We have a TV for the first time in seven years…but what on earth do we do with it?

Super good at proper screen distance.

Super good at maintaining proper screen distance.

I have had a very important evening. Mostly I have been Nodding Wisely While Tim Adjusts the TV Bracket. I am taking this task very seriously, because I have it on good authority that wonky TV brackets are the woooorst. And I have never had to think about TV brackets before, because we have never had a TV.

Ok, not never. We had a TV at home, growing up, and loved it like a fifth sibling. I know the Postman dance from SMTV Live, and on Thursdays I had special permission to stay up late so I could record episodes of Buffy onto VHS tapes, which we then watched until they were glitchy.

Tim really did never have a TV at home, a circumstance which has resulted in him knowing everything about everything, being able to play the drums in this incredibly hot fashion, and many exchanges like this:

Me: HAHAHA REMEMBER THAT EPISODE OF THUNDERCATS WHEN –

Tim: no

Me: oh, right.

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Lolololol

Anyway, by the time we got married I hadn’t had a TV since university, and so we just never bothered. We had a projector, lots of movies, and more catch-up TV than you could shake a stick at, and this made up for not being able to watch Embarrassing Bodies exactly when it aired. Once babies arrived, we had to work a bit harder to find programmes they might like – trying things out on iPlayer rather than stumbling across them by accident – but as baby problems go, that one rated way below keeping Henry in vests that didn’t smell of sick.

This house doesn’t have room for a projector, so for the first time in seven years, we have a TV, and a bracket, and CBeebies, and everything.

Kitted. Out.

But what is this thing called CBeebies? Why is it full of grown-ass people trying to show the camera every last one of their teeth? Why do they all talk like they’ve got an excited weasel bouncing on their diaphragms? What in the actual heck is going on with Grandpa in my Pocket?

There’s this thing called Swashbuckle, and I can’t decide whether I’m excited that the two lead pirate characters are both women, because women can run pirate crews and nick off with jewels too, yay, equality, or appalled at that hideously perky thing they’re all doing with their faces.

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oh my goodness STOP IT

The boys are enthralled, obviously. All this gurning is like toddler crack, and who am I to deny them a bit of harmless swashbuckling? I do, though, want some proper screen rules in place now that we need them. There’s a lot of good onscreen – not least an unlimited supply of Thundercats jokes – but I want them to use it, not have it use them.

At the moment they watch about an hour of TV while I make dinner – though that doesn’t include the emergency Sarah & Duck I put on for Teddy when he doesn’t want to nap, or the 5am Small Potatoes when he decides he’s had enough of sleeping, or the afternoons where I’ve got so behind we binge on Pixar instead of going to the park. I have a rule that we don’t watch anything that makes me feel ill (GRANDPA IN MY LUNATIC POCKET). I have another rule that there are no rules at all when anyone is cutting teeth or (when this was relevant) growing a foetus.

As with most things, I am tweaking and refashioning as we go, trying new strategies, keeping the ones that feel right and trying not to feel like I’m making things up as I go along. As with most things, this is not true.

What are the screen time rules in your house? Can your kids watch TV without having a gale-force meltdown when it’s time to turn it off? And can you get through Swashbuckle without wanting to throw up a bit in your mouth? 

PS, Sarah & Duck is gorgeous. Sarah & Duck can stay on this TV all day long if it wants. Do not mess with Sarah & Duck. 

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Bundle o’ joy

This is a catch-up post about bears.

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He is sixteen months old, and this is his favourite face.

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See?

Teddy

As I type he is ‘reading’ Monkey and Me to himself and dancing with glee. In a moment he will get bored of this and push the book at me, honking like a chip-crazed seagull, until I read it. After that, he’ll totter off to find another one. He has already emptied the two picture-book shelves onto the floor to more conveniently find his favourites. I have had to decide that I put them back only twice a day: 1) just before Tim gets home, and 2) once Teddy is unconscious. This is to preserve my own sanity, already hanging by a thread after reading Sarah and Duck Meet the Penguins three times an hour for the past month.

Books are Teddy’s cave of wonders. He can’t stop, because he never knows what might be in the next one. I do not need to tell you how much I love this, Sarah and Duck and the Blasted Penguins aside.

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He finally started walking at about fourteen months, and watching him schlump into a room, all WHAT UP GUYS, still cracks me up. He’s losing his chub (sob!), but he’s still heavier set than his brother. All flying hair, beaming smiles, bull-in-a-china-shop energy. We call him the human demolition ball.

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He said ‘Mummy’ before ‘Daddy’, and ‘yes’ before ‘no’, and both tell you something about him. No other words yet, though a lot of tuneless singing. Sometimes I think he’s a classic second child: mama’s boy to a fault, robust and easy-going, but with a yell loud enough to make your ears bleed when he really wants your attention. Other times I think that’s just him. He’s started being seriously fussy with food recently, and I’m reassured to know that some things are as constant as the sunrise, and that sixteen-month-olds refusing anything but yoghurt is probably one of them.

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He still wakes up once a night. We do not speak of this. He’s moved house and popped out five teeth in a fortnight, three of them molars (seriously), so we’re holding fire on sleep-training for now.  He loves Henry. He loves wandering around outside and finding dangerous looking stones to put in his mouth. He loves your face, almost certainly. Probably the only thing he doesn’t love is Any Item On A Spoon Which Is Not Yoghurt.

This, we can live with.

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Deathly Hallows (Eve)

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I’m not sure I can pinpoint when Halloween became a thing over here. We’ve always had trick-or-treaters at our house, but fifteen years ago they were hopeful teenagers wearing bin bags (and, in proper and respectful tribute to their dressing-up efforts, we gave them either a) 10p, b) a slice of bread, or c) the cold shoulder). Now the supermarkets have whole aisles devoted to blood-stained scythes, and our neighbour wished us ‘happy Halloween!’ when we passed her in the street. She’s middle-aged with no little kids, and it might be the first time we’ve spoken to her. Granted, we were wearing Harry Potter costumes at the time. But still. We’re into Halloween now! It’s a thing!

I don’t like the blood stains. But I do rather like the rest of it.

Costumes, though. Suddenly I need to think of two, and can’t get away with skeleton babygros or Spiderman pyjamas. I am not crafty and – sorry – can’t be bothered to get involved with needle and thread. Thankfully Henry requested a crocodile costume, and his father is the sort to say ‘hmm, I think I can do that’ and have a full-sized crocodile head made of cardboard on the kitchen floor when you get home.

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So, some green poster paint and white wood primer later (only the best materials in this house), and put together with green pyjama bottoms and a green t-shirt we’d found in the morning, Henry Rex was good to go. For Teddy I found a baby sailor suit at the bottom of his drawer, and for a while wondered whether Victorian Infant Triumphantly Surviving Cholera would be an acceptable entry. Thankfully we decided he looked a bit like a clown, and ran with that instead. Face paint and stripy tights, with helium balloons tied to his toddlebike, and this boy was ready to rock.

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Tim and I went as Harry and Hermione. I have a couple of sets of swishy robes left over from university (I will tell the indignant story about how we had to wear robes and a velvet tie to our exams some other time). And the tumbleweed hair I’m sporting at the moment kind of demands nothing else. Did you know Tim has a scar on his forehead in the exact place Harry has his? Tim’s might even have been put there by prophecy and a Dark Lord, I dunno. He says it was some French cellar steps, but we know the truth.

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I spent the afternoon making a cake for one of the costume prizes, tripping over small children demanding to lick out bowls, and having a nervous breakdown. Then it was costume time. And we ran into a bit of a disaster with the face paint. After all that grimacing at the fake blood in Tesco, it turns out that clown makeup + Teddy’s dribble = zombie clown with bloodstained bib. We were responsible for the tiny blonde boy staggering around the church hall looking like he’d eaten all his friends. And Halloween laughed and belly-laughed, because Halloween is a sucker for irony.

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By the way, the post-Halloween sugar crash? Something akin to rubbing sherbet all over a toddler’s face and sending him running face-first into a wall. By the next morning Henry was curled up on a bookshelf pretending to be a parcel. Do they make hallucinogenic Skittles, now? Because if so, count me in.

Jewels, grasses, chestnut shells

I am commemorating Autumn this year in the best way: by teaching the boys that ridiculous primary school song that pretends to be about autumn but is actually about jet planes and gratitude. You’re singing it already, aren’t you?

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled 

And the silk inside a chestnut shell

Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled (?!)

Oh the things I love so well

So I mustn’t forgeeeet (swaying)

No I mustn’t forgeeeeeeet (descant)

To say a GREAT BIG THANK YOU (fist pump)

I mustn’t forget

This is such an adorably dorkish song that everyone needs to learn it, so they can sing it while swishing their way through leaves on their way to nursery. I have never thought to be grateful for jet planes, personally, and didn’t know they refuel in midair (do they?), but it’s an autumn essential, so now you know. YouTube it!

Oh, and we went to pick a pumpkin on Saturday, which was brill.

You may remember, reader love, that we already had a pumpkin from Odds Farm Park. Two days after we got it home, I noticed a bit of spidery mould inside, and by the next morning it was pushing out of the eye holes like some grotesque fungal disease. Halloweenish, yes. Sanitary and toddler-appropriate, no. So that pumpkin ‘went on holiday’, and we went to Garsons Garden Centre with my brother- and sister-in-law to find a healthier one.

Garsons is a bit of a drive for us, but I really like it there. The pumpkin patch was much gloopier than last year, after the recent rains, but we’d come prepared with wellies so were totally devil-may-care about it. Teddy couldn’t decide whether he was more excited about the pumpkins or the free mud bath. Why choose, Teds? Pick both.

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We are the absolute winners of the family photo, though, aren’t we?

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Do you want to see something scary? This is us standing in the same spot, a year ago. I expect Teddy to have grown, since he’s leapt from baby to person this year, but Henry, oh, Henry. You are so much bigger now, and yet you’re still wearing that top. (Also, this photo looks like it was taken in the sixties. What kind of camera did I bring?!)

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Boy 1 loves his cousin. I tried hard to get a photo of the two of them, but they wouldn’t stand still long enough.
Finding a tree-star did the trick.

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After the pumpkin patch, there are two huge farm shops: one with fruit, veg and other food, and the other with everything else ever. There’s an expansive Christmas section where I got our special bauble for this year, and enough lovely toys and kitchenware to make your purse hurt.

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Don’t forget the mutant squash. I think that long chap is the one that can turn things to ice, and you know the two-headed monster is the one with the retractable claws.

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This sort of outing can only be rounded off with giant hot dogs and curly fries, and – luckily for us – it was.

Happy October! Wishing you jewelled grasses and jet planes in bulk.

Garsons Garden Centre, Esher, Surrey. I like Esher because Edward Seymour lived there once, but also because of the mutant squash. 

Expansion

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This is a big deal for him.

He doesn’t like to paint, or make collages, or do anything that means getting his hands dirty. The other children in the class are painting things for him (seriously. Future mob boss?).

I worry a little about where he fits, and what his teachers see in him.

I do not know always whether I am encouraging him to try new things, or squeezing him in a mould that’s not made for him, so that one or both of us will look better.

I am trying to let him be. I keep thinking: no boxes, no boxes, no boxes. No boxes allowed around here.

Today, he made a leaf picture (he’s still picking off the glue from his fingers).

Three breakfasts

Friday

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Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: [brushes hair]
[wangs Henry’s shoes over shoulder]
[scrubs at Teddy’s teeth]
[whips open pushchair]
No time no time no time
[door slam]

Saturday

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Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: Ooh, yes please. Toast and a hot drink?
Thanks. I’ll eat it while I’m drying my hair.
[puts plate within easy reach]
What, Teddy? I’m just – just give me a – whattttt?
Come up here, then.
No, that’s my toast.
Alright, just a bit.
Noooo, you got jam on the carpet? Come here. It’s alright. Let’s get a wipe.
[puts uneaten toast on a high shelf, remembers it when running out of the door half an hour later]
Damn.

Sunday

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Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: Ooh, yes please. Toast and a hot drink?
Yes, Hen, I can find your carriage.
Teddy, lovey, can we read this book once I’ve finished – ok. Quick then.
You need a wee? Good boy, let’s GO GO GO.
Well done. Let me finish my breakfast, and then I’ll go run your bath.
Are you being kind? HENRY GILES. ARE YOU BEING KIND.
What’s our rule, mm? If Teddy is crying, he…doesn’t like it. That’s right. Now do you have something to say?
Sorry for what?
Ok, great. Let me go and finish my…
[swigs cold hot chocolate]
Damn.

A baa-somely good day out

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I am sometimes guilty of trying to hurry my children into things they’re not ready for. (I don’t wish to point any fingers but, Roald Dahl Complete Works, I might just be looking at you.) We’ve visited so many farms and petting zoos since Henry was born, and all with the same result: animal terror, or animal indifference. No, I don’t want to feed them. No, I don’t want to stroke them. Let’s play in the playground instead.

This makes it all the sweeter when we realise he’s finally old enough to get excited about farm animals. We were lucky enough to be given a family day out to Odds Farm Park in High Wycombe this Saturday, and we all had a whale (sheep?) of a time. There were so many things to do that even Teddy, who isn’t keen on animals, was thrilled: a big barn with sheep, goats, rabbits and guinea pigs, animal shows, tractor rides, huge outdoor playgrounds, a big indoor soft play, go karts, mini electric tractors, and (during the weekends in October) pumpkin carving in time for Halloween. The best thing about all of this – as a person with tumbleweed hair – is that lots of it is indoors. Every time the rain appeared we retreated back inside to see the animals, or revisited the scary slides in the soft play area. This was bad for hair in another way, but it wasn’t wet.

Unless you had new wellies to try out. Then it was.

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Who do you think is enjoying themselves more here? It’s actually hard to say.

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SHEEP. We loved this. At other farms we’ve visited, the animals have been (understandably) skittish. These sheep are happy about everything: your camera, your face, the bag of food you’re holding, rainbows, kittens, brown paper packages, etc. Henry got right in there with hugs, and the sheep were all BRING IT ON, WE LOVE YOU.

Hiiiiiiiii.

Hiiiiiiiii.

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After the animals we had lunch in the cafe, and rioted in the soft play for a while. There were sections for bigger and smaller children, so both the boys had a lovely time. But the tractor ride was winner of the day. They were beside themselves.

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Even after all that, we had a lot of playground to cover. Sand! Water! Swings! Castles! Wouldn’t you love to be a playground designer? They have all the fun.

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I will be writing on the back of this photo ‘The Way You Were In 2014’, since it has them both to a T. Henry, wandering lonely as a cloud. Teddy, the beast.

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We visited the pumpkin tent just before going home. Jack Skellington says hello.

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There were lots of things we didn’t get to see, too. The place seems endless. Now, it’s not cheap, so I’d recommend planning a full day with packed lunch to get your money’s worth. And the loos could use a revamp. But the activities were so varied and so exciting that we’d love to go back again. Apart from anything else, we promised that sheep we’d let him know how his headshot turned out.

Odds Farm Park, Wooburn Green, High Wycombe. They were nice enough to give us a free family ticket, but our (enthusiastic) opinions are our own. I mean. Just look at that face.

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