being female.

“Mummy, Mummy! I just saw a lady riding a motorbike. Completely on her own!”

And these aren’t the only words that Ruby has said recently that make me wonder what is actually going on with the world?!

Why is it that what is absolutely nothing to me (of course a woman can ride a motorbike on her own!), is so shocking to my five year old daughter?

“That man is wearing a pink shirt.”

“Henry is playing with my dolls”

“I can’t play football, don’t be silly”

“That is not for me, it’s for a boy!”

I have always tried to avoid gender stereotypes with both of my children, but never made a big deal of it. I put Ruby in babygrows with colours that are traditionally thought of as ‘boys colours’, I buy Henry dolls because he likes them, I let Ruby run around in the mud, climb trees and razz around on her bike. Because that is what she enjoys doing!

I work. Pretty much full time. I worked all the way through both of my hyperemesis-filled pregnancies. I walk into male-dominated property industry meetings every day and smash them. I love football and rugby. And so does my husband. He works full time. We share chores (granted, I do most of the housework) and he cooks and takes care of both of them just as much as I do.

So why is it that she still has a warped view of what it is to be female?

Is it in-built? Is it people at school?

It certainly doesn’t come from me, or from any of our family members – two of her wonderfully clever, talented and totally empowered Aunties bought the same book for her for Christmas – “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”.

Showing me that they share my desire to raise Ruby knowing that being female is more than fluff and flounce, more than giggles and boys, more than having babies and keeping house.

Not that any of those things are bad. Quite the opposite in fact. Anyone who knows me knows that. Nothing is better than getting dressed up and going out for drinks and giggling with your girls!

But I want her to grow up knowing that to be female is to be strong. To be miraculous. To be brave.

To be anything she wants to be and do absolutely anything that she wants to do.

So when she says things like she said this morning about the woman riding the motorbike, I will always turn back and tell her exactly this:

Yes, Ruby. Women can do anything they want to do. We are amazing.

And we truly are.

#proud

screaming.

Does anyone have the instruction manual for a child? Mine is lost and the volume control is broken!

I am at the end of my tether.

Actually about to burst, run away or surgically remove my ears to get away from it.

What’s the ‘it’? I hear you say.

The ‘it’?

The ‘it’ is the almost constant ear piercing shriek of my five and a half year old. And the copycat that is her little brother.

No matter what the situation, be it happy and jolly or blood pressure raising, the volume is off the scale.

You can hear her from down the street as you walk up the path after a long day at work.

You can hear her screaming when she is in the car and you are in the house.

You can even hear her when you are fully submerged under the bath water trying to (drown yourself) relax after yet another jam packed weekend.

I kid you not.

I don’t know how teachers cope.

Do they end up deaf at a really young age? Permanently popping Ibuprofen to get rid of the constant headache caused by 30+ immensely loud small people every single day?

I used to want to be a teacher.

I think I have changed my mind based on this factor alone – the endless mounds of paperwork and targets would be a breeze in comparison!

I cannot recall the exact number of times I have asked for less noise, the use of an “inside voice” or even as simple an instruction as no screaming. But these phrases are certainly a major part of my repertoire, and quite frankly I am fed up of it.

I am a nag.

I am a bore.

All for the want of a life without a permanent headache.

Is there a point when the incessant screaming stops? Please tell me that there is, and that it’s soon!

In the meantime, share your tales of woe and tips of wonder with me…please!

arguments with a four year old.

Our daughter, as many of you will already know, is four.

Our daughter, as many of you will know, is also very strong-willed and a feisty little creature.

This basically means the following things:

  1. She knows best
  2. She doesn’t listen to a word we say
  3. She will pretend to listen whilst rolling her eyes at you
  4. She knows best
  5. She throws monumental, melodramatic (and somewhat hilarious) strops from time to time
  6. She flicks from loving her brother to wishing he wasn’t around faster than you can blink
  7. She knows best

She’s a teeny weeny wolf in the most angelic of sheep’s clothing. With a head bob and plenty of “sass” that comes from one too many episodes of My Little Pony!

She’s awesome. She’s kind. She’s clever. She’s frustrating.

She’s Ruby.

There are the usual little arguments that I’m pretty sure are standard for any parent of a four year old…you know the ones, no you can’t have chocolate for breakfast, too much TV will make your brain mushy, no you can’t have chocolate for breakfast, please put your shoes on, I’m sorry but Jamie can’t come to live with us as his mummy would miss him too much, no you can’t have any more chocolate as you’ll be sick…and so on and so forth.

#totalbrokenrecord

But last night, and I have to admit quite often recently, her sass turned into being just plain mean to her baby brother.

And as a result, last night we had an argument that was bigger than the usual ones.

Last night she ended up in her bedroom in tears.

And last night I felt more guilt than I have ever felt after an argument with her. Ever.

Why?

Because I lost my cool. Because she cried so hard and because, last night she looked at me and said, “Does this mean you don’t love me?”.

And that, quite simply, broke my heart because oh Lord, do I love her.

I love her so, so much.

But the thing is…when I see her nastily growling in the face of her baby brother, or snatching toys from his hands just because he is enjoying himself, or laughing when he falls over, it kind of makes me cross.

And it makes me sad, because I don’t understand where that comes from. Is it normal?!

Ruby has never been that child you see. Sure there have been moments, but in general she’s had glowing reports about how good she is at sharing and we are always being told how kind she is. So why is it then, that all of a sudden she seems to have designated Henry as public enemy number 1?

Listen to me please. Stop doing that. Behave yourself.
You’re doing so well at sharing. That was so kind. Thankyou for being nice to Henry.

I’ve tried all the tactics, and I could spout ToddlerCalm, How to Encourage Sharing…all the parenting books you like… back at you, but I’m still no closer to cracking this one.

And this is the one that causes me to have arguments that make my four year old think I don’t love her!

Help!

So much has happened to our little family over the last 19 months since Henry arrived. Meningitis, starting school, we’ve moved house, I’ve gone back to work…and I guess all of these things are taking a toll on all of us.

I don’t know if how I parent is the best way to do things. I tell her I love her every single day. I worry constantly about what she thinks and feels. I spend ages explaining why we’re doing things the way we are. I talk with her after every falling out and we forgive and forget. I wonder every time we fall out how much of all of this she will remember, and how it’s affecting her “future self”. I fret about whether we should spend more time with her on her own, without Henry around. I worry about their future relationship – I want so much for them to be friends. I feel incredibly guilty about arguing with her – shouldn’t I just be loving every single minute I have with her instead!?

Shouldn’t I find it easy to take the upper-hand and just let it all go?

Maybe? Probably? Definitely?

There are lots of things that I don’t know about our four year old and how best to parent her, now and in the future. And I am hoping that this, like other triggers for arguments, is just a phase.

One thing I do know for sure is that I love her so much. I am so proud of her and how she has handled all the changes that have come her way recently.

And that will never change, no matter how many times she rolls her eyes at me!

Any advice? Sibling rivalry getting you down too? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Speak soon x

the struggle.

Hi. My name is Kathryn. And it has been exactly four months since my last blog.

Oops.

You see, I started oliphantum way back in March 2016 with the intention of blogging regularly and creating a little world through which I could get back a bit of “me”. Find my humour and get my creativity going again after having two children and spending a lot of time being poorly and at home.

But it wasn’t always that easy.

Two children is hard.

And why is it that, just like with birth and the first baby, no one actually bothers to tell you exactly how hard!?

No one tells you that sleep deprivation from two small people that don’t sleep feels like pins being consistently stuck into your eyes.

No one tells you that your first born will, at some stage, turn into a miniature Tasmanian devil and try to smother your newborn baby either with love or a pillow!

No one tells you that whilst you thought keeping up with laundry for three people was hell on earth, that doing it for four people will nearly kill you.

No one tells you that what little you had left of your former intelligence will most definitely stick two fingers up at you and leave at the first chance it gets, leaving you a blithering idiot that can only do one thing at a time and talk about nappies for approximately 19 months (I am at this point now – I may be wrong, and I may still be a blithering idiot!).

No one tells you that you will cry more after your second child. Perhaps because no one likes to talk about that part – but they should!!

Then there was my eldest starting school, me starting a new job AND a big house move…just because life didn’t seem hard enough!

Yep, the second half of 2016 was pretty much a disaster.
A really big struggle.

This isn’t a pity party. I’m not looking for sympathy. It just sometimes helps to actually tell people that it’s been hard work.

And that I haven’t coped very well with it.

At times I coped pretty darn badly to be honest.
Craaaaaaaazy woman would be a good name for me, and I’m sure that Mr O would agree.

Thankfully all the poorly in the world, all the stress, upheaval and general ridiculousness has helped me to see things a bit more clearly.

Two children is still going to be hard throughout 2017. Especially because Henry has now turned into a beast that likes to scream at me whenever I even suggest his nappy needs changing and Ruby has decided that she knows everything in the whole world and that I, actually, know nothing.

I don’t do resolutions as a rule. I am never going to give up chocolate and running is alright, but only in summer. So for 2017, here is my annual List of Stuff To Remember:

  • My children are not trying to (purposefully) drive me insane
  • I’ve had a toddler before and survived unscathed
  • Chocolate is good, but in moderation
  • My four year old is the most loving, kind and clever girl – everything we wished she would be
  • Siblings fight and argue, it’s normal
  • Gin and Tonic is my friend
  • Work, although important, is not the be all and end all
  • Find the time to write my blog, because it’s fun and I enjoy it

But mostly I think I need to remember to count my blessings.

I need to remember that I am loved and that I love my family and friends so much. Nothing is worth forgetting that for. Not ever.

Here’s to a fantastic 2017.
Let me know what’s on your Stuff to Remember list in the comments!

Speak soon x

the last days of summer.

I was originally planning to be all “I don’t particularly care what people are saying, summer hasn’t ended just yet” and chat about the fact that technically it’s not over until later in the month.

However, having woken up this morning shivering, looking through the window at torrential rain and to a baby literally covered head to toe in poo (I guess the Lactulose has finally worked) I am pretty resigned to the fact that we have probably already had the last few days of summer.

Sigh.

All things considered, the small amount of summer that we have had has included some lovely times, like our holiday to Tenerife, trips out, visits to and from family and friends and our many child related adventures!

But, with Ruby starting school this coming week things have been a bit fractious of late, and so our efforts to make this summer one to remember for her have gone a bit pear-shaped to be honest. Think screaming, curly haired tantrums when daddy drives the car but she wanted mummy to drive and peas being thrown in every direction because she wanted carrots and you’re close to (never really) understanding our four year old and how draining the last few weeks have been.

So, last weekend, spontaneously wanting to “make the most” of those precious last few days of summer we took the children to Calke Abbey, a beautiful National Trust property in Derbyshire.

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It’s dubbed the ‘un-stately home’ as the owners were ruined and simply didnt look after the house because they couldn’t afford to (who could!?). The NT have kept it in its shabby state but work hard to preserve it just as it was left…but I just know this from snatched glimpses at fact sheets and hearing snippets of the video about the house because I’ve never actually been in the place! Nope. Don’t be daft. There’s a playground and sheep to see instead!

I thought it would be a great day…we walked round the parkland spotting deer, but Ruby thought that was boring. We climbed trees and did muddy puddle jumping, but Ruby thought that just wasn’t fun enough. We had a picnic overlooking one of the nicest views in the whole estate, which Ruby actually did enjoy because it included food, and we spent time doing crafts and playing in the play stables…which didn’t last long enough and ended in yet another tantrum.

Everyone suffers the rage of a four year old at some point in time, I know we’re not the only ones. And I know that Ruby is really no different to the other four year olds out there and, whilst it wasnt the idyllic day I had imagined it would be, it was time spent together as a family and, considering the weather this weekend I am glad that we took the opportunity for one last effort at some summer fun.

Carrying Henry round on my back could have been the biggest mistake of the summer yet for me though!

In a nutshell I’m now resigned to the fact that summer is over and that school is just around the corner and so I have taken the (wise or stupid, I’ll decide later!) decision to spend the next few days just with Ruby.

We’re basically going to do all the fun stuff I wish we’d done earlier in the summer…whether it’s raining or not! 

And we’re also doing the bits and pieces she has wanted to do but that we haven’t had a chance to…including Finding Dory at the cinema, which basically means I’ll be a blubbering mess by 2pm tomorrow.

Great.

Summer, thanks for popping by, you’ve been interesting. Here’s to next year!

Speak soon, x

soft play cafe.

Since Ruby was born in 2012 and all things child-related came onto our radar, it became strikingly obvious that Lichfield was lacking in small people “stuff”.

More often than not you’d get tutted at, stared at or groaned at for trying to squeeze a pram into an already packed cafe so that you could escape the house for a moment and feel like a normal human being after a morning of non-stop screaming from the tiny human you’d just brought into the world (“if in doubt, go out” and all that).

We’ve been concocting plans for a fabulous, not overly pricey, clean, safe, child-friendly cafe with lovely food and brilliant staff ever since…but it’s always been a pipe-dream and we were never actually ever going to be able to realise it and neither was anyone else.

Then, just this week, along came Little Green Frog Cafe!

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Located in the centre of Lichfield as part of Three Spires Shopping Centre and open daily from 8.30am – 4.30pm, the cafe opens officially on Tuesday 30th August but we were treated to a special sneak preview this weekend.

It’s a superb idea, and a wonderful execution by the super friendly owner-managers Ben and Debs and their team. The light, bright and welcoming cafe is a great size…you don’t feel like you’re sitting on top of anyone and the play zones have been carefully planned to cater perfectly for smalls from around 18 months to 5 years.

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Henry snoozed for the majority of our visit this morning, but Ruby was off exploring as soon as we arrived. She headed straight for the activity corner and was found sat in the tipi with an Albert Einstein style wig on her head and a Cinderella dress from the extensive dressing up section! There’s also a lovely quiet-zone full of books and soft seating for those feeling less energetic…plus Ben explained to me that they are planning to introduce a range of baby friendly play things very soon, which will make the activity zone complete in my opinion. And a perfect place for new mums to meet and get out of the house over the winter months without feeling like they are in people’s way all the time!

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Once awake, Henry loved exploring the soft-play area which is fully equipped with slides, a ball pit and lots of soft blocks and rocking ducks for the little ones. The area was supervised by a lovely member of the team today…I’m not sure if this is always going to be the case, but it’s a great touch. The cafe is a perfect size for always knowing where your child is, and even if it’s busy I imagine you will always feel secure there.

The facilities have been well thought out with a large buggy park, booster seats, plenty of high chairs and wonderful baby changing facilities. Extremely clean dinky toilets for those that are nappy-less are a great touch and, along with the cot in the baby change area, just help to make your visit that bit easier!

Our visit was at 10.30am, so we took great delight in ordering from the scrummy breakfast menu. Mr O and I shared a pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and Ruby had a fruit bowl (which was a good size for the price) and a strawberry milkshake. The highlight for me however was the Deluxe Hot Chocolate which came piled with cream and marshmallows and was one of the better hot chocolates I’ve had for a while.

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All in all it was a lovely way to spend an hour and a half, and with the £3.50 for the play side of things being directly added to your bill at the end it is easy to understand what you’re spending without feeling like you’re constantly paying for stuff. The team are lovely – very friendly, professional and happy to answer any questions…and they even cater for special dietary requirements which I know is very important to a lot of parents.

If you have older children then you’re probably better off searching out one of the bigger soft-play centres outside of town – Little Green Frog cafe is perfect for mamas and papas with babes in arms, toddlers or under 5’s. Which is something Lichfield has never had before and, along with the great programme of activities planned on a weekly basis, is why I can see this place going from strength to strength…

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If you’re in Lichfield, pay Little Green Frog cafe a visit (book online if you’re in a large group) and you won’t be disappointed – especially if you manage to snaffle one of their amazing cakes!

Find out more about Little Green Frog cafe by clicking this link.

driving me crazy.

Travelling in the car is to us what having your nappy changed is to a weeny one. Natural, necessary yet a little bit annoying.

Mr O and I have spent our entire life together travelling up and down motorways as we’ve journeyed from Luton to Doncaster, Blackburn, Lichfield, Coventry, Liverpool, London and many other places in between…and sadly, because of this, we now know the M6, M1, M62 and M18 motorways (and if you know Mr O, the toilets at each service station!) like the backs of our hands.

Our children, being only small are somewhat lacking in the car travel experience department and are, understandably I guess, not really very happy about us trying to provide such a wonderful, joyous education for them.

Take our most recent car journey as an example…

Our best friends live in Leighton Buzzard. Of course they do. Everyone knows that it’s the rule that your best friends must live at least 1.5 hours away down a very busy motorway!

So it started off very well, with the promise of a little nap (sadly not me!) and a sing song before we reached our destination.

In reality it wasn’t any of this. It was a mixture of awful and even worse.

Henry and Ruby took it in turns to be annoyed. Henry would scream and cry, and then when he’d given up, resigned to his fate once more, Ruby would pick up the baton and start whining about us not being there yet, that she wasn’t actually sleepy, that the nursery rhymes weren’t on loud enough, that the radio was too loud (she was trying to sleep after all!)…

It was certainly one of our most interesting car journeys of recent times.

And then there is this:

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Oh, look, another 50mph zone!

The circular sign of doom.

The mark of killer traffic jams, lane creepers, idiots on cruise control…and the fact that our entire motorway network is just full of them, all at the same time, is soul destroying.

We have spent the last 2-3 years filtering slowly through 50mph zones, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually spotted people working. What are they actually doing anyway!? And why has it suddenly become en-vogue to remove crash barriers and replace them with massive concrete walls!? How is that safe!?

Crazy.

So, good people, here are my very special top tips for travelling with small people and how not to end up looking like this:

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Oh dear…

  1. Be prepared – tell them in advance that it will be a long journey
  2. Get them just the right amount of excited – too much excitement will result in endless “Are we nearly there yet?” situations that will make you want to hurl yourself from the moving vehicle. You need them excited to get there but also excited about the getting there itself (the promise of a treat at the half way point usually helps!)
  3. Take stuff with you – no matter how long or short the journey, let them take as much “stuff” as they want. It will keep them occupied and avoid a tantrum when told they can’t take their “stuff” with them
  4. Play nursery rhymes – but do a deal with them first, as a parent you simply cannot listen to nursery rhymes for the entire journey as your ears will bleed. Take it in turns to be in charge of the music!
  5. Spelling games – spot the signs coming up and ask them to tell you how many letters they can see, it usually ends up with them shouting that you’re driving too fast, but it’s a great distraction technique
  6. Counting games – how many red cars can you count etc. etc. will keep them busy for at least 10 minutes
  7. Snacks – doesn’t have to be sweets, can be anything at all. But try to individually wrap things or put them in challenging pots that keep them occupied…sneaky, sneaky mummy!
  8. Don’t engage in small talk – and by this, I mean the talk of the smalls. Just let them witter at you. It’s easier and you can pretend to be a unicorn or something. Or, better still, pretend to be a mute…it angers Ruby, but it might work with your little one!
  9. Pretend to be asleep – you will be shouted at, you will have things thrown at your head, but if you can keep your face straight you are guaranteed at least 15mins of time with your own inane thoughts
  10. Tell stories about your life – if all else fails, use your trump card. Ruby loves hearing stories about me, about Daddy, about our parents and about her Uncles. Tell them everything you can. Teach them about your past, and about the past of your family…they will love it.

I’m hopeful that as they get older things will become easier on the travel front…

They certainly can’t get any worse! Or can they!?!

Share your best and worst travel stories with me…I’d love to hear them.

Speak soon, x