What are your Christmas traditions? For Grump and I, who have been together for a looooooong time, we always go for a curry on Christmas Eve. Pre-kids we used to go to the pub with our friends and then off for a drunken curry at 10pm (not ideal for digestion or the hangover the next day, I know!). Since having the J, we have still had our Xmas Eve curry, but as a relaxed takeaway at home, once she had gone to bed. She is now coming up to 3 years old and I feel that this is the first year she really understands Christmas. So it got me thinking about traditions and what we could start with her.
The J is old enough to get excited about Father Christmas (FC) and receiving presents, but young enough to not really understand or question the mechanics of how it all works. This year, I plan for us to write a letter to FC and leave him a mince pie, a glass of sherry and a carrot for Rudolph (as I did as a child). FC will bring her a stocking on Xmas day (full of Pound Shop goodies) and then all of the other bigger presents will be from family members/friends. Why should a fictional character get all the credit for the lovely presents that other people have bought her?!
I’m not convinced on Christmas Eve boxes, as it is giving yet more presents and the J got very overwhelmed with the level of presents last year. This year we have cut back massively. For me, the magic of Christmas is spending time with people you love – and eating an obscene amount of roast potatoes. Perhaps in the future, we could watch a Christmas film together as a family on Christmas Eve? And when the J is a bit older, we can get her properly into eating curry! Annabel Karmel’s microwave chicken tikka just doesn’t cut it.
I know that FC is about creating Christmas magic, but all of this lying is very stressful as a parent. I’d be interested to know what you tell your kids about FC and also which presents are from him? To make things worse, everywhere we go we’ve seen an FC with a very fake beard. Even in Sainsbury’s! Do you say it is a regional representative of FC? The lies are spiralling. But, I’m not going to be that parent who tells their child the truth and ruins Christmas for everyone else.
So this year we are breaking our tradition as a couple and all going for an early dinner at a local pub with my parents, as we won’t see them on Christmas Day. The plus point is that we can walk there in under 5 minutes and they serve delicious food (and wine…)! While it isn’t curry, the world isn’t going to end because we have broken tradition. I’m pretty sure that Tom’s family will thank us on Christmas Day when we aren’t doing smelly curry farts all day, too!
While I am keen to start a family tradition with the J, I also don’t want to be tied down to having to follow through with something elaborate and expensive every year. Don’t even get me started on Elf on the Shelf – that little sod is not welcome in our house.
As a final note: don’t forget to explain to your little ones that they can’t open presents sitting under the tree. Last night, I heard rustling and caught the J opening one of the presents (ironically it was for her). I did tell her off, but she was a bit confused as to what she had done wrong. I might have forgotten that we hid the presents last year and had not made it clear that we don’t open anything until Christmas Day. Bless her heart!
Happy Christmas to you all, whatever your traditions are.
When Petit Fernand approached me and asked me to try out some of its personalised clothing labels, my initial thought was that I probably don’t need name labels for an almost two-year-old child. Those sorts of things are for children who are going to school, surely? But I was wrong. It turns out it is very useful to have name labels for a toddler. Mostly because they leave their stuff EVERYWHERE!
First and foremost, I labelled the J’s shoes, coat, hat etc. for when I take her to the childminder. That way, if something gets left behind (likely) or taken home by someone else by mistake, it is obvious who it belongs to. Those readers who know me well might be aware that I can be a little bit possessive about my things (and now the J’s things). It stems from lending people rubbers and pencils at school and then never getting them back. I like to know where my things are and I get very stressed when I can’t find something or lend something and don’t get it back within a reasonable time frame.
Labelling the J’s clothes reminded me of when I was at university and I decided to put a little blob of pink nail varnish on the underside of the handles of my saucepan set. In the second year, one of the girls I lived with had a very similar set. When we moved out and were sorting out our belongings she was adamant that a particular saucepan was hers. She could be very persuasive and I almost gave in to her when I remembered my nail varnish. I looked underneath the handle and low and behold there was a little blob of pink. Ah ha! I very smugly took back my saucepan.
So, I was pleased to be able to indulge my mild-OCD habits by labelling most of the J’s clothes and shoes. I also realised part way through the labelling-fest that I also had some ‘item’ labels too, so I have now labelled all of her drinks bottles and cups – again useful at playgroup when most of the kids have similar cups. I also think that name labels are a good tool for the J, because every time she has a drink, gets dressed or puts on her shoes, she is looking at the label and seeing her name. Plus, the picture and bright colours catch her attention. While she is far too young to start learning to read, it can’t hurt to get her used to seeing her name written down.
I also lent a bag of baby clothes to a friend the other day and rather than write out the J’s initials on the washing label of each item, I just stuck on a name label. It saves any awkward conversations when the time comes to return the clothes and you aren’t sure who lent you which items and what belongs to whom!
I tried out the starter value pack from Petit Fernand, which gave you a mix of stick-on labels and iron-on labels. Both types were quick and easy to apply. The starter value pack has 20 stick-on clothing name labels; 20 iron-on clothing name labels; 10 stick-on item name labels; 10 stick-on shoe labels; and 20 stick-on item name labels.
My favourite thing about these labels was that they could be personalised with a small image (we chose a unicorn obvs!) and then different colour schemes and patterns. I designed these for the J, but it would be fun to do this with an older child – giving them a say in the image and colour choices.
My only criticism was that while you could change the colour scheme and pattern, you could only choose one image for each different label in the starter pack. It would be nice to be able to choose 4 or 5 different pictures to go with the different designs as there were so many cute ones to choose from!
Having used these labels for a couple of months, they have lasted well and retained their ‘stick’ – they haven’t faded at all. At £22 for 80 labels the starter pack is excellent value for money and gives you everything you need for one child. Petit Fernand also sells packs for nursery, school, holiday camps/school trips, as well as personalised water bottles and lunch boxes.
Disclaimer: I was given a starter value pack of labels from Petit Fernand in return for writing an honest unbiased product review.
So it turns out, I’m not really a baby person. They are cute, but also quite boring. They just don’t do much. I have only recently come to realise this, as I am absolutely loving the J at the moment. She is almost 14 months and she is so much fun. She’s just started walking and she’s trying her best to talk (it’s mostly random sounds, but she really goes for it with the baby babble as if she is having a proper conversation).
Her personality is starting to come through, which is slightly unnerving as she really is her mother’s daughter – we are talking tantrums, mood swings and hanger. She is fascinated with everything and has this pure, ecstatic joy when she likes something, such as going on the swings, playing with her best dog pal Alfie, and getting a biscuit. There is something pretty special about watching your child discover the world. The crazy thing is, I know that she is hitting all the normal milestones at the normal times, but every time she learns something new, I feel like she is some sort of child genius and I am so amazed by her. She has this thirst for life, which is infectious.
The bond she has with both sets of grandparents is just lovely to watch. She wants to spend time with them and they seem to love being with her. They have that same sense of joy at watching her learn. It is almost as if they haven’t had children of their own and are experiencing it all for the first time. We all sit there, getting excited about the fact that she pointed at the dog and said “woo woo”. (Ignoring the fact that she also pointed at the chair and said the same thing.) She must be a bright! A child-genius in the making!
Typically, this period of fun has coincided with me working almost full-time and Grump being on Easter holidays – so he is off having great fun with the J and I am slaving away in the office. To be honest, I can’t complain. I love being back at work, and although it is tiring, I feel like I have a higher purpose. I really like being part of a team again and I’m finding pride in being my own boss, bringing in a bit of extra cash (and planning how to spend it), managing my own invoices and getting advance bookings.
I know that freelancing can be tough and I certainly found that out when I had two and a bit months with not much work. Plus the hours can be unsociable – I stayed up working until 11.30pm the other night, because the client didn’t send me the work until 8pm and I had to finish it that night (if you are a non-parent reading this, 11.30pm is VERY late for tired mummies and daddies to go to bed. In fact, 10.30pm is late. My ideal bedtime is 9.30pm and if I’ve had a really busy day 9pm. Oh how times have changed!). I also find that I do bits of work at the weekends and on my ‘days off’ (I’ve put this in speech marks as it may be called a day off, but I’m looking after a now fully-mobile toddler, so it can’t really be considered a break). But I’m enjoying the work, the responsibility and the flexibility that being freelance brings.
But back to the main subject – the best age so far. I’m sure as the years go by there will be other ages that I love and there are elements of each stage that have been fun, frustrating and bloody hard. I miss those lazy days of cuddling your newborn baby on the sofa, watching endless episodes of Downton Abbey/Games of Thrones/(insert favourite box-set here), drinking hot chocolate and ordering Grump to bring me things because I was breastfeeding and couldn’t move. I liked taking the J to baby sensory and watching her lay on the floor (not rolling over or crawling away) and staring up in wonder at the pretty lights and floaty mobiles. I liked watching her learn to crawl and discovering the different tastes of baby rice, puree and solid foods (now she only eats sweetcorn, peas and blueberries – and she will not be spoon fed).
All of these things I liked, but at this age, right now, I am so in love with my little girl. In the past, every now and again, I would get a moment where my heart melted and I felt this surge of love for her. I get those moments every day. Perhaps it is amplified, because I am at work from 9am-5.30pm and so the time first thing in the morning and in the evening is precious? But she is constantly surprising me, making me laugh and showing me her new skills. She seems so much cuter, more fun, more herself.
She has suddenly gone from baby to child. It is as if she has found herself and is loving it. When she catches her reflection in the mirror and gives herself an almost flirty look. When she hears music and starts to do her funny little bobbing dance. When she knows she is about to do something that she’s not supposed to and she turns to look at me and gives me a cheeky, knowing grin, and then does it anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, having a child with a big personality means that she also goes big when she’s in a bad mood. And my goodness, she lets you know if she’s not happy. Things that upset her include:
Having her nappy changed
Being given food she doesn’t feel like eating
Having anything taken away from her (toys, stones, the dog’s ball, dirt she picks up from the floor)
Pointing at something and you not bringing her the correct thing right away
Getting dressed, undressed, basically any removal of clothes
Having her face and hands wiped (I think this is true for all children, though)
And sometimes, there’s just nothing wrong at all and she throws herself down on the floor in a rage as if the whole world is ending. I thought tantrums didn’t start until they hit two years old? But I wouldn’t change her for the world, even if it made my life a bit easier. So here’s to enjoying motherhood – it’s only taken me 13 months, but I can finally say that I’m properly enjoying it… for now
Can you remember your first birthday party? No, me neither. It’s a very special day for us as parents, we kept a little human alive for a whole year – that’s pretty impressive and should be celebrated. But why do we go to all that stress and effort when, let’s face it, our child doesn’t really understand what’s going on? It is nice to make a fuss for yourself and for friends and family, and we all love to brag a bit on social media, but is it really worth the expense and stress?
Let them eat cake
For starters there’s the cake. I have fond memories of all the amazing cakes my Mum used to make. But actually, I don’t really remember them. I just look back at old photographs. There was the hedgehog one with Kit Kat spikes and I’m sure many of you had the one with a Barbie in the middle and the cake was her skirt. There’s no way I have the time or the inclination to make a cake that epic. Perhaps a fun job to delegate to Granny? In fact, I asked my Mum to make a cake for the J’s birthday and she agreed. I’ve since found out that she’s making a plain fruit cake and has asked her friend to make the proper cake. I think she has wised up to the hassle/pressure of icing and decorating.
On another note, we have tried really hard to keep the J from eating too much sugar and salt. I know at some point she will try cake/sweets/crisps and fizzy pop, but is it fair to make her a lovely cake, let her blow out the candles and then not let her eat any? I’d definitely get the hanger if someone did that to me! Should I make a separate baby-friendly cake for the children (when I say I, what I actually mean is get someone else to make) or is that just being a bit too fussy? I feel like it is way too fussy and I don’t have time for that shizz. Obviously when your kids are older they will no doubt be eating lots of cake. But a one year old? I tend to think that if they are only going to have a little taste then bake a full-fat, full-sugar, proper tasty one and let the adults enjoy it. We deserve it!
Who do you invite?
When you start thinking about who you would like to invite to your child’s first birthday party, the guest list can grow at an alarming rate. There’s your close family, friends who have babies/kids, NCT couples and their babies, new friends from baby classes/playgroup with babies, extended family (I’m talking our aunties, uncles and cousins), godparents and well-meaning work colleagues and all of a sudden you’ve got 100 people and need to hire a hall. Basically, it’s mine and Grump’s fault for being too darn popular.
Seeing as we don’t have the budget to hire a portaloo, let alone the village hall (totes my fault for launching freelance career and not having enough work…yet), we’ve decided to have a small gathering for the J’s birthday, with our parents, my brother, Grump’s sister and their partners (and the J’s new little cousin). I’m planning a chilled afternoon with a bit of cake and some presents (although my parents have informed me that we should also provide finger sandwiches and crisps, or we are just being rude).
Then, because all of my NCT friends are having gatherings/parties for their children and I felt like a mean old scrooge, I’ve decided to invite them all over for some cake (I bought this one from Sainsbury’s) and to play with the J’s toys, which I know she hates. She will probably sit in the corner sulking and giving them all evils, while five sugar-crazed one-year-olds run riot in my living room. (I’ve written this for dramatic effect – love you guys and your babies and the J loves sharing her toys too…).
Present and correct
Then there’s the present etiquette? If, like me, you’ve got lots of friends who have had babies in the last 18 months, who do you buy for? I’ve worked out that I have around 15 people I could potentially buy a present for if I was being mega generous. And how much do you spend on each child? One of my pals whose little boy is a few months older than the J told me that she had at least seven birthday parties last year. She set a budget of £10 per child, but that’s still £70! Now that she knows who she needs to buy for next year she is going to stock up in the January sales and get toys on 2 for 1 deals. That is savvy parenting! I probably sound stingy, but when you’ve been on maternity pay for months, or if you choose to be a SAHM, money is a little tighter than when you worked up in London full time and would happily spend £4.50 on a fruit smoothie from Crush and eat lunch at Pret every other day.
I have chosen a little plastic tea set for the J that was only £10 from ELC. She gets so spoiled by our families (I’m going on their generosity at Christmas) that I don’t feel the need to buy her lots of expensive gifts. However, after setting my budget of £10, I have since gone on to buy her a unisex puzzle (it’s got tractors on it and ‘boy’ stuff) and some 12-18 months clothes from Sainsbury’s, because I cannot say no to their cute colour-and-pattern combos. Total birthday spend: under £30.
Am I being a Scrooge? Maybe. Perhaps if we had more disposable income, I’d be up for a big party and lots of pressies. But I also don’t want a spoiled child. Or a hyper sugar-high baby who won’t sleep. I’m not having a go at people who go big for their baby’s first birthday. Good for you! I just don’t like the idea of parents feeling that they have to organise something for other children and keep other parents happy. This is your special day (OK officially it is your child’s special day, but YOU deserve a party). In fact, what about an alternative to the traditional first birthday party? How about a party for the parents to celebrate getting through their child’s first year? It could involve a long lie in, full English breakfast, a massage and drinking copious amounts of Prosecco with your pals and then dancing the night away to some old-skool classics, among other treats. I never got a ‘push present’ (to be fair, I find the notion of this slightly ridiculous. Surely the push present is the baby?), so maybe an expensive piece of jewellery. Oh wait, I’ve not been working for the past year and all our money has gone on Aptamil and Pampers… scrap that.
Whether you are going the whole hog with a proper party or just having something a bit more intimate with family, it is important to not to get stressed or overwhelmed and to focus on the reason you are celebrating. Your little bundle of joy is having their very first birthday. Hopefully a wonderful time that is the start of many great years to come. If you have the time, make a nice cake (and finger sandwiches, obvs), decorate your home/hall/function room with balloons and banners, choose a pretty card and fun present (or anything that will keep them quiet for five minutes) and take lots of photos, so that when your child is all grown up they can look back on their first birthday with fond memories.