Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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‘Holidays’ with Children

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I will never forget our first ‘holiday’ as three. Our daughter was 7 months old and I was already 4 months pregnant with identical twin boys so we kept the holiday simple. Stayed in this country, chose a delightful ‘family very friendly’ hotel just outside Bath and packed the car to the roof rack with all the paraphernalia involved with a ‘baby comes too’ holiday. At 4am on the first night of our holiday, we were starting to pack up again as baby daughter decided to cut what we could only imagine was a sabre tooth in her gum and she cried. She cried all night. Contrary to sense, we decided to remain with a typical British grim determination.

My husband is a very calm, reasonable and gentle man who takes his responsibilities in his stride and works very hard with little complaint. He SULKED for an entire week as the dawning of an understanding swept through him like molten lead. Holidays will NEVER be holidays again.

A year later, we were five and have remained so ever since. Holidays have, indeed, never been the same. They became less relaxing and our expectations for ‘quiet time’ were lowered somewhat (entirely). We did, however, have a lot more fun and I look back on photos and we chat over the dinner table about holidays past with misty eyes as I remember just how much fun we had.

So, as is a proud mum’s wont, I have a fabulously selective memory. I have forgotten the two weeks of packing an enormous trunk suitcase with everything that three babies will need and I have forgotten that the same suitcase filled was still necessary for a weekend away; I forget the fact that my daughter always wanted to be on the move – no time to settle in to a hotel before she wanted to go to the beach, before she wanted to go back inside, before she wanted to see what was in the nearest town, all before lunch. I forget the drug addled me at Heathrow airport sobbing with fear of the flight and convincing the children I had stubbed my toe.

I simply remember sitting at a table, asking (and receiving) a spoonful of each of my children’s ice-cream, telling them to ‘point at the clock, to mummy, to the door, to the sky, to the window, to the salt, to the (you get the picture)’ just so that we could finish our coffee. I remember playing the A-Z of swear words when one of my sons decided that he could simply put an animal in front of the word ‘arse’ and that would be rude enough. I remember the day that I took the photograph that became the Two Little Boys logo. My husband was in the pool with our daughter and our two little boys were sitting on the edge; aged only aged two at the time, they had been told not to move and stock still they stayed; waiting their turn to go for a dip with daddy. The blue of the swimming pool, so Mediterranean and yet we were in Bournemouth. And just after that photo was taken, one of my sons fell over on some stairs and chipped his tooth. But I forget that.

I remember holidays with their grandparents, helping with the application of an endless stream of sun cream, the brushing of tiny feet with towels to stem the quantities of sand entering the hotel or rental house. And the lie-ins the grandparents gifted us on a regular basis.  The effort needed to ensure that they had a good time was exhausting, but as they look back with laughter and fondness of those times, I feel nothing but pride.

I always ran a tight ship bringing up our children because I didn’t have the luxury of a third arm to grab one who might decide to misbehave. I was very lucky that I had three children in 12 months because I had no ‘life’ other than bringing up children, and, I say again, expectations for ‘me time’ were set very low. I dedicated their waking hours to them; displaying an enthusiasm for the most mundane of activities (Let’s clean the cupboard!). An enthusiasm that I wouldn’t be able to muster now even if you placed me in a room filled with chocolate oranges. I played Snap with a pack of cards that I loathed the sight of, cleaned up after painting sessions tirelessly and played pretend ‘customer in the restaurant’ more times that I care to admit. I had weekday help, for which I will be forever grateful that I was able to devote more time to my children than most.

When they reached nursery school age, I started Two Little Boys Ltd to produce products that could help time poor parents entertain their children and for those same parents to keep memories alive without enormous effort.

I had been given an excellent cookbook for children and the author’s opening statement stuck with me. I paraphrase (massively) here, but he was opining that it is when children are young that they should be given the best food available, whether that is the best premium sausages instead of the cheap ones given on kids menus at so many restaurant chains or a piece of delicious darker chocolate than the cheaper white stuff; it is when they are young that they are taught to differentiate, to appreciate and to be educated in every area. I felt exactly the same about games and toys. Rather than go for the plastic and quickly designed imported stuff that was available at the time, I wanted my children to grow up with beautifully designed games and I wanted them to learn whilst they played. So, out went those sodding cheap Snap cards and in came sets that I had created with my own photography and each image was labelled because children don’t know that most adults can’t differentiate a plumbago from a cosmos flower (well, my children can now!). I should also mention that I’d like to think I kept a company called Orchard Toys solvent with the purchase of pretty much every game and jigsaw they ever produced.

Along with various mind-saving record books and the aforementioned Snap cards I initially devised, the ‘This is my Holiday’ playpack. It was, at the time, presented in a bag with a cute 35mm camera and it was a perfect way for my (and others) children to capture memories from a holiday. The pack was extremely well received by the press at the time and I was commissioned by the Mandarin Oriental in London to produce a bespoke version.

We still have our children’s filled in books with photographs taken from a child’s height of my bum and slightly blurry images of meals eaten; they are truly delightful to look back on and my kids loved taking the photos and writing about their holidays. In fact, I can remember after the trauma of getting on a plane with them for the first time, their ‘best thing about the journey’ was the snack! I could only think that after all of that expense and my much depleted bottle of tranquilisers, I could have given them a small bag of pretzels on a coach and they’d have been just as happy.

The ‘This is my…’ range of books continue to sell really well, and we still produce the Snap cards, activity books and lots of other stuff that a hassled mother of Irish triplets thought might make life a little more fun, colourful and, on occasion, quiet.

And as my children are getting older, I can’t help but feel a little wistful that they no longer need my attention 24/7, but then, I forget just how tiring that actually was.

So, for anyone about to take their first holiday with a baby, don’t sulk…

it get’s a lot easier ;).

Happy summer all.

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