Warkworth Castle

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Redheads

My two daughters couldn’t be much more different.
If one didn’t look like the double of her dad and the other a mini me,
I would doubt they were related.
In musical terms if Charlotte, aged three, is a bit of chilled-out
folk, Katherine, 18 months, is more heavy metal.
As a baby Charlotte would always be on the losing end of toddler toy tussles.
Meanwhile Katherine can hijack a car from a boy twice her size.
Charlotte would never stray from my side, whereas if the door is ajar
Katherine is off down the street and doesn’t look back.
I’ve read this is often the case with a second child, growing up in
the shadow of the older sibling, having to compete with a rival for
affections and toys from birth.
But in Katherine’s case it’s different, I’m told it’s because she’s ginger.
“She’s got a temper hasn’t she,” the nursery staff tell me. “It must
be the red hair. She’s not like her sister is she? It’s like chalk and
cheese.”
She’s only 18 month and the ginger stereotyping has started already.
I am convinced if her curls were a mousy blond like her sister’s she
wouldn’t have gained quite such a fearless reputation.
From before they were born debate raged whether their dad had the
“ginger gene”. Just in case you’re not up to speed on hair colour
genetics, for a child to have red hair both parents must have the
gene. You can still carry the gene even if no one in your family is a
redhead.
The first thing the midwife said on Charlotte’s birth by emergency
section was not “don’t worry everything’s fine”, or “it’s girl”, it
was “oh she’s got red hair like her mum” – once she was cleaned-up it
was actually fair.
Nevertheless, as her sparse locks grew discussions continued:  “Ooh
there’s a definite hint of red in this light…”
When they finally admitted defeat, Katherine came along and similar
arguments ensued until in her case they were actually proved right.
I dispute the hair-temper link. My mum tells me I was the perfect
baby. Judging by the size of me from photos I reckon it was because
she fed me chocolate biscuits constantly.
However, as I am writing this Katherine has just launched herself at
her sister, commandeered her favourite toy and is running off with
what is definitely a devilish glint in her eye, while Charlotte has
collapsed in tears of woe.  Maybe there’s some truth behind the
stereotype after all.

Pink

Having two girls I swore it would never happen, but it has. My house is turning pink. Their dolls house – pink. Keyboard – pink. Scooter – pink. Even their toy garage – pink. I took my three-year-old shopping the other day and what did I come back with? A pink dress and a pink heart-shaped necklace. I first started to notice it when a friend came round with her two boys. I rummaged around for the less girly toys like my brother’s old matchbox cars, a wooden train set and that was about it. Where was the digger or fire engine? Although my friend told me her little boy loved playing with dolls and having tea parties, so he didn’t care. How had I let this happen? To give myself some credit I have not been behind all of the pink purchases, most have been gifts. But I think it’s time I put my foot down. It has only been quite recently that the three-year-old has seemed to pick up on gender and started mentioning boys and girls. Suddenly everything pink is “so pretty” and “so lovely”. In the past any trip to the shop was just about wearing me down until I caved in and bought her something sweet. But now I have to do a body search before we leave anywhere to see what glittery, sparkly pink tat she has stashed into the trolley or pushchair. Is it really important? Am I sounding like a humourless feminist? Search under top girls toys online and you get a make-up set, air hostess trolley, kitchen, shop, Barbie ballerina and nurses outfit. For boys you get a police car, more cars, lego, a lawnmower, doctors outfit and an array of guns. This “pinkification” as it has been called is only relatively recent. In the 1800s it was the done thing to dress all toddlers in a dress, up to the age of about six. The boys looked pretty funny. Until as late as the 1940s pink was considered the colour of choice for boys because it is a “more decided and stronger” colour, while blue, which is more “delicate and dainty”, is prettier for the girl. Why it then changed noone really seems to know, other than it was an astute marketing tool for retailers. I am not saying I am going to go out and burn all their toys in a big pink plastic pyre, dress them in police outfits and arm them with a gun, although that does sound like fun. But why does everything have to be for boys or for girls, what’s wrong with just plain old toys?

Put the knife down

My children are always surprising me with things I didn’t realise they could do. I found out that my eldest had outgrown her cot when there was a bump and a yelp in the night. And I realised this week that my youngest can now reach the kitchen counter when I found her wielding a kitchen knife. My heart nearly stopped as we stood in a silent standoff. No baby book I’ve ever read has told me how to disarm a toddler. So instead, having recently I am embarrassed to say watched Midsommer Murders, I found myself thinking, what would Inspector Barnaby do? Not wanting to alarm her by dashing over in a panic, I tried to stay calm and advanced slowly forward, saying what I never thought I’d be saying to a baby “Katherine, put the knife down.” Fortunately she didn’t put up too much of a fight and I managed to swiftly pluck the blade from her grip. While my children seem to be busy impressing me with their new found abilities, I have been reading this week about all the things I should be able to do, but can’t. Recent research claims traditional “mum skills” are on the decline. While nine out of 10 mums under 35 don’t know how to starch a shirt, half can’t sew and three-quarters can’t make gravy from scratch. While I did sew a button on my coat last week, although it feel off again later in the day, I didn’t even know why you would need to starch a shirt, so I thought I would look into this mysterious lost skill. I was going to ring my mum to ask her why she had forgotten to pass on this pearl of wisdom, but then I thought it would be quicker and easier to use that modern invention the internet. And to be honest I was pretty disappointed. I thought it was going to be some elaborate technique that would possibly require a YouTube video, but instead I found you buy starch spray from the supermarket then “hold can at 45° angle and spray.” I think I might be able to manage that. I do wonder about these lost “skills”. Do people go around asking what happened to the lost arts of reaping, haymaking, rabbit skinning, or weaving? I don’t think I’ll be rushing off home tonight to make some jam, but I think trying to learn a new skill of some kind can’t be a bad idea. Hopefully something a bit more taxing than starching a shirt.

Man’s Day

While my children cost me quite a lot in many ways one thing they have helped me save cash on is greeting cards. No longer do I have to waste my money buying an unfunny joke from a shop that everyone has seen before, instead my poor family and friends are lumbered on their special occasions with a piece of home-made artwork from my children. Handprints, finger prints, squiggles, random shapes stuck on card, all end up sealed in envelopes to wing their way to some unfortunate recipient who will no doubt open it and say, “what the heck is this?” and chuck it in the bin. It is only with reluctance that I sometimes relent and stick up on the wall what can only really be described as the mess that they have brought home from nursery. So I am not sure why I then think anyone is going to appreciate it on their birthday? One day in particular when their DIY cards really come into its own is Father’s Day. For years I would scour the shelves looking for a suitable “dad” category for my dad and father-in-law. What do you get for the one who does not like beer, barbecues, wine, golf, cars, horse racing, DIY or is especially attached to the TV remote? And for the one who does like a drink – will he get offended if year after year I keep sending him a card with a bottle of red on the front? But now, all I have to do is find a blank piece of paper, hand my child a pen and let her do her thing. No judgement involved. This year however we hit a snag. Having left it to the last minute as usual, we were in a rush to catch the last post and when I handed my three -year-old the pens and told her to work her magic, like a temperamental artist, she decided she did not want to draw today. No matter how much I bribed, joked, lost my rag, the inspiration just wasn’t there and she would not do as much as a dot. So, I have to come clean, I grabbed the pens and did it myself and with my forged squiggles in their envelopes, we managed to get to the post box just in time. I think I got away with it. Another thing that is popular at times like Father’s Day is what I believe is called genetic jewellery, where you get your child’s fingerprint put on a cuff link. Other ideas are also handprints on mugs or family photos on keyrings or mousepads. While I am sure any new daddy is delighted with such a personal gift, I do wonder how much they would have just preferred few beers or a pass out to the pub. It sounds like dads in Germany get the best deal. Also called Man’s Day, in the countryside it usually begins with a male-only hike accompanied by waggons filled with regional food, beer and wine, which are pulled by the men. In the cities, the done thing is to head to the beer gardens to drink all day. Many take the day off work the following Friday, and some schools are closed, too. Mother’s Day incidentally, is marked with a bunch of flowers.

Centre for Life

The Centre for Life has to be about the most child-friendly place in the universe. It is one giant playpark and once you have paid your annual membership – free! From babies, to toddlers to pre-schoolers to school children, it’s just brilliant. The kids can run wild, they can’t break anything, they can dress up, play in a toy kitchen that is better than my own real kitchen at home, watch a film in the planetarium, build towers, climb in car, and mums and dads can get a Starbucks coffee – and that is just a fraction of what’s on offer. The under 7s area upstairs is the best I have ever seen in a North East venue. Instead of the usual soft play, there is a designer kitchen, shop with cash registers, a tree house for hiding in as well as a small soft play area, and activity tables from lego to drawing. My children’s other highlights are the daily film showings, special short ones of about ten minutes shown for younger children, based on an educational theme and in a planetarium style cinema. Another winner for me is that there is a free picnic area, so you can bring your own food if you wish and are not forced to eat in the cafe. visit http://www.life.org.uk/ An adult annual pass is £24.95 including £2 gift aid and a child is £18.95 again including £2 gift aid. under 2s are free Admission for the day only is £9.95 for adults and £6.95 for children including gift aid. top tips – visit the children’s planetarium show, the under 7s area and bring your own picnic. Only downside: during the week it can be very busy if school trips are in and sometimes certain parts are closed if an exhibition is being changes, so maybe ring ahead and check what’s happening.

Tulips at Alnwick

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