DIY No-Sew Montessori Toy

We’re starting a bit of Montessori right now, particularly in the way of getting Jellyfish to play with toys that show him how to sort, organize, or how things work. If you’ve looked into implementing Montessori in your playroom (or in our case, the square metre of floorspace in the living room where Jellyfish can play safely), you will know already that those toys are expensive. They are also not very versatile. So I am planning to make him some toys, and this is the first one I did.

I came across the idea of a posting toy, where it’s basically a cardboard box with a slot that kids can put objects in. Jellyfish isn’t really at that level, yet. So I flipped it around. Instead of posting things, he can pull them out. He loves opening things or taking them apart and he especially loves pulling all the tissues out of boxes if they’re left in his reach.

I originally thought play scarves could go into the box, but all the ones I’ve seen on Amazon are unreasonably expensive for what amounts to a few flimsy strips of fabric, and delivery is like end of June, by which time Jellyfish will be into something new, I’m sure. So I got an empty tissue box and some old baby vests that a) don’t fit him and b) have no other use. I can’t give these vests away because they are stained and no one wants stained second hand anything, and anyway the whole world is on lockdown so it’s hard to buy/sell/exchange preloved items.

tissue box toy3

Tissue box toy2

I cut the baby vests into squares. Pinking shears would have made a neater edge but we don’t have that luxury right now. Then I folded them into the tissue box so they would come back out again without him having to make much effort. It took like 5 minutes to make this toy so parenting effort = zero.

tissue box1

I have placed all the “tissues” inside the box and left it on his play mat. I can’t wait to see him playing with this in the morning! So they aren’t that filmy, flimsy scarf fabric that looks so shiny in all the baby sensory pics. I don’t know that he will care as long as he has a box full of things he can take apart. And in terms of sustainability, it has saved a tissue box and three stained baby vests from landfill. I am parenting like a boss tomorrow.

Full disclosure: Today was actually a total washout as Jellyfish has 5 teeth coming in and he is in a lot of pain and crying. Today was a TV day and I justified it by putting on Octonauts in French dub because that’s then educational, right? Yeah, you can change the language on Netflix via the subtitle menu and it alleviates my guilt. But tomorrow will be epic. And if not, there is wine. Which is also French and therefore educational.

What random things keep your baby entertained?

Alternatives to screen time

I don’t know what it’s like in your house right now but in mine, I’ve found myself resorting to putting the TV on a LOT lately. I’ve handed my baby my phone several times to teethe on because he likes the fact it lights up when his face gets close to it.

I am trying to work and look after the baby, and so is my husband. I cannot tell you how many times we have re-watched Ready, Steady, Wiggle or all the versions of Little Baby Bum we have found on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Jellyfish likes when the TV lights up and sings to him just as much as when his toy jellyfish night light plays “twinkle, twinkle, little star”. I suppose conceptually they’re basically the same when you’re 8 months old but as he gets more mobile and aware of the world around him, I worry that we are setting a very bad precedent.

So I’ve decided to limit the singing nursery rhyme box to 2 hours max per day. Weaning my husband off using the TV as a way to calm the baby down is going to be just as hard as weaning the baby away from staring at the black box and grizzling until someone makes it light up and play music to him.

I read a thing on a really good Montessori website about how babies under 1 need 14-17 hours of sleep. That means there’s 7-10 hours when they’re awake that needs filling with things to do. Every single day. I don’t think it’s feasible for anyone to sit shaking a rattle at a baby for 10 hours a day until the baby magically learns to play alone.

So this is a list for me to check back to (and you, of course, if you want it) of things we can do instead of putting the TV on:

  1. A tissue box full of scarves for him to pull out. I made one with instructions here.
  2. Water play. This keeps coming up but I don’t know how to facilitate it in our tiny house where there’s no room for spills with a crawling baby.
  3. A sensory play mat made out of the packets of wet wipes (if they have the clip tops) so they can lift the flaps and practice opening and closing things, then discover things under the flaps.
  4. A discovery basket he can empty and play with, that includes new things he hasn’t played with yet, such as toilet roll tubes, kitchen utensils etc.
  5. Peekaboo
  6. Make a stacking toy out of recycled yoghurt pots or similar
  7. Making a posting toy out of a recycled box or similar
  8. Spaghetti play: cook up some spaghetti, split the pot in half, add red food colouring to one half and blue to the other. Put the different colours in two different containers and give the child a third container to play with it with.
  9. Toilet roll tubes stuck to a wall with coloured tape for the baby to pull off.
  10. A cushion from the sofa put on the floor for the baby to climb on.

I also covered the TV with a very cunning disguise so the baby would stop waiting for the magical black box to light up and make noises. That worked really well, actually. I just threw a blanket over the screen and Jellyfish looked at it a few times, then decided it wasn’t the TV and started playing.

Still, without the TV to back me up, I was definitely very relieved when I put the baby to bed. I’m going to make some of the things on my list and see how long we can go without just putting the TV on. Life was so much easier when we had lots of baby classes to go to. Many of them have moved online and do livestreaming in Facebook groups but it’s just more screen time, now, isn’t it? Especially because some places are doing one livestreamed class when they used to do separate classes for babies and toddlers, and now all the activities are at toddler-level so Jellyfish just doesn’t understand or really get anything out of it. It’s probably great if you have a two-year-old or bigger.

Postcards to my Baby: Shanghai’s Old Town

Dear A.

One day, you’ll see China for yourself and understand why I can’t describe it very well in one postcard. It is a land of opposites, complications, and yet… simplicity.

On one hand, the bureaucracy to do anything at all is intense, and often requires an app which only mostly works in English, until you’re trying to do anything complicated. On the other, in rural areas, life has never been burdened with problems like technology, literacy, money or germ theory. Truly.

The nuances across this vast land are stark. This postcard is of the old quarter of Shanghai. It might not be a quarter. Vendors sell whole fried squid on a stick and tourists line up down the street to buy them. In the narrowest alleys, people hang their washing on the electrical wires and they look like a canopy of multicoloured trees above a rusty rainforest of decay, but no birds venture here. The sky is white with pollution.

What no photo can ever convey is the smell. This area stinks of fermented pig urine. In the distance, skyscrapers loom. The clean, sleek future, eclipsing the murky past. Even during the Mid-Autumn lunar festival, few tourists venture down these side streets, funneled away by mapping apps and official, approved guides.

When you get here, this urban wilderness might be gone; replaced by more skyscrapers filled with things China wants to be known for, instead of what it is. A land leaving its winter, its identity is as changeable as the tide. I hope you will see it in Spring, once the sakura blossoms.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will see me in my Springtime, too.

Lots of love,

Mama Adventure

This is part one in a series of postcards I have written to my baby while I was still pregnant, telling them about what we did before they were born.

Part 2 is here.

I had a maternal request elective C-section for tokophobia

I’ve just posted this somewhere else but I wanted to mention it here too because I think there’s too much stigma surrounding Tokophobia (fear of childbirth) and maybe it will help someone else:

 

I have always had tokophobia and it put me off wanting children for years because I was so scared of childbirth. I thought we would adopt instead, and justified it because the world is overpopulated (and isn’t it the height of self-indulgence to be a Millennial in the position of being able to afford a child). I had so many little justifications but underneath it all, I wanted kids. Twenty of them. Enough to fill a minibus or a classroom. Smashing the Idiocracy, one baby at a time.
 
With my first (unsuccessful) pregnancy I got such bad hyperemesis and I think a large part of it was because I was so anxious about giving birth, despite desperately wanting a baby. I was sure I would die. I ended up in hospital on IV fluids because I was so scared of having a baby that my body stopped digesting food. At the time, maternal-request C-section was not an option in England. In many parts of England, it still isn’t, and I find that abominable while on the other hand we tell women to trust their instincts about reduced foetal movement etc.
 
With my most recent and finally successful pregnancy, I had all my antenatal care in China where a C-section is the norm, which took away 99% of the stress. I got “normal” amounts of morning sickness, which isn’t great, but it also made me realize just how bad my hyperemesis had been several years earlier, despite so many people dismissing it as part and parcel of pregnancy.
I finally allowed myself to learn all about pregnancy and childbirth, and the whole thing fascinated me. I think I talked about random obstetric facts non-stop whenever my husband was home. I found myself craving the British model of pregnancy – midwife-led care, with emphasis on normality. In China, a doctor makes all your decisions and they get quite offended if you refuse any tests they’ve recommended (and they loved recommending tests).
When I got to Northern Ireland, there was uncertainty about my due date so they wanted me to have an induction. This was something I hadn’t really read about because I didn’t like it as a concept. It seemed unnatural to fill the body with gloop to force a baby out when it wasn’t ready. It really didn’t sit right with me, but no one said I had any alternative, and the baby had to come out somehow, so I actually psyched myself up to go for an induction.
I think I would have been okay except I had a cervical sweep three days before the induction and it was agonizing, and it left me unable to walk very well (I suspect this is when the baby accidentally got turned). I still kept telling myself I could do this induction, but now I had a lot less confidence because if that was just a little membrane sweep, how much worse was labour going to be. I was resolved that I was going to try and have a normal birth though (in between bouts of crying and telling my husband I was going to die because I was completely terrified).
I tried practising hypnobirthing and meditation, and even wrote a birth plan about 2 days before the induction date. On the day, I spent 6 hours having the worst and longest anxiety attack of my entire life, convinced my baby would die and so would I, while the poor midwife in the induction bay was trying to calm me down because I was crying and shaking, blood pressure through the roof, and she ended up getting the registrar to come and go through what an ELCS would entail with me.
 
Until a C-section was offered, I’d been too scared to ask for one in case they said no.
 
The registrar then did a scan to look at my baby and said he’d shifted to an oblique lie so couldn’t have come out any other way. She drew a diagram in my notes and everything, but I still don’t know if she was just trying to make me feel better.
 
When I was going into theatre to have the CS the consultant-midwife asked me why I was having it and I said about the baby being oblique because I was too ashamed of how scared I’d been. Of course, she could see my notes so I should have just been upfront but anxiety isn’t rational.
 
My notes say “maternal request c-section” but that doesn’t quite cover the time I spent agonizing over this, feeling like I’d let my baby down because I was too scared to try and push him out, or the fact I still mourned the loss of my envisioned “perfect” birth, a waterbirth, surrounded by delicious snacks, with my husband in the water with me and holding my hand. It doesn’t come close to making me feel better about what happened, when I know what the statistics say about C-sections and the chance of babies developing respiratory issues and digestive problems.
 
I dreaded having to tell my family what had happened so I didn’t tell anyone I’d had a C-section for weeks before I finally admitted it, and everyone was fine about it. This is the first time I’ve openly admitted it was partly down to my own terror of childbirth.
 
It’s taken me months to come to terms with the fact I “failed” at having a baby the “proper” way but I know now that a lot of that stigma comes from within me, from the phobia of having a baby, not from other people’s genuine opinions. Literally no one has said anything nasty to me about having had a C-section.
 
I wish I’d been honest with my consultant about my fears and felt brave enough to ask for a C-section when I first got back to the UK instead of letting the situation go on for weeks with me thinking I was going to be able to try for a vaginal birth. But I know why I didn’t. I was hoping I’d just “get on with it” on the day. Within minutes of us arriving for the induction I’d been told I was too high risk for a waterbirth because of the baby’s size (because he was broad-shouldered), and that was when my anxiety got the better of me and everything fell in on itself in my mind.
 
I also wish I’d been honest about my history of mental health issues, but there is a lot of pressure on us as women to be fine when we’re not, and I was trying so damn hard to be ok with something I just couldn’t do. If the baby had been low-risk, I would have gone home and waited for labour (and maybe even freebirthed) but I was terrified of refusing the induction and putting my baby at risk of death so I got paralysed with anxiety.
I was also terrified of social services being alerted that I had a history of bipolar on my medical notes (we still don’t know what’s actually wrong with me, currently Autism, type II bipolar, borderline and ADHD are all being floated around) and taking my baby away. I was convinced they were going to take my baby and nothing anyone said could divest me of this belief. I might have had a teensy bit of psychosis over this but it seems to have resolved itself and I managed to keep enough of a lid on it that I didn’t get mental health sectioned over it (just C-sectioned haha) despite being sure at several points over the last few months that I was going to be an inpatient and separated from my baby (we don’t have mother and baby units in Northern Ireland so women with post natal psychosis or severe post natal depression get sectioned and put in a normal psychiatric hospital).
And despite at least 2 suicide attempts post-partum I am still at home and with my baby. Turns out NI don’t really intervene beyond community mental health teams unless you’ve set yourself on fire so that’s relieving because I don’t think being imprisoned in a mental hospital without my Jellyfish would help me to recover very well, and anyway I’d have to stop breastfeeding.
 
Overall, I am glad I had a C-section rather than a prolonged birth in a strange place where I couldn’t be myself because there were too many strangers, and where my husband would get sent home outside visiting hours. But I still really wish I could have had that water birth. I’m looking towards a second baby, and I’m pretty certain I want a homebirth (homebirth after C-section, or HBAC, is allowed in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK but as far as I know it’s not allowed in Southern Ireland) with a birthing pool. I’ve seen some beautiful videos on Youtube of vloggers who had natural waterbirths at home. 
 
The first mental health keyworker I saw said to me that it doesn’t matter how your baby came out as long as they are healthy. This effectively shut down the conversation about why I was there, lost in the depths of post-natal depression. While I do think a birth is just a means to an end, at the same time it is a part of our story and lived experience as a woman and for that reason we should respect each other’s decisions and hear each other’s words about birth, especially when that has deeply affected someone’s outlook or mental wellbeing. I don’t think dismissing this as unimportant actually moves anyone forward or helps them get over things.
If I am lucky enough to get onto a midwifery course (yeah I haven’t told the fam about that, either, because I might not get on a course), this is how I want to work for my pregnant ladies; I want to ensure they know their options and get the closest thing possible to the birth they want.

Should I change to reusable nappies?

This was the question I was asking myself two weeks ago. Also, how do you clean poo out of reusable nappies? Which reusable diapers are better, 1-part or 2-part? What is a booster? Are bamboo boosters better or microfibre boosters? No seriously, WHAT is a booster? How often do you change a reusable nappy? How do you even know when to change a reusable diaper? Are reusable diapers worth it? Which reusable diapers should I buy?

So. Many. Questions.

There was smoke coming from my Google Search box for a day or two.

But the first decision to make was the one I’m writing about in this article. Whether or not to make a change from disposable diapers to reusable nappies (or real nappies as they’re called in some groups).

You might have noticed it’s been hard to get nappies in the shops lately. That was basically what prompted me to go on this journey. It’s a sustainability mission, but it’s also a quest of necessity. Baby can’t use the toilet, yet, so he needs something to keep him dry.

The first thing I noticed about reusable diapers is how expensive they were. The second thing I noticed was how many brands of them were available. The choice was a little overwhelming. I’m pretty sure if I had 21 kids (and counting?) I wouldn’t have enough wet bums to try every available type of reusable nappy on the market. Like even Sue Radford couldn’t have enough kids to try them all out. Who are those Americans with a boatload of kids? The Duggets? Duggars? Duggens? Who knows. But I bet they haven’t tried all these reusable nappies either.

So anyway, let’s recap what I learned in the first few minutes of trying to find out about reusable diapers: They’re expensive and there’s a lot of choice.

Largely, they all seem to come down to two main types of nappy: There’s the two-part ones, with a white towel-looking inside part and a “wrap” that goes over it to keep baby dry, and then there’s the “all in one” types, which, against all probability, are not a one-piece nappy because they aren’t watertight so you have to put “boosters” inside them to line them. Sometimes “all in ones” are called “pocket nappies” or “pocket diapers” instead.

I was shocked at the price so I did some calculations before going any further. The average supermarket packet of size 4 nappies has 50 diapers in it. For the cheap ones, that’s about £2.99. For Pampers, it’s £9.

If you buy Pampers, for each pack of Pampers you buy, you could have bought a reusable “all in one” nappy. Two packs of Pampers is the equivalent of a two-part nappy and wrap combo.

If you buy supermarket own brand nappies, for every THREE packs you buy, you could have bought a reusable “all in one” nappy. Six packs of supermarket nappies is roughly one two-part nappy and wrap.

Then you need to consider the extra money you will spend washing them. A single wash cycle should cost between 16p and 30p in electricity. We don’t have metered water so I can’t comment on that. Laundry powder will add another 10p approximately. If you put the nappies in with a washload that was going to be cleaned anyway, you’re not really spending more money. They’re pretty small, and unless your baby has pooped, you probably don’t need to wash them separately.

I’m not going to lie. The ick factor with reusable nappies was definitely an issue. At some point I’m going to have to write an article about how I got over the ickiness of cloth diapers because it was a big deal for me and a (rare? lol) moment of growth.

But let’s look at the environmental aspect. 3 billion disposable diapers are thrown away every year. That’s 2-3% of all household waste. Like, if you put together all the old people,  childless singletons, middle-aged families with teenage kids AND parents with babies, and count ALL of their waste, diapers are 2-3% of it. And nappies are, of course, lined with plastic. Which takes gajillions of years to break down.

I never really thought about this before I had a baby. Even when I was pregnant it wasn’t something that crossed my mind. But as soon as I saw how much space those tiny plastic parcels take up in the trash, I was completely shocked.

Guys, the space those tiny plastic parcels take up… it leaves me feeling a little queasy to think about it. For several months we were fighting to fit everything in the bin. It still didn’t occur to me to use cloth nappies. Then I saw a friend’s baby photo with a beautiful cloth nappy. It looked nothing like those triangles of towel roughly pinned around my baby sister whose delicate skin was then suffocated with crinkly, noisy plastic panties.

It looked comfortable, and soft, and fresh, and… nothing at all like I imagined.

And I began to think maybe little Jellyfish might be comfortable in them. So I asked on Facebook, and was amazed at how many of my friends (literally everyone I know who has little ones) used cloth diapers. I ordered some the same day (a mix of one-part and two-parters) and they arrived a few days later.

That was two weeks ago. It has taken a bit of mental adjustment but I’ve started getting used to them now. It helped a lot that Jellyfish instantly adored his nappies and seems to find them more snuggly and comfortable than disposables. I’m not sure they would be great if we were travelling anywhere because we would have to take the cleaning bucket and find washing machines every couple of days, but for at-home use they are considerably reducing our waste. Our black bin (the trash can that takes all the non-recyclable items) is a lot less full now and that’s a really good feeling. I wish we’d bought reusables sooner.

Do you use reusable diapers? I’m going to write more about them in upcoming articles.