E+E column: Naturally Needy

An article I read this week spoke about how utterly natural it is for young children to be clingy or needy to their primary caregiver. It was a good reminder that the almost total dependence that my three (all five and under) often have on me is the biological norm and not anything to get frustrated with or to try and put a stop to before they’re ready. We visited the monkey sanctuary in Looe earlier this year and witnessed a tiny monkey taking her first nervous steps away from her Mum. Our guide explained that after she was born, she spent six months permanently attached to her Mum’s back and after this point, would still only scamper away for a few minutes at a time and all the while, in the near vicinity of her ever watching Mum. This is normal for the animal world, and actually, is normal for human children as well if we allow them (well not the clinging to our backs but you get my point!)

We are so quick to try and break our children’s instinctive need to be near us. A lot of parenting ‘experts’ and advice doled out tells us that we should be getting them in their own rooms within their first months, that we should be making sure they can play independently and that they are happy to be away from us at a young age. And if they’re not, we are presented with a wide array of solutions to fix this ‘problem’. But is it really a problem? The process of entering this world, finding their place in it and finding out how everything works and how people interact must be utterly overwhelming. No wonder young children are naturally prone to being ‘clingy’ and retreating to Mum, Dad or a loved Grandparent when it all gets too much. Society often tells us that this isn’t appropriate, that we’re making a rod for own backs, that they will never learn independence, that they’ll be spoilt. But can you spoil a child by offering unconditional love and comfort? I would argue that you can’t.

Admittedly, when you’re needed round the clock, it can all get a bit wearisome. I’m perfectly guilty of wanting to go and shut myself in a room with a book and mug of hot chocolate. I’m no saint. There is no perfect Mum (or Dad!) But I do think we shouldn’t feel guilty about offering our children that extra level of support or comfort that others might say is unnecessary at their age. The world’s a scary place at times, even for adults, so I’m happy for my kids to still need me right now. In the blink of an eye they’ll be running off without a backwards glance, perfectly confident and independent individuals without such a strong lifeline or need for me and their Dad. And a final note of reassurance, as my wise old Mum said when I bemoaned Isaac at 18 months creeping into our bed in the wee hours, he won’t be 16 and still wanting to sleep in his Mum’s bed!


Time to pause

I have rather neglected this blog over the last few months, we’ve just been so busy that I haven’t found the time to sit down and write anything meaningful that is specifically for this place. As you’ve noticed, I’ve kept it slowly treading water by posting by Express and Echo columns but unfortunately, other things have taken priority. But finally, I feel like I might have found a day or two to pause and reflect on the summer. Or rather, I’ve chosen to make the time to sit down and write rather than do some of the other bits and pieces that usually consume my rare childfree hours (usually exercise or housework but Dan is doing the washing up as we speak and I’m exhausted so having a night or two off working out).

In fact so busy have we been that a small milestone has come and gone. Elijah turned six months on Friday. Six months. I know I say it often, but I genuinely have no idea how half a year can just have happened so quickly. I feel like simultaneously we’ve done so much and yet, I feel like I should have been doing more, especially in terms of education for Sophia. But September marks a new academic year and we’ll start afresh then (I’ll write about our plans in another post), hopefully with a bit more structure than the last several months have afforded. I’m not beating myself up though, I know that she is performing well ‘academically’ and has a rich and varied social life and is only five. Five years young. Adapting to being a family of five took a bit of time and adjustment for all of us as we all carved out new spaces for ourselves and that’s ok. But I digress, apologies. Still…six months! Look at this little fellow, he’s just so big and beautiful and brings us all so much joy every day!

wpid-wp-1440441874539.jpegSo what’s been keeping us so busy? Despite the mixed bag of weather that the British summer has brought us, we’ve managed to fit in a lot. We’ve been camping five times for various occasions, had many many beach trips, a brief stay in Dartmouth,been to two music festivals, spent a lot of time spent in the glorious Topsham pool, had picnics, playdates and rambling walks. On top of that, I’ve been writing my column, doing some social media work (a challenging new venture for me) and working on an article that I’m hoping to submit to the Green Parent magazine. Definitely time to pause.

This afternoon I was feeling grotty post Beautiful Days festival-ing and the kids were restless so after much procrastination I bundled us all out of the door and went for a bike ride (well they rode, I pushed Eli in buggy). I spent the first 20 minutes grumbling in my head. I was tired, my body ached, I wanted to be home in bed, alone, curled up with a good book and a cup of tea! But as the kids raced ahead and I plodded behind, the fresh air did it’s magic and I started to feel rejuvenated. By the time we were halfway to Exton, shock horror, I was actually enjoying myself! We stopped so Elijah could feed and the kids feasted on juicy blackberries that, as Sophia said, just exploded! I felt happy and peaceful. You really can’t beat a bit of time outside in nature, a walk and some spontaneous foraging to lift the spirits and relax.

So I’m choosing to pause this week. To not try and fit in too much but just to go with the flow, to stop nagging, to relax and enjoy time with the kids, instead of wishing away the day until bedtime, then trying to fit in as much as possible before falling into bed, wound up from my own doing. Dan often says that I have a habit of getting a ‘mission head’ on. There is a time and place to be on a mission but I suspect I’ve got into the habit of donning that hat when it just isn’t necessary. I don’t want life to be a regimented mission, planned to the nth degree, I want it to be an adventure, an amble, an exploration of all that is beautiful and interesting.


Pausing on a walk last summer (haven’t been so snap happy this year!)

E+E column: Thoughts whilst running

I escaped this morning for a run, leaving the baby in the sling with Dad, one child on the DS and the other roaming the house like a caged beast. I love the small ones but getting out for 45 minutes by myself, alone with my thoughts, is a luxury I relish and am very grateful to Dan for facilitating. To have nothing to concentrate on but my feet pounding the pavement in a rhythmic (albeit not particularly fast!) beat is not to be scoffed at. The therapeutic benefits are equal, if not more, than those gained from the exercise itself in my opinion. This morning as I ran along the goat walk and then on towards Exton, I started to think about how things are never static, our lives and our progress are constantly evolving and moving forward.

When I first started exercising again after Elijah was born I ran a short 2 mile circuit around Topsham and the idea of increasing it seemed like an impossibility. By the end of my 20 minute run I was exhausted and felt like I had reached my absolute limits of physical endurance. However, little by little, I increased the distance, by probably just a quarter of a mile each time – running the new route a few times until I felt ready to push just that little harder and run just that little bit further. Today, 3 months on, I ran my 3.5 mile route to Exton and back and upon arriving back home, although exhausted, felt that next time I could add an extra bit onto the journey. My goal for the next few months is to manage Lympstone and back and hopefully eventually (at some unknown point) I might be able to run to Exmouth and back. What once felt unachievable is actually completely viable, I just need to take it slow and steady and one run at a time.

Kids are amazing examples of seeing this philosophy in practice. Elijah is learning to crawl at the moment. So far he can manage to get up on all fours and rock backwards and forwards before collapsing onto his tummy. But he doesn’t give up. He might get frustrated and need a cuddle, a feed or a break but next time he’s put down he’s at it again, pushing himself. And whilst he hasn’t mastered the actual art of crawling yet, he does an impressive job and moving himself around the room to find the object of his desire – usually Dan’s Xbox or something small and chokeable that his older siblings have left on the floor.

It’s a good lesson to remember I think, that when something seems unattainable, it rarely actually is. We just need to step back, take a good look at what we’re trying to achieve and dive in and get started. We might not manage it the first time (or the second, or the third, or the fourth, as it turns out in my recent foray into juggling!) but we’ll get there eventually. There’s a lot to be said for determination. And at the end of the day, how we will ever know if we can do something or not if we don’t just give it a try? Now to go and baby proof the living room, again…

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E+E column: The Plight of the Bumblebee

(A little late this week – apologies!)

There is something quintessentially British I think about plump furry bumble bees meandering lazily from flower to flower in the heat of the summer sun. The kids were delighted to find a horde of them on a lavender bush in the gardens at Topsham museum (a quirky little museum well worth a visit, by the way) whilst taking part in a bug hunt organised as part of a family fun day there. Whilst encouraging to see that the local bee population is alive and well, a fact further evidenced by their regular presence in even our tiny garden, it got me thinking about their future and possible plight.

If you’re savvy on social media, you might have seen people urging you to sign petitions to ‘save the bees’ over the last few weeks. The uproar started after the government temporarily lifted a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides in certain parts of the country. Although there isn’t a complete scientific consensus on the effect of these pesticides on bees, there is a growing body of scientists and environmentalists who claim that neonicotinoid based pesticides are a threat to bee colonies and the source of a global decline in the bee population. I’m certainly not qualified enough to draw a judgement on the issue but it does seem that the figures regarding the decline in bees are fairly conclusive. Bees are absolutely essential to our food supply as they are one of the main pollinators of a lot of our fruit and vegetables. The complete extinction of bees would certainly be very bad news for us.

But I believe in staying positive and in the absence of a clear proven cause of the dwindling population, I think we should take matters into our own hands in the most obvious way possible….growing bee friendly plants in our gardens. It’s such an easy and often cheap way to be part of the solution but so very satisfying. Bees are pretty laid back and the list of plants they prefer is endless but some of my favourites are sunflowers, poppys and snowdrops. Or if you want to be incredibly efficient you can fill a herb garden with things like lavender, thyme, sage and fennel – feeding the bees and adding flavour to your meals at the same time. It seems logical that the more of us that fill our gardens will plants that the bees can visit, the more local bee populations will not only survive but hopefully thrive and grow.

We can also support British bee populations by buying local honey. It’s not hard to come by in Devon and although admittedly a fair bit pricier than your bog standard honey from the corner shop, is supporting a very worthwhile cause. I also find that it goes further, maybe because it’s got a more intense flavour or maybe just because I know how much it costs and am more sparing with it! So, if you can possibly can, I’d urge everyone out there to do their part to Save The Bees!


E+E column: Discovering Hedgerow Delights

Whilst pottering around a field on Dartmoor yesterday as part of the Festival of British Archaeology I partook in a brief but interesting foraging walk. The lady leading us started by enthusiastically telling us that 70% of her diet came from foraged foodstuffs. I was impressed…that’s a heck of a lot of hedgerow delights! Although not my first foray into foraging, I possibly found this walk one the most useful instructional moments yet. Did you know for example, that we can use dock leaves in place of spinach and other leafy greens? Or that common sorrel is deliciously lemony and can be used in salsa verde or to flavour fish? Or most controversially, that the seeds of hogweed smell divine and can be used to flavour ice cream, Indian dishes and a whole host more (although wearing protective clothing whilst harvesting and not breaking the stems is incredibly important to prevent the chemical burns that we’ve all seen on the news recently). I’m seriously amazed at what is quite literally, growing on our doorstep, ready for us to harvest and use in our kitchens.

Over the last few years we’ve picked a lot of elderflowers, blackberries and elderberries but despite gaining a little more knowledge each season at what else we can eat for free, I’ve been reluctant to take the dive into more serious foraging. Friends tell me that dandelion and nettle soup is delicious but I’ve been too cautious to try it myself. But no more! The idea of using dock leaves appeals and they are so plentiful and common that I trust myself not to mistake them for something else. So this week I’ll be down the ‘rec picking us some dock leaves to add to our curry and pasta dishes. Hopefully they’ll live up to their reputation and more importantly, I’m hoping the kids will eat them with minimal complaint We’ll see…

The whole experience got me thinking though about all this kind of knowledge that used to get passed from generation to generation but is now getting lost to the convenience culture of supermarkets and pre packaged meals and foodstuffs. I have nothing against the latter, we all have days when time is against us and the easiest option is to pop to the shop for a pizza or some pasta and a jar of sauce. But I do think this knowledge is important. We could be utilising what grows for free all around us, preserving a slice of our history and heritage and getting outside more all at the same time – sounds like a no brainer to me. As our guide yesterday said, eliminate the word ‘weed’ from your gardening vocabulary and replace it with ‘harvest’. Let’s start using these prolific hardy plants for adding something special to our cooking or as an alternative to chemical medication where appropriate (a glass of water left overnight with goosegrass in, for example, is meant to be a great detox after the night before). I might even try that nettle soup recipe!