The Tale of the Sleep Monster

Night is falling, and the sleep monster is on the prowl to find tired little girls and tired little boys.

The sleep monster creeps from home to home, lurking at the bottom of stairs and outside bedroom doors where it can hear the sound of awake little children, staying up past their bedtime and making lots of noise.  It lurks where it can see light spilling out from underneath bedroom doors. 

The sleep monster likes to get tired little girls and boys who do not go to sleep at bedtime.

The sleep monster can easily find tired little boys and tired little girls, because they are noisy; shouting and jumping around their rooms.

The sleep monster can easily find tired little boys and tired little girls, because they are easy to see with their lights turned on.

Mums and dads urge their children to ‘be quiet’ and ‘close your eyes’…  ‘Because the sleep monster knows you are awake past your bedtime.’

You see, the sleep monster doesn’t like little children who go to sleep when they are tired.  It can’t find sleeping children, because they don’t make a sound.

It can’t find sleeping children, because their lights are off and it cannot see them.

And it knows that sleeping little children will be too strong for it to catch.  You see, little children that have slept well are stronger than tired little children. 

So little one, don’t let the sleep monster get you.  Hush, lie down, turn off the lights, shut your tired eyes, and sleep well. 

…At least, this is what I’ve been telling my 2-year old, who has become obsessed with ‘the monster’ coming to get him.  So, rightly or wrongly, I’ve turned his imagination on its head and invented the ‘sleep monster’, (see above).  And I’ve managed to get Finley to peacefully and willingly drift off to sleep (and remain asleep) with this bit of creative (if not slightly immoral) storytelling.

Ok go on, tell me I’m an evil mum in the comments below now.

My Son’s Simple Birthday Wishes

My elder son is about to turn 3, and I’ve had a few family members ask me what he would like for his birthday.  When I was a child, I always remember having an acute awareness that money didn’t grow on trees.  Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t on the poverty line.  My parents worked bloody hard, but despite this, they were far from rolling in it.

For a child, I remember being incredibly sensitive to the concept of money (or lack of), and never demanded toys when we went to the shops.  We did have toys, but upon talking to my husband, it is clear that he and his sister had a huge array of the big toy fads from the 80s.  They seemed to own all of the crazes, had huge piles of presents ready for them on Christmases and birthdays and were generally spoilt for choice when it came to childhood entertainment.  This was a distinct contrast to our household.

Although I have absolutely no criticism of children being given lots of things if their parents have the means (you only live once, and hey, who am I to judge?), I do wonder whether so much materialism is ever necessary with little children.  The reason why I ponder this is because I recall having such a great childhood with my brother.  I can remember loads of crazy games we would play together, fuelled largely by our imaginations.  We rode our bikes and played outdoors.  We lived in the Caribbean for two years of our lives, and although I don’t actually remember any toys, I do remember having a lot of fun with my brother and cousins, playing group games out back on our land (or sometimes other peoples’ land) and really just making our own fun.

Because of my own childhood experiences and perceptions, I find it a little uncomfortable and unnatural answering the question ‘what shall we get Finley for his birthday?’.  It feels as though I am asking for people to get him gifts that he essentially doesn’t need.  Indeed, the other day my mother asked him what he would like for his birthday.  His response was brilliant (and actually, I could have predicted it word for word);

“I want candles, cake, some cherries and a (jigsaw) puzzle.”

So surely that is proof that come his birthday, the only things he will be looking for are candles and cake, with some cherries on top, a new jigsaw puzzle and maybe even some company for him to do his jigsaw puzzle with.  And if that is all an average 3-year old wants, then why condition him so early that birthdays are all about a mountain of gifts?  For him, the magic of a birthday is still simple, and it seems like such a shame to tarnish that innocent sense of happiness with our materialistic expectations of birthdays.

But that’s just me, and by no means a symbol of my ingratitude to anyone that has taken the time, thought and money to purchase something for my son.  I do understand that loved ones want to show their love by buying things.  I just know that my two, going on three-year old loves nothing more than someone to build a ‘nest’ with, or draw a picture with, or play hide and seek with; and for him to have that all day (with some cake and candles) would be the most magical birthday for him.

 

The Complexities of Children and Cars

Before having children, driving and parking and everything else that went with getting around by car used to be relatively simple.  The most challenging aspects of car driving used to be forking out for car tax and avoiding speed cameras.  However, add a couple of kids to the mix, and car-using is suddenly a lot more… complex.

I spend a lot of time in the car with my entourage, so I thought I would document some of the bonkers things that occur in the life of car travel with teeny-tiny passengers (and I’m not talking about the spiders in the wing mirrors).

The loss of all boot space to the buggy, and other essential items

A few months before the birth of our second child Fraser, we decided to upgrade our old car for a slightly newer, very slightly larger model.  This was mainly because we realised that we would need some extra boot space to fit the double buggy into.  Once Fraser was born, it soon became apparent that the only way we could fit our (relatively compact, lightweight) Maclaren twin techno into the boot was to remove all of the boot inserts.  So we had to find space in our home for the parcel shelf and various other separating pieces from the boot, to make way for our huge buggy.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, I then came to the conclusion that I needed to take the single Maclaren with us everywhere also, just in case our toddler Finley wanted to walk.  And then Finley was given a scooter for his birthday, so the scooter was added to the boot party.  So these days, where we should have a huge boot to pack our immense grocery shopping into, I drive around with a brim-full boot of two buggies, a balance bike, a scooter, wellies, picnic blankets and a helmet.

The perpetual filth

We travel in the car almost daily.  We’ve already established that the boot contains most of the stuff we own.  So what comes with us in the rest of the car?  A heck of a lot of litter.  Takeaway cups of coffee, snacks for the kids, receipts, tissues for snotty little noses and all of the gunge that comes attached to the lot of it… It all gets used and hurriedly dumped in convenient cup holders or door storage.   It is then suitably forgotten about, as I have a million other things that I can think of doing in the rare free-time I get, than to be collecting all of the filth into bin bags.  I have become fairly blind to the fact that the car is a mobile dustbin, through being fairly distracted during most journeys with things I may have forgotten, things I need to do, and things I’d like to do which I won’t have the time to do.  It is only on the weekends when Ian accompanies us on our family voyages that he kindly points out how ‘disgraceful’ the state of the car is.  Thankfully he sometimes collects all of that rubbish up for me.

 The challenge of parking

And no, I don’t mean the decreasing ability to parallel park a car once you’ve had children, although strangely, this does actually apply to me.  No, what I’m talking about is the issue of finding a parking space wide enough to allow you to remove your children from their car seats on one or both sides of the car, and then replace them once you have completed your trip out.  You see, there is a reason that supermarkets and multi-storey car parks allocate ‘parent and child’ parking spaces; it is because it is almost impossible to get young children in and out of cars in normal spaces.  You just need a lot of room on either side of the car.  However, I am not alone in noticing that most of these car parks have a significant deficit in parent-child parking spaces.  So if you make the crazy decision to go to the shops during normal waking hours, you have to spend an excessive period of time circling the parent-child parking area, waiting to swoop in on a space that is being vacated (while your increasingly ratty children become intolerable before you’ve set foot in the shop).  One of my friends recently pointed out that the parent-child spaces don’t need to be in such close proximity to the shop.  We’re not disabled, we just need wide parking spaces.  Why don’t they put more parent-child spots on the outer extremities of the car park?  I agree with her.  Indeed, I recently attempted to park my car in the outer extremities of the local Sainsbury’s car park, after circling the parent-child parking area for an extended period of time.  However, upon reaching the outer extremities of said car park, I realised that there are no longer trolley parks way out there, and the trolley parks that were present were devoid of trolleys.  So, I would have had to leave the kids in the car while I trekked for miles across the car park, back to the outside of Sainsbury’s to find a trolley.  Suffice to say, I abandoned that trip to Sainsbury’s and headed straight to Tesco, where I did find a suitable spot very quickly.

The onset of motion sickness

Motion sickness is an old friend of mine.  Since I can remember, I can recall being whisked out of the car, covered in my own stomach sludge, or being rapidly removed from the car and having my mouth directed towards the gutter.  Indeed, all through my life, I have suffered with motion sickness, be it in cars, buses, boats, and very occasionally on trains.  Well, I did used to frequently travel on Pendolinos.  And upon meeting my husband, it became very apparent that he also has a long history of similar nausea.  So although I was a little taken aback when it happened recently to my two-year old, it wasn’t massively surprising.  We were around the corner from my parent’s house when Finley piped up with, “mummy, I’m very hot”.  Bearing in mind that this is highly unusual for my frequently chilly toddler.

“I’ll pop the window down then, honey”, I swiftly responded, whilst depressing the automatic window button.

“Mummy, I’m very cold!”

“But you were very hot a second ago”.

“Put the window up mummy!”

Cue writhing in the car seat and a strange noise from his throat.  And I don’t need to describe the rest of it to you.

It isn’t the actual emesis that is the issue, it is the clearing up.  It seems to seep into every nook and cranny, soaking further into the upholstery with every wipe.  I don’t have spare car seat covers, so after a lot of scrubbing in situ, airing in the summer sun and application of baking soda, the car seat became relatively free of odour.  However, in future I will certainly not be allowing any activity in the back of the car which makes him take his eyes off the road.

The huge oversight

My golden rule for purchasing cars has always been to buy a top-of-the-range car, even if it means buying from a less prestigious car manufacturer.  I used to see people driving around in relatively large, prestigious German cars with tiny, low spec engines, and never really understood why.  All that sacrifice for the sake of having a BMW badge on your bonnet.  So when we upgraded our car last year, I broke all of my rules, and went with the manufacturer we wanted (not BMW), but a bottom-of-the-range model.  We could have bought a French car and got a lot more engine, space and luxury for our bucks.  But we didn’t.  And with bottom-of-the-range cars comes a distinct lack of features inside the car.  Included in those lack of features are the rear windows (that reads as though we have no windows, but stick with me).  In our old car, all of the windows were electric, and could be controlled by the driver.  However, the rear windows in our current car are the good, old-fashioned windy windows.  I don’t think that was even on our radar at the time of purchase.  We just needed more boot space for our double Maclaren, after all.  So fast-forward a few months, and our elder son, two, can now wind his window down (but not up) with his foot.  And he does this, without fail, as soon as he gets bored or cross on a journey.  This is quite often.  I’ve even caught him trying to fling things out of the window.  I attempted to yank the lever off the door the other day, without success.  I have a feeling that my husband will.

The baby on board signs

So this is one thing I’ve observed people having since I’ve been a driver, which is a very long time.  I’ve never really understood the point of them.  Are they to advertise that you have children?  Are they to warn you to drive better when you’re behind a car with children inside?  Are they simply a novelty that you can only have once you are a parent?  Or, are they a way to sneakily park in the parent and child parking spaces when you’re not really a parent?  I don’t know.  Either way, I’ve never driven any differently around cars with those signs in the back, and have probably been more likely to scoff at the overt cuteness of the ‘little soldier’ or ‘little princess’ on board-ness of it all (gender stereotyping, anyone?).

I have heard that they are there to alert emergency services to the potential presence of children in the back of a car in the event of an accident.  However, my perception of people who work in the emergency services is that they tend to be pretty intelligent, have eyes, and would probably think to check a car thoroughly for people, as opposed to looking out for a blue/pink/’cute’ sign in the window.  Indeed, since having my own children, I’ve not once had the desire to stick one of those signs in my rear windscreen.  The protruding wheels and handles of the numerous buggies from the boot and my two-year old chucking size 8 Wellington boots out of the window should be pretty big clues that I have ‘little princes’ on board.

Do you have any tales or observations of life in a car with little children?  I’d be delighted to hear them.

Autumn Outdoors

Despite the distinct change in weather lately, we’ve been enjoying the great outdoors with gusto over the last week.  I really do enjoy the change in weather after the summer.  I get fed up of hiding out during the middle of the day, avoiding the high temperatures and blistering heat.  So I get excited every year when the seasons change and beautiful autumn arrives (aside from the annoying fireworks).

This week we enjoyed some time in the Isabella plantation of Richmond Park in southwest London with my lovely mum.  This is a place I have been visiting for years and love it because it is an open, green haven in the middle of a fairly built-up area.  Inside Isabella plantation the green leaves had changed to gold, red and amber shades, littering the ground and transforming the place into an autumnal paradise.

Racing into the Isabella Plantation.

Racing into the Isabella Plantation.

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Mum and Finley inspecting the autumn leaves and peaceful pond in the Isabella Plantation.

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This looks like a perfect bench for our picnic!

Fraser is captivated by the autumnal scene.

Fraser is captivated by the autumnal scene.

Lunch al fresco, under the trees.

Lunch al fresco, under the trees.

You can't beat cheese and onion sandwiches!

You can’t beat cheese and onion sandwiches!

Now that is a huge leaf!

Now that is a huge leaf!

I found a little clearing amidst some dense trees, littered with these pretty fallen blooms.

I found a little clearing amidst some dense trees, littered with these pretty fallen blooms.

We also made a little visit to a little hidden gem in southwest London called Deen City Farm, a petite farm just outside Wimbledon.  The kids got a chance to say hello to the animals whilst getting a little wet in the autumn showers.  All of the animals came out to say hello, except the pigs, who very wisely decided to have a lie-in inside their sty.

The playground at Deen City Farm.

The playground at Deen City Farm.

A joint-effort with the tractor driving in the Deen City playground.

A joint-effort with the tractor driving in the Deen City playground.

Some pretty flowers brightening up the farm.

Some pretty flowers brightening up the farm.

Fraser keeping an eye on the sheep.

Fraser keeping an eye on the sheep.

Finley making friends with the 'Billy'.

Finley making friends with the ‘Billy’.

A happy Fraser.

A happy Fraser.

Finley cheering on the cows.

Finley cheering on the cows.

And this might be something to try next time!

And this might be something to try next time!

With all of this outdoors fun captured perfectly on my trusty camera, I could think of no better excuse than to link up with Fiona at the Coombe Mill blog for her Country Kids linky.  This is the first time I’ve linked up with Country Kids, and will hopefully be one of many.  Hope you enjoyed!

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Fireworks

*Disclaimer* Ranty, angry blog post.

Home fireworks. Why do it? I’ve never, ever set off home fireworks in my life. Come Guy Fawkes’ night, and my dad always took us to organised fireworks displays. However, it seems that nowadays, an organised fireworks display isn’t enough for people, and they simply must set off fireworks EVERY SINGLE EVENING in the lead up to Halloween and the 5th November. And fireworks aren’t even a traditional part of Halloween.

I’ve always been aware of the effects that fireworks have on animals – frightening hedgehogs into bonfires, domestic pets running away from home – but let us not forget the effect they have on young children and babies. I have enough issues getting my 1 and 2 year olds to sleep an entire night without them having to come to me for some comfort. Let alone every single evening, just as my 1-year old is about to nod off, a firework goes off next door (or thereabouts) and changes him from a tired, peaceful, belly-sleeping bubba to a standing, sobbing, nervous wreck. This is so unfair, and I’m livid at the endless fireworks people are setting off.

And I just don’t get it. Home fireworks are rubbish. They’re totally disappointing and dangerous in the hands of amateur people who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. Just do a Google image search for ‘fireworks gone wrong’ if you don’t believe me. Why not just put the money towards the entry fee to a proper show, where you get great music played, toffee apples, and an amazing display that is set off by professionals which is usually pretty awe-inspiring?

So there I was again last night, missing my dinner again while I sit in a dark room with my 1-year old, who had previously been in the early stages of sleep, but had been rudely awoken by nearby flashes and bangs.
And that is my word of the week: Fireworks. A big, sarcastic thanks to all pioneers of the home fireworks displays (cue slow clapping as your roman candle fails to ignite). Someone pass me a coffee.

The Reading Residence

Joie iAnchor Review

I recently wrote a blog post about extended rear-facing (ERF), with an emphasis on the lack of widespread knowledge on this topic in the UK.  Indeed, if ERF is a term you’re unfamiliar with, we should probably begin this post with a brief recap.  ERF is the term used to describe car seats that are designed for children up to 4 years old to sit facing the rear of the car; i.e. backwards.  ERF is a safer alternative to the traditional car seats that everybody is used to which face forwards.

We are all used to the idea that newborns and young babies face backwards in the car, but we’re often so keen to transfer them into their ‘grown up’ forward-facing car seats the second they appear old enough or big enough.  In my original post, I outlined the reasons why it is so important for young children (up to 4-years old) to face the rear in cars.  In brief, young children have drastically better outcomes in car accidents if they are facing rearwards, as the force exerted on their delicate young spines is significantly reduced in comparison to collisions in which they are forward facing.

In Scandinavia, all children up to 4/5 years old are seated rearward facing, and all of the well-known manufacturers produce ERF car seats for these countries.  However, in the UK, although these seats are available if you do a bit of searching, they tend to be significantly more expensive in comparison to traditional forward facing seats.  When you couple this with the fact that people are generally unaware of ERF and its benefits, you are met with a situation where people simply choose the most cost-effective seat over the safest.

For me, upon discovering ERF, it was a no-brainer.  I had to put my younger son into a rear-facing seat once he had outgrown his stage 0 baby seat.  After doing some digging around on Twitter, I was introduced to a fantastic company called Joie Baby who manufacture a range of products from car seats, to prams/pushchairs to high chairs.

I must confess that I had never heard of Joie Baby before this, and upon looking at their products further, I was incredibly keen to work with them.  I liked the look of their brand – simple, stylish but most importantly, functional and safe.  I wanted to help promote the importance of ERF in the UK, especially as guidelines are changing, recommending that babies up to 15 months old should be rear-facing.  Joie Baby very kindly gifted us their i-AnchorSafe™ System for our 17-month old son Fraser to try.

Fraser had just about outgrown his stage 0 car seat, and was beginning to get very angry every time we placed him in it.  I kept him rear-facing for as long as possible because he has a very large head, and I felt that it was better supported in the slightly reclined, rearward-facing position.  However, he was at the stage where his head was right at the top of his seat, and he needed to change up to the next car seat stage.

Finley finding fun with the box!

Finley finding fun with the box!

We received two boxes; the box for the car seat itself and the isofix base in a separate box.  My husband fitted the car seat.  He read the instructions indoors, and he said that it all sounded most straightforward.  Indeed, he installed it in moments with total ease.  I’m not exaggerating.  It seemed to be a much easier install than our other forward-facing  car seat for our two-year old, Finley.  We rationalised that the reason for this was because you do not have to feed the seatbelt through the seat, like we do for our other car seat.  Instead, the seat conveniently clicks into the isofix base.  You can use the seatbelt in addition to the isofix fixing to secure the base, which we did, as this gives the base that extra bit of security.

The isofix base, clearly showing simple diagrams to instruct you on how to install.

The isofix base, clearly showing simple diagrams to instruct you on how to install.

The iAnchor is a stage 0+/1 seat, which means that it can be used from birth right up to the age of 4, and can be fitted either rear-facing or forward-facing (babies should always be rear-facing from birth to 15-months minimum!).  The seat comes with a newborn insert that will support the teeny body of a brand new baby and can be easily removed when it is no longer required, usually around the 9kg-mark.

Useful colour-coded windows indicate whether the part is correctly fitted or not.

Useful colour-coded windows indicate whether the part is correctly fitted or not.

Many of the components of the seat have incredibly useful diagrams showing you how to fit the parts, as well as little colour-coded windows which indicate whether you have installed the part correctly or not.  This came in handy when Ian was making adjustments to the height of the base.  We did begin to make a video of Ian fitting the seat, but after perusing Youtube, I found this very well-polished video made by Joie Baby themselves.  In fact, if you have a phobia of instructions manuals (I do), I highly recommend consulting Youtube for professional instructional videos on most things, especially fitting your car seat.  A visual can often be far more informative than text.  Take a look for yourselves at just how easy this seat is to install…

Now, we received this seat a few weeks ago, and I have been meaning to publish this review since that time.  It has been delayed for a number of reasons, but actually I’m glad, because we’ve had a chance to really put the seat to the test and assess how well it works.

Firstly, the moment we put Fraser into the seat, we were met with no resistance from him.  He had been complaining every time we placed him in his old stage 0 seat.  However, he was positively excited at being sat in his new seat.  He had a more upright position, could see perfectly out of the window (just the same as his forward-facing brother) and seemed to find the seat comfortable.  It is beautifully padded and feels lovely and squishy to touch.  Indeed, several weeks of daily use of his seat, and the novelty hasn’t worn off for him.  He seems so incredibly happy in it.

I was concerned that his head may be more likely to loll forwards when he falls asleep, especially with the force of the car pulling forwards, but I always find him asleep with his head resting nicely on the side supports.  Check the picture below of him sleeping soundly in his Joie seat.

Sleeping soundly and comfortably in his Joie iAnchor.

Sleeping soundly and comfortably in his Joie iAnchor.

The iAnchor has 7 recline positions, and Fraser is currently at the first recline setting, as far forward as it can be, meaning that it is as near to the backrest of the back seats as possible.  He has plenty of leg room in the current position, and the recline position is incredibly easy to adjust even with Fraser in the seat.

7 recline positions, Fraser currently in the first setting.

7 recline positions, Fraser currently in the first setting.

One of the reactions I have had about ERF is ‘where will his legs go?’  There are many photos on Rear Facing which show older children in ERF car seats, sitting happily and comfortably with their legs bent and resting on the seat.  I’ve also since read that children who are forward-facing and have dangling legs have got no support if their legs are flung forward in a crash.  And actually, I think about how I sit when I am a passenger in the car – frequently with a leg curled under me, or with my legs on the dashboard.  My 6’4 husband is the same.  Neither of us naturally sit with our legs dangling down for a prolonged period, unless we’re at the dining table.  You can also see in the pictures that Fraser look perfectly comfortable, with adequate leg room at the first recline setting.

One of my worries was that my 6’4 husband would not be able to drive our car, a moderately-sized Seat Altea, with the iAnchor behind him as he needs the driver’s seat adjusted as far back as possible.  However, it looks as though Ian will be able to put the driver’s seat all the way back with the iAnchor reclined all the way back.  It will be a squeeze, but all in all this is great news that I will not be condemned to doing all of the driving on any long journeys we need to make.

I find that the loosening the straps on the iAnchor is easier than our Britax, hence making removing Fraser from the car easier than Finley.  The metal buckles feel better quality than the plastic buckles on our Britax, and fit together easier when fastening the buckle.  For some reason, I have been finding that the seatbelts on the iAnchor have a tendency to become twisted.  This hasn’t affected the ability of the belt to be adequately tightened, it is just a little annoying.

As with most car seats, the covers can be removed for the purpose of washing.  However, although my other car seat is filthy, and my new Joie car seat is destined to become filthy, I am highly unlikely to remove them.  I drive the kids somewhere every single day, and removing the seats for washing just wouldn’t fit in with our lifestyle.  It would be great if manufacturers could supply an extra seat cover to replace the one that is in the wash.  As an additional note, although I allow forward-facing Finley to eat in the car, I am unlikely to let Fraser do so, as I cannot monitor whether or not he is choking.  For the purposes of health and safety, I would recommend that other parents do not allow their children to eat in the car unless they can be monitored.

I have racked my brain to look for any real criticism of this seat, and I genuinely do not have any.  It feels like a really quality piece of kit to place my younger son in.  The build-quality is excellent, with all of the parts fitting well and easily.  This seat is simply a must-have for all families having baby.  As I said before, it is suitable from birth and will last until 4-years old, which means it will be the only car seat you will need to think about until your child goes to school.

We tried our 2-year old (soon to be 3) in the iAnchor, and he fit perfectly well.  He did complain that he couldn’t see me, which I can understand, as he has been accustomed to seeing me.  However, I will go so far as to say that I did not feel that he had an issue with facing the rear, it was merely the inability to see me.  This could easily be resolved with a mirror.

For me, the main and most important part of this seat is the fact that it will take my son travelling rear-facing until he is 4.  The peace of mind this gives me is enormous, and there is absolutely nothing that can argue with that.  All of the other great features of this seat are a bonus.  If you are having a baby, or have a baby and are looking to move him or her up from their stage 0 seat, I urge you to kit yourself out with an iAnchor, and bring ERF to the masses.

Thank you to Joie Baby for working with me on this post, and for more information on Joie Baby, see their website for details on specifications and stockists.

Disclaimer: This review post was written by myself (Fiona @ Free Range Chick).  All opinions are my own, and I was not paid for this post.