What is childhood?

Artist Raindropmemory from www.wallpaperswide.com

Artist Raindropmemory from http://www.wallpaperswide.com

Reading the comments below this blog post on extra-curricular activities for children has got me thinking – what is childhood?

Are those who say “let children be children” and “XXX is being robbed of his childhood” a bit disillusioned? It’s only in recent decades society has romanticised childhood. Before the war and for hundreds of years (and in many countries even today) children were/are expected to work in factories, not have an education and provide for their family doing laborious, and very dangerous, jobs.

Children now in the Western world have never had it better. Education, toys, technology and more all on their doorstep. No longer are they shoved up a chimney or whipped to fetch a pail of water. Most are privileged to have loving families, a school system to help them succeed and to participate in extra curricular activities, which more often than not, are fun.

A fair number of parents shake their heads disapprovingly at the latter. When a parent is prepared to pour their time and money (not to say it always requires money) into educating and bettering their children, how can that be a bad thing? I see and hear about parents who don’t read to their kids, aren’t fussed about homework and let them play on the streets until dark in the name of childhood. Letting their child fall out of education without a plan in place, because you know, little Timmy is still trying to work out the path he wants to take.

Children get stressed when they have too many choices. Choices should be arbitrary (“would you like a custard cream or a digestive?”) not about serious life decisions. No child will ever volunteer themselves for maths tuition (or anything else that requires effort quite frankly), but that doesn’t mean it’s cruel to enrol them. DS1 started Kumon workbooks I bought from Amazon from aged three and they were a game to him.

At aged five, DS1 has been enrolled onto the Kumon course for three months now. He gets home from school, has a snack, does his 20 page Kumon worksheet in approximately 15 minutes, practises reading with his daily book from school and then he is allowed free play. He understands the routine, there’s no fight, no shouting, no tears. The misconception that a strict routine entails negativity from the parent is wrong. He is praised for his efforts and excited for the sticker at the end. Kumon hasn’t only taught him sums – he’s learnt routine, concentration (even when the task in hand isn’t brightly coloured and flashing to get your attention like most activities – that’s another blog post for another time…), to work autonomously, self-correction, seeing things through to the end, pencil control among many others.

The key to success is to be relentless with everything you do. I try my best to instil good habits from an early age, so as they grow up my children are hungry to achieve for themselves.

Food for thought.

I have always been a bit obsessive mindful of DS’ eating habits, paying close attention to the food groups and making sure he had a balanced diet from the word go. Some might consider my behaviour a bit abnormal, I mean, I have been known to stand in the yoghurt aisle for a good fifteen minutes, noting each pot for it’s sugar, salt and saturated fat content.

Knowing this about me, my seven year old sister was a little anxious about staying at my house this weekend. She’s that kid you see in the TV programmes, junk food galore, shunning every vegetable in sight. My mission was to break her down, remove the crisps and replace with fruit and well balanced meals.

It wasn’t as difficult as I first anticipated. I allowed no room for discussion, outlining that her dislike for one thing or another just did not matter. Sometimes children and adults have to do things we don’t necessarily want to. It’s important to embed this young, teaching children to get over things easily, otherwise you end up with an adult who has learnt to be spoilt like me.

I made eating fun, getting DS and my sister to race against each other – who can eat the fastest, who can find the carrot first, who has the biggest chunk of salmon. If they grew tired of the games and receded back to moaning about their meals, I would not even acknowledge that either had spoken. I like to be hard but fair in my approach – speaking to children matter-of-factly seems to work well.

Some would view the spectrum above and believe the best position would be to place themselves in the middle – well balanced, a bit of everything. The stigma of mothers who stand firmly on the right end of the spectrum, is over presumptuous and gives excuses to those who wish they could have done better. Mothers who obsess over healthy eating slave away in the kitchen, they create children who are gagging for a bit of chocolate, alienated by their peers and when they are older they’ll over indulge.

It’s not true. It takes me 20 minutes tops to make DS’ lunch every time. We eat the same dinners. It is just as quick to pick up an apple as it is to grab a packet of salt ridden Walkers. Children who go without are resigned to this fact. When they are older, they will become equally as apathetic. Something went wrong for the children who do over indulge.

Hopefully my prudence will spur my sister on to eat with variety and encourage DS to continue his love for healthy foods. I don’t think I can convince her to steer away from junk food entirely – I don’t work miracles.

Going potty over pants.

So I’ve been a bit neglectful of my blog over the past three months recently, but for real good reasons. Honestly.

My time has been mainly consumed by house-hunting (don’t even get me started on this) and potty-training – as well as the chaos that is my everyday life. Training a 2.5 year old boy to urinate and excrete in the ‘right’ place wasn’t an easy ride, there have been tears on both sides. I say ‘right’ with inverted commas, because, in DS’ mind, who am I to decide where is and isn’t appropriate to take a p*ss when over the 200,000 years since humans graced the earth, the majority of the population have let go wherever they so please. I can only imagine that kind of philosophical thinking in a 2.5 year old has such a deep and wonderful meaning that it occurs in the most condensed and simplest form.

So we played hardball with potty training, mainly because I only had 5 days where I wasn’t working so I didn’t have endless weeks to faff around. We didn’t leave the house for four days, until we felt we could trust DS would give us some kind of indication of needing the toilet. Even then we only went to other people’s houses, as the stress of venturing anywhere public was inconceivable.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of DS’ toilet habits, but he very quickly learnt to use the potty and the toilet (hurrah!). At home, when he is out the house with us or looked after by Grandma, he doesn’t have accidents at all. At nursery, he does use the potty for wees but it seems to still soil his pants on more occasions than not, which leads me nicely into the crux of this blog post.

The majority of the time DS is unable to hold his bowels for the day and ends up poo-ing himself, nursery have taken the decision to bin his pants. It is not every time, on occasion they bag it up, but I have noticed DS’ pants collection decreasing by the day. What was once a nice assortment of twenty M&S and Gap undies, has now diminished to ten. Needless to say, I have replaced them with Asda George and Primark.

I am yet to read the policy on binning soiled pants, but I do think throwing away DS’ clothes without my permission is a bridge too far. They are not disposable, they are expensive items of clothing. Regardless where they are from, parents cannot afford to constantly replace pants, just when they thought a saving had been made on no longer buying nappies.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

A paper Easter basket filled with mini Lindor chocolate eggs, made by my little sister.

The Easter holidays are upon us, which usually means time off, free chocolate and some kind of religious festivity. Though I am somewhat excluded from all three, in consideration that I don’t work in the education sector, am an atheist and not much of a chocolate fanatic. DS naturally falls into my latter three, being a baby and not having much of a choice himself.

I am aware that as he grows older, he will gain interest in the things I try to shield him from (i.e. Easter eggs). But the thought of giving my baby boy an Easter egg, or anything else sugary coated, horrifies me. Children have the rest of their adult lives to eat, or do, whatever they like; it seems ridiculous to give a baby chocolate just because it’s mean not to. He doesn’t think it’s mean, because he doesn’t know any better.

DS has only tried chocolate once or twice, because nursery had slipped up, and he is not overly crazed about it. Honestly, he would happily devour an apple and not think I was cruel. My line of thought is that all children are inquisitive and it is our job as parents to guide them down the right path. If we start as we mean to go on, children will trust their routine, take comfort in the rules set and hopefully grow up not being all that phased by the junk that is constantly shoved in their faces.

So now you know my stance on the matter (though you could have probably guessed), rest assured any chocolate presented to DS will not be wasted, it will be thoroughly enjoyed by DH and I.

Get Out of my Hair.

I love DS’ hair. His luscious long locks, coupled with his sweeping fringe, is a rich chocolate brown and on occasion shines golden in the sunlight. It can be tucked behind his ears or left untamed in all it’s glory.

I take pride in my boy’s hair and do feel insulted when we are greeted with, ‘I think you should get his haircut soon‘, as if anyone other than Mummy and Daddy have any sway on what DS’ hair looks like.

We have only taken him to the hairdressers twice, both experiences were rather traumatic for everyone involved. I am not averse to getting his hair cut more often, although I do find it heartbreaking. Not just the physical cutting of the hair and handling a very strong toddler who will battle with all his might, but his hair has become part of his identity and to snip a part off does not sit well with me.

I cannot ever imagine my boy with a shaven head, or to generally not have it long. There must be a word to describe exactly what the feeling would be, devastation would come close, but slightly overdramatic I guess.

I will say it once more for clarity; DS Will Not Be Undergoing Any Form of Significant Hair Loss Resulting From a Pair of Scissors. 

Toys Are Us.

So Christmas has been and gone as fast as it came, leaving a trail of oversized plastic monstrosities and a mother desperate for more storage. It appears last year’s storage solutions are no longer fit for the job and I now have specific corners of each room dedicated for DS’ toys and books.

I have managed to hide all plastic out of sight, in places easily accessible to DS. They are just such an eyesore, tasteless and oh so American. We have lots of wooden toys, which are just (or even more so) enjoyable and they are mechanically very clever. Like the snail pull along toy that bobs up and down when pulled across the room, or the intricate detail in the tools for work bench we bought DS for one of his Christmas presents. Classic, impressive and definitely not tacky. Actually, let me tip toe back a bit, I do like Lego. I’ll give you that.

For comparison; classic wooden car park Grandma bought DS..

VS.

..a plastic monstrosity. Luckily we didn't receive this.

I am planning on getting rid of old toys to allow for more space this week, but I am a secret hoarder for memories. I know cannot continue following DS through life with a hoover in one hand and a suction bag in another. I am setting myself up for a fall when he lives for University and I am left at home clutching at his toggle coat from aged 1 and playing with his Mega Bloks.

Terrible Twos.

Terrible twos; one of those umbrella terms we use for tiredness, teething, overexcitement, generally misbehaving, to ward off prying onlookers and those who love to judge. Whilst you are squalling in your cot for no apparent reason, dear DS, I seem somewhat bipolar in my newly adopted children’s TV presenter persona, whilst secretly wanting to scream.

My grandmother asks, “why do you not shout at him or smack him so he knows he’s misbehaving?” Clearly there is a generational gap in our views and practices. Shouting and displaying violence would merely teach DS those actions are acceptable, which they are obviously not. My strategy to kill with kindness is nearly always a very long and drawn out pursuit to distract DS from whatever it is he is so distraught about. The other day he threw a tantrum because he would not allow me to put on his other shoe and insisted on hobbling around the room. There really is no reasoning with a child.

Anyway, it’s not like there is a specific age where children just suddenly morph from an angelic baby to this monstrous being. Understandably around the age of two a child starts to develop a real personality and becomes defiant in their wants and, less so, needs. But it is not only two year olds that are terrible, my sister is six, she is pretty terrible too.

It seems the age of two is the beginning of something that nearly never ends.