E+E Column: The Power of the Box

If you are the parent of young children or indeed, have spent any time around them, then you’ll know that they can have a tendency to get a little bit obsessive about things. Sometimes, these things are odd but mostly harmless; they want their toast cut into triangles not rectangles, they line up their toys in a specific order or they insist on performing the exact same bedtime exchange with you night in, night out. Sometimes however, their obsession can impact on the rest of the family. It can consume their every waking thought and brings parents to tears and threats of drastic action (well, maybe it’s not quite that bad!)…

I’m talking, of course, about TV shows. Over the last six years, this has happened a fair few times. A program is watched on Cbeebies or Netflix and grabs their attention. Next time the box is on, they ask for the next episode…and then the next, and then the next. Before you know it, every member of the household can recite vast chunks of dialogue from these inane, irritating shows. The characters often have silly names, the plot lines are formulaic and repetitive. And invariably, the theme tune always manages to worm it’s way into your mind and takes hold.

Favourite shows have come and gone in this house. We’ve had hours of Peppa Pig episodes, a love of Mister Maker, a brief flirtation with Thomas, an obsession with Topsy and Tim and their friends and an affair with Bing. These obsessions grip them for a weeks or months, they don’t want to watch anything but the chosen show, they talk about the characters when you’re on the bus or going for a walk, they reenact their favourite storylines at the park with each other. And then, as suddenly as it started, it’s over. They’re not bothered about watching it anymore, they inject some variety into their scheduled screen time again. A sigh of relief descends among the adults.

I need to remember this when we’re in the midst of such an obsession as we are at the moment. Currently, it is all about Paw Patrol (we’ll be there on the double!) I have been subjected to retellings of their favourite episodes, instructed to call them downstairs with the patented catch phrase (‘just yelp for help’), I know all the names of the pups and whose is whose favourite (it changes daily). Each morning, the first words that Isaac breathes are often ‘Can I watch paw patrol?’ I feel like we can’t escape Ryder and his team!

But I know that we will. Before too long they’ll grow bored of watching the same shows over and over again and will move on. They’ll start to choose different shows each time we pop on the TV, they might actually want to watch a movie with me again! But for now, I guess I have to just tolerate, if not embrace, the latest obsession. Or, alternatively, find some cleaning jobs to do upstairs every time that theme tune starts playing….

E+E Column: The Art of Giving

(A bit late again…apologies!)

Christmas might feel like it’s long over and indeed with it, so is 2015 but I’ve been thinking about giving ever since I saw the kids opening presents with reckless abandon without much thought to those who gave them. I’ve struggled with how to encourage them to slow down and be more sincere with their thank you’s, to take time to look at their new gift and appreciate what someone has lovingly chosen for them. I am well aware that the are still young and that being presented with a huge pile of brightly wrapped presents must be pretty overwhelming and am hoping that as they grow older, they can be a bit more considered in their approach. But there was still a small part of me that was really sad and a little embarrassed about the way they threw a thank you causally over their shoulder, without looking, in the general direction of the giver before tossing it aside and turning to the next.

This coupled with some very thoughtful gifts from my Secret Santa and I was given a new appreciation for the art of giving. If you’re a halfway decent person, it goes without saying that you’d like the present you’re buying to be appreciated by the recipient so automatically, you’ll spend some time thinking about what that person likes, about what will make them happy. Once you’ve decided on a gift, you then need to choose the most appropriate version, colour or style, purchase it, wrap it and then give it to the person. It’s actually quite an involved process and it’s lovely to think that someone is giving up their precious time in order to do something that hopefully, you’ll really appreciate. I can be a bit of a scrooge about the consumerist culture that has enveloped Christmas and I’ve blogged about presence, not presents. But actually, when you strip away all the hype, giving a gift is a really lovely act of kindness and appreciation.

Furthermore, why should we restrict our giving to Christmas and birthdays? I reckon all year round, opportunities arise for artful giving and maybe we should try to inject a little more happiness and light into the lives of those around us by seizing these moments.

And of course, if you are a grumpy sod like me, you don’t have to give a traditionally bought gift. You can think outside the box a little. You can give the gift of time by babysitting for a busy parent, you can make some home made favourite treats for someone who you know needs a pick me up, you can take a child out for a special day to the zoo, you can volunteer some of your own time to shop for an elderly relative or just spend time with someone who might be lonely. So will you join me in 2016, in giving more of yourself to the people you love and to people that need it? When you see a way of giving something to someone that will make their day, why not take the time to actually act on the thought and put a smile on their face? Wishing you all a very Happy New Year folks, let’s make it a good one!