One of the ladies in my NCT group asked us to share what our babies’ favourite toys were the other week, and I thought what a good blog post it would make. I’m super nosey myself and love to know what other mums have found to entertain their babies. So here goes!

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I would say that Daph has two absolute favourite toys – one is a small dinosaur rattle, the other is a soft book. They were both gifts from friends (thanks Amy and Sophy!). The dinosaur rattle is called Steve the Steg, and he’s a cockney barrowboy who’s on his last legs, having worked on a market selling fruit and veg for years. We reckon he’s around 70 now and he wheezes a lot thanks to the cold. (Yes, this is what happens when you live with a trained actor). Steve and Daph regularly have conversations (well, he talks to her through Oli, and she squeaks and shouts back) about his hard time on the market today because of the weather or what have you. Anyway, aside from his scintillating conversation skills, Steve is a hit with Daph because his stubby little legs make him very easy to grab and throw about. Oh and he’s knitted, so he’s very tactile too.

We named him Steve the Steg almost straight away but then realised he’s not actually a stegosaurus, he’s a triceratops. Oops.

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We liked Steve so much that we bought two other dinosaurs – a diplodocus (Dave, Steve’s son, who helps him out on the market) and an actual stegosaurus (Cedric, who sells cheese and wine and thinks he’s a cut above the others). Steve, Cedric and Dave are all by Best Years.

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Moving on slightly (am afeared we are coming across as rather peculiar…) to her other favourite toy – a book. Hurrah! She’s going to be a bookworm. Or a writer. The book in question doesn’t have any actual words in it, but it does have a squeaker thing disguised as a beehive, and a plastic fish attached by a cord that makes a great teether. Anyway, it’s the book Daph gets to play with after she’s eaten her meals, and she flaps her arms up and down and lights up at the sight of it. As you can see above. It’s by Tiny Years.

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I also bought her an activity cube from John Lewis which I’ve already blogged about and highly recommend – it’s been the perfect toy while she’s been getting better at sitting independently as it gives her something to lean forward and reach for. The snob in me loves the fact it’s wooden too.

What do your babies love? Let me know in the comments below!

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So, I read somewhere once that a holiday with a baby is just an excuse to be exhausted in a different place. How. Very. True.

I don’t understand how some parents seem to take their babies off hitchhiking around the world, climbing Everest and suchlike, and we can’t even manage a week in the West Country.

The annoying thing about all this is that I had to practically drag Oli on holiday – he was convinced it wouldn’t be worth it, that it would just be too stressful with our challenging little madam in tow. And he was bloody right. Nearly. Almost. Grrr.

I will add a caveat here, that we’re both control freaks and like everything to be ‘just so’ and we’re definitely NOT the sort of people who would go hitchhiking round the world even without a baby. But still. Here’s what we’ve been ‘enjoying’ so far this holiday…

1) We got lost on the way down because we have a new car with a fancy built in sat nav that confuses the hell out of me. It tried to be all clever and avoid the M25 which was congested, so instead we ended up going to Farnham or something, then I missed a turning and before I knew it we we’d added an hour to the journey. Adding an hour to the journey when you already have a grumpy nine month old who doesn’t want to be stuck in her car seat for five hours in one day is a Bad Idea.

2) The new car makes me very, very car sick. I only don’t feel sick if I am driving so I drove the whole way down. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that I have now apparently ‘ruined’ the new car’s engine by revving too much. Uh huh.

3) It rained the entire way down. We stopped at a Little Chef to change Daph/have a wee. We got soaked just getting in and out of the car. The Little Chef toilet will forever haunt me. No baby deserves to be changed in a Little Chef baby change. Not even the screamers. (Sidenote: good business idea – can someone open a NICE place to stop midway between London and Devon for all the middle class twats like us that want a decent cup of coffee and some avocado on sourdough as their motorway meal. I’m thinking farm shop type affair – maybe with a play area for kids? Any takers?)

4) We got to the holiday complex late and got told off by the lady on reception for not phoning her back when she’d kindly rung earlier to say that our cottage was ready at 11am. HA. As if we could make it down to Devon by 11am. We couldn’t even do that Before Baby. (We arrived at about 5.30pm – it took us three weeks to load the car FGS).

5) Daph missed her third nap in the car and spent the last hour of the journey basically screaming with frustration and trying to bite her way out of the car seat. When we got to the cottage we had a race against time to get her into her cot and to sleep as she’d been awake since 1pm. More than four hours of awake time in a nine month old = the release of the devil.

6) Daph predictably screamed with overtiredness and freaked out at being in a new place. For TWO HOURS. I had to suffocate her to sleep (obviously not really, but I had to do the pin down arms thing for about an hour before she finally went – sob).

7) The next day, we went to Totnes because Oli had seen in the information pack that on the third Sunday of every month there was a farmers’ market on. Once we’d paid £4.50 for the car park we realised that it was the fourth Sunday of the month. And that all the shops were shut. And then it started to hail. We went home after visiting the… Co-Op.

8) On Monday we decided to prioritise Daph’s naps, as she’d been waking in the night. This meant we basically couldn’t go anywhere as she sleeps for two hours in the middle of the day. We headed off to a farm shop in the afternoon to buy some lovely bread. They’d run out of bread. We stopped at Sainsbury’s on the way back.

9) Yesterday we went to Dartmouth – my favourite place in all the world. It took us about an hour to find a parking space. Then Daph started screaming, and didn’t stop. We had a delightful fish and chip lunch where Daph made As Much Noise As She Possibly Could – including tipping my pink lemonade all over my food, choking on a piece of haddock, throwing the metal tray with the bill onto the floor and screaming at all the waiters who tried to be nice to her. We then realised she’s teething so badly that she’s got little blisters on her tongue – I think she might have started to chewing it to ease the pain. She refused to eat her lunch or her dinner and only wanted milk. She cried a lot. I cried a lot.

10) I realised I was getting PMT. So much for the holiday reigniting ‘that side of things’. Oli and I stopped speaking to each other directly and instead simply slagged each other off under our breath all day. Standard.

11) While desperately marching around Dartmouth trying to get Daph to nap, a random woman came up to me and told me that I was at risk of suffocating her because I’d covered the buggy with a towel. Apparently she’d seen an article about it on Facebook. If it wasn’t for the fisherman nearby who overheard and said ‘Why don’t you mind your own business you nosey bitch?’ I might have punched her. Or cried. Again.

12) I saw the weather forecast in London. It’s a good eight degrees warmer up there.

So yes. That’s our ‘holiday’ so far. We are staying in the middle of nowhere, which I thought I would like but I do not. I have realised that I hate being in the middle of nowhere. I hate not being able to walk to anything. Having to get in the car every time we want to go out is such a pain with a baby. Sure, the views are lovely, the sounds of sheep bleating (they don’t baa, apparently, they bleat, although I am still yet to discover why) are lovely, the cottage is beautiful and very well equipped. But there’s nowhere to walk to with a buggy (we don’t have one of those all-terrain ones), unless you want to risk your life on Devonshire country lanes.

We have spent a lot of our holiday sitting on our iPad and laptop which is pretty much what we do at home.

I’m trying to think of some positives because I know I sound like a whingy old cow. We DID buy some bloody nice fillet steaks in the farm shop. We’ve been drinking a lot of alcohol. There’s wifi. At least I remembered my coat, if not my gloves (brr). There have been the odd moments of beautiful weather and deep breaths of non-polluted air. Everyone we see loves Daph (apart from the waiters in the fish and chip restaurant) and she’s loving all the attention. She’s still adorably cute even with the grumps and a sore mouth. At least we didn’t spend stupid money trying to go abroad *mind explodes at the thought of the stress*.

But I must confess, if you follow me, my Instagram feed… it’s basically a lie. But I reckon they all are, so never mind.

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Daphne turned nine months old this week – I’ve officially had her now for longer than I was pregnant (actually, the maths of pregnancy always confused me so… hmmm, that could be complete bollocks). In some ways it’s like she’s always been here, in other ways it only feels like a few weeks ago that we were bringing her home from the hospital. Gah, how cliched. How true.

But yes. She’s nine months old and the last few weeks have been pretty challenging as she’s dropped her third nap. So her schedule, which was beautifully reliable before and actually bloody great as she slept through every night, has gone a bit haywire. For the last week or so she’s been persistently waking at 5am (oh so fun!) and refusing to a) go back to sleep and b) shut up. She doesn’t cry, bless her, she just kind of shouts and squeals and makes general noise which means there’s absolutely no way we can sleep through it. She has double double blackout blinds in her room (blackout fabric suction-cupped to the window, a blackout roller blind on top and then blackout-lined curtains) yet still a tiny chink of light seems to find its way out (mostly at the top and bottom) and hence she decides that when the sun gets up, so does she. It’s exhausting! HOW we managed for months of her not sleeping through the night I have no idea because my tiredness levels have been reaching epic proportions thanks to this early morning start.

To counteract the lack of third nap, she’s now going to bed at 5.30-6pm – which I know sounds ridiculously early, but she can’t stay awake any longer – if she does then we get into that godawful screaming-like-she’s-being-murdered overtiredness thing, where literally the only way to settle her is to put a muslin over her face so she can’t see anything (sounds horrible and it is), hold her little arms down to stop them thrashing, and shush and shush and shush until she falls asleep. Ugh. It’s like I’m torturing her and I HATE it, but for some reason she just cannot settle herself if she gets overtired. Does anyone else’s baby get like this? My mum seems to think it’s a new phenomenon as apparently I never did it, but a few of my RL friends have had similar experiences with over-stimulated and over-tired babies.

She now naps from 9-10.30am and then again from 1.30pm to (ideally) 3pm. She often wakes up from her second nap a bit early though, but I can’t push her to go down later than 1.30pm as by then she’s red-eyed and whiny. I swear you could study baby schedules at degree level and still not get to grips with the ridiculous algorithms they seem to work to.

In other news, we had her developmental check up today. I will be honest here, I requested it a bit early (I think it’s supposed to be between 9-12 months and most people have it at around a year) as I’ve been really worried about the fact that she has never, ever babbled. She can make plenty of other noises (screeching and growling are her specialities) but she has never made any ‘babababa’ or ‘mamamama’ noises. Of course, I asked Dr Google what this meant and the number one cause of lack of babbling seems to be autism. So that broke my heart, and sent me into a week-long spiral of obsessive googling, sleeplessness and Youtube-watching of autistic kids trying to see if Daph had any of their characteristics. I took her to the GP who suggested it might be a hearing issue and has referred her for tests but I am pretty sure she can hear really well as she responds to whispers and even someone creeping in the room behind her.

Anyway, she’s also behind on her gross motor skills – most specifically sitting. She can sit alone perfectly and reach for stuff etc, but if she starts to lean back while seated she will always fall onto her back. I can’t leave her alone sitting, when really at this age I should be able to. She sometimes falls sideways too. Of course, she can’t crawl or pull up to stand or anything even vaguely advanced, but I am more worried that she can’t sit alone – although I am noticing she’s getting better at this day by day. Whereas the babbling is not improving (or starting!) at all.

My mum’s friend, who’s a speech therapist, suggested she may be dyspraxic, and the symptoms do sound really like her, but again, it’s really too early to tell.

I asked for a check just to see if there was anything I could be doing to try to help her progress a bit. Anything other than tummy time that is – which all health professionals seem to think is the answer to every problem. However, it doesn’t work so well if your baby rolls straight back onto her back every time, yes, I’m looking at YOU Miss Daphne Darley. Of course, the health visitor (bless her – lovely lady but as Oli said, it was just like getting advice from a maiden aunt, rather than an expert) was not really any help at all. She said she’d never heard of any baby not babbling by Daph’s age, and just said wait and see how the hearing test turns out, and bring her back in three months for another review.

We had to do this massive questionnaire thing (Ages & Stages) which was quite interesting – she scored really highly in most sections – she’s ace at the fine motor skills (picking stuff up, feeding herself etc) and good at problem solving (finding hidden toys) and also her personal and social skills were excellent (understanding ‘no’ etc), but she fell off the chart for communication (which is all about babbling) and was just below par for the gross motor stuff.

I’m relieved that (although of course it’s far too early really) she doesn’t seem to be showing any other early signs for autism as she’s great at the joint attention things – she follows your finger if you point at something, has amazing eye contact and looks at you when playing with toys trying to get you to join in. She’s also started trying to clap and wave. I realise now I sound totally neurotic, and I have in fact been told off by several family members and other mothers for googling too much. But it’s just my nature to investigate things – I’m a journalist, I can’t help but try to find out as much as I can about a subject. Even if it does just mean I’m worrying myself stupid for no reason.

But despite all this, and despite the Wonder Week Leap 6 being THE WORST SO FAR (for those who don’t know about the Wonder Weeks, then check ’em out – only if you’re a parent though, they’re very boring otherwise), Daph is just so wonderful at the moment. She’s super smiley, loves interacting and playing and has suddenly got a lot more sociable in the past few weeks. She’s also started to get separation anxiety when I leave the room which is annoying but awfully cute and makes you feel very loved back.

And, truly, corny though it sounds, her little quirks and crazy attempts at growling ‘vocalisations’ (we’re trying to resist the urge to nickname her the Exorcist baby) kind of make her a bit special, and make me love her even more…

In response to my post on sharenting, you’ll notice I’ve just put up one pic of Daph this time… I realise this means you’re faced with a wall of text to wade through though. Sorry and thanks for making the effort – have a gold star from me! 

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I’ve known artist and designer Sarah Hamilton for a few years now – and in fact I interviewed her about her work on this very blog. She’s a wonderfully talented, vivacious and passionate person and when she told me about her latest endeavour – the fabulous Just a Card campaign, I was so impressed.

If you’ve not heard about it, the campaign aims to encourage people to buy ‘just a card’ if they go into an independent shop or gallery. So many galleries are closing down because people pop in, have a look around, see the prices of the artwork and feel that to buy something significant would be out of their reach financially. Even if they love the designs on offer, they often feel too embarrassed to make a small purchase – such as a card or some wrapping paper. However, it’s these small purchases, when repeated by many customers, that can make all the difference to a struggling gallery owner’s finances.

Sarah was inspired to start the campaign when she saw the quote “If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had bought ‘just a card’ we’d still be open”. The message was simple and clear – if you go into an independent store, don’t be embarrassed if you can only afford to spend a few pounds! As Sarah pointed out when we talked about it over dinner lately, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to go to Tesco and only buy a mass-produced card, but we know who’d appreciate the purchase more.

I’m passionate about passionate people who turn their passions into their livelihood – it really takes guts and balls, and in our age of huge faceless corporations I truly love to support independent people wherever possible. I’ve mentioned before my love of Dartmouth (and we’re off there on holiday again later this month) – it’s my happy place and one of the main reasons is the plethora of quirky independent shops – many of which are art galleries – and all of which I can easily spend hours in browsing. The shopkeepers are always friendly and love to chat and tell you about all the things they’re selling – it’s so wonderful to know that the things you are buying were made with love and care. I’m not particularly hippy in general but I do think surrounding yourself with things that have a real story behind them lifts your spirits.

I’m so happy to see that Sarah’s campaign is really gaining momentum, but if you haven’t supported it yet, please do! You can check out the website, follow them on Twitter and keep up to date with their progress on their blog. But most important of all, please do buy ‘just a card’ if you go into an independent shop or gallery – you really will be making all the difference!

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But but but LOOK it’s her FIRST HAIRCLIP

Before I had a baby, I used to roll my eyes a bit (OK, quite a lot) at people who endlessly shared pics of their children on social media. I mean, everyone loves to see pictures of newborns and there’s nothing nicer than congratulating someone who’s just pushed a small person out of their bits. But the endless pictures clogging up my FB feed of kids in fancy dress, on their first day at school, eating a piece of toast etc etc did get a bit tiresome. For the uninitiated, the media calls this ‘sharenting’ – smug journos do love a portmanteau.

I always swore I’d never be like that if I had a baby.

HA HA HA.

When Daph was first born, Oli and I had a Very Serious Discussion about whether or not we would upload pictures of her to Facebook etc. We both agreed that we’d rather not (Oli is ridiculously private about everything which is quite tricky when you’re a singer with fans – he gets some lovely emails from folk who always want to know more about him). But then when she was first born, obviously I blogged about it (given that I blogged throughout pregnancy it would have been a bit weird not to), and then put up an album on FB because – genuinely! – people asked to see pics (it’s only for friends and family right, so allowed?) and then before I knew it I was non-stop Instagramming her.

Because to me, of course, she’s the most beautiful baby that ever lived and I find so much pleasure in taking and looking at pics of her that I just want to share this pleasure with the world. The fact that the world does not feel the same way about her as I do does not really compute. It’s like a weird compulsion. And Oli, private though he is, is also her adoring parent and so when I put up pics of her on Instagram and show him, he smiles his mushy smile and we both bask in a wave of oxytocin, our first conversation long forgotten.

But I do realise now that I’ve started to sharent. My god, I even blog about her. Although I really hope blogging is slightly different as I hope that my posts about baby-related things actually help mothers in similar situations. They’re less about showing off and more about solidarity. And also, a way for me to look back on this time and remember stuff that I will inevitably have forgotten. At least, that’s my intention.

I read an article this weekend about how kids these days have a digital footprint before the age of one, and it really got me thinking. Am I invading Daph’s privacy by plastering her all over the internet before she’s old enough to consent? Am I behaving as though I ‘own’ her? Is it actually really selfish? But then again, seeing as most people do it is it actually no big deal? Considering some parents make a living vlogging about their babies is what I’m doing relatively insignificant? Will babies whose parents didn’t put up images of them online grow up feeling insecure and unloved? I am so in two minds. I have never pinned pics of her because the idea of someone repinning pictures of my baby creeps me out, but then again anyone can pin them from this blog should they wish (please don’t!). I started watermarking some images of her before uploading them but then got lazy. I thought about doing that thing of only shooting her from behind or out of focus but… but… but… that means you don’t get to see HER BEAUTIFUL FACE! I also thought maybe I’d just stick to only putting photos of her on FB and not on Instagram but then I might as well delete my Insta account because let’s be honest, I have a baby under one, my whole life at the moment revolves around her.

It’s a conundrum. I wish I could ask Daph want she thinks and it’s frustrating that the generation of babies whose parents have been oversharing them since they were just an ultrasound picture aren’t quite old enough yet to let us know how they feel about it. I take some solace in the fact that I can delete the pics I have put up of her at any time – I’ve never used images of her in a professional capacity.

I would LOVE to know your thoughts on this topic – please leave me a comment if you’re a parent and let me know what you’ve decided to do and why. For now, Oli and I have tentatively agreed to stop posting images of her (at least on public sites such as my blog and Instagram) once she turns one. I’m not sure why but it feels like a good cut off – after this point she’s no longer a baby (sniff) and more her own person. I just hope I have the willpower…