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How to survive a rainy day at home with the kids

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There are days when you can’t leave the house, for a variety of reasons, and the children start bickering from the moment they finish breakfast. It’s never a good sign when you’re taking deep, calming breaths while mentally swearing a blue streak before 8.30am.
Husband heads off to work and Mr 2 cries as though the world has ended. I attempt to soothe toddler, whilst also enduring Miss 5 shouting progressively louder to be heard above her brother’s tears.
“I want a glass of milk PLEASE!”
“As soon as I calm your brother down, I’ll get that for you.”
“I want it NOW and I can’t do it. The bottle’s too heavy.”
I turn in desperation to Miss 9.
“Could you pour your sister some milk please?”
Miss 9 is often very helpful at times like this.
“No.”
But not this morning.
I put sobbing toddler down to get the milk. He ramps up the crying.
Miss 9 starts emptying the craft cupboard.
“What are you doing? Please don’t get everything out.”
“I’m looking for the other walkie talkie. I definitely saw it in here,” she replies, her voice increasingly agitated. “It has to be here, it HAS to be!”
Now she’s wailing.
There’s nothing for it. I put on Peppa Pig, the most wonderful children’s program in the world for numerous reasons. Today it’s wonderful because the episodes are ten minutes long, which is how long I’ll need to put my plan of action into…well, action.
The children rush to the sofa like the tv addicts they dream of being.

Employ strategy #1: A den!

I rush to dig out the fabric Wendy house I made when Miss 8 was Miss 3. I set up the den and turn off the TV as the end credits roll.
“I’ve made you a den!” I announce excitedly.
All three are thrilled and rush in to play, grabbing various accessories and setting up house. Mr 2 has no idea what to do here, but gladly follows his sisters’ instructions.
The children play beautifully. For the thirty minutes it takes me to make some cheese scrolls.
Miss 9: Stop grinning at me like that. I hate it. I feel like you’re trying to kill me.
Miss 5: Yes. I know.
Miss 9: Argh! Stop it! If you’re going to try and kill me, I’ll never say I love you again!
Miss 5: I don’t even care. Argh, Muuuuuuum!
I turn from my hurried clearing up to see Mr 2 take down the den.
Everyone is crying and shouting again.
And so it goes on.

Employ strategy #2: Baking!

Only Miss 9 is keen. Luckily the other two are playing a car race game, so baking commences. Halfway through, I turn from the cupboard to find Miss 9 has disappeared.
“Where are you? I thought you were rolling out the dough?”
“I know, but my room needs tidying.”
?!?!?!
After some discussion, she is persuaded to complete the baking before tidying her room.
The baking goes in the oven, the scrolls come out. On cue, Mr 2 starts crying. He’s bumped his head.

Employ strategy #3:  Let’s have morning tea!

I read somewhere that kids need feeding every 2-3 hours. This is undoubtedly true, and you must adhere to the guidelines if you wish to avoid the Hanger.
We have oranges, grapes and cheese scrolls.
Peace reigns.
I look at the clock. It’s 10.45am.
The girls start bickering over who has the biggest slices of orange. Mr 2 climbs up onto the table to try and steal his sister’s scroll.
I intervene, reset the plates and reach for the coffee. What next???

Employ strategy #4: Movie time!

Don’t let the anti-tv brigade upset you. It is perfectly fine to put the TV on if you are stuck for ideas and the sweet sound of arguing siblings is ringing in your ears.
I clean up morning tea and send the kids off to watch a movie. They choose a Disney movie, and I have 85 minutes to come up with a plan for the afternoon.
But wait…what’s this? The movie ends and the toys come out. There is laughter and conversation. There is patience when Mr 2 moves something he is not supposed to move…I eavesdrop and sigh in relief.
I have a back up plan (lunch, playdough, crafts), but I may not need to use it after all.

Employ strategy #5: When your children are playing nicely, go away and make a nice cup of coffee. Enjoy!

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Mother-in-law cliches

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I was boring my two year old this afternoon and he let me know it with dark scowls and a refusal to play. Or read. Or have anything to do with me.

Apologies to my frozen friends in the North, but down here in the Southern Hemisphere we are having a great summer. It was a gorgeous evening to play outdoors. Or to be shunned outdoors, as is the case today.

Our neighbour’s son popped his head over the fence and before I knew it, Mr 2 was scaling the gate and the two of them were playing ball on the drive. Never one to miss an opportunity, I grabbed my gardening shears and started pruning the climbing vine that climbs all over the front fence.

It reminded me of my mother-in-law.

Just to set the scene here, let me make it clear that I’m not a gardener. I pull weeds, hack back over-grown stuff and plant something pretty now and then. I certainly have no idea about correct pruning methods. My mother-in-law is an avid gardener.

She once pulled me aside, saying that there was something she needed to talk to me about. This was uttered in low, solemn tones and I remember thinking, shit, what have I done?

We stepped aside to discuss the issue.

“I’m sorry, but I have to say something.”

Cue all sorts of terrible imaginings.

“It’s the way you’ve pruned that plant. It’s wrong.”

For a moment I thought I’d misheard. Or been transported into a weird alternate dimension. But no, I’m just so crap at pruning that I needed an intervention.

My reaction involved a fair amount of “oh ffs!” and the like (internally, of course, since I like to think I’m civil in the face of adversity). Points to me, under the circumstances, as I endured a lecture on pruning and refrained from mentioning that I was just following my mother’s technique (they don’t get on. I try not to provide ammunition to either).

So I was pruning today (all wrong – I can’t remember a thing she told me), and I thought about mother-in-law and some of the crazy stuff that she’s done. I bet that pretty much every second married woman you ask will have a bat-shit crazy in-law story to share. Why is that?

Mine was lovely. Kind, generous, welcoming. Then we got married. Things got weird. When we had kids…well, let’s just say it’s awkward these days.

So what goes wrong? Why do all these mother-in-laws suddenly turn into the nightmare cliche? Is it some sort of club we’re unaware of? It’s not just the unwanted or ill-timed advice, the snide comments on your parenting/ relationship/ housework (lack of, naturally), but it’s that slice of the irrational and inexplicable that makes you wonder what the hell is going on that you missed. At one point, I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. Thank you for that, mother-in-law.

The only explanation I can think of is jealousy. It’s an emotion that is often irrational and causes irrational behaviours. A sense of being replaced, of not being needed anymore… there’s a saying: A daughter will be your daughter all of her life, but a son is only a son til he gets a wife (or husband). I’m paraphrasing, because I’m too lazy to Google some old saying that’s problematic in many ways for modern, independent men and women. In this context, however, might there be a kernel of truth?

Will I, in the distant future, be grieving the handing-over of my son to the person he chooses to spend his life with and consequently becoming critical and disapproving?

I bloody hope not.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe the truth is that these cliche mother-in-laws simply have a great time playing with our minds and causing mischief.

Something to think about next time you’re pruning.

If you have a great mother-in-law….well, take a minute to appreciate her. And perhaps share the nice things she does in the comments below so I can copy her Greatness when my turn comes!

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Smug parenting

I read some daddy blog today about shouting. He said he never shouts at his kids because it isn’t constructive.
Right.
Do you know anyone who does think shouting is constructive? No. You do not. No one shouts at their kids because they think it’s bloody constructive. They shout at their kids because they are stressed/ at their wits end/ frustrated/ tired/ angry/ losing their minds.
This is normal.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re screaming at your kids constantly you might want to stop a sec and think about what else is going on in your life. That’s not good, right?
But for the majority of us, it’s an occasional outburst. We’re not Mary Poppins. We’re not always cheerful and endlessly patient. And quite frankly, I’m always pretty suspicious of anyone who claims to never, ever lose their temper. Really? Not buying it.
Kids press buttons and they do it gleefully. Sometimes they hit the wrong button. We shout, we feel shit about it, we make amends and we move on. We also make insane promises to ourselves not to yell again, but we’re missing the point there – we yell because we’ve lost it.
I’m over smug parents. The I never raise my voice and my house is immaculate and calm brigade.
I’m not perfect. I’m nowhere near, but I love my kids and I do my best. And when I fuck up, I apologise. We talk about it. And you know what? My kids are awesome at talking about their feelings. They learned that from me…or so I like to think. Gotta have silver lining, right?

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Who’s the teacher here??

There is a lot of discussion around parents as first teachers. Rightly so, given that a baby typically has a very small pool of immediate carers.
I like to think I’m pretty good at it. We do a variety of activities: creative stuff, exploration (both in terms of their own physical development and the great outdoors), emergency literacy and numeracy, communication…etc, etc.
I remember reading about this stuff when I had my eldest child and I think I had a panic attack. Then I realised it’s super easy. At the playground? Count the number of swings in the swing up to 10/15/20. Use the climbing frames – up, down, under, over, through, around. Collect leaves and twigs in the woods and make a nest, explaining why.
At home? Baking! Measuring, stirring, mixing, rolling. Rub that butter and flour into breadcrumbs to develop fine motor skills (if you eat butter). Try not to wince too much at the mess…or the dreadful taste of the finished item!
Seriously, teaching young children is great fun. Well, unless it’s not. But we all know it’s not always sunshine and roses.
We’re often so busy rushing around being fabulous parents – or, in my case, pretending to be – that we miss the other learning that goes on.
Today I was cleaning up the kitchen. Miss 5 had pulled all three seat cushions from the sofa into the gap between the coffee table and the sofa itself. I really hate when the kids use the cushions to play, to be honest, but I also needed to get the kitchen cleaned up. Tactical ignoring had commenced. Mr Just-2 was toddling around happily and all was well.
I then heard Miss 5:
“Come on, you can do it. Like this.”
I looked up to see them both on the coffee table (another pet hate. Gah!).
Miss 5 was crawling on all fours across the large cushions onto the sofa. Her brother clearly wanted to follow. He moved forward, tested the wobble and then retreated.
She hopped off the sofa and stood beside him.
“You can do it! It’s easy! I’ll show you again.”
Over she went.
“Come on, your turn.”
I admit that, by this point, I had abandoned the washing up to watch this with interest.
Mr 2 again tested the bridge, but he was very doubtful. Helpful sister grabbed his hand and pulled. He yelled.
I was about to intervene when my daughter stopped and gave him a hug.
“I’ll hold you.”
Now I was the doubtful one. Miss 5 is extremely petite for her age and my toddler is probably the same weight as she is!
He started across and she kept her arm over his shoulders. When he made it over, she jumped up and down, clapped and generally made a fuss. His face was a picture of delight.
“You did it! Well done!”
Kids are much more creative than most adults. My daughter had basically just given her brother a brand new experience that I wouldn’t have thought of, building his confidence in how to use his body by crawling and balancing across unsteady surfaces. A simple thing, perhaps, but next time he comes across something tricky, he might be less nervous. He will certainly remember that he can trust his sister.
As for Miss 5, well done indeed. Patience, encouragement and giving praise – all wonderful qualities.
There are times when a child can learn from their peers and siblings. As a parent, stepping back and feeling redundant at these times can be an amazing experience.

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Tired and Hangry

We’ve all been there. One minute everything is fine, even peaceful. The children are playing nicely, everyone is happy.
Then a switch is flicked and you’re in the middle of a nightmare.
Every child is crying, screeching, shouting. They all want to be heard, so the volume rises until your brain is about to explode. And only one phrase can end the pain:
“Let’s have something to eat!”
Sure, at least one will scream that no, they don’t want any stinking food, but they always do.
Kids get hangry. I feed mine every 3-4 hours or suffer the consequences. Some days it feels as though I live in the kitchen, which sucks.
But I digress. Kids argue and it’s always high drama when it happens.
With this in mind, I read with interest an article on Get Along Jars. In fact, I read several articles.
The idea is simple: have a jar filled with lolly sticks. Each stick has written on it an activity for the kids to do together when they are arguing.
One of these was “give each other a hug”.
…..
…..
Have you ever seen the look in a child’s eye when they’ve been wronged by their sibling? If you have, you’ll know that  there’s no chance in hell that there will be any hugging in the foreseeable future.
I’m sure the Get Along Jar works for many people. It’s like any parenting advice – will work for some and not for others.
My kids argue when they are tired and when they are hungry. Forcing them into each other’s company at such a time to teach them about arguing would be massively counterproductive. You wouldn’t do it to arguing adults, would you? You’d be telling them to go and cool off.
I did try it one time, for the sake of experimenting. Let’s just say it wasn’t a success and move swiftly on.
Kids need space as much as adults do. It seems more respectful to diffuse the situation, hand out consequences where required and then remove them from each other’s company.
It works here at any rate.
Maybe the togetherness activity could be used later on when tempers are less frayed, but to be honest, later on they are best friends again anyway.
Tired and hungry = space and food.
A simple equation, for sure. If only the rest of life problems were so easy to solve!

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Are you kidding me?

So the kids are in bed (not sleeping, of course. Why would they be doing that??) I head downstairs and see that darling husband has the cake out, having offered some to his parents. I cut a small slice and take a bite.
“That’s fattening, you know,”
Father in law quips.
My expression probably said, “what the fuck?”, but I’m generally politer than that when speaking out loud.
“I’m not really worried about that,” I replied.
But…what the fuck???? This happens a lot, doesn’t it? Some guy comments about a mouthful of calories eaten by a woman, nevermind their own diet habits.
Why would any person in their right mind think it funny or acceptable to make a comment like that?
Sure, if I had hired a personal trainer and nutritionist to keep me on salad and protien shakes, I’d accept the jab and move on to the carrot sticks. But that is not the case, is it?
Obviously that nice treat turned to dust in my mouth. Well, gee. Thanks.
A friend of mine was once asked if she really intended to eat dessert. Another was told to be careful, that pudding would go straight to her bottom.
I mean, really??
It makes me furious.
Come on, ladies. Next time it happens to you, give that idiot an earful.
I have some possible responses:

Q: You know that’s fattening, don’t you?
A: Yes, I do. I also know that you’re inappropriate and offensive. Do you?
(Alternative answer: f off)

Q: Are you really going to eat that dessert?
A: Yes, I am. It’s delicious. Mmmm, wow, it’s amazing. I’ve never tasted anything this good. Wow.
Repeat til offender is pinched faced with jealousy.
(Alternative answer: f off)

Q: If you eat that, it’ll go straight to your bottom.
A: You don’t really think that, do you?  Food travels through the digestive system. You did finish high school, right?
(Alternative answer: f off)

I have no idea what gives anyone the right to comment one someone’s meal choices. Doctors and paid professionals excepted. The culture of body shaming is a massive concern, and one I’m determined to challenge for my daughters’ sakes as well as my own.
We have a healthy diet and everyone of family is very active. My children understand healthy choices, too. Well, not the toddler. He has no clue and screams for biscuits whenever he hears a packet rustle.
We talk about this quite a lot, as we like to justify the lack of dessert when the girls challenge us. Healthy food = healthy body and healthy mind. 
One day my daughter asked for a cake at the bakery. She said, “I know this is treat food, but I haven’t had one for ages so I know it’s an okay choice today.”
Bless. She probably had cake earlier that day at a friend’s house, but hey, she’s thinking about it, right?
I said, “Sure. Let’s do it. It’s good to have a treat.”
Sensible choices are the name of the game. If we deny ourselves too much, we get the backlash. Someone only has to mention the word  ‘diet’ and I’m reaching for chocolate I don’t even want. The brain is a funny thing.
So having people talk about fat, body shape and diets when you reach for food? Totally unacceptable.
The next comment I get about my food choices may well result in the commentee fleeing the scene with ringing ears from all the high-pitched yelling.

Fair warning.

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Children’s Parties

Children’s parties. So much expectation!
I made the rather foolish decision, when our eldest was about three, to start a tradition of “choose your cake.”
Now, I’m no Delilah Smith and quite frankly I have neither the patience or the ability for fondant modelling. Over the last few years, I’ve adjusted the tradition. Now I ask, “what kind of cake would you like?”
Answers like “Frozen!” and “Dragon cake!” are ideal because I can check out a few possibilities and then adjust (far) down to my limited ability level.
A week before our toddler’s birthday, I made a rash mistake.
It was a rainy day and we all had cabin fever. Miss 9 and Miss 5 were sniping at each other and generally becoming unpleasant.
Deciding to try redirecting them towards more happy thoughts, I opened up the laptop and, naturally, Pinterest.
“Let’s choose a cake for your brother’s birthday party!”
Don’t ever do that. Really.
Firstly, there are extremely talented cake decorators out there and you’ll just feel useless. Secondly, your children slowly realise your uselessness as they hear you admit that you can’t do that cake. Or that one. Or that one. Or that one.
“So which of these can you do?” Miss 9 asks disparagingly.
We finally settle on a cake which is still beyond my capabilities, but which I am willing to attempt to recreate.
And this is the thing: said recreation always ends up occurring at eleven o’clock at night, when my lovely husband and I are party-prep stressed and tired.
Still, it is in such trying times that you learn about yourself: I am great at colour matching buttercream icing. Husband is excellent at fine detail and can smooth buttercream to a flawless finish. Most importantly our marriage has survived 16 late night birthday cake decorating sessions, which is an enormous achievement. Especially after the Princess cake cone turret drama of 2009.
A lot of people ask why I don’t just buy a cake if I dislike the process so much. I could, but, to be honest, the children seem to love my efforts and I’m a total sucker for the delighted looks on their faces.
And let’s face it, the cost of a professional cake can be enormous. Parties are expensive enough.
If you wish to and can afford it, having a cake made and an entertainer on hand can be a blessing; the children are entertained, there’s very little stress and certainly no late night icing arguments.
I’ve even heard of people getting the entire party catered, when large families are involved. Again, why wouldn’t you? It’s hard enough getting ready for the big 1st birthday without having ti feed 50+ adults.
Coming from a small family, I never had that to contend with. And thank goodness!
Even so, we’re on a tight budget and I have to be canny with our pennies. Thankfully, thousands and thousands of thrifty and creative mothers share their tips and ideas on Pinterest. They are legion and they are genius.
Children’s parties are a nightmare on many levels, but we do it for the kids, right? All that squealing, excitement and pure joy makes all the cake drama fade into insignificance. Hearing my children raving about a cake we made a couple of years ago makes me smile, both because it bought them so much joy and because each cake reminds me of times my husband and I have battled with intricate icing dilemmas, always ending in overtired, hysterical laughter.

I am immeasurably fortunate.

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Get fit parenting

Late the other night I heard little man’s voice down the monitor.
“Hey!”
This isn’t unusual, and he often goes back to sleep. If he is even awake – I’m starting to think he’s a sleep talker. I waited with bated breath, muttering, “please no, please no.”
It wasn’t that I particularly object to getting up and resettling my kids if required, but this was the day after a particularly punishing Crossfit workout and my muscles were screaming.
It’s pretty hard to get fit when you have kids. It’s hard to find the time and, let’s face it, when you finally persuade them all to stay in bed, you’re more tempted to go to bed yourself than drag yourself off to an exercise class of any kind.
I find myself yawning through my warm up most sessions. A fellow crossfitter once told me I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, and yawning is the body’s way of taking in more oxygen.
That may be the case, but not for me; I’d been up since 5am that day after a nappy leak woke our toddler (and he the rest of the house).
Still, the miser in me won’t let me skip a session. I’m currently a stay at home mum, but we scrimp and save for the privilege. There’s no way I’m missing a session I’ve prepaid for.
My husband says that fitness is crucial, particularly as we get older (ugh), and it’s worth the money. He’s right of course, but if I can’t make a class I get very antsy. And it’s not all about the money.
I’ve made amazing gains in a short time, so I hate missing a class for that reason. It’s also pretty addictive…yep. That’s me, exercisephobe, addicted to crossfit. But most of all, I get two hours a week that are solely for me.
Bliss.
Of course, trying to pick up a toddler when my arms are like spaghetti can be challenging, but on the plus side, I can now carry him for two kilometres without tiring (you know the drill – refusal to walk, screaming as though being violently murdered when you try to get him in the stroller…We’ve all been there).
Crossfit is about functional fitness, and my physical endurance is pretty impressive these days. I see it every day as I dodge the curveballs my bright and active children throw at me.
For for life indeed.

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Birds and Bees

Miss 9 asked me an awkward question about babies the other day. I am generally happy to answer, but the look on my in-laws’ faces prompted me to delay with some  generic and useless response. She’s since forgotten….for now.
It’s a tricky one. When we were expecting #3, she had a lot of questions. Her dad and I were about to answer them all when I realised something: we were happy to explain how babies were made, but other parents might not have been so happy if she decided to discuss it with her friends. Especially given that, as a 6 year old at the time, she was prone to retelling slightly different versions of anything she was told. A common problem at that age and possibly the reason for the Chinese whispers game we used to play as kids ourselves!
Still, even fearing the wrath of parents at the school gate, I’m not making up some crap about a stalk or seeds being planted (which may fairly accurate, but the gardening analogy makes me cringe. And kids are so literal that analogies are not helpful).
I settled for the truth, but not the whole truth: women have special eggs in their bodies. When they decide to have a baby, the egg travels to the uterus and begins to grow into a baby. Ta da!
As she has just turned 9, I’ve been prepping myself for the puberty talk. After all, the average age bracket for the start of menstruation is 9-16 years of age. As we’d prefer to have the talk before the school one, I checked with the teacher when this would be.
At 12.
12!
The answer shocked me. If they don’t discuss puberty in Health class til then, when do they discuss reproduction and relationships?
I’ve worked with young people for a long time and, however repulsive the thought is to us, there are 12 year olds having sexual experiences. If they’re not, they’re talking about it or hearing about it from friends, on TV, on the internet.
So why does the education system continue to teach our youngsters about their bodies too late?
We are failing our young women and men in a major way.
Obviously schools are not entirely to blame – teachers are not parents. They are not responsible for raising our children.
So the next time we have an opportunity to bring this up, when she asks, we will. Perhaps not right there in the aisle of the supermarket when I’m buying sanitary products, but certainly in the car on the way home.
I’m definitely not going to wait until she is twelve, just because it might feel easier to let the Health teacher do it.
In the meantime, we talk a lot about healthy bodies. Not fat and thin, but healthy, unhealthy, good choices.
In fact, the phrase “good choices” is an invaluable one. From food to behaviour to friendships and family relationships.
“Is that/Was that a good choice? Why? Why not?”
Sometimes the question is asked calm in retrospect, othertimes it’s a frantic half scream as I catch them about to do something potentially dangerous…“Is that a good idea? Is that a good choice?”
My tone is a good indicator of the answer I’m expecting!
Let’s hope that as our children hit their tween and teen years they ask themselves the same question: is this a good choice?

A useful link, for those in the same boat: http://www.fpa.org.uk/

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The Body

No, this post isn’t about Elle McPherson and her underwear range. Partly because I don’t fit into it.
Post baby #3 was a shock, body wise. Everyone said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve had three babies!”
Well, yes. Yes I did have 3 babies. However, the babies didn’t weigh that much. As I piled on the pounds in my first pregnancy, my lovely midwife told me to slow down on the chocolate.
I wish I had.
That baby weight is more “I’m getting fat anyway, give me chocolate and carbs” weight.
Of course, once you start it’s hard to break the habit. I feel I’ve done well in the last year with a great exercise program, and I’m probably fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been before. I need to be, as otherwise my kids would leave me in the dust! I play, run, cycle with them…and have a great 20m sprint time, thanks to my runner toddler.
Yet I still look 4 months pregnant.
Belly fat isn’t great, being linked to various health issues. I did think that baby belly fat might be okay, but apparently it’s the same thing.Imagine that!
It’s time to end my love affair with bread and give it the heave-ho, because now I’m just getting annoyed with my muffin top.
So my advice to first time mums-to-be is this: you’re not getting fat, you’re growing a human. It’s a fabulous thing (although it’s unlikely you’re feeling that right now!) … And do put down the chocolate, if it’s the second one today 😉