Building a library for children, part 3

I am going into dangerous territory with this blog: I am entering the world of Twee. It’s not fashionable these days, and it’s not encouraged, and I have my reservations about it as much as any other feminist, but I do like a bit of twee, of things that are fancy, sweet and tiny and pretty and dainty.

I don’t know what started it off, but I suspect an early fascination for all things miniature went hand in hand with a love of flowers – I was very keen on making miniature gardens as a child, the sort where you put moss in a plastic tray and a mirror for a pond.

As we were growing up in the countryside with parents keen on wildlife, learning the names of wild plants was a given – and my mum encouraged this by giving me my first Flower Fairy books when I was about 7. (I remember the occasion as they were a present after I’d had a very minor operation in hospital, along with what became another much loved book, Little House in the Big Woods).

I think my mum – not otherwise a fan of fairy related stuff – liked the Flower Fairies because the floral illustrations were accurate, and didn’t just focus on pretty flowers.

She pointedly *didn’t* buy me Flower Fairies of the Garden, thinking garden plants are not nearly as interesting as wild ones – and the Flower Fairies of the Wayside includes some of the most despised weeds, including groundsel and goose-grass.

The Flower Fairies of the Autumn also taught me the difference between white and black bryony, and was my first introduction to poisonous plants and berries.

This came in useful when I was able to reassure other parents at the toddler’s nursery that the plant we’d found in its  garden was in fact not deadly nightshade but the less likely to be fatal (but still nasty) woody nightshade. Phew.

Of course it helped that when I was growing up, many of these plants were commonly found in the hedgerows so I was able to learn them and recognise them – I saw them all the time.

It won’t be quite so easy for a city dwelling child, but we have woods nearby which we visit quite often, and plenty of flowers in our garden have been inspired by my childhood love of the Flower Fairies, so I hope she’ll pick up some knowledge on the way. And knowing which berries not to eat is basic common sense information all children should learn.

The poems which accompany the Flower Fairy pictures are probably verging too much on the twee even for me, but some of them are lovely – and the fairies themselves, whilst some of them have frilly dresses (see Guelder Rose, above) are pleasingly lacking in glitter and wands and so forth. Look at the Blackthorn fairy, for instance –

There’s a hairdo that hasn’t seen a brush in a while!

I throughly approve of these wild and slightly mischievous fairies – they belong to the world of fairies Shakespeare knew, of Robin Goodfellow, of the fairy folklore in Edward Thomas’ Lob (one of my favourite favourite poems) and of Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.

Moving on from fairies, though, there are also animal books which enthralled me as a child and still do – Beatrix Potter was a stalwart of my childhood, meeting parental approval again because the animals were drawn accurately from life (though as has often been pointed out, how poor Potter is at drawing people!), and the Lake District was one of our favourite family holiday destinations (my copy of Mrs Tittlemouse proudly has a label inside saying it was bought at Hill Top).

So we have already got a confirmed junior Potter fan in our household, with her own Peter Rabbit money box (alongside my original set of PR china which has somehow survived childhood intact – mug, plate, bowl and eggcup!)

The other animal books which I don’t think my mum would endorse (or at least, I never owned myself as a child, but always coveted) are the Brambly Hedge series.

This is an unashamedly twee world – a place of tiny mice, of pretty flowers and lace and frills and all things dainty.   But again, the animals and plants are all drawn accurately, and it’s the level of detail I love most of all.

I think it’s the cross section drawings of the mouses’ homes which captured my imagination as a child – the winding stairs and larders and corridors disappearing around corners were fascinating, and they appealed to my love of miniature things.

The Flower Fairy pictures never showed their homes, but Brambly Hedge imagined a whole world entire, with weavers and bakers and birthday parties and weddings. It was so complete, and so perfect.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Brambly Hedge, but what I do know is that any book showing cross-sections inside houses fascinated me – and ultimately it led to another enduring passion, my own much-loved dolls house. That’s probably a blog in its own right, for another day, though.

I have made up for the lack of Brambly Hedge in my own childhood by buying the books for the toddler – but I have resisted reading them to her too much – I love them, but are they too twee and girly to merit approval these days?

I also picked up Angelina Ballerina in a charity shop, but that I think is a step too far into the world of tweeness even for me and it has remained hidden away, so far. I love ballet, but I’d far rather the toddler’s first experience of ballet (when she’s a bit older) was the Ladybird book of Ballet which I treasured as a child (and how I wish I still owned it!), and of course, Ballet Shoes. But it’s a few years until she’s ready for either of those, so I’m not sure I can keep hiding Angelina Ballerina for too long.

I am aware that there is an awful lot of projecting my own interests onto my children here: fairies, dolls houses, ballet and flowers – so I should add that we are also encouraging trains and dinosaurs too, but we don’t have so many books about these. Perhaps I should be getting some recommendations….


Mother’s Day – a double dose

Today has been my third Mother’s Day as a parent, but has been a bit of a watershed for me, my first as a mother of TWO!

Baby Claudia was born on 5th February, so has just turned 5 weeks old. Getting past those initial weeks was a real challenge – no surprise there – and now that we are a bit more settled into our daily routine it has been interesting to compare second time around with what I remember from the early days of motherhood the first time.

1. Clothes. I don’t remember this being too much of a problem with the toddler three years ago. We had a bundle of newborn babygros, mainly very utilitarian white terry towelling, and that’s what she lived in for her first month or so, then the weather warmed up and she was in little more than vests and leggings or shorts and sundresses after that.

This time it’s very different – two months earlier in the year, and seemingly a different shaped baby, suddenly we never have quite enough outfits to get to the end of the week, and we need more warm layers. I had to order vests in newborn size – and then order even more. 

Cute little tops and cardigans just seem to swamp her at the moment, but a fleecy purple sleepsuit which the toddler probably never wore more than once or twice has now become an essential outerwear layer for going in the buggy on chilly days.

We are just getting to the point where newborn outfits are a bit snug – but she’s nowhere near ready for the next size up. I am really not sure what she is going to wear for the next month or so!

2. Morning Routine. I always knew this would be a toughie. Before, when I never had to rush out to get to playgroup or nursery, I could lie in bed with a newborn till 10am if I wanted, feeding her, drinking tea and catching up with life via social media on my phone (and I often did).

Now, there are two small humans to be wrangled into clean clothes and got downstairs and fed, and one will often be screaming herself hoarse whilst the other has just started toilet training. (On her own initiative and much to our delight, I must say, but an extra challenge to be dealing with on top of baby sister). 

Plus to add into the mix, a round of expressing milk in the morning and again in the evening – as a not very competent but determined breastfeeder, it has to be factored in otherwise I risk affecting my supply. Things I swore I’d never bother with last time round which have made all the difference now – renting a hospital grade pump, even managing to pump both sides at once on occasion, and pumping at 4am when I could tell there was a surplus which needed to go *somewhere*. 

I don’t quite have the commitment to do that every night, but even doing it as soon as I wake up (if the baby is still asleep and will give me a precious half hour) can really make a difference to the amount I can produce.

On the days when the toddler has to get to nursery, it works because the Mr does the nursery run whilst I’m feeding the baby and getting her ready for the day. This eats into his day and routine too, so I have to try and make sure I don’t encroach too much on his time apart from that (during working hours at least).

3. Guilt. Oh, I was expecting this and I got it in spades – I just didn’t expect it to hit me quite so hard, the realisation that my attention was suddenly, irrevocably divided, that I was torn in two. The first time I saw the disappointment in the toddler’s eyes and the slump in her shoulders as she turned away when I said, No I can’t read a story right now, I’m feeding baby sister, almost broke me.

And it goes the other way, too – baby sister will never get the one-on-one attention her big sister got, the golden hours lazing in bed just cooing over her, the baby rhyme time groups I now can’t go to as I have a toddler in tow – and that is heartbreaking too. Of course she’ll get the time to herself when the toddler goes to school, but that seems aeons away right now.

We took the toddler on several outings  in recent months to try and make up for the impending upheaval, which does ease the guilt a bit – the Peppa Pig show and the Bear Hunt play put on by Little Angel puppet theatre were big hits, and we enjoyed days out at the Tower of London and the Olympic Park, though both are rather bracing for day trips in January, I must say – wrap up warm, is my advice.

But it is actually the little moments that are most memorable, in a way – the raucous round of the Hokey Cokey the toddler and I did one afternoon when I was determined to not just succumb straight to the sofa and Cbeebies, the drumming session we did with pencil drumsticks on shoe boxes, the table, or anything else that made a good noise, and the epic singalongs we have in the car, supplementing endless requests for Frozen with tunes from the Sound of Music, The Jungle Book, and Mary Poppins. I hope these are the moments that a fun childhood is made of. And what fun that we get to do it all over again. How lucky we are!

This Mother’s Day, I’m more aware than ever how fortunate we are to be parents, when so many struggle to do it once, let alone two times. I’m very thankful to get the chance to have this precious newborn time again – and even more thrilled at all the fun times still ahead, crawling, walking, talking and beyond.

So here’s to all the mothers, and those who should be mothers, but aren’t, or perhaps are mothers in ways they never anticipated – stepmums, foster mums, aunts, mentors, guardians and teachers. Here’s to you all.