Would you give a child a used birthday present?


Well would you?

There’s this little girl, right? She’s five and her sixth birthday’s been on my radar for months. The question of what to give her has been grappling for space in the back of my mind with each of the other 1001 things on my to-do-list. She likes animals, particularly monkeys. And she’s not a pink princess kind of a girl. More the kick-ass, adventuring kind.

Then, about a month ago, something came up on an online swapping site. It’s called a ‘jungle adventure playset’ and it is, quite simply, awesomely brilliant. It has trees and rope ladders, rivers and tree-houses. It came with a little tin box of jungle animals too and its owner was happy to hand it over in exchange for a couple of cakes.

Perfect, I thought. And it is. Kind of. Because on the one hand, I know she will love playing with it. I can already see her, utterly absorbed in the jungle world, swinging her little animals from its vines like George of the Jungle only a girl and a million times smoother.

But. But, but but… the box is tatty. Really tatty. It’s been patched up with sellotape (see below).


And… some of the jungle parts are frayed at the edges. Which I knew when I did the deal. And, then, I didn’t care because I knew it didn’t matter. The frays are testament to how much the toy has been loved, the intensity with which its been played and, really, how much its next owner is going to love it too. Testament to the fact that it deserves a second lease of life, rescuing from the attic or landfill to give some fun and joy to another kid who, surely, isn’t going to notice the sellotape or the imperfections, her imagination soars right over those.

But now, it’s been in the house waiting to be wrapped up for a couple of weeks and every time I look at it I feel less sure. It’ll stand out among her other shiny new gifts. Maybe, by contrast, she will notice and our present will feel shabby and be shoved aside? Even if she doesn’t notice the places where it has been bashed up, her mother definitely will. We don’t know her that well… should I be embarrassed to give a ‘budget’ gift? Even though it’s actually worth more than anything we could have afforded to give her brand-new – will it look like we haven’t tried enough, or cared enough? Would something new say ‘we love you’ or even ‘thanks for having us’ better? Even though it is, of course, the thought that counts. And, actually, quite a bit has gone into this… Even so? What do you think?

falling off the wagon

Radio silence. It’s odd, isn’t it, how quickly you fall out of good habits. They take a lot to forge: effort, will power, determination… long stretches of plodding, pleading and coaxing of the obstinate mind as if it were an elderly, overweight donkey flicking flies in the sun. And then suddenly, one slip, and you’re off the wagon, lying confused on your back. Just like that.

I’ve blogged every week for eighteen months and loved it. It came naturally after six weeks or so, the words just slid through the keyboard and onto the screen: tappity tap. Even when I was heavy and exhausted and pregnant and the size of an elephant, when I was weepy, leaky and hormonal and trapped beneath a newborn, when I had six times as many work deadlines as brain cells… tappity tap, out it came automatically (which might explain the quality of some posts… apologies for that).

Then we went on holiday for a week. And suddenly it’s been sixteen days. And I just. can’t. get. my. mind. to work. I’ve fallen off the wagon. And from down here in the dirt, the effort it would take to clamber back up to the driving seat looks way too much like hard work. I’d rather lie down and gather dust in the road.

And, I’m afraid, the same goes for good habits. When we went on holiday, I gave myself a week’s grace on cloth nappies. I wasn’t sure what the washing set-up was going to be, so we bought a packet of pampers. And it was SO good. I hadn’t expected it. I don’t find cloth nappies tricky. I don’t mind the extra washing, the occasional poo scraping, the never-ending cycle of stuffing and unstuffing liners. Or, at least, I didn’t. I find it all, in its small way, rewarding. Or, at least, I did.

We came home, and the house was a tip and our street was scruffy and polluted and choked with cars and I missed the rural idyll of Devon and the kids running free through meadows without a moment’s thought about traffic or toys or The Octonauts and Captain (I’ll tell you just where you can stick your) Barnacles. And so I bought another packet of pampers. It was kind of like comfort eating: when you’re feeling low and you buy a family sized bar of the cheapest, tackiest chocolate you can find. And yeah, it’s partly because you’re going to love devouring it, but it’s also, partly, out of a kind of loathing, masochistic, self-pity-fest.

And then I bought another packet. And now – ARGH! – it’s been two and a half weeks. And I KNOW I need to go back. I know I’ll be happier when I make the break, when I’m not staring guiltily into The Pedal-Bin Of Landfill-Doom four times a day. But… The house is still a tip. There is more dirty washing in the basket than I can ever hope to wade through, more clean laundry hanging around the house than I can ever imagine coaxing into drawers. And the baby’s had a throat infection. And then we both had thrush. And builders are going to be taking our house apart for the next six weeks and and and… I want that giant bar of Dairy Milk. Actually, I want a whole KFC family bucket meal to go with it because once you let one corner of a project go, the whole structure starts to wobble. I want to take the baby to a music class. I want to buy crisp new clothes for them in the online sales. When we were away, one of the other families had those strawberry mini rice cakes for babies. They were quite convenient. I want, I want, I want…

Except I don’t of course. I know that. But it’s hard to grab hold off your principles while you’re flat on the dirt track and the dust is being kicked up around you. SOMEONE HAND ME MY STIRRUPS AND HAUL ME BACK ONTO THAT WAGON, PLEASE!

Sponsored post: how to entertain the parents for free

Sorry for the radio silence, we unplugged and ran wild and free range in Devon for a week. More to follow on that as soon as I’ve chipped away at the muddy cases of clothes and shaken the sand from the kids’ hair, ears, toes and fingernails. In the meantime, here’s a sponsored post that caught my attention and tempted me with its title – how to entertain the PARENTS for free. After a week of ingesting my bodyweight in good food and not-quite-as-dirt-cheap-as-usual wine, it seemed a good idea to remind myself that, well, it’s not just the kids whose self-control needs occasional management…

As a first time parent and follower of the Free Our Kids blog I have not only been attempting to follow the rules of spending as little as possible on our new addition to the family and nothing on clothes, toys and activities, but myself and my husband have taken this a step further by cutting right back on entertainment costs for our time alone too.

We feel that if we are not spending money on entertainment and activities for our one year old daughter, Chloe, then it is only fair that we do the same for ourselves. The following list details the ways that we’ve cut back on spending to save ourselves money to use in other ways as a family.

Nights Out


Long gone are the days of fancy restaurants and fine dining out on the town as money is kept unspent and added to an account for the days that our newest addition grows up and leaves the nest. To be honest while the glamour of dressing up and hitting the town is missed, the core part of our nights out that myself and my husband had – the time spent together by ourselves – still remains as we stay in and take turns in cooking meals for each other at home. Money on a babysitter, taxis as well as food and drink is saved as we add the items for these meals to our weekly shopping and then indulge in each other’s company over a candle lit meal at home as our daughter sleeps upstairs.

Online Entertainment


Both myself and my husband enjoy playing online games, both the social type of game that you find on Facebook and online gambling games. Before we embarked on this endeavour of cutting back our spending on our entertainment to nothing we used to play occasionally after adding a small amount of cash to the accounts. However, despite the fact that we are now not spending cash on entertaining ourselves we have still found the ability to play these online games as my husband plays the numerous freeroll tournaments at online poker sites, such as Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker while I fill my online bingo habit by playing, and occasionally winning real money, in the freeroll bingo games at https://www.butlersbingo.com/. These offer the same entertainment levels, but with no risk and no money spent, and is a great way to spend an evening by yourself when you’d had one of those days that sees you just want your own company for a while.

Movie Night


Before starting our regime to save as much money as possible for our daughter as she grows up myself and my husband were avid cinema goers, seeing new films each and every week. It was part of a great night out for us as we would often go for a drink or two after the movie safe in the knowledge that Chloe was being cared for by either our standard babysitter or one set of her grandparents. However, this has now been knocked on the head and we have saved massive amounts of money as a result of it. I do have to admit though some of the savings have been ploughed back into this pastime as we have subscribed to Netflix to feed our movie addiction, but with film tickets costing more than £10 each and this subscription service only £5.99 a month it is our one cheat purchase in our money savings list.

These three steps alone have already added several thousand pounds to a savings account for our daughter over the last few months and we have found that we are not missing any of our old lifestyle either. We are certainly not regretting trying this regime and with it working out so well for our family’s finances we’re unsure why we didn’t try this before now.

Ouch ouch ouch

I knew this moment would come. I’ve had my head in the sand, my fingers in my ears, singing “LA LA LA LA LALAAAAAA” and trying to block it out but really, as a blogger, writing about babies, even if in an absurdly messy and convoluted sort of way, there was no way on earth I was going to be able to swerve it. So here it is. THE BREASTFEEDING POST.

I don’t want to write it because, in essence, I don’t have a position on it. If pushed, it boils down to this: your baby, your boobs, your call. It’s really that basic to me. I know breast is better, I believe a happy mama is best of all, and most of all I understand that other people’s family lives are utterly  unfathomable from the outside and that 99.99999999999% of mothers do what, in their assessment, is best for their kid, in their situation, to the best of their knowledge. So whatever their choice, who am I to judge? Or, to be brutally honest, care?

I fed Johnny for five months. And I was so, so happy to move over to bottles after that. Three years on, he’s a brilliant, bright, buoyant little boy. I mean, yeah, he’s also a total menace at times, but much as I’d like to shift the blame, I don’t think I can lay it on the formula.

Now, here we are a second time. Frida’s seven months, and I’m still breastfeeding. But this isn’t a trumpet blowing post. I don’t feel remotely self congratulatory about it. I’m still breastfeeding because:

1) I’m happy with the status quo. It suits us as the moment, in our current situation, just as it suited us when I switched to bottles with J. Unlike last time, I’m working from home these days and only periodically. It’s not uncomfortable or irritating for either of us yet, so why change things?

2) I’m too disorganised and (honestly) lazy to bottle feed at the moment. I find it hard enough to make sure Johnny’s wearing both shoes and the baby’s partially clothed by the time we leave the house. I’m honestly not sure what would become of us if I had to remember bottle parts, boiled water and formula too.

I have been wondering, though, whether I’d feel the same way if I hadn’t set off on this weird, eighteen month journey of no spending. Obviously, breastfeeding is free and formula is not. Has that played into my decision to keep feeding her? I don’t think so. I’ve always been totally cool with coming clean if and when it looks like spending money on something is the right decision for us. You lot are pretty well versed in my failures, messes and blips by now.

But I do think, perhaps, the change of pace in our lives has played into it. Things are a bit slower and more relaxed round here than they were during my first maternity leave. I’m not rushing from baby yoga class to infant sign language session. We spend more time at home, at friends houses, in the woods… Places where breastfeeding is easy and at a pace that makes lounging around feeding a baby an easy fit.

There’s another thing too. I’ve become a little (and I mean a little) bit better at being a little (and I mean a little) bit ‘different’. Not spending money on the kids hasn’t turned us into social pariahs as I’d feared. In fact, we’ve become more instead of less connected with out community. But I have had to do quite a bit of toe-curling explaining of myself, in a way that would have made me shrivel with embarrassment or dive into the nearest bin eighteen months ago.

Try telling people that you can’t go to soft play, actually, because the thing is… the thing is, well, you’ve embarked on this project, you see, about, ermm, not spending money on kids, because, well, I dunno, it’s just an experiment, It’s just we were really broke and also, I guess, I just have this sense that possibly… And God, not that I’m judging or anything, God, not at all, I’m the last person who’d… I mean, have you SEEN how bad I am at parenting? Honestly, it’s a miracle my kids make it through the day….

For someone so British, so anxious not to cause a scene that she apologised for making a fuss as she was being wheeled at great speed into surgery for a crash c-section… well, it hasn’t been easy. But I have, gradually, over the months, got a bit better at it.

So now, when everyone else seems to have made the swap to formula, I’m a little less bothered about being the one still getting her boobs out. Because here’s a funny thing. I hear a lot, from women around the country, about anti-breastfeeding prejudice. I feel for them, horribly. But round where I live, it works the other way round. Whip out a bottle, place it in the happily chomping lips of your baby, and should she look a week or two shy of six months, you risk raising the eyebrows of passing strangers. No matter that these people know nothing of your motivations, your medical history, your family life, your work commitments… It’s just not the done thing.

And then miraculously, overnight, your baby turns six months. And everyone breathes a sigh of relief, retrieves their lacy lingerie from the attic, and gets the steriliser out. Suddenly, it’s the mothers still unclipping their stained nursing bras who look odd. Not very odd, you understand, just a bit… curious. Why is she still feeding? Doesn’t she want to get her life back? Her independence?

I’ve noticed it. Not in a dramatic way. Not in a prejudiced sort way. But still. I’ve noticed it, and I’m more okay with just carrying on regardless  than I would have been eighteen months ago. It’s this I feel good about, more than the fact of still breastfeeding.

But there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there? And this ‘but’ is… Jesus F Christ, TEETH. How do you cope with the TEETH?! Because over the last week it’s become an issue. A high pitched, squealing, sweary problem. And she’s only got two. How do mothers of kids with full sets of sharp gnashers do it?!

Things I’m currently failing at…

Oooooh FAIL is a loaded word, isn’t it? I feel like I may have come across a bit strong there, in the title, but there it is.

In the interests of transparency, to avoid a second expenses scandal that might rock the nation, I’m releasing my records of expenditure into the public domain. No duck houses, I’m afraid, but in the last six months, despite all efforts to the contrary, I have spent money on the following:

  • Nappies. Still using a disposable every night. So one every 24 hours. And you know what’s worse? I haven’t even tried putting a reusable one on her at night. I. JUST. CAN’T. FACE. IT. I’m not brave enough. That might make me a coward, but at least I’m a coward who can just about keep her eyes pinned open during daylight hours (given an adequate supply of caffeine and sugar-laced snacks).
  • Wipes. For a long time we used these veeeeeery sparingly. At home, cotton wool was just fine, so wipes were stored in the handbag for out-of-the-house emergencies. Then came weaning. And suddenly there are wipes EVERYWHERE. Wipes stuffed in my back pocket, wipes hanging out of my bra, grubby wipes hiding between my sheets when I climb into bed. So I tried to make my own, based on this guide. And, well, this is really no reflection on the guide. This is truly a ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ moment because… urghhh. I was just not up to it. SO much work. SO much washing. So. Much. Poo. Maybe the real reusable ones are less vile and exhausting? Maybe? But what if they’re not, and it just finishes me off? Such an ignoble way to go…
  • Toothpaste. I know what I said. I know what the expert said – you really don’t necessarily have to buy special kids toothpaste if you can get your kid to spit the ordinary stuff out after brushing. But I can’t. I’ve spent the last 18 months trying. His ‘spit’ is still more of a ‘dribbling gurn’. So the kids toothpaste is still lying on the sink, laughing at me in lurid colours.
  • Ice cream. A new one, this. I have a very cunning friend who’s convinced her kid that the ice cream van man only plays his tunes when he’s out of stock. I tried this, but while J struggles to follow lines of reasoning about, say, why it isn’t wise to dismantle radios and stick the parts into socket, he’s surprisingly sharp when it comes to the nuances of ice cream supplies. The thing is, I’m happier giving him a mini-milk than a big, fat, fluorescent Twister. But mini-milks are specifically for kids, aren’t they? So they’re banned, right? Which leaves me in  a massive, messy, sticky MORAL QUANDARY.