Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Dishing The Dirt On Messy Play

Messy Play is one of those things that you could not even have fathomed before you become a parent.

We first heard about one at our local library when my daughter was only about six weeks old and still sleeping through most of the singing and play sessions I lugged her along to. But even then I thought to myself, "I can't wait until she is old enough to go to that!"

The idea of Messy Play is that you do things with your kids that you would never dream of doing at home.

This can be because you don't have the space or the resources. But the main reason you don't do it at home is because it would take the rest of the week to clear up afterwards - and there would be bound to be stains and remains that never truly went away.

We've been to our share of Messy Plays in children's centres and libraries now.

And the truth is, the majority of them have been a little disappointing. Well, for me, anyway.

That first time I heard tell of Messy Play, I envisioned an entire room taped with bin liners, floor to ceiling, with buckets of paint everywhere, slippy slides dripping with cooked spaghetti and paddling pools full of jelly, where children - also wearing bin liners in my filthy fantasy - sloshed and splashed and slid about and had to be hosed down afterwards.

The reality is pretty much the same set up as a regular play session, but with a bit of paint or play dough on a table (Come one, that's just craft), a water table with some bubbles in and a few bath toys, and maybe a token tray of Rice Krispies with some spoons and cups.

The children still have fun of course, and just being able to paint some handprints and splash some water and not get it all over your living room is a lot to be grateful for.

But the staff hover uneasily over you with a broom and a roll of paper towel, and a pained look in their eyes that says, "I have to clean all this up after you've all gone home." And it all just feels a bit half-hearted.

Then the amazing Andrea moved to our local children's centre and it was like we had struck oil.

She filled paddling pools with cooked spaghetti and sandpits with flour and coloured water and actively encouraged the children to get in and roll around.

She added glitter and shaving foam to the water table and she covered another with cottonwool balls and paint.

Watching the children splashing about in the cottonwool goop she commented, "I really wanted to get them to throw it at the wall, but I don't think the janitor would ever forgive me."

I am sure this is some parents idea of a nightmare.

At bath time when we got home I found the folds of my daughter's skirt were stuck together with a wodge of purple dough, and there was glitter in her nappy.

Last week it was particularly hot and we arrived at Messy Play to be told by Andrea, "There are beans outside."

For a second a tray of dry beans popped into my head, but almost instantly I knew what she meant.

"Shall we just get naked?" I asked, as I rubbed suncream into my daughters arms.

A minute later she was wallowing gloriously in a bath of baked beans, wearing nothing but a sun hat and a nappy.

Nearby one of her little friends was rolling around in a pool of baby oil and blue paint.

As wholly inappropriate as it may be, I couldn't help the tune of Christina Aguilera's Dirrty coming into my head - the perfect soundtrack as I watched my daughter writhe around in baked beans, blue paint flecked across her face.

Andrea quickly added warm water to her rubber duck pool and put out piles of towels, helping to wrap up the oiled-up, blue babies before they slipped through their mother's arms.

We always think carefully about what not to wear when we know we are going to Messy Play now. I just need to start packing my own change of clothes as well....

This post is dedicated to Andrea, the dirtiest person we know.
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Olympics 2016: Alternative Medals For Parents

I must confess, I tire of Olympics coverage pretty quickly.

Okay, so Laura Trott can cycle really fast, Simone Biles can smile and do backflips at the same time and Usain Bolt is apparently, 'immortal'.

But these sports men and women have been training for years. They devote their lives to crossing that finishing line first, clinching that medal and title for themselves and basking in the glory.

I'm by no means saying what they do is easy, but I object to them being called heroes.

True heroes, in my eyes, devote their lives to improving other people's. They are doctors and nurses, firefighters, teachers and humanitarian aid workers. Where are their medals?

Anyway, before I get stuck on my high horse, let me climb back down to my usual base level.

If pushing yourself to your physical and mental limit, devoting every moment of your time to achieving your goal and trying to be the best in the world at something deserves a medal, then there needs to be a Parenting Olympics.

Here are some categories I am ready to compete in. But never mind a medal, I'll be happy with just being recognised for taking part.

Baby weightlifting
My back is done in and my biceps more bulging than a very wet nappy. Carrying a small child takes its toll, and lowering a sleeping one into bed is an art form.

Long distance buggy pushing
Pounding up and down hill, navigating busy pavements and bumpy paths and weaving around supermarket aisles - an elite buggy pusher must train hard to be in peak physical fitness and hone their control and steering skills to be the best on the track.

Nappy changing gymnastics
It may be the baby who does all the backflips and lunges during this sport, but chasing after a child with a dirty nappy hanging half off or trying to finish fastening a fresh one onto a disappearing charge require some pretty deft moves yourself.

Household chore rugby
Whether it's trying to tidy up the sitting room with a wriggling tot on your hip or attempting to fix your own lunch with a suckling baby balanced on your breast, you need the agility of a rugby fly half and the strength of an entire scrum.

Toy hurdling
The supermarket delivery man is knocking and you have to answer before he stuffs his, 'Sorry we missed you', slip through the letterbox and races off to his next slot. But there are a pile of building blocks, numerous That's Not My... books, a stuffed lion and a baby walker between you and the front door. Can you vault them all and make it the finish line without a fall?

Baby dressage
Some may question whether this is actually a sport, but grooming your baby, dressing them up and then demonstrating their dexterity and obedience in front of a critical audience - we are all going for gold every day.
Run Jump Scrap!
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

12 Favourite Baby Toys Tried And Tested By An Expert

This week I took a big bag of toys to the charity shop. They were all items that we had been given second hand that made annoying noises - some of which didn't even have an off switch - and if my daughter had ever given them a second glance, she had lost interest pretty fast. Something tells me those particular toys will never have a home for life.

A study in 2010 found the average child owned 238 toys but only played with a core favourite 12 on a daily basis.

This led me to ponder my ten-month-old daughter's favourite toys.

So here they are, in no particular order (her preferences vary anyway). Tried and tested by an expert - if you count a baby as an authority on what they like to play with.

1. My hair
Easily accessible, portable, good to chew on and great fun to yank and maul into a bird's nest. She never seems to lose interest in my hair. Except occasionally when she moves on to trying to poke at my eyeballs.

2. Glasses
Those on people's faces, but also sunglasses that have been left unattended and just out of reach. She relishes the challenge of getting hold of them and can then find opening the arms and trying to snap them off fascinating for ages. She has a toy pair of giant red glasses, but for some reason they don't hold the same appeal.

3. A plastic bottle
Her first significant crawl was made across the floor in pursuit of my water bottle. Give her a room full of toys and she will almost always head straight for the bottle. The ridged lids apparently give her more comfort than any of her teething toys.

4. The doorstop
The filthy, old, wooden doorstop that was wedging open our kitchen door when we moved in. No amount of scrubbing it with antibacterial wash will ever get it looking truly clean, and yet she'd rather put that in her mouth then any of the other toys I set out on the floor in a bid to tempt her. Time to buy a new doorstop...

5. My handbag
Whether it's just a yank on the strap or a full root through and unpack, my handbag is a bottomless pit of entertainment as far as she is concerned. Except for the toys in it - they are always the first things to be cast aside as she dives in for a pen or my wallet.

6. The bath plug
It doesn't matter how full the bath is of bright plastic ducks and buckets and bubbles, the plug is always there glistening at the bottom, drawing her towards it.

7. The Sudocream tub
You haven't lived until you've played Sudo Bongos.

8. The Lidl special offers leaflet
She loves to read, any book or paper will do. But the Lidl leaflet offers a special source of intrigue. She likes to peruse it slowly and in detail, perhaps planning next week's shop? Before shredding it up into a million pieces.

9. Mobile phone or tablet
Not to watch videos of Peppa Pig but just to gaze at, grab hold of and drool on. It is her biggest contender for our attention and so she is understandably enthralled.

10. A packet of wet wipes
She hates having her face wiped and will whine as soon as she sees me reach for the packet. But in her own hands it's another matter. It comes in as a handy distraction technique for stopping her grabbing my hair or rolling away while she has her nappy changed.

11. Socks
The answer to that age old question of, 'Why is there always an odd sock in the laundry basket?', is so obvious. My daughter threw one off somewhere between the bus stop and our front door.

12. Stones
No stone is too big, too small, too dirty or too far away. What at first seems a great free and readily available way of keeping her occupied as she rakes them up, throws them, piles them or rolls them, always backfires when she eventually puts one in her mouth. And the more she is told, 'No', the more tasty they become.

What is your child's favourite thing to play with?
Rhyming with Wine
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Crawling Dead

If this was a zombie movie my daughter and I would not make it to the end.

We would be the supporting characters who get bumped off halfway through - barricaded out of the safe house despite our desperate pleas, battering on the door, utterly helpless as the zombies plod in and devour us.

For we are contagious.

She came down with it over a week ago. A nasty cough that got worse, and teamed-up with a fever and snotty nose to keep her awake, miserable and inconsolable for a whole night.

After getting a bad back from lying at an awkward angle with a snivelling child clamped to my breast in exchange for no sleep, I arose to find my throat had become raw and my sinuses were all bunged up.

So we've both been shuffling around with streaming noses and hacking coughs, but not quite ill enough to just stay in bed all day and do nothing.

Only, where are we allowed to go? I suddenly find myself running the gauntlet of germ etiquette.

We were invited to a play date in the park. I reasoned that being outdoors, all the germs would disperse into the atmosphere, neutralising our contagion.

But then she started putting other people's toys in her mouth and getting all touch feely, and no amount of fresh air was going to make up for that direct transfer of saliva.

All of a sudden another baby's nose had started running and I began to feel as though we had big red crosses painted on our foreheads, like they did to the houses of Plague victims during The Black Death.

I thought other mothers liked germs.

I'd heard about legendary chicken pox parties, where everyone gets invited round to catch the lurgy and get it over and done with.

It all builds up their immune system doesn't it?

And apparently germs are at their most contagious before the symptoms even start to appear. So actually, it's all those really healthy looking kids you need to watch out for - they more than likely have a snot storm lurking inside them.

But when we got invited to someone else's house I felt obliged to send an advanced warning that we may be carriers of a vicious virus, and were fully prepared to be ostracised from all toddler activities and banished to an island for sniffling zombies.

I needn't have worried. The message came back that they had been infiltrated already - they all had runny noses anyway.

It would be pointless putting red crosses on the foreheads of germ-ridden children. Not only would it mean marking every single one, but the two strands of snot running down the top lip already does the job.

And as I looked around the park this afternoon the zombies already seemed to have taken over.

I don't think even Andrew Lincoln can save us now...
3 Little Buttons
The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback
My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows
A Mum Track Mind