This is a true story

It’s been a long time since I talked about this. For so long, my recollection of these events has felt like someone else’s life. But the truth is that for about a year between the ages of 16 and 18, I was in an abusive relationship. I was pushed into walls, door frames and, once, the side of a bus. I was held so tightly by my wrists that they were bruised. I was thrown to the floor in the middle of screaming arguments. And one August morning, I was shoved so hard against my bedroom wall that my left collarbone snapped clean in two.

Still, I didn’t see it for what it was until one night when he pushed me in front of a room full of people. Only when I saw the looks on their faces as he was dragged away from me did I realise what was really going on here. Only on that night, when I felt so ashamed of those looks, did I have the guts and conviction to finally walk away.

11 years later, my memories are blurred. Perhaps with subconscious intent. I’ll ask myself some days, “Did it really happen?” Yes. Yes, it really happened. I have the badly healed bone to prove it. But the point is that I have recovered and I have forgiven. I have accepted that sometimes people just bring out the worst in each other. I am not making excuses for him – he and I both know very well what he did. But I cannot be angry about it anymore. I cannot say that I am still a victim, or that I have let those experiences colour my perceptions of men in general.

What do I hope for him now, so many years later? I hope that he has healed from the experiences that led him to be that person in the first place. I hope that he has grabbed hold of the good inside him and made himself out of that. I hope that he is well.

I will not lie to you; it has taken me a long, long time to feel that way. But I have healed. I have forgotten that I was ever afraid, that I ever had a reason to be scared of hearing the front door slam.

N is much bigger than I am. Much stronger too. Easily capable of hurting me if he wanted to. But have I ever for one moment been afraid of him? No. Not for a second. I know who he is. For me to look at him with the same eyes I once looked at that other man would do him a gross injustice. No matter what I say or do – and I can be a long way from innocent myself – I know with absolute certainty that I never, ever have to be afraid of my husband.

There have been times in my life when I have been afraid of men as a whole. When I have had to remind myself that there are only a few bad apples on the tree. But that’s the point; I have trained my brain to self-correct. I refuse to live my life under the misapprehension that all men are bastards.

I don’t know if I will tell my sons about my experiences when they are older. I don’t know if I want them to think of me that way. I do know that I don’t ever want them to feel sorry for me, even retrospectively.

What I will do is raise them to respect other people. To understand the notion of consent. To never, ever intentionally harm another person. And to always speak up if they find themselves in the position of being abused.

It’s not our job as parents to teach our children to be afraid of each other; it’s our job to teach them how to look after one another.

This is what I will teach my children. And I hope that they never, ever find themselves in the same position that I once did.

I need to take a break

If you follow me on twitter or Instagram, you probably already know what this post is about. You’ve probably seen me agonising over making the “right” choice, wondering aloud if I should take a step back. Turn my back on this for a while. Regroup and maybe come back when I am stronger.

There are a lot of reasons why I’ve enjoyed blogging over the last two years, the most notable of which being the connections I’ve made along the way. The moments when someone has reached out and said, “me too”. And I don’t set out to make anyone cry when I write, but when you tell me that one of my posts choked you up, well… that’s a powerful thing.

Those things have made my blogging journey worthwhile.

But blogging has a murky underbelly, and I’ve seen that too.

I’d like to tell you that I haven’t kept half an eye on my stats, but that would be a lie. At times, I have been unhealthily obsessed with them, and when they’ve fallen below a certain daily number I have felt something close to bereft. Which is stupid, because who gives a shit? I didn’t start doing this for anybody other than myself.

I did this for me.

But my inner critic is a dickhead, and she doesn’t think I should be here anymore. She’s seen other bloggers amass a huge following in a matter of months. She’s watched those other bloggers win awards and accolades and she feels… irrelevant.

Which is to say that I feel irrelevant.

Then there’s this:

Whatever mettle I’m made of is probably more of a kittens and rainbows composition than it is rhinos and sass. I’d like to pretend that your words don’t hurt me, but the truth is that sometimes they do and I can’t control that. When you tell me to pull myself together and stop being so negative, it stings. Because here I am, baring my soul, trusting strangers with my words and having it thrown back in my face.

Here I am being told that my feelings on any particular subject are not legitimate. They don’t matter; I just need to stop whining about it.

I don’t want to care about this. I don’t want to lie awake, wondering how I could have phrased things differently to avoid this reaction. I don’t want to be angry with myself for giving anything approaching a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks.

But I’ll tell you this for nothing: more than once I have opened a notification from WordPress or Twitter and I have read the words of a stranger with a pounding heart and shaking hands. I have felt diminished. I have cried over words written by people I’ll never meet, who don’t know me and don’t give a shit about how those words have made me feel.

And the inconvenient truth is that I’m just not strong enough for that right now. I’m not brave enough to read those words and face seeing myself through those eyes.

Certainly I was naive to believe that I could put my thoughts and feelings up for public scrutiny and get away with it, but I just wanted to write.

And write I will.

Just not on this platform for a while.

For my sons 

Dear O and F,

Lately I’ve realised that I didn’t bring you into the world that I thought I had. I had so much hope when you were both born, but then things seemed to change. Or maybe the changes were already happening and I hadn’t noticed. Either way, I want you to know that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that there is so much hatred and division in the world. I’m sorry that most of the stories you see glimpses of on the news are stories of war and misery. I’m sorry that the sea levels are rising and the ice caps are melting. Most of all, I’m sorry that the burden of fixing our broken society – and planet – is going to fall upon the shoulders of your generation.

But there is still a little glimmer of hope alive inside me, and that is because of you. Because I am going to do the very best I can to raise you to be tolerant and inclusive and brave. You are both surrounded by people of different colours and faiths and that is a wonderful thing. You are already learning that those people have exactly the same value as you do in the world, without even being taught. And why should you need to be taught? The only thing you need to know is this: That under our clothes and beneath our skin, no matter which god we answer to – or don’t – we are all the same inside.

Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, but as your mother I have a unique opportunity to go beyond that. I have the opportunity to raise you to also be that change. To teach you to challenge inequality and discrimination. To show you how to make better choices for our planet. To help you to find your voices and use them to speak up for those who have no voice of their own.

I look at you, I see your innocence and your joy and I feel afraid for you. And more than that, I feel guilt. Because there will come a day when I can no longer protect you from the storm happening around you, when I will have to let you see the extent of the damage. I don’t know what the world will look like when you are grown up, but as it stands there is a man in the White House who doesn’t believe in climate change and our own country is on the brink of leaving the European Union. Neither of these facts makes me feel encouraged about the shape of things to come.

But when I look at you, I also see how strong you are. I see how fiercely you love your family and your friends – and, perhaps most importantly, each other -, and I know that you have so much to give to the world. Being with you is exhausting, but it is also healing and rejuvenating. And I know that’s not just because you are children and you are predisposed to be wonderful; it is because of who you are. It’s because you’re funny and smart and kind, and you make me feel hopeful about the future.

So I’m sorry that the world you will inherit is a bit of a mess, but I know that it will be safe in your hands and I’m not going to stop trying to tidy it up in the meantime.

You already are and are going to be amazing.

I love you,

Mum

Gift planning with Uncommongoods.com

Every year at this time I find myself surprised by the passage of time. That we can reach the end of another 365 day cycle and feel like we somehow didn’t notice the days going by. I don’t know if it’s just me, but time seems to be moving so much more quickly since I had children. I measure the passing of the years by their progress, by how they change and grow and I don’t even see it while it’s happening right in front of me.

So, in the interest of life passing quickly, I’m attempting to quash my Christmas blues with a little bit of gift planning. I love buying gifts for people, and I put a lot of thought into finding something that is right for the person I’m buying for. And, most of all, I like to try and find something a little unusual, which generally sees me trawling Etsy and crying at the shipping costs.

However, I’ve been looking at gifts at Uncommongoods.com and I think I might have struck gift-buying gold.

I think I’ve already touched on the fact that I’m a bit of an eco-warrior. Or, at least, you’ve probably read between the lines and figured it out for yourselves. So the fact that sustainability and the environment are important to this company is a huge factor for me. They’re also completely animal friendly – no leather, fur or feathers – and the paper used to make their catalogues is from FSC certified forests.

Amazing.

You can read more about the company behind the products here.

Our anniversary is coming up in June – I know, I know; I’ve got ages yet – and the last thing I want is to be scrambling at the last minute to find a special gift for N. So I had a look around the anniversary collection and found some gorgeous things. Including this:

journal

12 Ways To Say “I Love You” Journal

When N and I celebrated our first anniversary as a couple, I had spent the months leading up to it putting together a scrap book of photographs, ticket stubs and anecdotes. The idea was that I would add to it every year, but I never got round to it. So this would be great for me, because it gives me all the prompting I need to create something really special.

You can find more inspiration for anniversary gifts here:
http://www.uncommongoods.com/gifts/anniversary-gifts/anniversary-gifts

My mom’s birthday is also coming up in March, so I thought I’d have a look at gift ideas for her too. I love this wishing ball, which encourages you to make one wish every week for a year and place the wishes inside the glass ball. You can’t get them back out, but you’ve got a keepsake forever filled with a year full of your wishes and dreams. I also adore the idea of this book, a great gift for any parent or grandparent to record the story of their own life and pass down to their children and grandchildren. Like me, my mom loves to write and I can see her losing herself in writing her life story.

Check out more birthday gift ideas here:
http://www.uncommongoods.com/gifts/birthday-gifts

I also couldn’t resist having a look around to see what I could find for sprucing up our home and garden, and I stumbled across this gorgeous solar powered mason jar. For our last anniversary, my mom bought us a bench for the garden and it would be lovely to sit outside in the evening with one of these lanterns on the table between us. Also, clean, green energy is always a win.

mason-jar

Solar powered mason jar

If you’re looking for something for your home or garden, you’ll find the full collection here:
http://www.uncommongoods.com/home-garden/home-decor

There are gifts to suit every budget and for every kind of person you can think of, and I could spend hours looking through everything. If you’re passionate about the environment and you want to find something quirky and special for someone you love, I can’t recommend Uncommongoods.com highly enough.

Happy gift hunting!

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More of my favourites

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Uncommongoods.com. All images used in this post are the property of Uncommongoods.com. The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Standing there alone

Dear dads in the playground,

I see you standing there and I know by your body language that you feel a bit awkward and out of place. Like you don’t really belong, because all around you is a sea of mums. We’ve had some kind of progress over the last ten years, but you’re still a minority here.

Don’t stand there on your own, though. Come and talk to me. Because you might feel like an outsider, but I feel like an imposter.

Sure, I’m the same gender as most of the other parents here, but I don’t think of myself as one of them. We have the same credentials on paper, which is to say that we are mothers and we are here to collect our children. But I look at these other women and I don’t feel like I’m part of the clan.

It’s hard to explain why that is, really. I could say it’s because I’m a “young mum”, but I’m not far off turning 30 now and I don’t really think that applies anymore. Maybe it’s because I perceive these other women to be more successful than I am, both as mothers and in their working lives. It could even simply be the fact that they look like they’ve got their shit together and I don’t feel like I ever will.

Or it might just be the difference between their expensive Ugg boots and my battered Converse.

But the thing is, you dads make me feel at ease. I don’t struggle to make conversation with you. When you’re having a shit time and you’re tired and running out of patience, you don’t grit your teeth and pretend everything’s fine. You own it. You’re not in competition with anybody, but I feel like us mums always are. We are always trying to be better than the mum next to us.

I mean, that’s not the case once you’ve scratched the surface and cultivated a proper friendship with a fellow mum. Then the warts-and-all of motherhood comes out and I feel like it’s okay to admit that some days I struggle. But when you’re just chatting in the playground, you laugh off the fact that your toddler has scribbled all over your linoleum floor, even though you feel like you’re dying a little bit inside every time you look at it. You don’t admit that you’ve ever lost your shit and shouted, or wondered for just a fleeting second if it was such a good idea to have children after all.

But you dads do, and I admire you so much for that. Here are three recent conversations I’ve had with dads:

Dad 1: “I’m so tired I feel like my eyelids are turning inside out. When is he ever going to just sleep through the night?!”

Dad 2: “How was your summer? Ours was looooooonnnngggg.”

Dad 3: “I know all of the parenting books tell you that you shouldn’t do it and it doesn’t work and it’s the worst parenting fail ever… but the only time he listens to me is when I shout at him!”

I’ve never heard any of the mums in the playground say any of those things to each other. And it’s not that I don’t think they ever do, it’s just that they do it in the evening over dinner with their partners or during a rare outing for drinks with their trusted mum confidantes. But I’m not like them; I’m more like you. I don’t see the point in pretending, because I don’t understand why we perpetuate this competitive culture.

So come and talk to me. Tell me you’re tired and struggling and your kids drove you to despair last night when they flatly refused to get out of the bath and go to bed. I won’t judge you; I’ll empathise completely. I love my children. I love them so much that when they hug me, I never want to let them go. I look forward to seeing their faces and hearing their little voices every single morning when I wake up.

But I am not sailing through this and I can’t be bothered to try and keep up the facade that I am.

You’re all brilliant dads, and I can see that you love your children just as fiercely as I do my own. I can see it in their faces when they are so delighted that daddy is picking them up today, and in your own when you sweep them up into your arms. But your honesty comforts me, and I hate to see you standing there alone.

And if you’re reading this as a fellow mum and you feel like you don’t belong, it’s not just you; I’m right there with you. I’ll be the awkward to your uncomfortable, if you like.

We’re all in this together, aren’t we?

Yours,

Davina

The Alternative Motherhood Challenge

Does everybody remember the Motherhood Challenge? That whole thing where you got tagged by a fellow mother (I never did, by the way) and had to post a certain number of photos to social media showing why you loved being a mother? You were then supposed to nominate a bunch of your “awesome mummy friends” to take part as some kind of dubious accolade. Suffice it to say that I didn’t really get it. For me, the real challenge of Motherhood is not found in posed photographs of my offspring (although it is a challenge to get them to stay still), but in the other myriad shit that comes along with the job title. 

So! Without further ado, this is a collection of photographs from my Alternative Motherhood Challenge.

Dry-wipe pens: These bastard things. I know they’re washable, but they don’t come out of the fucking carpet. Believe me. And I can’t even take them away because they are part of a very useful educational tool. Fuck these things. This is why kids in my day only had pencils.
Potties: You wouldn’t think there’d be anything more gag-worthy than a shitty nappy, would you? Especially one of those really sticky, smeary ones. But then there’s the potty, in the bottom of which sits a freshly dropped turd that you are going to have to now watch slide gracelessly into the toilet, leaving a nice, long skid mark. So now you have to wipe the potty and wash it out. Not a whole lot different from wiping caked-on crap off your kid’s bum, really. Even worse when your curious toddler decides to fill it with toys and present it to you like a particularly horrible and unsanitary gift.


Sippy cup valves: You know that moment when your kid tips up the sippy cup, waterboards himself and then sits blinking, spluttering and glaring at you with an impressive degree of loathing? That’s the precise moment when you realise you forgot to put that clever little valve back in the lid of the cup after you spent three hours mucking it out with a pipe cleaner. Just three seconds later than you probably should have remembered.


The Favourite Cuddly: Its bedtime and your kid’s favourite snuggly creature/blanket is nowhere to be found. You’ve looked behind the curtains, under the sofa and in the washing machine. You’ve even gingerly lifted the lid and peered into the toilet, just in case. But the thing has completely fucking vanished. It has left planet Earth. It will never be seen again and your child will never, ever stop crying about it. You’re actually crying yourself as you sink onto the sofa after spending two and a half hours rocking your bereft baby to sleep. Wait, why is this seat so lumpy? Is that…? Ah. There it is. It was behind the bloody cushion all along. Attachment objects are, of course, an absolute essential for any child, but can they just remember where they’ve put them every once in a while? I’m so sick of wandering around the house at 9pm muttering “where the actual fuck is the bloody fucking bunny?!” to myself on repeat every other night. Oh, and don’t even think about washing it. Just accept the fact that your child is dragging a germ-rag around and tell yourself it’s good for their immune system.


Of course, there’re also stickers, tantrums, hidden shoes and when the car seat straps get twisted and you have to take the whole buggering thing apart to fix it, but the four things I’ve chosen here are the ones that get on my tits the most.

It’s a good job they’re cute, isn’t it?


I’d love to hear about your Alternative Motherhood Challenge, so feel free to get in touch on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or leave me a comment on this post.

This is real life

I can’t quite believe that it is November already. It doesn’t feel like more than five minutes have passed since we were last here, gearing up for Christmas and hiding the Argos catalogue from our children.

Our year has passed in a blur of breakthroughs and setbacks, from the triumph of watching O settle gradually into school after a rocky start, to the misery of seeing F continue with his food struggles. This is the nature of family life, of parenting children with different personalities and issues. O can suffer from social anxiety. F may well feel the reverberations of his battle with reflux for the rest of his life. But we do the best we can. As parents, I believe we all repeat the same mantra to ourselves at irregular intervals: It will get better. We tell ourselves that nothing can be challenging or worrying or downright shit forever.

When O clung to me, sobbing, as we walked through the school gates at the beginning of his third week, his anxiety and sadness unchanged from the previous two, I told myself: It will get better. And it did. Now he runs to join his friends with barely a backward glance. He’s part of a trio of boys who are all mischievous, buoyant and sharp as tacks. He is learning to read and write, he brings home artwork and stories of the games he has played and new skills he has learnt. He is happy and settled in his new school, and I am content to have become a background character in this chapter of his life.

It got better.

When I finally realised that F was vomiting during mealtimes not because he couldn’t stop himself, but because he didn’t want the food I had put in front of him, I told myself – through my horror that a child would do such a thing to himself – It will get better. And it has. Ish. Mealtimes are still a battleground and my victories are few, but that there are any victories at all is progress itself. Once there was nothing I could do to persuade him that food was not his enemy. Now he will try new things. Last week he finally started eating porridge and I felt elated. At last, a good start to the day! It was such a small thing. It was the biggest thing in the world.

It is getting better.

Life with children is a kaleidoscope; colourful and changeable in equal measure. There are blissful moments, snapshots of our expectations as parents. A Sunday morning cuddle in bed with both kids, both cats and nobody fighting. A walk through the woods, kicking up the Autumn leaves and collecting conkers to be preserved in a jar as a physical reminder of a magical afternoon. A peaceful hour as my children play happily together while I claw back some time to put the house in order or catch up on laundry. In these moments, we could be a family from a photograph in a magazine. In these moments, we are the family I always imagined I would have.

Our autumn adventures

Then there are the other moments, far less blissful and, currently, much more numerous. My kids rolling around on the floor, beating the shit out of each other as my attempts to referee fall on deaf ears. An epic tantrum in the middle of Sainsbury’s over who gets to carry the receipt back to the car. The flooded bathroom floor. Again. These moments often happen all in the same day and leave me exhausted and wondering if I’m really cut out for this whole motherhood thing. But these moments are also totally eclipsed by the love I feel for and joy I find in my children.

The truth is that I probably recite my mantra at least a few times a day, every single day. Sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes as I close their bedroom doors at the end of a long day, I breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes I just wish they would stop fucking winding each other up all the time.

But they are still so little. Their emotions and ability to handle life’s complications are still developing. For them right now, being given something different for breakfast than what they were expecting is a big deal. For them, it’s not unreasonable to throw a blistering wobbly because they got Rice Crispies when they blatantly asked for Coco Pops.

This is life with young children.

There will be bad days.

It will get – and is getting – better.

In which F turns two

Tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow my little one, my baby, turns two.

There are two things about this that I find strange.

The first is directly linked to how very, painfully clearly I remember the first few days and months after we brought him home. I suffered hard with the “baby blues” about three days after he was born. The sleep deprivation was catching up with me and I was just so fucking tired. I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be just exhausted.

Then the other stuff came. The reflux. The flat refusal to feed at 1am. The vomit-soaked sheets at 3am. The endless crying through the night. By the time F was two months old I was bewilderedly wondering what the fuck I’d done to my life by deciding to have a second child.

It felt like it would never, ever end.

You know the story. We got help. We got it via A&E on a dismal Sunday afternoon and we left without our son in the early hours of the following morning, but we got help. Things got better, slowly at first and then with gathering momentum. The cute, heart-melting moments gradually began to outstrip the moments of panic and strangulating fear.

By F’s first birthday, I was more in love with him than I could ever have imagined in those early, awful months.

That love has only grown as I’ve watched him change and develop. He has a cheeky wit and a fierce stubbornness that both amuses and infuriates me in equal measure. I love him. I love the life out of him, the very bones of him, every little thing that makes him who he is.

But a part of me also feels sad tonight, which brings me to the other strange thing:

The fact that my youngest child is now two.

By this milestone in his brother’s life, I was halfway through my second pregnancy. And I know that I’m not going to have any more babies. Which means that all of the cute things that F is doing now, all of the first times, the hilariously mispronounced words, the post-nap snuggles… all of those things are gradually going to stop. And then I’ll have to navigate life with older boys, who don’t want to cuddle me so much, who don’t need me to reassure them when they go someplace new, and who won’t tell me, “I yoooooooove yoooooo!” with reckless abandon.

And I know I can’t stop them from growing up. I don’t want to stop them; I want them to go ahead and become whoever it is that they’re going to be, because they will be brilliant no matter what.

But…

Can we just stop? Just for a tiny, little while? Can we keep these moments for just a little longer?

My mom used to tell me, “I wish that I could pickle these cuddles and keep them in a jar.” I always thought she was so weird when she said that.

Now I know exactly what she meant.

Happy birthday, F. You wonderful, brave, strong and very special little boy, you.

Topsy & Tim book review

This week we’ve been sent a new range of Topsy and Tim books to review and I hope that they will help O with the transition to “Big School. We have two “wipe clean” books – First Spellings and First Sums – and one sticker book –First Words -, both of which support Key Stage 1 learning. We’ve had a go with wipe clean books before and they’re great for helping pre-schoolers and new starters learn how to write.

“Topsy and Tim have all sorts of new experiences – just like you!

Jean and Gareth Adamson have sold over 21 million copies in fifty years of their iconic Topsy and Tim books, the most popular titles were re-issued in April 2008. Topsy and Tim help guide children through various ‘new experiences’, such as starting school in Topsy and Tim Start School, a new baby in Topsy and Tim: The New Baby and recycling in Topsy and Tim Go Green, with captivating storylines fun characters and engaging pictures.”

We’ll start with the First Spellings book:

The book is split into sections:

Fill in the gaps, where the child has to choose the correct vowel to complete the word. There are pictures to help and also a space for more advanced children to write the whole word again once they’ve filled in the gaps with the right letter

Family and People is, as the title suggests, a list of family members and types of people (boy, girl, baby, etc) with the words dotted for the child to trace.


Spelling patterns identifies words with letters occurring in the same places, such as “rain” and “paint”.

Numbers shows the child how to write numbers by tracing the word, and there is a space for them to write it again.

Question words shows each question word (Why, What, When, Where, Who, Which, How) in a box at the top of the page and then has a list of questions for the child to decide the correct prefix.

Colours is a page with a small box at the bottom with the name of each colour and a star in the corresponding colour to help the child identify it. There are 11 pictures of various objects (green tractor, red satchel, etc) with a space beside them to write the correct colour.

Shapes has large, colourful shapes in the middle of the page with the corresponding names in a box below. Once the child has identified which word is right for which shape, they can write them inside the shape.

Tricky words is a list of words that are hard to sound out with phonics such as “their” and “only” for the child to trace and then write again in the space at the side of each word.

Nouns and Verbs are laid out on facing pages with pictures to help and spaces to trace and rewrite each word.

At the end is a page for practising words, whether those are some of the trickier words in the book or spellings sent home from school.


I think O enjoyed what he was able to do of this book, but only having turned four in June he still has quite a short attention span for anything that feels a bit too much like hard work. He actually spent quite a long time on the Family page though, and we helped him to identify each word as he wrote it by saying things like “I am your-” and pointing to the word “mum”. We will definitely keep using this book to help him learn how words looks on the page, but also as a way of practising his handwriting. The words to trace are a reasonable size, but they are smaller than O is used to writing right now (like most four year-olds, he can fill a page just writing his name) and I think they will help him control his handwriting better as he gets more used to the letters.

The First Sums book was a real success with O. Unlike me, he seems to really enjoy and understand numbers. Like the First Spellings book, this one is also split into sections.

There are pages at the beginning for Adding up to 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. These consist of four simple sums for each number and there are pictures to help. For example, the sum is represented in a box above with cats and dogs (4 cats + 2 dogs = 6).

1 more and 1 less has shapes with numbers for the child to trace and asks them to write in a box below either 1 more or 1 less. There is a number line at the bottom of the page to help them identify the correct number.

2 more and 2 less is the same kind of thing, but with -2 sums and no numbers to trace, presumably as this is for children who are more familiar with subtraction.

Tidy up and take away represents the sums with toys that Topsy and Tim are tidying up. In order to find the correct answer to the sum, the child is asked to cross out the number of toys that have been tidied away and count the remaining toys to find the answer to the sums.

Seaside subtractions uses things like sandcastles and seagulls to represent numbers, so there are questions like “Draw 5 sandcastles. 3 get knocked over. How many are left?” The pictures can be drawn on the page and then rubbed out, which also encourages a little creative flair to keep things interesting.

Sums to 10 shows all the ways to make 10 in the form of sums to complete with the reverse subtractions. It’s quite tricky for a child just getting used to numbers, but the print on these pages is large and there are numbers to trace to help the child commit them to memory.


O had so much fun with this book, although we used toy blocks to help him with the sums so he had something physically in front of him to help him. Once we introduced the blocks he got really into this and we spent quite a lot of time on it and I think it will really help him to understand simple sums and hopefully make it easier for him to grasp the concept of basic math when he starts learning it at school.

We also recorded the First Words sticker activity book, which helps children learn every day words, such as mum, dad, cat, mug, boat, etc. O really enjoyed this because he loves sticker books and he already knew all of the words, so he found it really easy to identify which stickers he needed. Each of the spaces for stickers has a “shadow” of the correct sticker to make it easier for the child to find the right one if they don’t yet know the words by sight.


Overall, we had lots of fun with these books. There were parts of them that were beyond O at the moment, but he has a real thirst for knowledge, so I imagine if we get them out again in a few weeks he will probably surprise me with how much he knows! I think they’re both great books for introducing pre-school children and new starters to spelling and maths, and they are challenging enough that they could quite easily be useful learning aids throughout the first and probably even second year of primary school.

All of these books are available from the Penguin website and there is also an App available for iOS. You can also find Laybird on Twitter @Ladybirdbooks.

Disclaimer: These books were sent to me by Penguin in return for this review. The above review is a true and honest reflection of my experience (and O’s) of these products and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

It’s NOT okay. Okay?

When I tell nosey people who ask when I’m “having another one” that I can’t have any more babies, they unanimously do this incredibly fucking rude thing where they ask “WHY?” whilst salivating over the possibility of a story about some peculiar uterine wasting disease which has rendered me infertile. So I suppose it’s kind of disappointing when I explain, through gritted teeth, that my husband has had a vasectomy. But then they bypass social etiquette altogether and say – with a cheeky wink that never fails to make me feel sick – “HE can’t have any more children, but YOU can!” Are you fucking kidding me? In what universe is it okay to even vaguely suggest that I might as well just go ahead and get myself knocked up by someone – anyone, apparently – other than my husband? Thanks and everything, but no. JUST NO.

Of course, the next thing they ask me is, “Don’t you want any more babies?” You know what? Yes. YES. I DO want more babies. In fact, whenever I think about the fact that I’m not going to have any more babies, I feel a certain sense of grief. But there’s a difference between what I want and what I know is good for me and my family. So, Random Stranger full of personal questions, thanks a fucking bunch for that. I didn’t get sad and wistful about it quite enough by myself.

And then there’s my favourite question:

“So why did your husband have a vasectomy if you wanted another baby?”

Really? You really want to talk about this? Alright. I’ll bite. Let’s do this.

Because we both have shitty jobs and we can’t afford another baby.

Because our house is too small and we don’t really want to move ’cause we’ve spent a fuckload of money on this one.

Because I like my car and I don’t want a people carrier.

Because SPD and constant nausea aren’t really my idea of a good time.

Because the first six months of F’s life passed in a blur of misery and sleeplessness and, although I’ve tried really hard to block it all out, I know I’ll never quite forget how shit it really was.

Because we might actually get divorced next time.

The truth, Random Stranger, is that my husband and I made the decision for him to have a vasectomy together. But he walked into that procedure room alone, both physically and mentally. I, on the other hand, sat in the waiting room trying to write and occupy my mind while it screamed things like “you’ll never feel a baby move inside you again” and “you’ll never see your newborn for the first time again” and, my personal favourite, “you’ll never have another chance to put right everything you did wrong”.

Do I want to talk about it? Do I want to tell you all of this? Do I think you need to know? No, no and er, NO. And I wonder, if I did have three children, would you still ask? At what point do I have enough offspring for you to just stop fucking asking already?

I don’t know what it is about motherhood that makes it perfectly acceptable for everyone to make such blunt, frankly unacceptable statements with nothing short of aplomb. It’s not like anyone has ever asked me what position I conceived my babies in or whether I did that legs-up-in-the-air thing afterwards. But I’m not really sure why the Personal Inquisition Squad get that those aren’t appropriate questions and yet see nothing wrong with suggesting that I start shagging random men in the name of completing my family. Whatever the fuck that means.

So, do you know what? I’m changing my story, Random Stranger. I just need to come up with a realistic-sounding name for a fictional uterine wasting disease first…