beef’ lasagnes from the supermarkets as was Waitrose in informing us that they have withdrawn a batch of 'beef' burgers with pork.

Now some of the horse has been tracked to Romania and the meat was used by a French company who passed it to the actual French lasagne-makers for their Luxembourg plant to use. The episode has resulted with photoshoped images of cows cursing the horses [the Romanians] coming here to steal our jobs. The laughter masks the seriousness of the situation and reminds of the unpleasant undertones in current discussions. We will know only in April if there is horse in school and hospital meat dishes. The government is passing the responsibility to the local level, although the health minister is ultimately responsible for the NHS and in that way for the catering there. Nobody can guarantee anything in the world of international food trade. Worryingly, the government does not recognize that with a ‘Food Safety Agency’ they should be safeguarding the nation. Now when it seems that some meat processing plants were also stretching the definition of beef and lamb to include horse, strong regulatory body is needed.

If there is ‘bute’, the horse medication in the meat, the whole episode takes a more sinister turn. As a Finn, I have no objection to feed my child horse if it is good quality (and preferably it comes in the form of a cold cut as is customary in Finland). Suddenly, I am faced with a dilemma with some burgers in my freezer. Number One Son likes them and they are 98 % meat with some salt and black pepper. They are probably OK and I have already previously admitted feeding him processed burgers. The government has been saying that we should continue to eat processed beef dishes, since there is no proof that they are ‘contaminated’ (= actually not beef at all) or at least 'bute' is not harmful for all. Cameron has suggested that he would be eating manufactured lasagne, although where he might do this is unclear. As a millionaire, he has the money to source organic beef from a specialist butcher for all his family’s needs. It is just normal people wondering, if their children are munching beef or horse at school.

Anyway, I think it will be safest to feed Number One Son with something that at least superficially looks like chicken strips or white fish. Friday will bring more lab results, so then we may be a bit wiser.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Challenging behaviour

No parent like to hear that the apple of their eye is misbehaving. This is true with us as well. Number One Son has started to dare us more, push his mates and try all kinds of things, partly to annoy adults but partly to test different actions and bodily functions. Yesterday's surprise was a double test of spitting his nursery mates faces. Normally he has been kissing them, but he has been spitting a lot otherwise, too. He knows we do hate it and tell him off. Luckily, he was made to apologise and he did duly so.

A nurse friend has mentioned that boys get their first rush of testosterone around four, so this may be a sign of things to come. Number One Son's speech is finally coming along (in English) and he starts to be more argumentative in his special two-syllabic way. Food is often wrong, unwanted bits are thrown on the floor and trips to shops see crisps related meltdowns. Trying to get good manners to stick is probably the craft of the parents, so that your child will be socialised properly. Toddlers may find being naughty funny, but they do not realize that in the long term, their friends will find unpredictable crassness and tantrums wearing and the bad behaviour will have all kinds of social consequences.

One parent being away may reinforce bad behaviour or reintroduce behaviour you thought they were already passed. Number One Son suddenly started bed-wetting again for a couple of nights when I was away. Nevertheless, even if I feel sad about short-term setbacks, taken into consideration the continuous early mornings at home, it was so nice to sleep for a couple of nights! I am not the first parent who goes to conferences for a sleep, not for having a knees-up...

Friday, 25 January 2013

Snowed in and out

This week has seen the winter weather taking a grip of England. Archaeologist Husband has continued to work at home whereas I have driven through the white dusted landscape in the countryside from one village to another. I had to postpone my library and admin day at Cambridge due to the heavy snow fall, but the Finnish School was on on Saturday as normal – although most of the non-Leicester members stayed away. Now I am reading the weather forecasts with an interpretative eye and assessing, if I manage to drive around properly in the coming days. It is getting warmer, but more snow has been forecast.

Number One Son has been delighted of snow. At weekends when he sees snow falling, he wants to go out and make snow balls. He has not quite grasped the principles behind the right climate conditions for making snow balls, but he is slowly realising that snow gets everywhere and zero temperature results with damp mittens. And he is slowly gathering that the damp mittens become cold mittens and cold hands. His insistence of going down the helter-skelter in the park, although I told him it was wet, stopped when he realised that it WAS wet. He is grasping the ideas of observation and causality. In the same way he stopped refusing to put the new slippers on in the nursery, when he observed that the old indoor shoes were too small and he could not put them on himself. The lights are starting to come properly on upstairs and he is making his own observations and practical conclusions of the wider world.

One Finnish mother living in England was wondering why the other English mothers are not taking their children in the park any more. She has only seen some Polish and Baltic mothers. I have also noticed that when Number One Son happily runs around making snowballs, there are practically no other children around - just some teenagers playing with their snowboards and adult dog walkers. Some parents pass by with their children with sledges – either they are going to the shop or one of the nearby slopes to sledge. Naturally, it is easy for Number One Son to go out, since he has a Finnish outdoors winter outfit and winter boots. I keep fingers crossed that the slightly tight boots will fit until the end of the cold spell. After the mild winters of the noughties, the current decade seems to have seen the return of the proper winters and one has to plan for next winter’s proper clothing.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

All family visits the University

Archaeologist Husband and I went to see the family event at the University of Leicester that coincided with the international Society for Historical Archaeology conference. I had tried to arrange to meet a Finnish colleague in the conference, but not having her mobile phone number was working against me when the attendants of the conference were kept busy with a full programme and important occasions for networking.

While Archaeologist Husband ran around The Square of the Peggy Gee building (Student Union) after Number One Son, I managed to exchange pleasantries with my other Finnish colleagues who were attending the conference and discuss the ongoing professorship filling process at the University of Oulu. A discussion had arisen in the social media about the lack of female applicants; if only the female postgraduates did have the same nerve to apply different posts as their male colleagues do. It seems that this lack of applications is partly due to personal circumstances of some more experienced candidates and the lack of awareness among the junior ones that these occasions give an opportunity to log in an interest. It is apparent that some potential candidates did not realize that the process may involve them and did not consider applying. It is possible that the recent emphasis put on the narrower definition of the specialisms of the department by the University had an impact. However, the remark of one male that 'it is not men's fault if women don't apply', is blatantly wrong. Naturally, it is ultimately down to the potential candidates to decide, but the male-dominated tenured archaeologists also have to promote women and keep building their self-confidence.

After the chitchat, the vision of Archaeologist Husband shooting up and down The Square after Number One Son made me to look for them and we all headed to the event downstairs. The place was heaving and it became apparent that the space was not particularly suitable for a family event, although it is true that it was advertised more as a public event. The main exhibition space was down the stairs with very little space for parking any strollers. Happily, there were some hands-on tables upstairs along a corridor, but moving around downstairs to approach potential materials for children was made more difficult by the popularity of the event. The number of stalls was delightful, but even with a modest number of people the atmosphere was very ‘cosy’ and the possibility to lose an excited toddler relatively high. Running after Number One Son meant that an adult could not concentrate on the stalls but had to try to keep Number One Son from misplacing the items brought about by different re-enactment societies. Our son was particularly taken by the Viking coins and I had to warn the lady showing the use of the scales that they may risk losing the coins to our ‘Uncle Scrooge’. He considers all coins HIS and has no sense of other possibilities in ownership, yet. I also managed to keep him from displacing any items from the Great War presentation.

Nevertheless, if one had visited the event as a singleton or as a couple without children, it would have been very good indeed. The stalls gave a lot of information and introduced different organisations and initiatives, including the famous Richard III excavations. The layout meant that even with a minimum audience the event felt well-attended. All main local actors were there, but I only managed to wave to the chairman of the Fieldworkers. This time the emphasis was on allowing Number One Son to see new things and spaces. The downside with the location is that public parking is relatively far away from the venue and we had to return to our car quicker than would have been hoped for in order to avoid the risk of penalty fee. Free parking was possible for only two hours...

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Toys and baby equipment as class markers

To my great surprise, I ended up unknowingly being a ‘hip mother’ when Number One Son was a baby. He happened to get a teething toy called ‘Sophie The Giraffe’ from his aunt who had been in France and brought with her a random baby toy bought from a local shop as a present. To her and my surprise, this turned out to be the hippest toy on the market among those yummy mummies living in the fashionable London postcode areas. Only this week Mail Online mentioned that Peaches Geldolf’s baby Astala has a Sophie and they presented this fact as a news item.

Sophie The Giraffe

Number One Son’s Sophie has been packed away a long time ago after it lost its squeak due to its stay in the bath with him. However, my status as a ‘trend setter’ in this respect was totally incidental and Number One Son could have had any teething toy. And he did have others, filled with gel and kept in the fridge – where they were forgotten and taken out long after the whole set of teeth had been erupted.

Number One Son did not however use pacifier after he reached six months. Unlike Kai Rooney who is three and has been seen with his pacifier in public. The late use of pacifiers is derided, and at the same time as Mail Online admired Sophie the giraffe, it shook its virtual finger at Coleen Rooney and pointed out how the late use of a pacifier can result in possible damage to the teeth and speech. The late use of nappies, dummies and bottle are seen as symbols of certain type of parenting, seen in the council estates and frown upon by the middle classes. The Rooneys personifying the normal bloke and the girl from next door made rich just underlines how Mail uses class stereotypes when writing about different baby and toddler accessories.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Starting to ‘do the parrot’

It is fascinating, although slightly nerve-wracking, to follow the individual development pace of a toddler. Or more precisely of a toddler who is a late developer. After dragging our son to a number of playgroup where he has completely ignored all sing-alongs, he has now suddenly during the Christmas holidays started to sing along with Something Special and repeat words from Dora the Explorer. The repetition of three alternatives from one episode to another that makes an adult run for the hills and to consider all episodes the; however, this seems to delight Number One Son. He does not hit the correct pronunciation, but ‘River – muddy mountain – gooey geysir’ are repeated while watching Dora or walking back from the park. This is a developmental stage most toddlers I know have passed when they were about two. This just shows how individual the children are.

Archaeologist Husband and I try to repeat things and correct his pronunciation as much as we can now when he has started to pay attention. Now one just wonders if all the repetition done during the last 12 months and before was just useless. And when Number One Son will become interested in picking up the pen and writing his name. Many children in the nursery are doing the wobbly capitals, while our Number One Son apparently stubbornly keeps drawing circles...