parenthood

The wuthering north

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We drove into Cumbria after dark, just as the winds were picking up. Outside it was right on zero degrees, although the little weather app on my iPhone said, helpfully, “feels like -6”. It did.

The journey had been almost twice as long as we’d anticipated, an unlucky accumulation of London traffic that had continued for three hours outside London; a sun that set at half-past-three in the afternoon, leaving us to navigate our oversized hire-car through steep and winding country roads after dark; and, speaking of navigation, numerous opportunities to take wrong turns and get lost, which we did (there were even road-signs saying “don’t trust the sat-nav”).

From bed that night I could just see the soft, watery light of the crescent moon behind the still-gathering clouds, filtering and refracting through diamond-paned windows that had filtered and refracted moonlight into this room for 500 years, exaggerating the shadows of the beams in our ceiling. The wind was picking up, battering around the ancient walls of our gatehouse in a beautiful fury.

“I love it here,” I whispered to my husband, although he might already have been asleep. “I can’t even tell you. I really love it here!”

The moon was long gone by morning, and the sun was doing its best job of hiding, too, but the grey dawn revealed bare trees and stone walls and crumbling ruins and bracken-covered hills as far as the eye could see. I ran outside in my slippers, hugging my pyjamas close, and drew in the wild view like oxygen.

Back inside, I put on the kettle and made eggs on toast for my family, while the wind positively howled. “Wow!” said the children (about the weather, not my eggs). And as we sat down at the farmhouse table under a window, beside a cast-iron fire that was cracking and popping and spreading warmth, I thought, “We are inside Wuthering Heights.”

Naturally, there was a pretty village nearby, where one could find welcoming locals with musical accents and a cafe with cockle-warming, home-cooked meals. Also naturally, there was a castle ruin, a 900-year-old edifice on an ancient mound that was once settled by Danes and was still part of Scotland until a thousand years ago or so.

I climbed the hill to the ruins alone, while the rest of my family went to find somewhere to buy groceries. The promised “ice rain” had begun, and I have honestly never felt as cold as I did atop that wild and windswept hill, not even on the January night I walked home beside the Hudson River in New York with my friend, and we learned later that it had been -18 degrees.

It was the wind. The wind that burned my ears with cold like razors, stung my eyes with dry tears, tipped me sideways, and genuinely sucked the breath from my lungs whenever I faced into it. Literally breathtaking.

How is it that this world is so full of so many beautiful places? How can we bear it, in our hearts? We only stayed in this ancient gatehouse, perched on the edge of lovely emptiness, for two nights, but I cried for the beauty of it all three times.

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I didn’t want to leave. But then, that’s also how I’d felt when first we climbed the steep, cobblestoned streets of Dinan, when we made our picnic under the trees at the castle ruins of Lehon, when we lay down in sunshine among fields of wildflowers in the grounds of Hever Castle, and when we lost ourselves inside the ancient, golden-hued forest of Broceliande. I know I’ve talked about this on my blog before, the twin concepts of home and belonging.

When I married my husband, we made the song Home is wherever I’m with you by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes the unofficial theme-song of our marriage, a testament to where we’d been and where we were going, after I’d left New York to live with him. Every time we moved to a new city, I sought out ways to make it feel like home. I enrolled in a Master’s Degree when we moved to Queensland. I planted a garden when we moved to Sydney. I volunteered when we moved to Adelaide. When we moved to Melbourne, I was already pregnant with my daughter, so new mothers became my community.

I don’t quite know when I started growing restless again. Partly, I think it had to do with having children. The day you hold that new baby in your arms, your world instantly unfolds like a meadow of night-blooming cereus: dazzling flowers, hypnotically-scented, and all opening en masse in one, magic night. But parenthood can also draw your world inside (like the night-blooming cereus closing at dawn, maybe?), and even if you don’t have kids, you’ve heard enough stories from friends and siblings and aunties and grandparents… or read enough mummy-blogs… that you don’t need me to talk about that odd and disorienting and beautiful and isolating parenthood bubble right now.

My point is that becoming a mother, while undeniably the best decision I ever made and the best thing I will ever do, also taught me to see my home-town in a different way. The exciting cafes and galleries and festivals and street-art and food trucks and pop-up events that once helped me fall in love with my city became, almost overnight, all-but lost to me, sitting at home with sleeping (or not-sleeping) babies while my husband worked 100 hours a week.

I have watched the world go on without me, from the distance of the Internet.

And when you take away all the wonderful things about life in the city, you start to notice the restrictive things. The lack of fresh air, open spaces, and trees. The reliance on other things (shops, cars, telephones) for even the most basic necessities of life. With a fidgeting toddler in one arm and a hungry baby in the other, the world feels as though it doesn’t belong to you any more, and for those of us used to being “in control” in the workplace, this new workplace feels about as out of control as workplaces come.

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So, as I stood alone on that ancient hilltop in the breath-stealing wind, these were some of the thoughts that were going through my mind. I wanted to live in this place more than I’d wanted to live anywhere, ever. I sort-of cried, again, but I didn’t truly cry, because the wind stung my eyes and dried my tears before they could fall.

We won’t be moving to Cumbria any time soon, no matter how badly I want it. And the truth is that even more than I want that open-fielded life, I want to stay with the people who fill my life right now. They are my home, wherever I go (Home is wherever I’m with you).

After I climbed down from the castle ruins, I found my family in a little second-hand shop on the high street, deep in conversation with three locals who had each lived in this village and known one another for eight decades, or more. They recommended the fish and chips shop for lunch and, an hour or so later when we bustled in from the rain and found somewhere to sit, our new friends were already ensconced around a table at the back.

As we left, my husband secretly paid for their lunch and another round of their coffees, and it’s times like this that I remember why I first made him my home.

Our favourite new children's book

archie+and+the+bear+coverLast week my first-blogging-and-then-real-life friend, children’s book author Zanni Louise, sent my children an advanced copy of her new story, Archie and the Bear.  I can't even tell you how much we love this story. Especially Ralph, who is three, and for whom it seems to have struck a wonderful chord. The story is at once magical and mysterious, and also heartwarming and homely. 

Archie and the Bear is about celebrating imagination. Just going with it.

Yesterday, Ralph found a piece of ribbon and asked me to tie it around his forehead. "It is a cap to make me more super-y," he informed me. Once I had tied the ribbon on he straightened his back and balled his fists. "You may call me," he announced grandly, "Super Boy." And he stayed in-character as Super Boy for the entire day, saving the day from all kinds of super-villains both seen (Scout) and unseen (the cat), and demonstrating a dizzying array of super-powers to combat the challenges besetting him on his heroic journey. 

Nobody told him "You don't really have super-powers," or "You're only a pretend super-hero." 

There are plenty of studies to remind us that for children, the benefits of imaginative role-play are numerous, helping children teach themselves impulse regulation, language development, social skills, conflict resolution, and ways to resolve real-life tensions and fears. 

But I also think day-dreaming is pretty special for us grown-ups as well. Do you ever like to imagine out loud what would happen if...? Imagine if I won a million dollars... Imagine if we moved to France... Imagine if I quit my job and pursued my dream full time... 

Those imaginings are like little head-holidays. They are like trying on costumes and testing out other lives, knowing that we can return to the safety of our own lives any time we like.

But how crappy is it when you start a sentence with "Imagine if," and the person beside you ends it with an ice-cold bucket of reality? You can't afford it. We don't have the time. You'd be bored in a week. Ok maybe they're right (or maybe they're not), but that's not the point. I'm dreaming here! Just go with it! 

On the weekend, Mr B has promised Ralph that we will go to the shops to buy more ribbons, so we can all be superheroes together. So look out for that impressive scene if you spot the Bulger family walking down the street this Easter. 

In the meantime, at Ralph's request, we will probably be reading Archie and the Bear every night, a story about a little boy who is not wearing a bear-costume (because he IS a bear).

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Here is a little flip-through of this beautiful book, created by its UK-based illustrator David Mackintosh. Take a look at the fabulous scale-play, with little Archie sometimes appearing as small as an ant in the deep dark forest, but as big as a bear in bravery, imagination, and friendship. 

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Archie and the Bear will be officially released next month. Zanni sent this book to my children as a gift, but I was not paid to write about it, nor was there any requirement that I even mention it at all. I am just so seriously in love with this beautiful story that I couldn't help myself.

Ok happy Easter. See you on the other side! 

Holidays at home

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Summer holidays at home are for bare feet and late nights. For dining on ice cream instead of vegetables, watching Netflix instead of deadlines, and reading trashy novels instead of weighty text-books.

They are for heatwaves and plummeting rain and, when the rain clears, for a million petals carpeting the footpath like confetti.  

Holidays are for languid afternoons and lazy nonchalance, for baking and making, for staying in pyjamas all day one day and swimming costumes all day the next. For games. New games, old games, games together and games alone, games of action and games of craft, games of imagination and games of giggles. And for at least three complaints of "I'm boooooored," issuing from among mountains of new Christmas toys.

Then, the new year. 

Holidays turn to tidying bedrooms, cleaning out cupboards, making plans, and writing lists. So many lists! To-do lists, shopping lists, lists of recipes to try, lists of creative projects, gratitude lists, mailing lists. And new calendars and fresh new planners, lined notebooks full of promise, and bright new collections of art-paper, ready for rainbows. 

What have you been doing lately? 

Into the woods

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Little Scout was nervous at first, stepping gingerly through the underbrush on the way to the trees, holding tightly to my hand, and Ralph's. "I am afraid of the sticks," she said, "afraid that they might hurt me." Once inside the pine-forest, she kept calling Ralph back. "Stay close little man! You might get lost!" Every step further into the forest added another layer of fear. She was positive we would all get lost. That there were monsters. Badgers (thank you, Peter Rabbit). A gruffalo.

And then Ralph found the first pine-cone. It was all broken and rotting on the under-side, so we threw it back, but it was enough. They raced around the clearing where we stood, Scout no longer afraid, leaping over the once-deadly sticks to find the best and most beautiful pine-cones. Ralph lead us further into the forest. "I am the exhibition leader!" he announced proudly. He meant expedition leader. "Ralph is a very good brother," Scout said, and I agreed. "Lead on, Ralph," I said, following him dutifully.

Above our heads and outside of the forest, a great wind was roaring. We saw it in the swaying canopy above us, heard it in the creaks and moans of the trees around us, and had felt it, before we stepped inside the trees, in the slap of dust and hair stinging our cheeks. But in here, everything felt calm. It was our own woody, pine-scented bubble.

We drank tea from enamel mugs, watched a kangaroo hop lazily past us and disappear over a hill. We raced one another in and out of rows of pine-trees, followed winding paths, scrambled up and down and over mossy logs and (unintentionally) through muddy puddles, and altogether had a wonderful time.

Even the mosquitoes that showed up for our picnic lunch couldn't dampen our mood. "It's a mozzie hunt!" the children shouted, slapping themselves wildly, and mostly ineffectually.

Then, "Time to find more pine-cones," declared the expedition leader, but what he was really saying was, "Let the wild rumpus start!" So we packed up our picnic things and scrambled through the forest once more.

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Anticipation

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When you are nearly four, anticipation is palpable. Tangible.

It dominates your mealtimes. What will my cake look like? Will all my friends sing Happy Birthday? Can we have hot chocolate?

And your friendships. I am nearly four. Am I older than my other friends? Will my hair be longer than all my friends' hair now? Will my feet be bigger than all my friends'?

Cleaning the house before your party, you don't even mind hiding your toys to make room for the party games. You can put them away now, Mummy, I don't mind. You help your mother decorate the house with the posters and banners and streamers and balloons you chose from Big W; mix up polymer snow-powder; smooth out tiny, handmade, paper snowflakes in your little almost-four hands.

Anticipation permeates your dreams. Quick! I have to get ready for my party! you yell, still fathoms-deep in sleep. (I will come to your party, your brother drowsily replies, before sinking back into his own dreams.)

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I didn't want to host yet another party in my house, but Scout begged me to do it. She didn't want to celebrate her birthday anywhere else. It was a lot of work, as parties always are. But in the weeks and days beforehand, as the day grew near and nearer still, I came to understand the joy of anticipation through her eyes. Even the most mundane of tasks: tidying, vacuuming, grocery shopping; became acts of thrilling expectation, and gave her joy before the real joy of the party.

I guess we never stop learning from our children.

Scout says, Ralph says

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"'If you knew how great is a mother's love,' Wendy told them triumphantly, 'you would have no fear.'" JM Barrie, Peter Pan

 

Ralph has taken to calling me "Big Mamma," which is not particularly flattering, but relates adorably to "Little Mamma," his sister.

During an argument... Ralph: I put you in the bin, Scout! Scout: Well, you're not my best friend. Ralph: I DO want to be your best friend! Scout: Then say I am not in the bin. Ralph: I put you OUT of the bin! Scout: Alright, what balloon would you like?

And more about misbehaviour... Me, to Ralph: Can you please be a good boy today? Ralph: No! I will be A. Naughty. Boy! Me: Please? Ralph: NOOOOOOO! Me: Oh dear. I feel sad when you are naughty. Ralph (cuddles me around the neck): Alright, I will be a good boy. Scout: I will be naughty!

Ralph: Mummy? Me: Yes? Ralph: I'm lovely to see you, Mummy.

Scout: Mummy, you are a queen and you will look the same when you are a little old lady.

Me: Scout, thank you for doing such a great job tidying up the play-dough. Scout: You might want to give me something for that.

Lunch time. Sandwiches apparently give the children magic powers, and Ralph is determined to do what he calls "naughty magic"... Me: Quick Scout! Eat some magic sandwiches so you can counter Ralph's magic spells! Scout (takes a big bite of her sandwich): One, two, three... (get it? COUNTer?)

Ralph: This is a lovely autumn day for a chocolate milkshake.

Music teacher is handing out maracas to all the children... Me: What do you say, Ralph? Ralph (brandishing maracas): Let's rock!

Scout hands me a fist full of coins... "This is for you because you never have any money. Now put it in your purse so you don't lose it."

Ralph: Do aeroplanes have bladders for their wee?

Kids have been arguing and yelling at each other all morning... Me: Hey guys, can anyone remember that I told you this was a No Fight Day? (long pause) Ralph: No, it IS a fight day! Scout: Yeah it IS a fight day! Both kids: Fight day! Fight day! Fight day! (united at last)

Scout: Mummy, I want to keep you.

Mother's Day

coffeeThere are two pairs of tiny, mud-covered wellies in the hallway by our front door. And if you are aged two or three, you will know that that is a sign of a day well spent: muddy wellies suggest explorations, rain-soaked adventures, (Ralph's curls gone wild), and, of course, the time-honoured joy of jumping up and down in muddy puddles.

Yesterday was Mother's Day and, do you know what? Call me Hallmark but I felt the love. It started with both children on our bed in the morning, Ralph asking "Can you let the cat in?" and Scout squeezing me around the neck, saying, "Ahh my Mummy. I love you more than me." You could have stopped the day right there and it would have been complete for me.

We had brunch with a friend at Bebida on Smith Street and, alongside the best eggs I've had in a longggg time, they also managed to give me the best Mother's Day brunch that money could buy, being a really great (grown-up!) atmosphere, without any member of staff skipping a beat that we had brought two small children with us. They were super friendly, super helpful, super cool and the food was super good. This, combined with the fact that both children were preternaturally well-behaved, made it a stress free and thoroughly enjoyable meal. We followed up with a scoop each at Gelato Messina, and the kids didn't even make a mess of their clothes. Because, Mother's Day magic!

As I carried Ralph back along Smith Street, I whispered into his curls, "I love you." "Can you say it louder?" he asked. "I love you!" I announced, in my big voice. "I love you Mummy," said Ralph. "I love you I love you I LOVE YOU!" A lump formed in my throat. (And then he continued, "I love that red car, I love that light, I love that wall." But I will take my wins where I find them).

Scout woke first from her afternoon nap, so she and I went out together to CERES (more jumping up and down in muddy puddles) to buy some plants for our garden, as well as a particularly lovely monstera deliciosa for inside the house. Because apparently, on Mother's Day you actually TURN INTO your mother. I swear I could feel my mother approving of my choice of Mother's Day present, even all the way from Poland, where she and my father are adventuring right now. (I miss my mum! Happy Mother's Day, Mum!) Scout carefully selected a fair-trade Bolga Basket woven out of elephant grass by mothers in Ghana, which will serve as a 'pot' for the monstera in my bedroom.

When we got home, the children and I spent an hour playing "babies." This is a great game to play when you're tired because, as a baby, you get to lie down on the floor and not do particularly much. In this iteration of the game, both Ralph and I were the babies, and Scout was our mother. It was bedtime, and she gave us toys to cuddle in bed. But we were (upon instruction) 'naughty,' and insisted on playing instead of sleeping. If you are a particularly wily mother (ahem), you can learn to work the system of this game. For example, crying "Wah, wah! Mummy this baby can't sleep because she needs a foot massage!"

Let's just say that Scout is a very attentive mummy.

At dinner Mr B and I decanted a lovely bottle of red wine and lit candles in the dining room, with a bad/hilarious/great record from the 1960s on the old Blaupunkt, featuring popular classical pieces from Mozart and Beethoven and other similar composers, set alongside some wonderfully tacky drum beats and guitar 'fillers'.

And that brings us up to my right now (your last night). I am sitting on the couch, watching some renovation show or other on the TV. Both children and Mr B are upstairs, probably snoring. Our cat Ruby is beside me on the couch, purring and also keeping my feet warm. Soon she and I will join everyone else in the family in slumber. Mother's Day 2016, over and out.

ps. Me and my mum, a very long time ago...

Image credit: Sarah Boyle, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons

Gifts for a first birthday

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our friend's daughter is turning one next week, and it has got me thinking about the sorts of gifts to buy for this birthday. It's always a tricky one. The parents are SO PROUD, and rightly so. They have made it through a whole year with their new baby and managed to keep them alive. One year is a massive turning-point in all the good things and exhausting things about being a parent.

Plenty of derogatory words have been said about first birthdays being more for the parents than the child, to which I say DUH. Of course they are! And rightly so because frankly, the parents have done the lion's share of the work to get to this point! (Don't get me wrong, babies are awesome. I wish I had started having them earlier because I seriously would have like about eight. And I get that they are adjusting to, you know, Earth, for the first time, and that's not something to be sniffed at. But let's be honest: there's not a whole of exhaustion to be found in the sleep-feed-cry-cuddle-poo-play cycle, when played on repeat for 12 months).

Anyway, back to the point of this post(!)

So you have been invited to a first birthday party. What present do you buy? They're too little for you to have any helpful idea about their likes and dislikes. You don't want to get anything too young, because they'll grow out of them so quickly. But you don't want to give them something totally inappropriate.

What you see here is a short list of gifts that our children were given when they turned one, that have stood the test of time in terms of popularity and durability. My children are now aged two and three-and-a-half, and both of them still play with all of these. When I think about it, most of these toys are the types that can grow with the child, so that they play with them very differently now to the way they played with them when they were little... but they DO still play with them!

Onward to the list.

Stacking building blocks

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These typically come in sets of ten, and are made out of sturdy cardboard. They are five-sided cubes that stack away neatly inside each other. When Ralph was one, his favourite game was for one of us to build a "tower" and then he would knock it down. Now he is two and I watch him building his own towers, carefully figuring out which sized 'block' is big enough to support the next. (And yes, he and his sister still like to knock those towers down).

Doctor's kit

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We bought this kit (why yes it IS Peppa Pig themed. Don't judge!) when Scout was about one. Thanks to a stable but regularly-checked heart condition she has had from birth, plus a nasty bout of septicaemia when she was 11 months old, Scout developed a devout fear of doctors, and all kinds of medical intervention (even bandaids!). She loves role-play, so we thought a doctor's kit might help to remove some of the stigma. It maybe helped that situation a quarter of a fraction so in that sense it was a fail, but in every other sense, it has been a fantastic toy. The children both still play with it regularly. The other day I saw Ralph performing a "check-up" on Scout, using all the different instruments appropriately. Except that he listened to her heart through her leg.

Things on wheels

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Scout has a green car she was given on her first birthday and she and Ralph still love to play with it. Anything (safe) on wheels is a long-term winner. I've pictured the bus here because it is extra popular, for a number of reasons. I bought this for Ralph when he was one. He loved "brooming" it around the room, but also loved that the roof opened up (there are little wooden people in there - I just kept those confiscated until he became big enough for them not to be a choking hazard). One of his favourite games (other than brooming) is to put little things into big things, so he uses this bus to hold all his matchbox cars. Also, he and Scout two days ago spent almost an hour with this bus and another big truck, racing them at top speed up and down the length of the house. I don't know. They both just love things on wheels.

Ride-on things on wheels

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Here is another great toy. This bumble-bee, a gift for Scout I think when she was about one, is a perennial favourite, not only with my kids but also with visitors. Before Ralph could walk, he would hold onto the bee's antlers and move around on his knees (the wheels went too fast for it to double as a 'walker'). He used it to transport things on its back and, as he grew older, started to ride on it. This one is still so popular that they fight over having turns.

A stroller

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When Scout turned one, a friend of ours gave her this stroller*, to cart around the dolly she had also been given from another friend (we were deep into "second baby on the way" mode and coming up with all kinds of schemes to help her adjust to life with a baby). Once Scout learned to walk, she would push that stroller all the way up to the post office or shops, it helped her balance and focus in those early walking days. We had no idea it would be as perennially popular as it has been, but both children still really love to play with it. Ralph likes to stack his cars inside the stroller and call them "my babies." Both children take turns - one with the stroller and one with the bus from above - to put their favourite toys inside and race up and down the house and into the garden.

* About a week ago after MUCH use, this stroller finally bit the dust, so I've had to dig out an old photo to use instead. This is Scout at about 16 months, pushing her stroller to the post office. Aagh too much cute!

A doll's house

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I use this term loosely. What you see here is Ralph's rocket ship, complete with stairs and a ramp and a lift, and it is very popular around here. It was given to him recently, when he turned two. But I've included it because we also have a similar structure that is more of a traditional "doll house" (Peppa Pig themed - I'm serious don't judge!) which was given to Scout when she turned one, so I know this kind of play is also popular with one-year-olds. House or rocket ship, it doesn't really make a difference: this is all about accessible play-spaces to encourage imagination. My children play with both "doll structures" frequently and in the same way. I rotate the two structures, and the rocket ship happens to be out now. The kids role-play like champions with this thing and, now that they can talk, they even do voices! The other day I overheard Ralph narrating this conversation to himself, complete with voices, between astronauts and some anthropomorphised (by Ralph) cars:

"It isn't a problem" says the astronaut "It IS a problem" says the car, "I can't get up high!" "I will help you" says the astronaut, "It is magic" UP UP UP (and Ralph sent the car up the lift)

Also... we first came across the Peppa Pig house at the office of my obstetrician when I fell pregnant with Ralph (Scout was nine months old). She instantly took to it, and the obstetrician noted that it was universally popular with every child who came into her office. "Even six-year-olds," she said. Point being, kids love to role-play, and it is SO good for them!

Musical instruments

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Full disclosure, these instruments come and go in popularity. They are not as consistently used as some of the others included here, but they have definitely survived the age test. This wooden set was a present for Ralph when he turned one: he loved banging things and making noise, so, hey! He played with it pretty consistently for about six months, and still returns to it semi-regularly. Add in a tambourine, and one of the children's favourite games these days is to grab an instrument and march around the house singing "We're in a marching band, we're in a marching band," one following the other. It's pretty cute!

Books

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You know what? Books are always great. I'll do a proper post on some good books for one-year-olds (that seem to stay popular for longer) shortly. In the meantime, we bought the book above for the family friend I told you about at the start of this post, who is turning one. It is a little bit old for her, but she will quickly grow into it. It's a book with no words, so you can make up a story to go with the pictures. These books are great for growing with children, and fostering imagination. When they are little like this one, the reader can make up a story for them, according to their interests. As they get older, they can make up their own stories... and the stories will change as the child grows.

Two final tips:

1. If you're buying a present for a child and this is a new activity for you, treat those "age recommendations" with a fair bit of flexibility. If a toy says "suitable 2-4 years" that's most likely a safety recommendation in terms of choking hazards and the size of the equipment etc, it's not necessarily a sign that a four-year-old will enjoy the toy. Get it for the two-year old. My rule of thumb is to "buy up" when it comes to age, unless it's a safety issue. Assume the kids you're buying for are a lot brighter than the box would have you believe. They almost always are.

2. One-year-old is a funny time in a child's development to be buying most toys. In my experience, they REALLY start to get into serious, imaginative play at around the 18 month mark... but of course that's not a birthday so they don't have lots of people buying them toys. Most of the toys I've recommended here will be kind of liked at one, but will probably (hopefully!) become really popular at around 18 months.

How about you? What are/were some of the most popular toys for the one-year-olds in your life?

ps. I just discovered this mess-free finger-painting activity last week. The kids had fun even now but, seriously, this would have been a LIFE CHANGER if I'd known about it when my guys were one!

Back to food trucks

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Today I'm dipping back into an old, semi-regular kind of post I used to do: a celebration of food trucks. If you're interested, here are all the food trucks I visited back then.

For me it all started when we moved here from Interstate four years ago. It was late summer, I was about two-thirds through my first pregnancy, and it was the sixth interstate or international move we'd made in 18 months. When you move to a completely new city that many times, you get pretty good at learning how to turn "a place" into "a home." I'm not just talking about your house or apartment here, I'm talking about your neighbourhood. I have worked from home for the past 15 years, so I don't have the opportunity to make friends and learn about my city through co-workers. I've got to do the legwork myself and, since we only have one car and Mr B needs that for work, it is literally legwork.

A friend told us, "I've heard that if you walk all the way to the end of your street, there's a taco truck that parks up there at night." I became a little obsessed with this promise. I mean I like tacos (who doesn't?), but I fixated on the mysterious taco truck to a probably overly-excessive degree. To me it represented the first entry in my mental collection of "Stuff I Like About My Neighbourhood," which is a very important collection to start when you move somewhere new.

I think my daughter was about six weeks old when I finally caught up with the taco truck, although it wasn't at the end of our street (those darned things have wheels, and it's harder than you think to track them down in the right place at the right time). I had made a new friend and she and I pushed our prams (her son was about two) north along Lygon Street for several kilometres. The traffic was loud and there were all kinds of building works going on so we walked single file and couldn't chat. The truck location was a lot further than I'd anticipated. Scout started crying for a feed, my friend's son was wiggling and fidgeting and decidedly over being strapped into a pram, and still we were walking.

But when finally, finally we made it to the dingy little park outside of which the truck was parked, there were pockets of people milling around. Eating, chatting, lining up for more. Picnic rugs covering dubious patches of grass. Plastic wine glasses and soda bottles with striped straws. People in suits perched on a low wall, bending over their little cardboard plates so that taco juice wouldn't drip onto their nice clothes. Someone somewhere was playing a guitar. Oh and the tacos were really good (especially the fish ones).

It was the sense of "instant community" that got me hooked on food trucks that day, even more than the food itself. The fact that they can roll up there somewhere not particularly pretty, most often a car park or the side of a nondescript street, and can, by way of a colourful awning and a great-smelling kitchen-on-wheels, create community. And so it started for me.

My food truck hunt slowed down somewhat (alright it pretty much stopped) after I had Ralph. It gets a whole lot harder to schlep around town when you have not only a newborn, but also an 18-month-old who only recently started walking. Double prams are not the most mobile of beasts, and timing long outings around competing nap times and feed times and little legs wanting to run just got too hard. This also coincided with Yarra Council (the area where I live) making it increasingly difficult for food trucks to operate in our area, so I tended to have to travel further afield to find them. I visited a few food truck parks, and even the street food festival last year, and it's kind of great having all the trucks gathered together, but that's a) a different kind of community, and b) even I can only sample just so many types of foods in the one meal (especially if I have to individually line up for each one).

But then a few months ago we ducked into a shopping centre to visit the Apple store and, lo and behold, there was a veritable food truck bonanza parked out behind the supermarkets and greengrocers. I left my family waiting inside with the air conditioning (it was 39 degrees that day) and temporarily dipped back into Food Truck Land just for that one afternoon.

What we ate:

* From Wingster's Grilled Chicken: a burger with buttermilk chicken (because the wings weren't ready yet) and a spicy sauce I can't remember (but it was good), and fries * From the Real Burgers: a classic weiner (because I am a rebel and also it looked and tasted so good) and fries * From the Refresher Truck: a (virgin) piña colada, and a "green power"

Ah, I'd missed the smoky deliciousness in the air, and the comforting rumble of those generators.

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