All posts by Dad About Town

Alternative Transport to the Pram

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Am I the only one who makes sports car noises when manoeuvring a pram along the street? Ok, how about an indicator clicking on and off as I pull out into the pedestrian traffic? Just me, then. Living in the centre of a city presents many obstacles to using the pram. Getting on and off buses and the Tube (yes, we do use public transport). Roadworks, A-boards, street furniture, meandering tourists. So I’m offering up my experiences with these three alternative transport options.

Buggy

Buggies (aka strollers) seem to dominate the baby moving market, certainly from toddler age.

We bought a modestly-priced buggy when F. had to travel down to her parents by train and the pram was just too unwieldy. The relative lightness and collapsibility are positive factors. But there are a couple of down sides. Moving from inflatable tyres to solid ones has meant that the lightness is lost to friction. And our buggy has a fixed height handle. If there’s a height discrepancy between yourself and your partner, then one of you is going to find the buggy handles too high or too low. Between Mrs F. and I, there is such a discrepancy. My silence tells you who it is.

Buggies also seem less stable for the purposes of hanging bags on them (nappy bags, shopping bags, coats, scarfs, hats, cloths, books, toys etc). If you’ve made the decision to bring along wheeled transport (which cannot be left on their own should they get stolen) they should at least offer the benefit of helping you with your bags. You can still peel away from the pedestrian lights with a wheel spin noise.

Backpack

Our baby carrier started out as the front-loading type for younger babies. Whilst convenient in some ways (ask kind of nice to have the baby’s head just under my nose), it took just 20minutes to start to bother my low back. Now at 20 months, we’re able to attach a new piece that functions as a toddler seat that isstrapped to the adult’s back.

V. took to the riding position immediately and has a great deal of fun. Our backpack is smaller and lighter than the metal frame versions that are made by outdoor mountaineering brands. With the backpack I have, the child sits lower down with her head about the same level as mine.

I’ve tried it about fifteen times now, for trips lasting half an hour to the whole morning. My back has felt much more able to carry the baby. Our first trip was to Columbia Road market. Knowing how busy it gets (the whole street is a bottleneck) I didn’t fancy barging through with even a stroller. And it’s perfect for my post-flower market trip around the corner to Brick Lane to pick up a dozen bagels for the freezer and a salt beef bagel for lunch.

A neat feature I recommend is a pull-out head cover the fixes over the child’s head when she’s asleep on your back. The cover supports the head so it doesn’t roll around or jerk backwards. One drawback of having the baby on your back, if you are on your own, is what do you do with your nappy bag? You can’t carry anything else on your back.

Reins

I was under the impression that reins were frowned on by certain parents. But an online search through a couple of parenting forums suggests that this is not the case. An urban myth, then. Perhaps you don’t see reins being used that often because parents are self-conscious of what other parents may think. If so, the more modern incarnation of reins are those toddler backpacks that have the option of a rein attached to it. V is not that much of a bolter but she still wriggles her hand out of ours often enough. I don’t see any downside to reins. But do look for an adjustable wristband. The reins are not designed to take her bodyweight but inevitably when she trips, you can pull back on them to slow her descent and inevitable crashing onto her hands and knees.

So there you go. Alternative modes of transport for the growing toddler, none of them the Batmobile.

By the way, in order to use this photo, it has to be for the purposes of reviewing the Batman film so here is my review: Dark Knight Returns: brilliant.

A Farewell to Breastfeeding

This week, V. turned 18 months old. And the very next day, her Mum stopped breastfeeding.

I’ve detailed in previous posts our on-going difficulties with breast-feeding. Looking back, the issue that was most difficult to surmount was the pain breastfeeding caused, the impact on our daily routines and the massive drain on my wife’s energy. Pain came if the milk wasn’t all used up, if the feeding routine was changed, or the length of time of the feeding. There was pain when the baby changed position or became distracted and looked up, breaking the attachment. The distractions became such an issue, that F. had to retire to a quiet room on her own yo perform a successful feeding. With feeding in public a distant memory – despite the colourful nursing covers we had bought – F.’s own routine became curtailed when we also had to consider getting in the baby’s naps. So some days she didn’t get out of the house. That idealised picture of the woman breastfeeding whilst vacuuming the carpet or taking a phone call? Never happened. In a year and a half.

And pro-breastfeeding sources didn’t help. The advice our prenatal class teacher gave can be summarised as ‘if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong’. And breastfeeding books didn’t address any other scenario other than complete success. Their answer is; just keep trying.

What was really the clincher in F. deciding to finish breastfeeding, was just how darning she found breastfeeding, both physically and mentally. Good nutrition, sleep and supplements, didn’t seem to help with the tiredness. So much so, F. went for an anaemia test. When we found it out she didn’t have anaemia, it was another step towards deciding to stop breastfeeding.

The process of weaning V. off breast milk turned out to be fairly easy for her. Although V. had been breastfed from the beginning, the rocky start we had meant that she had always been fed formula as well. Many pro-breastfeeding sources take time to describe why formula and bottle feeding is so bad. But unless both baby and mother immediately take to breastfeeding – and considering the staggering drop-off rates for breastfeeding, I doubt if there are too many instances of this – you’re going to need formula. Otherwise the baby is going to be in the position of not putting on enough weight according to your doctor. FYI about formula: they’re not all the same. You may have to find one your baby likes.

And when V. really started with the solid foods, breast milk became more of a lifestyle choice. So the baby didn’t complain that much when my wife began to reduce the frequency of feeds to twice a day, then the length of each feed. It was a low-key, smooth end to an extremely bumpy ride.

Perhaps you don’t choose breastfeeding. Breastfeeding chooses you. Because up until recently, if my wife had told me she was stopping breastfeeding, I would have been relieved. Because breastfeeding can be a bitch. I have an appreciation of what she’s given up and an understanding of how sad this closing chapter is for her. But I also have a gladness that my wife may return to her usual levels of energy. As the bystander, I haven’t experienced the closeness of mother and baby. I have to take my wife’s word for it that she believes that breastfeeding has contributed to us having a healthy toddler.

As an addendum to that final point, one of the proposed advantages of breastfeeding his that it helps protect baby from illness. How, I don’t know. But the day after she quit, V. got a cold, as did her Mum. But then again, so did I.

You can’t child proof the floor

We have a free standing, oil-filled radiator. It gets wheeled around from room to room sometimes to help supplement the flat’s patchy central heating system. This week, V. put her hand on it when it when it was turned on. She wasn’t burned but it was a nasty shock for her. I feel terrible about the incident. And it highlights the thorny subject of childproofing one’s home.

Myself and F. have been slightly bemused by the more common childproofing products. Some of them work better than others. And some don’t really work at all.

The best ones we’ve found have been the simple ones. There’s a
U-shaped piece of foam that fits over the lock stile of a door. It prevents the door from slamming on tiny fingers. What’s clever about this door stop is that it also prevents the complete closing of the gap at the hinge stile, too, which is a less obvious trap for digits.

On the other hand, you know those plastic hooks that fit into a drawer and prevent the drawer being pulled out completely? Didn’t work for us. I mean, they did do the job. However, what they fail to do is to prevent the baby from pushing the drawer back into place thus trapping her fingers, hand and sometimes her forearm. Big tears. The benchmark for success in this area is: if I still have to watch her, it hasn’t been childproofed.

The two metal child gates we inherited from my sister, on the other hand, have proved invaluable. They are a no brainer. I recommend that, if you’re testing them out in a shop, see if you can unlock and lock the gate with your less dominant hand. You’ll eventually have to.

We were donated a set of foam corner guards that affix to the edges of coffee tables or shelves etc. They’re designed to protect the sharp corners from a falling head. But what about the rest of the edges of the furniture? Aren’t they just as hard? Plus, the foam guards we have and the ones I’ve seen around don’t actually seem all that soft. Short of taping pillows to the coffee table, I haven’t seen them as an effective solution. We decided to move such objects out of her way.

What becomes more apparent as our baby becomes a toddler is that she has a kamikaze approach to exploring. How can you protect someone who’s starting out with blatant disregard to the dangers of gravity, friction, electrical force, tension, normal force or applied force? Neither do they understand sharpness, momentum, or infection. The flat is going to take an awful lot of bubble wrap.
Plus she often falls over her own feet. You can’t childproof the floor.

Vigilance remains the number one safety tool. And self-regulation. Since experiencing the hot radiator, V. hasn’t gone near it. And when she does see it, she blows on it like we taught her to do with “hot, hot, hot” things at the dinner table.

The House at Pee Corner

Back in August, our daughter was spending much of her day out of nappies, getting over a bout of diarrhoea. My wife saw this as an opportunity to try out potty training. And the approach that most appealed to her was elimination communication (EC) otherwise known as baby-lead potty training.

EC is predicated on the parents’ ability to identify signs that the baby gives before she wants to wee. For our daughter, these signs include shifting around on her bum, stopping eating or looking down at herself. When you do spot the signal, you have to quickly get her to a bathroom before she follows through on her warning. The baby can be nappy-free or not. If you go the hardcore route of nappy-free, be prepared for poo on the carpet or wee on the high chair.

Aside from waiting for signals from our baby, we also scheduled bathroom-time to occur at set intervals in the day, mostly pre- and post- sleeps and feeds. Leaving the baby nappy-free, either on walking around or sat on a toilet, with a story book to keep her from becoming restless. We decided against toys in the bathroom in case it was too distracting for V. and the job in hand. By keeping these visits to a reasonable length of time (about 10-15 minutes) we could move on with the rest of our day whether we got a result or not.

This has all begun to pay off. V. is now taking a wee on most of her visits to the bathroom. Initially it was all over the floor which me and my wife saw as a unavoidable learning stage for V.

The transition to an adult toilet has occurred only a few days ago after plenty of failed attempts and a bit of crying. At first, V. couldn’t sit on the toilet unaided and would complain. Either my wife or me had to put a hand to her back to keep her upright. Eventually, to support her, I worked out that if I sat on the edge of the bath, I could prop one foot onto the toilet seat behind her back, leaving me handsfree to read from a book.

This giant leap has been helped by a product F. ordered in the summer. It’s a baby-sized toilet seat that sits within an adult sized toilet seat and can be pulled out and lowered on to the adult seat when needed. We probably bought this about two months too early but now my daughter has learnt to support herself. This may or may not have helped her feel more confident about using the toilet.

So, after two months, we’ve made good progress, culminating this week in V. using the toilet for both wee and poo. Considering our use of cloth nappies, I suspect that we are more than usually tempted by the thought of achieving a potty-trained infant on the early side. EC is labour intense but I can’t think that traditional potty training is any more efficient. At the very least, we’re getting nappies that stay drier for longer due to non-use. And that’s a welcome change to our laundry regime.

A postscript. When I told a fellow parent that we were bring to get V. to poo on a toilet she responded by confidently asserting that a baby couldn’t go to the toilet unless their feet were on the ground so that they could push. That seemed to make sense to me at the time and I’m sure her experience of her two children bears this out. But V. is proving that it can be done. I encouraged her to push by pulling straining faces and lightly pushing on her tummy to get her to connect with her core muscles. Very soon after that, she performed a poo in the toilet.

Do Androids Dream of Plastic Tortoises

Do Androids Dream of Plastic Tortoises?

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“I know what you’re thinking”, says my best friend. “It’s terrible. But it does work.”

He’s talking about a plastic play centre in the shape of a tortoise on wheels that he and his wife have bought for V’s first birthday.

They should know, with two boys aged 3 years and 14 months. At first, I thought my bemused reaction to this toy was that it was plastic and gaudy. But that’s not the case: we have a set of gaudy, plastic stacking cups that V loves and we love them too, being unbreakable, light to carry around and dishwashable.

Neither do I have a preference for ‘good, old-fashioned’ toys. I don’t think that a generation of children brought up on wooden rocking horses and hoop and stick sets produced a generation of well-rounded, socially responsible adults or superhuman geniuses. Toys in our house don’t have to be made of wood and come in a Farrow and Ball colour scheme.

So it’s not that our tortoise play centre is plastic, or brightly coloured, or even cheap. It’s that it attempts too many jobs at the same time. It has flashing lights. It has the voice of an American that sings or encourages you to push the button with the right shape or number or colour on it. It clicks when you turn a knob. It fires out plastic bricks. It is intended to be an educational toy. But, as my wife and I have found with trying to balance working from home with raising a baby, you can’t effectively do two things at the same time.  And in the end the tortoise experience becomes a melange of stimuli.

The tortoise isn’t education, it’s distraction. We’re using it to delay using the television as a proto-babysitter.

Three weeks later, me and F. have a slight air of “We’ll, it’s in the house, now… And she does like it…” You can’t control what people will give as gifts for your child. Neither can you predict if your daughter will take to the gift.

V. likes the tortoise. But she doesn’t love it. Not like her stacking cups. Those cups were bought by Grandma for not special reason except that V. didn’t have any. They are the simplest things in the world but to our daughter seem endlessly fascinating.

The Pink Panther Strikes

Yesterday I took V. out to pick up a few things at the supermarket. Parking her pram up at the till, I paid for my things then we sauntered out of the shop and began walking back home.

After a minute or so, I looked down at my daughter and stopped in my tracks.

“Veevee”‘ I said to her. “Where did you get that Peanut Butter Kit Kat Chunky?” She takes her teeth away from the chocolate bar and looks up at me innocently.

I used to have a fear, when I was a boy, that whenever I’d leave a shop the security alarm would be set off. I would have visions of a guard rushing up to apprehend me and I would be in Big Trouble. So much so, that I’d hold my breath every time I walked out of a shop entrance. 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like that, and I should think so, being in my mid-forties. But there’s always an element of the 12-year old in all of us. And he came back to me as I stood over V., considering a her ill-gotten gains.

I looked back over my shoulder, in the direction of the shop. There was no security guard running after me. On closer inspection of the chocolate bar, I found that the wrapper was still intact but it was clear that the contents were going to be damaged by 6 tiny teeth gnawing at it.

My daughter isn’t going to learn a valuable lesson, at just over one year of age, by returning the item to the supermarket. On the other hand, there’s long-held fear of being caught shoplifting when I haven’t actually taken anything.

So what do you think I decided to do?

Your baby budget will get blown

Babies produce unforeseen expenses. Some are crucial, some are unavoidable, and some turn out to be a waste of money. Two significant purchases we made occurred in the early weeks of V’s arrival.

My wife had made the commitment to breastfeed our daughter but both of them were finding it hard. And we gave in and bought formula. We hadn’t planned on that one. It bought us some peace of mind and some time. So we then invested in breastfeeding books and, once, a single page downloadable guide that proved to contain one useful bit of advice. But the published advice didn’t quite help us with our particular problems.

Those breastfeeding issues remained and we finally decided to hire a breastfeeding adviser. This was a Really Big Expense for us. My wife found her online and she visited our flat. She turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle that allowed my wife to make breastfeeding work for her and our daughter. She gave a lot of great advice and while that purchase was born out of desperation, it turned out to be money well spent.

Our next unforeseen expense came at the same time and was an even bigger investment. When V.’s skin started to react badly to disposable nappies, my wife quickly pushed for cloth nappies. As usual, she’d been thorough with her research and had found the best type at the best price. I was reluctant because we were looking at nearly £18 for each nappy. Plus additional items like storage bags and special washing detergent. Not to mention the costs of washing and drying the things at home. It’s claimed by the makers of reusable nappies that one of their advantages is economy: they’re cheaper than disposables. I don’t have the inclination to calculate how much each wash costs, but I can say that the initial outlay did hurt and made a dent to our budget. But over the year, the nappies have worked well, and been used time and time again.

However some of the unforeseen expenses haven’t worked for us. These include swaddling blankets, three types of nappy rash cream, a baby bath support, disposable nappies and the first brand of formula we tried. Either our daughter didn’t get on with them or her parents didn’t.

I can’t think how these expenses could have been avoided. We had to try them out to see if they worked and I suggest that you should view these kind of purchases as a learning experience. And keep the receipt.

Diarrhoea

Over the last two weeks, V. has had diarrhoea. She’s in good spirits, hasn’t been vomiting and we’re keeping her well hydrated. The doctor says it could be rotovirus. Or it could be ‘one of those things’. So we’re waiting it out. However the increased output of poo, combined with the UK’s hottest heatwave in six years, has lead to nappy rash.

In an attempt to give the nappy rash an opportunity to improve, we’ve tried to keep V.’s days and nights nappy-free as much as we can. Letting the air get to it, plus using a good lotion or balm for the areas of broken skin, speeds recovery. As you can imagine, though, that’s a messy policy. Messy in the cot, on the floor and on our clothes.

The washing machine has been on continuously, we’re both on our hands and knees literally scrubbing the shit out of the carpets. And our clothes…

When we were trying to cover the floor with old towels, V. would always find a gap to leave her doings on the carpet. So my advice, if you are forced to follow our lead, is to go in early with a heavy-duty floor covering. We finally pulled out the huge groundsheet that had come with our blow-up birthing pool. Now, clean-up is a couple of kitchen towels and a squirt of anti-bacterial spray.

We had also read of a suggested diet for V. that would help ‘bind’ her up. The B.R.A.T. diet is made up of bananas, rice, apple or applesauce and toast. I made these foods up for V. twice a day for a week (including carrots, which I had read somewhere was also good). She was as tired of eating that stuff as I was of preparing it and I saw no improvement in her bowel movements whatsoever. Eventually I found some articles that suggest a regular diet should be maintained when it is mild diarrhoea. So I’ve reintroduced the fibrous vegetables and other goodies she’s been enjoying since we started weaning.

It was after a week of all this disruption, that my wife then suggested we combine this nappy free time with some early toilet training. I stared at her for some moments. F. ignored that and pointed out we’re already dealing with the unfortunate accidents associated with toilet training. Plus, she was becoming quite good at identifying little signs from the baby of an impending deluge.

Obviously diarrhoea has nothing to do with bowel control, but I agreed we should give potty training a go. I’m not sure if we’re making the best of a bad job or giving ourselves a mountain to climb. Which is why, into our second week of diarrhoea, V. is being rushed to the toilet several times a day to sit on her very own adapted toilet seat. If, finally, a tiny amount of wee or poo is forthcoming, she gets fine applause before we ‘wave bye bye’ to the doings. At least I don’t have to scrub it out of the carpet.

Studying when there’s a baby in the house

I’ve written before about the challenges of running a business from home when there’s an infant to look after.

But on top of this, over the last 3 months, I have had a very demanding revision timetable for a vocational exam that happens next week. The exam is extremely important to my business. Basically, it’s the difference between me having a license me to practise as a personal trainer and not having a license

ln order to concentrate on my studies, I’ve had to pull myself away from family life during the evenings and shut myself in our studio room week in, week out.

It feels more than a little selfish to leave F. to look after the baby on her own. And of course it also means I miss out on looking after the baby.

I have been finding it difficult to concentrate on studying with the sound of distractions in the flat or outside (we live in the inner city and there can be traffic and street noise at all times of the day and night)

A solution came from Mrs D. and her experience of handling shotguns.

One of the many cool things about my wife is that, as a undergraduate , she was a member of her
university’s shooting team. The nearest this city boy got to such weaponry was watching The Sweeney. F. still has a pair of the ear defenders used to muffle the explosions. As she used to wear them in exams to help her concentrate, she suggested I try them when studying.

The defenders are like large old fashioned headphones without a cable attached to them. They are intentionally very tight, gripping the side of my head like a vice. Which makes wearing glasses a little uncomfortable. And, whilst they don’t completely completely block the sounds of the outside world, they do help muffle the sounds of the outside world. So I can still concentrate.

I also found that I could wear earbud-style headphones underneath the defenders thus creating a second barrier to outside distractions- it’s like playing music in a soundproofed room.

It feels a little selfish to do this bit needs must and I only have a week more of revising.

Standing is the new rolling

V. has learnt to stand up. It’s hugely enjoyable watching her clamber up onto her feet and wobble about. However it has lead to an unexpected regression in her night-time routine.

During the initial couple of hours in her cot, V. is waking at the end of each sleep cycle, pushing herself up onto her hands then climbing onto her feet. Unfortunately, she’s yet to learn how to sit back down unaided. So at this point she cries for help. It means we’re back to the situation we had a few weeks ago when she was rolling onto her front and getting similarly distressed. That all seems like a year ago, by the way.

We’ve decided for the time being, that as soon as the baby starts to cry, myself or F. goes into the room to pick her up. We rock her back to sleep in our arms. When she does nod off, we then gently place her in the cot and slide our arms out from under her, creep across the bedroom floor and close the door behind us. At all stages, she could wake and we’re back to the beginning of the process. It’s the creaking door that wakes her up the most. Even with oil on the hinges.

We know that there is a potential for the baby to quickly learn that this as the only way to get to sleep. That would undo weeks of hard work we (and that includes the baby) have gone through to have her put herself down.

We are also aware that, when she is put down, her sleep will be lighter than if she self-settled. Therefore creating a greater chance that she’ll wake again. But we needed a quick solution to get a chance of some sleep through the small hours of the night. Until V. learns to lie down by herself so she can return to sleep, her mother and I will have to regress our self-settling approach to V.’s sleep training.