Getting technical

One of the girls’ friends got a Leap-Pad Explorer (essentially an iPad specifically designed for pre-schoolers) for her recent 4th birthday from a generous uncle. Said friend opened it up, played with it for a few minutes and discarded it…until R and G came to play. During their usual ‘We’re at someone else’s house so we have to play with ALL of their toys within five minutes of arriving’ thing, G discovered the Leap-Pad and we essentially lost her for the next hour or two.

G definitely takes after her father when it comes to gadgets. I wish I’d taken a picture of Dh and G together, she perched on his lap completing game after game, he with one arm around G whilst holding a beer in the other. It was a perfect moment of father-daughter harmony. She picked up the principle of the machine in seconds, although she found the sluggish response time of the screen more than a little frustrated. R and their friend realised that G was hogging this particular toy and sought to deprive her of it. A three-way stand-off ensued until R and C were called upon to assist with making apple and rhubarb crumble, leaving G to complete the penguin game in peace.

There’s a tussle between parents that give their child a hand-held gaming device for their 2nd birthday and those who think that computers are essentially evil and that all pre-school children should play with mud and sticks until they are absolutely forced to use a machine to complete homework.

I’m ambivalent about the girls having access to computers at this age. I don’t think a little bit of educational computer work does them any harm – the girls are very fond of the games on the Ben and Holly website – but I wouldn’t want to lose them to a screen for hours at a time, for precisely the same reasons that I have always rationed their TV watching. The girls are going to be using computers when they start school, so they may as well familiarise themselves with the concept. However, the world is too exciting and there is more to life than staring at a screen (says she tapping away on her laptop), plus they have years to spend in front of a computer when they go to school and work. In any case, Dh is a ‘gamer’ and I’m pretty fond of the odd game of The Sims and Just Dance, so I can’t be a hypocrite and deny the existence of games when the girls can see the evidence all around them.

R is definitely more of an active outdoorsy girl whereas G prefers being indoors with a colouring book, but they are both taken with gadgets. I downloaded a Peppa Pig app onto my iPhone over the weekend and G is already a master of the piñata game. I showed them my (sadly neglected) Nintendo DS Lite and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to do my brain training exercises again as they played the mini games on Super Mario and patted my poor old Nintendog. Dh is already hatching plans to add a second DS to the collection and I think I’ll be donating mine to the girls…for small bouts of controlled gameplay with an educational bent of course. It won’t do them any harm.

What’s new Kitty-cat

…whoa whoa

Hello Kitty wasn’t around when I was a little girl. It’s a phenomena I have been aware of for some time but I felt it was a shameless rip-off of Dick Bruna’s Miffy and I steered well clear. Someone offered to buy me some Hello Kitty branded clothing for the girls when they were small and I turned them down. Me and my silly spurious principles eh?

Anyway, it started with a single purple t-shirt with a picture of Hello Kitty on the front. A few months on, KITTY (it’s the way she says it) dominates R’s wardrobe. G has even got in on the act and guilted persuaded Dh to buy her a Hello Kitty t-shirt or two. I have been putting bits and pieces aside all year for the girls’ upcoming birthday and Christmas and R is going to be the proud owner of an awful lot more KITTY stuff by the end of December.

Trouble is, Hello Kitty is EVERYWHERE. You simply can’t avoid it. Every shop seems to have a licence to sell Sanrio-branded merchandise. It’s an odd phenomena because it’s not like the children have seen a Hello Kitty tv programme or film (although I believe they exist). I totally understand the girls’ obsession with Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly (Dh has a lot to answer for the latter though) because they’ve watched the programmes and built up relationships with the characters. Hello Kitty seems to have invaded our lives by stealth.

The KITTY craze is speading around our family now too. My parents Dad shouts KITTY when he and my Mum are out shopping and spot something with the damned cat on. (at least he gets the name right. He keeps calling Ben and Holly Ben and Jerry).

I made the stupid mistake of taking the girls into a toy shop a couple of weeks ago. Naturally they had a section dedicated to KITTY, including an extensive range of cuddly toys. R fell head-over-heels in love with a Hello Kitty dressed as a ballerina but I decreed that it was too close to her birthday to warrant buying a toy for no reason.

R’s a clever little thing and, realising that I was standing firm on the issue, went to work on Dh. He was treated to an Oscar-worthy speech: “G has a special toy that she takes to bed. I don’t have a special toy at night. I want to cuddle KITTY when I go to sleep” accompanied by ‘Peppa Pig sadface’ and big hopeful eyes. To give Dh a break I took the girls back to the shop on Sunday and the ruddy place was CLOSED! Five weeks before Christmas! I ask you!

R was devastated so Mum and I hatched a plan to pick one up during our annual shopping trip to Bluewater this week. I went into the toy shop, marched over to the shelf where the ballerina kittys had sat and…there were none there. Panicking, I grabbed the nearest sales assistant and, with pleading eyes, asked if they had any more. She offered to go ‘out the back’ and have a look. I’ve worked in retail. I know what looking ‘out the back’ means. It’s a way of humouring a hapless shopper into thinking you’re helping them when in actual fact you wander into the stockroom, have a chat with your colleagues for a few minutes, eat a chocolate bar, mooch back out to the poor customer and tell them that they don’t have any but there’s a delivery due next Wednesday and they might be on it if the wind is blowing in the right direction.

In short, I wasn’t hopeful. However, a couple of minutes later she reappeared and handed me a brand-new ballerina kitty in a plastic wrapper. I nearly hugged her! Mum and I danced over to the till, told the cashier how pleased we were, stepped out of the shop and tweeted Dh a picture of our success.

I’m now R’s New Best Friend. I can do no wrong in her eyes. In the bath last night she looked up at me, smiled and whispered. I couldn’t quite hear what she was saying so I leaned in a little closer. R whispered in my ear ‘Thank you so much for finding my kitty Mummy’ and gave me a little kiss.

Meanwhile, Dh was placating a ‘trying to be grown-up but obviously a bit hacked-off’ G. She was very good about it but she did big-eyes at Daddy and they came back from a trip to the supermarket this morning with a little rock chick (think Avril Lavigne in a Hello Kitty costume) Kitty. Sucker.

I wouldn’t mind but I don’t even bloody like cats…

R and KITTY!

Half-full

I can finally cast off my mourning garb and uncover the table legs*. I’m officially ‘over’ my sadness at not ever having any more children. Having (nearly) four year olds is (almost) brilliant**.

My father-in-law had a 65th birthday party at the weekend. A year or two ago I would have been planning a. Babysitters*** or b. A strategic exit from the party when one or both girls reached inevitable meltdown at 8pm. This time I was confident that the girls could see most of the evening through. Dh was convinced that we would be in bed by 10pm. I told him to have a little faith. I had a plan. We travelled to the Fens after lunch, the point in the day at which the girls are most likely to be content and a tad sleepy. It kind-of worked when we turned off my driving tunes and Classic FM did its usual trick of putting the girls into a coma.

The girls were on the dance floor until 11pm when Dh and I staged an intervention and took them back to the hotel. This was their first ever late night and they coped admirably. G is a proper little dancing queen, although the beat in her head is clearly different to the one the rest of us can hear as she dances a bit like Phoebe from Friends. R spent most of the time following her cousin P (6) around. P is the Chloe Pig to R’s Peppa. She worships her. Dh was told on several occasions that the girls were ‘The best behaved children we’ve ever seen’. These people were only a teensy bit drunk (i.e. still able to stand) so I’m totally taking the compliment.

We have finally redecorated the girls’ bedroom. When we moved here two years ago their room was yellow with a teddy bear border and they were young enough at 20 months to warrant keeping the décor the same. Over the last year it became increasingly apparent that the room looked too babyish for their swiftly evolving tastes. It took me a while to persuade Dh but I finally wore him down and earlier in the week we painted their room pale pink (it looked worryingly like seafood sauce initially but has calmed down now) and decorated it with Peppa Pig wall stickers. I have also – finally – hung my cross-stitch alphabet up. It looks LOVELY.

I wanted to buy the girls proper beds but Dh has vetoed that for the time being because (brace yourselves) the girls aren’t dry at night yet….

<I’m now going to give you a moment to digest that. I’m getting a hot chocolate while you revel in our crapness by leaping around the room, air-punching, whooping with joy, whatever>

All done now? Good.

….so there’s no point moving them out of their current beds (their cotbeds with the sides off) until they’re in knickers. We’re dangling that (along with promises of bunk beds, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse bedding) as a carrot to ‘encourage’ them out of night-time pull-ups but they’re having none of it.

So, we’re not quite where I’d like to be, but we’re getting there. Plus, we don’t have to go through this again with other children so my glass is (for a change) half-full. All hail the 4 year olds!****

*I don’t actually think the Victorians did this.

**Apart from when they do something so naughty and/or stupid that I want to fall to my knees and weep at my parenting failures. This happens approximately once a day.

***Ha ha ha. I’m joking of course.

****Except when they make you cry.

Lifting the lockdown

I admit it. I cracked. I’m not proud of it. I really, really wanted to clean the bathroom…

The girls have been on a bit of a children’s television embargo for the last few weeks and I finally allowed them to watch a couple of episodes of Something Special last week.In my defence, the bathroom needed a jolly good scrub and since the cleaner left (short, boring story) in December dh and I have been a bit rubbish at keeping up with things. He PROMISED me that he would clean it (as part of his ‘I’ll do more cleaning if we don’t get another cleaner’ agreement) and didn’t, so to save the inevitable argument I rolled up my sleeves and did it myself. Don’t worry, it hasn’t been forgotten…

(In case you think we’re a couple of slovenly slatterns, the bathroom gets a wipe over regularly but needed a proper deep clean…)

They have since watched a couple of episodes of Rastamouse (Dh practically cried with laughter at it and has been pottering around the house muttering CRUUUUUCIAL randomly; R just looked baffled by it) and today I finally let them watch two episodes of The Infernal Pig.

They weren’t exactly morning til bedtime telly watchers anyway (I reckon an hour at a time at most, with either dh or I sitting with them – it’s handy for a bit of quiet time in that post-lunch lull), but I have enjoyed the fact that they haven’t been whingeing to watch TV as much recently. R is currently obsessed with painting and would happily do it all day. G lives in G-land anyway and is usually constructing an imaginary world involving a cast of characters, animals and scenarios.

So, I gave in first and the lockdown has been officially lifted. It’s been an interesting experiment and proves that you don’t need to let them watch television. However, a half-hour of their favourite programmes every so often gives us all a well-earned break.

Children’s TV lockdown

We’ve always been quite strict about the type and quantity of television that the girls watch. Although dh and I love watching TV, we’re not the sort of people that switch it on the moment we get up in the morning and leave it on all day. The only time I watch daytime TV is when I’m ill. Frankly, we’ve all got better things to be doing with our time.

R and G didn’t really watch dedicated children’s programmes until they were about 15 months old, and even then it was a few minutes of Teletubbies or In the Night Garden. Even now, I won’t let them watch hours of unscheduled Cbeebies or Nick Jnr. Most of the stuff they watch – Peppa Pig, SpongeBob and Something Special – is generally from Youtube, Iplayer, or downloaded content, modern missies that they are and dh and I normally watch it with them. It’s also in controlled bursts i.e. 5 episodes of The Pig and we do a craft activity; 1 episode of Something Special before tea, etc.

They were both a bit under the weather (again) a couple of weeks ago so I put Cbeebies on. I sat with them and spent much of the time thinking. What’s wrong with (insert name of random presenter here)’s face? Why is that woman so astonishingly perky? What is Nurse Gladys doing with that hedgehog?

We had a meeting with G’s keyworker on Tuesday and she mentioned that G references Peppa Pig in a lot of her imaginative play, along with sealions. When we explained that we went to the Zoo a lot, said keyworker seemed surprised that we allowed the girls to do anything other than watch The Pig. I went into a (rather unnecessary) flap and decided that the girls could go cold turkey on TV for a little while…

…Day 7 of the children’s TV lockdown and neither dh or I have given in yet. We were out last Sunday so day 1 was easy. Days 2 and 3 were nursery days – no TV there. On Day 4 I took the girls to the park and the Maritime Museum in the morning and dh entertained them at home with some painting in the afternoon while I worked. Day 5 – nursery day. Day 6 – took the girls to visit my library and office in the morning and dh took them to the supermarket in the afternoon. We were out and about (admittedly, at the cinema) today.

Which one of us will crack first? Dh is on nights next week so I’ll be up to me to keep them out of the way on their non-nursery days while he sleeps. I’m praying for dry weather so I can take them out.

The girls don’t seem to be missing TV actually. They ask to watch it when they’re tired, but that’s it. I felt rather pleased with myself until we went shopping for a fish tank (they chose the Spongebob one)and swimming costumes (they chose Peppa Pig ones) and I’m willing to bet that G still references The Pig at nursery as well. Sigh.

Peppa Pig – more addictive than Crack*

The girls have replaced their Something Special addiction with the adventures of the cartoon pig and her family and friends. They will happily watch hours of Peppa Pig (if allowed to) and howl with anguish if they are forced to eat food, play with toys or do anything that doesn’t involve the bloody pig. They find the opening sequence (‘I’m Peppa Pig SNORT…’) side-clutchingly hilarious. Every. Single. Time. Our lives are now filled with re-enactments of Peppa Pig stories, dissections of characters over dinner and all manner of Peppa Pig paraphernalia fills our house. (Wouldn’t you love to be the creator of Peppa Pig? They must be worth an absolute fortune).

After Teletubbies (11-18 months, In the Night Garden (18-25 months) and Something Special (26-34 months), it was inevitable that the girls would find a new obsession. It could be worse. It could be Dora the Explorer.

I’m rather hoping that the next obsession will be Charlie and Lola. Whenever we read one of the stories G spends the next three days announcing that whatever random object she’s holding at the time is ‘Actually my favourite dog/cat/piece of chalk/sticker/toilet seat/t-shirt’. Also, I’m rather fond of the animation, the merchandise and of poor long-suffering Charlie.

For now, however, I’ll immerse myself in snorts and bossy retorts.

*Not a Daily Mail headline.