The Stopwatch Phenomenon: Helping your Child Get Stuff Done

We have a daydreamer of a six year old. She can be mid sentence and suddenly drift off into her own thoughts of unicorns and rainbows. We also share a sensitivity to the stair mind block – you know, the invisible force field that engulfs all stairways, erasing your memory of what is was you went upstairs for. The difference is, I’ll come back downstairs so that I remember what I need to do. She’ll just start building a Lego dog salon instead.

stopwatch kids focus

At the weekend we were browsing the shelves of Crate and Barrel’s kitchen department and I spotted a stopwatch on sale for less than $5. I had remembered a suggestion from my sister the previous week about timing Elsie getting ready for school in the morning. She had to “beat Mummy,” while I had a shower and it seemed to work wonders. For $5 is was worth a try…

She was crazy exited about the purchase, to the extent that a couple of shops later after playing with it she said:

“I’ve always wanted a stopwatch Mommy, now all my dreams have come true…”

Talk about dramatic… I wish all my wildest dreams could be fulfilled by a $5 stopwatch. But still, I was pleased to see her excited about it, even if it did mean I was only given 6 minutes to browse clothes… I could see this was going to get old fast, with Mommy at least.

On the way home I dropped Daddy at the supermarket and circled the parking lot to avoid unpacking the family of five. 2 minutes to park. Timer set to countdown as we sat in the 15mins only space. Despite the short shopping list, she was very concerned about overstaying our slot. To distract her from panic I asked her what useful things she could time with the stopwatch.

Elsie’s stopwatch checklist:
  • “My 3minute Math fact practice tests,” (she has four a week for homework)
  • “Tidying my play area,”(a constant battle)
  • “Timing Daddy in Total Wine to make sure he doesn’t take an hour,”

Later that day she provided much entertainment to fellow wine shoppers as she gave Daddy regular updates of his time allocation for browsing. She runs a tight ship that girl.

So, is the stopwatch phenomenon a good method to help your kids focus? I did a little snooping because as regular readers know, I love an expert opinion.

What the experts say:

“Have a stopwatch handy to reinforce behaviours such as putting shoes away, cleaning off the kitchen table, or taking toys out of the bath tub. The stopwatch gives your child the visual reminder that reinforces your request.”(Richard A. Lougy, David K. Rosenthal, ADHD: A Survival Guide for Parents and Teachers)

Now, Elsie has not been diagnoses with ADHD, but I quickly learnt from teaching, that applying methods designed for my ADHD and ASD kids to the whole classroom helped all my kids, not just the ‘affected’ ones. Therefore, I would say Dick and Dave are underselling themselves a little here with the title of their book. 

“A stopwatch can also help children focus their attention. As their attention to the task increases, the stopwatch can be set for longer intervals.” (Sylvia B. Rimm, Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades and what You Can Do about it:)

Oh good, going by the title of this book Elsie’s just bright, not ADHD, I much prefer that diagnosis. As you can see, these methods for helping special needs are just good practise for all. I like the idea of increasing the timed periods, there’s no way if I said “you have an hour to tidy your play area and do your homework,” that anything would get done. Small short tasks to start with and we’ll go from there.

What’s the verdict?

The timer has successfully completed homework tests and hurried Daddy up in Total Wine. And the fact that she can operate it herself seems to make all the difference over me using my phone. It is her stopwatch, and because she has ownership she is more motivated. It has however been banished to the fridge because baby brother decided the mini battery on the back looked tasty… eek.

So go… get your little ones a stopwatch for Christmas, and make all their dreams come true.


Twins’ First Year: A New Challenge Every Month

My boys are about to turn one, hooray! Like all parents at this stage, we will be celebrating their first year, but also our own survival. We made it… high five, cake and champagne all round (don’t worry, I know I’m European but I won’t be giving the babies champagne).


Twin or singleton, Baby’s first year is something special. I chose that word carefully because there’s lots of joy but plenty of trouble. With every problem you solve, another emerges and those little ones never fail to catch you by suprize. Here’s my month by month guide to first year challenges.

0 Months Old: Feeding

I really did intend to breastfeed my twins… I bought the giant pillow and everything. But despite hospital boob boot-camp I still struggled to master the ‘double football hold’. Partly because I’m not wonder woman, and partly because how the hell do you pick up a floppy newborn with one hand?

Then there’s the fact the boys were born at 36wks. Little did I know that preemie babies aren’t the best feeders, so despite trying boobs, pumping, formula and general desperation, I couldn’t get my boys to stop losing weight. It took each baby an hour to feed, and I couldn’t get more than a few drops in for the first week… so tough! Of course once they got going they became chunky monkeys, but even by the end of the first month it took me a whole episode of Midsummer Murders to feed them both. What do new Moms do without Netflix?

twins first year

But it’s not all bad:

I have two gorgeous happy healthy babies and I can breathe again… no more sleeping upright!

1 Month Old: Sleep

Sleep deprivation is by far the most challenging and cruel affliction a baby brings to their parents in the first year. Although you get less sleep in the first month, it’s during month two you convince yourself you can function as a normal human being… you are wrong. It’s during month two you will invite family and friends to visit and gaze through sunken eyes past them into space as they ask you irritating questions like “Are they sleeping through the night?”.

So was sleep deprivation worse with two? Honestly, I believe there is a limit to what sleep deprivation you are even aware of… once you’re at bat-shit crazy it really makes no difference.


It’s not all bad:

They’re gaining weight and look totally cute when they snuggle up to each other.

2 Months Old: Crying

By this point those little tikes are alert, have found their voice and know how to use it. Now you’re beyond basic survival it’s time to start making some actual parenting decisions. Should we let them cry it out? Should we let them sleep in the bed (again)? Maybe try rocking them to sleep? Let them sleep in their swing chair until they’re 18 years old? Pacifier? Comfort blanket? Someone help… Google?


It’s not all bad:

Between the crying spells, the twins smiled for the first time…such a magic moment!

3 Months Old: Sickness

You know that at some point during the first year big sister is going to bring back the playground plague and infect the rest of the family. With twins you have two choices on how to approach sickness:

  1. When one gets sick make sure they dribble all over the other one as quickly and thoroughly as possible just to get it all over and done with.
  2. Separate them, sterilize everything and hope for the best.

We went with option 2 and failed. Sure enough, just as one got better, the other one got sick and so did I, so it felt like an endless battle.


It’s not all bad:

They are laughing, playing with toys and have become so much fun!

4 Months Old: Routine

At this point the boys were sleeping well and I started to feel like I could take on the world. However, in order to do that I would need a solid routine. I spent a lot of time and energy freaking out about regimented nap times and trying to keep the boys in sync. Of course most days they would start together at 6am like clockwork, but by the end of the day one’s had three naps, the other’s had four and you can’t remember which one you need to put to bed first.


It’s not all bad:

They’re starting to interact… gah, I can’t handle the cuteness!

5 Months Old: Sleep Regression

At some point during month five, the boys both decided they preferred sleeping on their tummies. Fine with me… except they would roll over, get stuck and cry for help because they hadn’t quite worked out how to roll back the other way. Once manually flipped, I had about 5minutes before the process started all over again. This was fairly shorted lived, but unfortunately the twins’ new skills weren’t quite coordinated, so once Arthur had stopped being a pain in the butt, George started doing it. Boys – Mama’s glad you’re learning, but I’ve only just remembered what 6hrs sleep feels like.


It’s not all bad:

Rolling is the first real baby trick isn’t it? They’re full of new skills and so pleased about it too!

6 Months Old: Solids

Just when you thought it was safe to leave the house… your babies need to start ‘solids’. I say the term loosely because there is nothing solid about what goes in… or comes out. We were fairly traditional with our approach, pureed bananas, avocado, sweet potato and pears, all resulting in a lot more washing. Washing of clothes, washing of furniture, washing of yourself. I soon learnt to do the mirror check before I went out. Do I have green slop on my breasts? Will anyone mistake my suspicious hair crust for a ‘Something About Mary’ moment?


It’s not all bad:

I love watching them try new foods and they look totally adorable with slop all over their face!

7 Months Old: Early Mornings

Although the tummy sleeping had been mastered some time ago, by this point the twins had decided 4.15am was official morning time. We were in the middle of summer, which didn’t help, but despite black-out blinds, the classy towel-nailed-over-the-window method and a third layer of curtains, those boys would not sleep past 4.15am. Were they too hot? Were they too cold? Did they need more dinner? Did they need to go to bed later? Would they go back to sleep if I just rolled over and turned off the monitor? Nothing made any difference… 4.15am. This went on for 3 months and soon I realised the only solution was just put myself to bed at 8pm.


It’s not all bad:

They can sit up unassisted at last so Mom can stop freaking out about developmental milestones (for now).

8 Months Old: Screaming

Arthur gained himself a new first year skill – screeching to such a volume and pitch that it made his brother cry. George was not a fan of the screaming and neither was I. His favourite time to do this would begin during dinner and onwards towards bedtime. I often ended up separating them, having one downstairs and one up, just to stop the carnage. But don’t worry, eventually George learnt to give as good as he gets and then they were the best of buds again.


It’s not all bad:

The babies had their first swim and first trip to the beach!

9 Months Old: Teething

So much drool. Bibs help a little but it was still a month of 6-8 outfits a day between them… how do they even produce that much drool? And the trouble with identical twins is they get their teeth at the exact same time… so two dribbly upset babies is it. Thank goodness for drugs.


It’s not all bad:

They’re finally starting to crawl! Development freak out no. 395 over.

10 Months Old: Crawling

We call their crawl ‘the-wounded-soldier’ because it’s a commando crawl using only one leg. The other leg drags behind, so the whole movement suggests they are pulling themselves to safety with a bullet in the leg. Crawling is a first year mega milestone, but it brings with it baby-proofing. The dog water bowl and the wine rack are their new favourite toys and they are naturally magnetized to anything sharp and pointy. Yep, they’re mobile – this shit just got real.


It’s not all bad:

They’re pulling themselves up! Development freak out no. 482 over.

11 Months Old: Climbing

Once I had worked out the danger zones in the house, mainly by trial and error which I wouldn’t recommend, things took as sudden turn. I was busy in the kitchen, listening to them giggle to each other suspiciously. Sure enough when I turned the corner they were both half way up the stairs… out of nowhere, they could climb. My personal favourite is when they try to climb your leg, if both of them do it at the same time it creates an overwhelming sense of love claustrophobia, and extraction can be surprisingly difficult.

Taken by Sara Waterman Photography, Arizona.
It’s not all bad:

They absolutely love each other’s company which is not only heart melting but also very useful when you want a cup of tea in peace.

12 Months Old: ?

This first year really has been crazy, but everyday it blows my mind how amazing all three of my children are. Who knows what challenges and milestones this next month and year will bring… but I can not wait to find out.

Happy Birthday Boys.


This post is linked up here:

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three
Hot Pink Wellingtons

Video Games & Children: Are Yours Hooked Yet?

video games

Earlier this year, my daughter Elsie started playing video games. I don’t mean one of those free fairy makeover apps, I mean a proper games console. My husband had been waiting for this moment for six years, she was finally old enough to start basic training. Fast forward six months and she’s pretty hooked… but have we started her on it too young? Let’s look at the evidence – As usual, I will be researching important parenting decisions after I’ve already accidently made them.

What the headlines say about video games:

I would suggest your headline isn’t exactly genius either…
Saving on therapy bills already, sweet.
Visit to the paediatrician… “I would like to improve my child please.”
Have you tried turning it off and on again?

 So… gaming is addictive, but will create an improved ‘nice but dim’ version of your child. Doesn’t sound too bad to me, my daughter already out-wits me and she’s only six. However, I suspect these headlines are not suggesting making your kid dumber is an improvement, so lets delve into the nitty gritty…

What the experts say about video games:

“If you watch kids on a computer, most of them are just hitting keys or moving the mouse as fast as they can. It reminds me of rats running in a maze.” (Educational psychologist Jane Healy)

Does this only apply to kids? That’s pretty much how I still play games and I don’t always lose. Jane Healy suggest waiting until seven to allow children to play video games, to ‘allow their brains to develop normally’. I’m pretty sure being better at angry birds than Mom by age 4 means Elsie’s brain is already mush, whoops. However, I’m certainly not the only parent guilty of using IPhone’s babysitting services while on a long journey and in a waiting room.

“I think what we’re seeing here is the evolution of gaming in modern society. Video games are now a part of a normal childhood,” (Katherine Keyes, Columbia University)

Ms Keyes believes gaming has become “pro-social” and a child excluded from an activity that has become so normal is more likely to develop social problems with their peers. I can’t see Elsie being shunned in the playground for not keeping up with the latest gaming news just yet, but I get her point. 

‘In 2012, researchers at Iowa State University found that “prosocial games” – titles that encouraged players to co-operate and help each other – increased helpful behaviour.’ (Keith Stuart, The Guardian)

In my recent post about Elsie’s competitive streak, I wrote about collaboration and cooperation as part of competition. This is totally the same thing… I would even suggest that her competitive streak has been fuelled by her love for Mario Cart. It’s a great multi-player game and can be fun to play as a family, but let’s be honest there’s only ever one winner… no collaborative play.

“often parents don’t understand that many video games are meant to be shared and can teach young people about science, literacy and problem solving. Gaming with their children also offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’” (Elizabeth Hayes, ASU)

Angry birds is basically a physics lesson on projectiles… Maybe Elsie’s brain hasn’t gone 100% mush just yet.

What I say after doing a lot of googling:

As far as I can see, the press is quick to make sweeping statements but the ‘experts’ are a little less dramatic. Like all things fun… moderation is key. Katherine Keyes suggests restricting screen time to 20mins a day after homework, very sensible.

Most ‘experts’ say screens should be avoided before 2yrs and games should be avoided before 7yrs. I personally think it depends on the child. Elsie has never had the best fine motor skills and I have noticed a massive improvement in that since she started gaming. Also, although she may have become more competitive, games such as Mario Cart have helped her cope with losing. She used to be the worst sore loser but she has slowly learnt that it doesn’t matter if she comes last, next time she will do better. She quite often makes the analogy when working on something tough… “I used to be bad at Mario, but now I’m really good.” This is definitely positive.

Despite this, I also understand that some games are more appropriate than others. I’m not talking about six-year-olds playing Grand Theft Auto… obviously that’s a no-no, sorry Daddy. But some games such as Mario Maker for example, are creative, problem solving, collaborative and are not at all violent. So my ‘expert’ advice would be: Let them play, but play with them and problem solve together. Limit gaming time to prevent brain mush, and choose their games carefully.


If you would like to read some of the articles I managed to procrastinate a whole morning’s chores with, here you go:

This post is linked up here:

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback
MrsAOK, A Work In Progress
One Messy Mama
Hot Pink Wellingtons

Pumpkin Wars: The Six Year Old Competitive Streak.

With Halloween on the horizon, yesterday afternoon I managed to find myself in the middle of some competitive carving. This is the fourth year my daughter and I have carved pumpkins together. Normally she would help design and draw, but she hasn’t really had the ability or strength to carve. Last year she gave it a good go but it was pretty terrifying and she tired of it quickly – phew. But this year, at the grand old age of 6½, she has totally upped her game. There is a determination that wasn’t there before which seems to have given birth to a competitive streak. Suddenly we had a game of Pumpkin Wars on our hands…

The look of a determined winner…
Elsie’s Rules for Competitive Carving:
  1. Mom has to do the gooey insides bit because it’s disgusting;
  2. Don’t touch my pumpkin (apart from the gooey insides);
  3. Don’t even look at my pumpkin until it’s finished;
  4. Stay on your side of the table with your own pumpkin;
  5. Until I need help popping the eyes out because they’re stuck;
  6. Then return to your side of the table until I’m finished.

We have competed a number of times recently. Only the previous day we had friends over to make pizzas. “We’re having a pizza making competition!” She said excitedly. That’s not what I said but that’s what she heard. A few days before we had sat down to try out her ‘How to draw Manga’ book from the library. “We’re having a Manga drawing competition.” She said. Note how she tells me what’s already happening rather than making a suggestion. So where did this sudden competitive streak come from?

What the Experts Say

Because I occasionally like to back my waffle with a bit of science, I thought I’d do some research and find out whether this sudden surge of enthusiasm for winning was normal.

“The chronic competitiveness of 5- and 6-year-olds is often hard for parents to handle. We tend to be embarrassed by the boasting common at this age and concerned that our children might be perceived as arrogant or insensitive.”

Thankyou Karen Levine from Parents Magazine, I feel so much better knowing my daughter’s pumpkin carving trash talk is normal. “My pumpkin is gonna be so much spookier than yours,” could really hurt someone’s feelings.

The New York Times offers expert views for and against competitive behaviours in children, including quotes from experts such as:

 “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that competition is destructive, particularly, but not exclusively, for children… It’s a toxic way to raise children.” (Alfie Kohn)

Shit Alfie, I wish I’d know that before embarking on two days of competitive pizza making and pumpkin carving. We’ve had such an intoxicating weekend I almost feel hungover. Mr Kohn is quite convinced that competitiveness can ‘promote anxiety, damage self-esteem and performance, and lead to disengagement.’ We’re screwed… totally screwed. Another week of this and she’s going to be a quivering mess.

However, luckily for me, not everyone is quite so pessimistic. David Johnson, a professor at the University of Minnesota believes than when competitive behaviour is combined with co-operation, it creates a healthy environment for support and success. So teaming up and encouraging each other to do better is good. And it’s OK to have a winner as long as the loser is also encouraged…

“The creativity, the innovation, the quality of product all goes up as you nurture talents and performance of others,” (Prof. David Johnson, University of Minnesota.)

Oh good, I do feel better. I was getting plenty of encouragement from my opponent while carving. “I bet your pumpkin is looking super spooky Mommy.” If I’m honest the tone was a little cocky and patronizing but I’ll totally take it.

The Result

At the end of the competitive pumpkin carving, of course there had to be a winner. Daddy was out at the shops and so it was decided that he was to be the judge on his return. However after leaving the room for a few moments I returned to find this…


Ignore the washing up in the background and the cat trying to squeeze it’s head into the pumpkin to get the flickering electric candle… I haven’t got time to be full glamour all the time you know. What we’re looking at here is the crowns. It seems Elsie couldn’t wait for Judge Daddy to get back from the shops so had crowned herself winner of the pumpkin carving competition. She made it very clear that she was given the gold crown and I had been awarded the silver crown for coming second. “Well done Mommy.” Then she pointed out the certificates she had placed beside each pumpkin…


So… I got a ‘nice try’… does that count as ‘nurturing talents and performance of others?’. She was certainly very pleased to be crowned first place and who could argue with her… she had just carved her very own pumpkin at age six!

We may need to curb the competitive streak at some point, but for now I think I’ll let her revel in the toxicity of her win, sorry Alfie. Happy Halloween!


The Obligatory Pumpkin Patch Outing

How to confuse small children…

When I was a child, the Pumpkin Patch was definitely not a thing, certainly not in England anyway. Now, it seems to be a Fall staple, and despite making it six years into motherhood unscathed, last weekend I found myself on the obligatory Pumpkin Patch family outing. “What IS a Pumpkin Patch?” I asked my husband before we left. “It’s a big patch of pumpkins.” My daughter said. Thank you sweetie, I feel so much more prepared now.

On arrival at MacDonald’s Ranch we struggle to find a parking space because it turns out people really like pumpkins. I wonder if this would work for any other vegetables? I could make a killing opening the first ever (Twin) Pickle Patch… see what I did there? Patent pending. It’s $12 to get in… $12! There had better be one seriously impressive pumpkin in there. I can take the kids to Safeway for free and see a pretty decent selection, and I’m pretty sure they won’t mind if I rearrange them for a little photo shoot. 

There’s straw and everything…

Still, the twins have a couple of weeks to go until their 1st birthday so they get in for free. I suddenly feel like we’ve nabbed ourselves a bargain and we head onwards into the realm of the Pumpkin Patch. I instantly see that my $12 is not just for viewing pumpkins, there’s a whole selection of activities – I’ve essentially walked into a pop-up theme park decorated with scarecrows. On that note, why are scarecrows a Fall thing? Don’t you need to fend off birds all year round?

My daughter is pretty pumped. Six years old is the perfect age to get your face painted, lasso/milk a fake cow, sift for gold, and play fairground games with prizes designed specifically to hurt when you stand on them the following day. I should point out, if you didn’t already know, we live in Arizona, USA. So if you live in Scunthorp, UK, you may be offered slightly different activities.

In case you were wondering… lassoing and milking were separate activities.

With a quick cheese toasty break we head on to the main attraction… The (actual) Pumpkin Patch. To encourage the air of suspense we are taken there on a hay covered trailer drawn by horses through the desert. I know, we’re totally rockin’ the wild west right now. The  scenery is beautiful but I can’t help thinking “I’m pretty sure no pumpkins grow out here…”


Despite being late October, it is 95° outside and I’m starting to wish I had brought water with me. Who goes out to a desert Pumpkin Patch without water? Rookie error. As we come to a halt I see it… the famed Pumpkin Patch, set up in all it’s glory right here in the Arizona desert.

I figure we have about 15minutes before I pass out from dehydration, including catching the horse wagon back and sourcing suitable refreshments. I wanted my family Pumpkin Patch photo and I needed it quick, so we found the perfect spot beside a slightly deranged scarecrow and prepared the children. Elsie was on board, if you remember my post about the family photo shoot, she’s pretty reliable when it comes to striking a pose. The twins however had other ideas. George was bemused… “Why am I surrounded by large orange vegetables in the middle of the desert?” Arthur just went total melt-down…

The photo I travelled through the desert on horseback for…

Was it the feel of the hay? Was it the pumpkins themselves, or just the weird scarecrow with the plastic head? Who knows, but he was having none of it. Drinks required all round. We make a quick exit and headed back on the horse drawn trailer. Elsie was annoyed because she thought the tractor dressed as a train was a much cooler ride… make no presumptions about children.

We didn’t stay at the ranch much longer as we were starting to melt and frankly I felt like I had earned a Sunday afternoon beer. When I got back I couldn’t help but google, and sure enough there is an official title for the fear of pumpkins – cucurbitophia. The same word is used for the fear of all vegetables in the gourd family. What is a gourd I thought? Google strikes again. Gourds are ‘chiefly herbaceous tendril-bearing vines including the cucumber, melon, squash, and pumpkin’. So unfortunately (Twin) Pickle Patch can not be marketed to sufferers of cucurbitophia… bummer, it was a genius niche market opportunity.


Organizational Skills: A Tale of Two Ninjas

Last week’s parent teacher conference brought to my attention that my six year-old daughter is somewhat lacking ‘organizational skills’. How organized a six year-old is supposed to be I do not know, but I would agree it’s not one of her strong points. Anyone that can go upstairs to get changed for school and come down 30minutes later naked, with a copy of The Beano, clearly needs a little help.

This image will make sense in about 1minute…

So, no surprizes in regard to my slightly eccentric daughter, but what came as a bit of a blow was Teacher going on to suggest if we were more organized at home it may help organization at school. I knew not to be defensive, I am a teacher myself, but who did she think she was (I thought silently to myself)? Time management and organization is my thing, without it how have I even made it this far? But, had I better consider what she was suggesting? After all, I turned up to see her sweaty and panting, because I was five minutes late for a 3:40pm appointment. It was only when I’d been there a while she informed me the appointment was actually booked for 3:20. I wasn’t exactly oozing organizational skills right now.

Teacher suggested that doing homework at regular times through the week would help. I totally agree… routine is key. If she knows what to expect, she will become more efficient at transitioning from one activity to another. She will know what’s coming, reducing anxiety and eliminating surprizes that can be difficult to process. That’s my teacher training talking. My Mom brain is thinking “How does she even know that we bodge it together whenever I remember, and the rest is cobbled together Sunday night?” I give her a squinty-eyed suspicious look… was she some kind of ninja teacher? Ninjas are one of my daughter’s latest obsessions,  so that would be pretty cool. I envisage Teacher in a black jumpsuit and a karate style headband, stalking students at night to check they’ve done their homework… I could write a children’s book.

organizational skills
Do I go headband or full face balaclava thing?

“…very distracted and finds it difficult to concentrate.” Crap, what was she saying? Deep in thought about the styling of my illustrations, I’d totally lost track of the conversation. Shit, I don’t even know if she is talking about me or my daughter? And at this point does it even matter? We clearly both have a problem, and my husband’s no better, it’s like the blind leading the blind.

We left school and went straight home to create a homework chart for the fridge. Everyone loves a chart, right? The following day I bought a pack of stickers, a multi-pack of hearts, smiley faces and stars – perfect, I thought, this is going swimmingly – check out my organizational skills. My daughter and I sat and discussed what would need to be achieved for a sticker on the chart. It started with a sensible plan of dividing the homework into quarters to be completed Monday-Thursday, ready for EARLY hand-in on Friday, take than Ninja Teacher.

You’re not the only one with ninja skills…

“Let’s use the hearts for homework,” she said. This sounded like a good suggestion, but then things started to get complicated. “But what is the difference between the big hearts and the small hearts?” Hmm… that’s a good question, surely a big heart sticker is superior to a small one, so it seemed unfair to make them equal. “Maybe if you do more than the minimum homework you get a big heart?” A great idea, but it started a snowball…

“Let’s make the smiley faces for finishing my work at school.”
“What can the stars be for?”
“What about the big stars?”
“Maybe I can write +3 on the sticker when my homework is on +3s?”
“What about Friday-Sunday?”
“No, I’m not tidying up, that’s the worst.”
“What do I get if I pass my maths test?”
“But what if I play my recorder and the piano on the same day?”
“How many stickers do I need to get a prize?”
“Let’s have a different coloured heart for every week.”

My head was spinning, I should have been taking notes. What did she have to do for a small star again? And was there any difference in the colour of the smiley faces? What do I have to do to get her to tidy up? What would Ninja Teacher do?

Don’t mess with Ninja Teacher…

So… I’m feeling pretty defeated right now. Defeated by crappy organizational skills, and defeated by a six-year old who, thinking about it may well be a ninja too. We’re a week in and the chart is a random scattering of pink and red hearts, a blue smiley face and two small sparkly stars. I have no idea what that means but I don’t see any large hearts, so know she hasn’t been doing any extra homework. No surprises there.

What can you learn from this tale of two ninjas?
  • Teachers are always right;
  • Don’t let a six year-old make decisions for you;
  • You may not be the person you always thought you were;
  • Buy boring identical stickers to make charts;


If any of you are planning on becoming an actual Ninja, the images in this post were sourced from a very useful article titled ‘How to be a Ninja at school’. People lacking organizational skills may want to read something more useful… can’t help you there.


The Family Photo Shoot

Having been in the US for nearly three years, certain traditions are starting to rub off. We are building up to Thanksgiving and starting to feel excited about turkey and pumpkin pie. My daughter is desperate to start the Halloween home makeover and has been since August. Then there’s the fall family photo shoot.

Its a widely excepted fact that Americans are addicted to photo shoots… spring, fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas, pregnancy, newborn, birthdays, graduation,  anniversaries, and of course school and dance recitals. Other than the school photos, I’ve never before felt the need to employ someone to take photographs for me. After all, I have a GCSE in Photography and an IPhone, what more could I need? But alas, this year I couldn’t resist and I booked the fall family photo shoot, despite my husband’s horror.

family photo shoot

This weekend was the big day, and this is how it went:

6.37am Wake up in a panic. We have to leave in 45mins and I have to feed and dress myself and three children. Realize I probably should have set an alarm and got up a lot earlier.

7.15am How long can it take for a six year old to eat a bowl of cheerios? Curse myself for booking a photo shoot at 7.50am, what was I thinking? Cross my hair off the mental to-do list, I’ll look fine, there’s nothing more flattering than the mop-haired, puffy-eyed hungover look. 

7.30am The twins have still not taken their clockwork morning poop. Run around in a panic trying to find extra clothes for the bag in case we have a sudden explosion mid shoot… why did I think white was a good idea in the first place?

7.45am Realize we’re going to be late so send my apologies to the photographer… could have seen that one coming.

8.00am Find photographer, take a deep breath… we sort of made it and everyone has clothes on. 

8.05am Get kiddos in position for the debut picture. Our six year old daughter tries to hold her smile while losing grip of her two brothers who are more interested in eating the gravel. Parents, granny and photographer jump up and down like crazed chimpanzees, trying to achieve the perfect smile. Twins stare with bemusement without even a curl of the mouth… “What ARE they doing?”

8.10am George gets on board and Elsie is loving all the attention but Arthur is playing hard-ball. That emoji with the straight mouth and the slight f**k you tone is the best we’re going to get. We move on.

8.15am Elsie steals the lime light with some single portraits. Despite the mild freak out over the bees in the bougainvillea all goes well.

8.20am We try the group shot again in a new location. Granny manages to head butt Arthur but once the tears pass he decides he might be ready to break a mild smile. George is thinking about peanut butter on toast and has no intention of hiding it.

8.25am It’s over… Thank goodness for that. No poop explosions, no major disasters and everyone still has clothes on. That’s success in my book. Time for a massive coffee and a piece of cake. 

Driving home, I consider whether I would do this again. When you take into account shopping for the perfect outfits, organizing a photographer, paying for the service and getting yourself there and back in one piece… is the family photo shoot really worth it? I am always taking pictures of my kids and achieve delights like this one taken a couple of weeks ago:

Photograph by Twin Pickle Photography, Arizona.

Is there really much difference? The short and only answer to this is yes. Because believe or not, the bonkers brigade shown above is the same three children as the angelic beauties below:

Photograph by Sara Waterman Photography, Arizona.

So if you want to convince your friends and family that you have it all under control and your children are fit for tea with the queen, book your family photo shoot and melt at the cuteness for many years to come. I know I will.

Thank you Sara Waterman Photography… you did great 🙂 


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5 Reasons Why Las Vegas is Made for Babies

On Sunday we are packing up the Minivan and heading to Las Vegas for a couple of days. We do this occasionally because my husband has the odd meeting there, and it’s relatively easy to tag along. I was going to write a post about things to do, or what to pack, but then I got this vision in my head of one of my boys wearing a green visor at the poker table.

Las Vegas Baby

I just couldn’t get past it. So instead of giving you something useful to read about, I thought I’d Photoshop my children into scenes of Las Vegas instead. A sort of pre-trip photo montage… the photos that could be, in case I don’t make it back. In doing this I had a realisation. Las Vegas is literally made for babies. Vice city is living proof that we never grow up. Here are just 5 reasons why:

1 – Casinos are full of toys.

As adults we really haven’t moved on much. Anything that spins, flashes and stacks is a go-go. I’m pretty sure Fisher Price are in cahoots with the casino owners to ensure we are hooked on this stuff by the time we hit puberty – genius.


2 – People are compelled to eat and drink non-food items.

I have no idea what is in these crazy slushy cocktails, or how much alcohol they contain. But I do know they come in stupidly large ‘glasses’ and look like your poop might glow in the dark afterwards. Please note: no-one is trusted with actual glass in Vegas – plastic sippy cups for everyone.


3 – You can acceptably wear a diaper, onesie or wacky costume in public.

Yes, if you want to make a living out of being a grown-up baby, Vegas is the city to do it. Crazy Hat Day everyday? No problem. And instead of being scared and crossing the street to get away from you, people will give you money and take your photograph.


4 – Bedtime is accompanied by projection displays and music.

If you’re still afraid of the dark, just move to Vegas. The famous light displays never fail to please, and the background noise of fountains, nightclubs, and people who have had too many slushies, will give you the perfect night sleep. Everyone knows babies don’t like silence.


5 – You are unable to calculate risk wisely.

As a baby we learn the hard way… from our mistakes. Every new experience is risky, and we just love to gamble, mainly because we haven’t worked out the likely outcome of our actions yet. In a casino this infant instinct resurfaces, and people are suddenly incapable of making sensible decisions. They are determined to throw away their life savings on the small chance of a win, and seem quite convinced it’s a good idea. 

What big babies we are… especially in Las Vegas.


Disclaimer: No babies were given alcoholic drinks or played poker to make these photographs. Images created for entertainment purposes only. A bit like this video… enjoy.


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Why are you still naked? – Kids that can’t keep their clothes on.


Although I’m proud of my daughter for being a non-conformist, certain social etiquettes have their uses… such as covering your mouth when you cough, not kicking dogs, and wearing clothes. It is the latter that I’m having trouble with. If she hasn’t worked out in 6yrs that hanging out in the buff isn’t always appropriate, will she ever? It seems I have one of those kids that can’t keep their clothes on.

I’m no prude, and I can cope with the nakedness at home, most of the time. But when you’ve managed to get clothes on in the morning why do they need to come back off? Why does going to the bathroom involve full nudity? It’s like a fashion show at home because every time my daughter goes to put her clothes back on as requested, she gets a fresh outfit from her room. All the extra washing is her punishment for me not letting her wear her birthday suit.

We seem to slowly be going off sleepwear too. She used to love her PJs and has quite the selection, but now likes to sleep in just her underwear. She would probably rather sleep naked but then she’d end up eating her breakfast in the nuddy, and I really don’t want bare butts on my kitchen chairs. Maybe I am a prude?

On a serious note, I struggle a little when we’re in public. I don’t want to body shame her. I don’t want to suggest there’s something dirty or wrong about a naked body. But there are safety issues to think about, and general social norms. I have found it quite different here in the US than in Europe, where it is very normal for young kids to run around naked on the beach. In France you would see little girls wearing pretty frilly bottoms for swimming, rather than the two piece bikini which seems popular here in America. I’m not entirely sure when toddler nipples became so offensive but apparently, people feel they should be covered up.

When we first moved across the Atlantic my daughter was four, and it wasn’t such an issue. Now she’s six, and getting undressed and taking the scenic route to the restroom at swim club no longer seems OK. And I can tell by the looks from other parents, it’s not socially appropriate either. According to Dr. Ann of “at around 5 to 6-years-old, kids feel shame, but still do not know exactly when and where it is appropriate to be naked”. Oh good, so there’s hope yet of not having to walk her down the aisle naked in 20yrs because she now lives in a naturist colony. I would be left walking her down the aisle because my husband has already said he’s not going to the wedding if that’s what happens. It good to discuss these things so we’re prepared.

Photograph taken by Elliott Erwitt at a naturist colony in 1984. Source:

Turns out, I am not the only one that has a ‘naked’ child. An article in the NY Times talks in depth about how different families and their attitude to being naked shape how their children feel about being naked. “Ms Dominguez, an optician, said she was stunned when the friend’s mom told her that Hayden, who turns 6 next month, was not welcome back because he had undressed and urinated in the yard.” Oh dear, poor Ms Dominguez and her boy have been banished from playdates for his naked activities. This does not bode well.

In reading this article I felt a little horrified by it’s accusations. There’s a possibility that it was us as parents that have caused this naked loving affliction. Was I really one of those naked parents? I’ve really never seen myself as the tree-hugging type. I rarely wear heels and even more rarely shave my legs, but I assure you it’s just plain old laziness, not a need to be at one with nature. When I was 11 I bumped into my friend’s naked Mom on the way to the bathroom in the morning. I was horrified… put some clothes on woman! Am I now the naked Mom?

I will continue my quest to keep clothes on my child. It doesn’t help that we now live in the desert and it’s hot all the time. And of course anything to do with  butts is hilarious, so we get the ‘booty dance’ at any given opportunity. We’ll work on the flashing in public and hope that at some point shouting “Why are you still naked?” will become a thing of the past. If not, maybe she’s destined to appear on “Naked and Afraid”? If you haven’t seen this show you have been missing out. Contestants have to survive 21days without food or clothes with a stranger in some kind of harsh natural environment… Genius. Here’s a taster – this is what becomes of kids that can’t keep their clothes on:

Poopcrastination: A child’s guide to difficult questions.


Listen up kids… My daughter is six and she is an expert in avoiding chores, homework or basically anything she thinks is rubbish. Here’s her guide which I’ve aptly named Poopcrastination: A child’s guide to answering difficult questions.

1. When your parents ask you to tidy your room, just tell them you “need a really long poo.” Mom let’s me read books while I sit on the toilet so I can just wait until my legs go numb.

2. When Mom asks you why you haven’t brushed your teeth yet, say “I’m sorry Mom, I got really distracted talking to myself.” It’ll buy you another five minutes of pulling faces in the mirror before she actually gets angry.

3. If you’ve already started ‘tidying’, just put the toys in and back out of the box multiple times. It’ll look like you’re working hard even though you’re actually playing peekaboo with your My Little Pony Equestria Girls.

4. At the suggestion of pretty much anything you don’t want to do, just flop dramatically onto the floor, exhaling loudly and say “I’m too tired.”. This works anytime you want to use the word ‘bored’. Just replace with ‘tired’, it’s pretty much the same thing but goes down better with the Olds.

5. I knew my brothers would come on handy at some point… When you’re asked why you haven’t put your clothes on yet, just say “I was playing with my brothers, they needed cheering up.”. It’s very important being a big sister you know.

6. When you’re asked  why you lost a reward penny at school,  just say “I can’t remember”. If you can’t remember it didn’t happen, right? This response is also perfect for questions such as “How did you do in your math test?” and “Did you eat all your lunch?”.

7. When you go upstairs to get on with your duties, make sure to take the cat with you. You can silently play for some time before Mom realizes you haven’t even started yet. Kitty love is important too you know.

8. If Mom shouts upstairs “How’s the tidying going?”, be sure to reply with an over-enthusiastic “GREAT!”. You might buy an extra five minutes before she comes to check just how great it’s going.

So just in case you haven’t already mastered the art of procrastination, try some of these techniques to drag out any five minute job and turn it into an all day thing.

Enjoy your poopcrastination children 🙂

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