Mill Road Winter Fair – #CountryKids

We’ve lived in Cambridge for over 7 years, and 3 years of that was near Mill Road – a lively road with lots of shops, cafes and bars that give a real multicultural and independent atmosphere to the area, so much so that there was much opposition when a Tesco express and Costa Coffee opened up on the road. However, I have never made it to the Mill Road Winter Fair that runs on the first Saturday in December every year. Tom went last year and the year before with Andrew, but I’d decided to have my usual peaceful and restful Saturday morning about the flat. But as this year was my (and Joel’s) last chance before we leave CambridgeΒ to experience the atmosphere of the fair, which Tom highly recommended, I thought I’d give it a go and we all went as a family.

Mill rd Collage 1

As with most events these days, we were up and about much earlier than it started – we arrived at one end of the road at about 10am, but things weren’t due to start up properly until 10.30am. So we stopped at the park for a while, and had a run around with the ball, and Andrew went on the playground. We could see that some stalls were ready, so we went over slowly and walked through some tents which had all sorts of local crafts on display, and some great Christmas present ideas. We decided to buy some homemade biscuits, and as we walked over to a space to stop and have our snacks, Daddy told us that this particular bit of road was where the fire engine was meant to be stationed.

Mill rd Collage 2

There was no sign of it yet, but just as Daddy walked around to see if it was further down the road, it pulled up! Andrew was most impressed, and we stood there watching the fire-fighters get their stall outside the engine ready as we had our snack. They told us we had to wait until the road was closed to traffic at 10.30am before they would let people see inside the fire engine, so we wandered on and came back 10 minutes later to look inside. Andrew got to climb up into the cab and put on a fire helmet, whilst the fireman explained what the breathing apparatus was behind the seats that he was sat on.

Mill rd Collage 3

We then wandered down the road a bit more, and passed various stalls outside the shops on our way. There was food from all over the world, live music from various types of musician/band, and other entertainments and activities, including a jester that Andrew was fascinated by. The boys love listening to music, particularly when it’s live, so we had to stop and listen/dance several times. Apart from the inevitable music stops, we were also shown how to make a simple angel decoration for the Christmas tree at one stall. Another attraction that grabbed Andrew’s attention was the free red helium balloons that they were giving away at one of the churches on the road. The first one he was given flew away within about 10 seconds (see the sky photo below – I don’t think he quite understood that it wouldn’t come back if he let go!), so he was kindly offered another and kept hold of that until we tied it onto him.

Mill rd Collage 4

Half way down this long road is a railway bridge, so of course we had to stop and look at the trains going in and out of the station for a few minutes, until we persuaded him that there was more interesting stuff to see and do further on. More helium balloons could be spotted in the distance, purple ones not red this time, but first we had to navigate through a crowd of people watching the Morris dancers in the middle of the road! That was fun to watch for a while, as was a drumming band and a flute quartet.

Mill rd Collage 5

As we neared the end of the road, which Andrew had keenly walked all the way down, and Joel was on my back most of the time, they were both clearly getting tired from all the activity. There was just one last thing to stop and look at: a bike hooked up to a generator which powered an amplifier system so that when someone pedalled the bike you could hear a band play! Daddy thought this was very clever, though Andrew was more concerned to say hello to a giant penguin who was walking round giving out treats from his stocking.

Mill rd Collage 6

We didn’t get chance to stop and look at everything or do all the free activities for kids on the way, there was just so much going on. The atmosphere was amazing, so good to see such a lively and friendly community spirit, with people from all different walks of life sharing their talents, cuisine and Christmas messages. I’m glad Joel and I got to go to this fair before we leave Cambridge, I will definitely remember the fun we had, even if he doesn’t!

Linking up with #CountryKids again, because outdoor fun can happen anywhere, in the middle of a city as well as in the countryside πŸ™‚

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Pregnancy diary: week 25 – what is baby upto?

As we’re approaching the end of the second trimester (where did that trimester go?! ….the first seemed longer!), I thought I’d do a bit of research into what baby is upto at the moment in terms of growth and development at this stage of pregnancy. I say ‘research’ – this consists of me reading the NHS ‘Pregnancy’ book (for the first time in ages) and a few other pregnancy websites. I used to follow Andrew’s progress in pregnancy much more regularly, as I found it interesting to know what was going on inside me at each stage, but this time I’ve had fewer opportunities to catch up with where we’re at.

So, apparently I should really look pregnant now. Check. Apparently I may also feel hungrier…. I feel less nauseous, does that count? I can’t say that I’ve really got a sense of ‘hunger’ back. In the morning and afternoon, I do feel more like eating for the taste of the food itself rather than because I know I have to (though still no smelly cooking allowed in the flat), but the evenings are still not great. Still, I’m generally feeling much better than in early pregnancy πŸ™‚ Both the ‘looking more pregnant’ and ‘feeling hungrier’ things are of course to do with baby starting to grow more quickly per week than in the earlier weeks which involved a lot of laying the foundations of growth. The BBC pregnancy calendar tells me to make sure I eat well and put my feet up when I can because my body is working hard. Bless it, it clearly doesn’t know I have a toddler to look after! Feet up is a thing reserved for evenings, when I just lie horizontal anyway.

Apparently baby is moving around ‘vigorously’ now. Check – definitely! That’s a good word to describe it actually. He/she also responds to touch and sound, and a loud noise close by make make him/her jump and kick. That’s definitely the case, like when my tummy was being prodded and poked in various ways for the scans I had last week, baby moved in reaction to touch, and when we’re in church, baby is always very active during and after the worship sessions (which feature drums, keyboards, guitars, and of course my singing).Β  Daddy and Andrew are also starting to get reactions out of baby, either intentionally in the case of Tom talking to the bump or unintentionally in the case of Andrew boofing the bump as he feeds or plays with me. It’s amazing to think that baby is starting to experience bits of family life even in the womb.

Looking bumpy! This is the last time I wore these trousers - when I took them off I discovered a rip right over my bottom! Apologies to anyone who saw me that day, whenever it happened. Nobody was brave enough to tell me though. Although they weren't particularly tight, they were wearing very thin across the bottom, and I did brush past a bike handle that day whilst locking my bike up and trying to get out of the space between my bike and the next (bike racks weren't designed for big or pregnant people!), so I think it must have torn then.

Something that I can’t say whether it’s happening from the outside is that apparently baby is swallowing small amounts of amniotic fluid and passing tiny amounts of urine back into the fluid. That doesn’t sound particularly nice, but it’s a good thing I guess to get the system used to working before it has to do it ‘for real’ once baby is out in the real world of being unattached to me through the umbilical cord. Baby may also get hiccups; I haven’t felt this yet, but I do remember Andrew getting hiccups quite a lot in the womb (and, incidentally, I know now that frequent hiccups in a newborn can be a sign of tongue-tie….) By now baby is covered in a greasy substance called vernix, which is thought to be there to protect the skin as it floats in the amniotic fluid. The skin isn’t as tough as it will be at birth as it’s still developing – this is why premature babies often look redder than full-term babies who have their natural skin pigment colour. The vernix mostly disappears before birth, but I do remember Andrew having some bits left on his back when he was born.

It may be that baby starts to follow a pattern for waking and sleeping. I haven’t noticed this yet, but then I’m not sure I will without really paying attention and making notes, because I’m so busy doing everything else that I don’t really think about when exactly I feel kicks or not. I do know that I would notice if I suddenly felt far fewer kicks over the course of a day though, and this is something I would need to contact my midwife or GP about. Apparently it’s quite common that baby sleeps more in the day when mum is up and about, and then decides to wake up and wriggle as she is slowing down and going to sleep herself. I don’t remember this being a particular problem with Andrew; I think I just slept well generally in pregnancy, until the end when I was so big and then felt him moving a lot all the time! Let’s hope this will be the case this time too πŸ™‚

At this stage of pregnancy, it’s relatively easy to pick up baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope or ultrasound probe. As this is my second baby, I don’t get a midwife appointment this week as I did with Andrew, so I don’t get to hear that amazing sound of the heart beating on the ultrasound machine. I’ll have to wait until 28 weeks for that pleasure. Apparently it won’t be long before Tom (or anyone else who’s invited to get that close to bump!) can possibly hear the heartbeat just by putting his ear to my tummy, but only if baby is in the right position. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that!

With most of baby’s vital organs now developed and in place, most of the work left to do is just increasing everything in size. Baby is basically an even mini-er version of what he/she will be when born in about 15 weeks. The brain and nervous system are still getting there, however, and are developing intensely around this time. Although the brain needs to reach a certain level of development in order for baby to survive outside of the womb, it doesn’t stop developing at birth. In fact baby’s brain will continue to change as he/she experiences things in the world right throughout childhood and into adulthood. This is what happens as we learn new things – the brain makes new connections within itself, and is constantly doing this in the first years of life. Fascinating!

So as you can see, that’s a lot of stuff going on with baby right now, some of which I’m aware of from the outside by observing his/her reactions, and some of which isn’t obvious but is interesting to think about and imagine going on inside me. Next week sees us counting down to 30, in more ways than one, as I’ll be 26 weeks pregnant and celebrating my 20-something-th birthday πŸ˜‰

Trilingual adventures with three mice (not blind) – one mouse, une souris, eine Maus

Last week was an exciting time for me (and Andrew, though perhaps he didn’t feel it as much as me!) because my (no longer) baby suddenly started to show me that he recognised some words. That’s not to say he didn’t recognise them before; it’s hard to know exactly how much babies perceive from speech before they can physically respond to show they know what you’re talking about. It can be done though, in ‘lab’ conditions – experiments with babies have been designed, by getting them to turn their head to stimuli like speech sounds, or to suck on a dummy which is hooked up to computers that work out how fast they’re sucking and how their speed changes with the introduction and exit of stimuli. From these kinds of experiments, researchers have been able to figure out some of the earliest abilities to hear speech, even at just one or two days old. For example, we know that newborns recognise and prefer their mum’s voice to another similar female voice (de Casper 1980), and recognise and prefer listening to their ambient (to-be-native) language from others that are rhythmically different (Mehler et al. 1988, Nazzi et al. 1998). They’re not understanding specific words and their meanings at this age, of course, but rather the overall rhythm and intonation of the speech. They were hearing this for quite a while in the womb you see. This kind of research sounds fascinating to me, but hard work – it must take them ages to collect enough data whilst working with babies! Just think about all the times they’d need to stop for feeds/naps/nappy changes/just wanting to be with mum etc. Respect to those researchers, I say!

This little diversion into infant language recognition research (apart from showing you how cool it is) was to make the point that just because Andrew can’t speak recognisable words at the moment, it doesn’t mean he can’t understand anything. Last week was when this understanding was finally clear for me to see. We were sitting reading some Usborne Touchy-Feely ‘That’s not my…’ books. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading these, firstly let me highly recommend them. They’re brilliant for reading with babies and toddlers, as there are ‘touchy-feely’ patches of fabric or other materials for them to explore with their fingers. Secondly, let me tell you that they all have a little mouse on each page, blending in with the pictures (for example, he has a snorkel in one of the Penguin scenes…!) This means you can ask your toddler ‘Where is the mouse?’ each time they turn a page, and it gives a consistent point of reference for them to learn. This is exactly what I’d been doing with Andrew for a while, and pointing to the mouse myself. Last week was the first time that he consistently pointed to the mouse on each page himself! It was a proud moment πŸ™‚

Us reading 'That's not my penguin...' - an Usborne touchy-feely book

Even more so because I’d been doing this with him in three languages, and he not only pointed at the mouse, but also la souris and die Maus on each page. As I studied French and German for my BA, Masters and PhD, I’d always said that I would introduce these languages alongside English to my kids. During the research I did for my Masters dissertation, which was about adult bilinguals living in Switzerland, I learnt that it is easier for young kids to learn multiple languages than it is for adults once a native language is well and truly acquired. Some people do learn other languages to a near-native standard in adulthood, but this is less common than kids who pick up more than one language in childhood and speak them to native standard (for their age at every point).

Andrew pointing to the mouse (in a snorkel) on the bottom left of the left-hand page

As we live in the UK, and Tom only speaks English, of course Andrew is going to get much more exposure to English than he will to French and German. Whenever the two of us are home alone, I speak some French, some German and some English to him. When we’re playing with something, for example the ball, I will say to him things like ‘That’s a ball’, ‘The ball is blue’, ‘Where’s the ball?’, ‘Can you throw me the ball?’ in one of the three languages. I usually concentrate on one language for each period of time that we’re playing, but I do mix them up a bit too. For example, if we’re sitting looking at an animal book, I’ll say the word for the animal in the three languages whilst we’re on that page, and then the same for the animal on the next page.

Andrew's right hand was pointing to the mouse on the penguin's back, but he moved too fast and our camera shutter speed couldn't cope!

Does this confuse him, you might wonder? Well our adult brains might think it’s confusing, as they have been shaped and molded into what they are today over several years; they’ve become set in their ways. The baby and toddler brain, however, is still being shaped and molded into what it will be one day. It has no concept that there is ‘ONE’ language or ‘TWO’ languages or any other specific number of these things we call ‘languages’, but rather it’s hearing all these sounds coming out of people’s mouths, and trying to figure out what it all means; for all it knows there could be a gazillion languages that it has to figure out. Why should a toy have one particular name and not three? That’s a monolingual adult way of thinking, which has been cemented into the brain over years of only knowing one word for that toy.

Listening to some French nursery rhymes on the stereo

Will Andrew be trilingual? Maybe, maybe not – it partly depends what you mean by trilingual (perfect native speech in three languages is one extreme of a continuum of multilingualism). I do not personally claim to be native in 3 languages, so he’ll only be getting native-like input in one, and fluent input in the other two. My main aim is to give him an awareness that there is more than one of these things called languages out there in the world. By the time he gets to school, I hope he will have a more open outlook on languages than the view I was often confronted with at school – ‘Why do you want to study languages when everyone else speaks English?’ (actual comment by my GCSE Maths teacher who wanted me to take his A-level). Yes lots of people in the world speak English, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make an effort to learn other languages too, and shape my brain differently from many native English speakers. In fact from a global perspective, bilingualism is more normal than you might think. There are more bi- and multi-linguals in the world than monolinguals, and many of these will have learnt two or more languages in childhood (another thing I learnt during my Masters research from a book called The Bilingualism Reader).

Most importantly in this language development adventure of Andrew is that I’m making it as fun as possible, as with all areas of development that I can play a part in. He loves singing, clapping and dancing to songs and rhymes, so I bought a CD of French nursery rhymes and kids songs, and we’re about to be given a German one by some friends, though I’ve been using YouTube in the meantime. Just like he can listen to English rhymes and songs at the various music and play groups we go to, he can hear other languages blasting out of the stereo at home. We were also given a bilingual French-English toy piano that plays tunes and talks about colours and shapes when you press the keys. He loves playing with that, especially now he’s really into pressing any button he can lay his fingers on! Another option I have is reading books in French and German to him, which we bought on Amazon, were given, or borrow from the library, for example Monsieur Bavard (Mr Chatterbox from The Mr Men and Little Miss range) and Die Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). His attention span is still quite limited, so at the moment it’s more effective to just read his simple English board books with things like numbers, animals, shapes, toys etc. to him in French and German. My translation skills are good enough for that!

Dancing to some French nursery rhymes, but suddenly spotted the camera and got interested in that

Is anyone out there raising their kids bilingually? Do you find other parents generally view it positively or negatively? I haven’t had much discussion either way with others yet. Apart from with our friends who are Swiss and German living in the UK, so their child (a bit older than Andrew) is in full swing with acquiring three languages: Swiss German and German at home (believe me, they are different languages) and English at nursery and playgroups. We meet each week to speak English and German with our kids. It’s great fun all round, and needless to say we’re all very positive about mixing and matching our languages πŸ™‚

Balancing act

My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:

  • it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
  • it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
  • it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
  • it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.

We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.

Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.

At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.

My computer is easy to spot if you know what Praat looks like on screen πŸ˜‰

People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.

Big boy on a trike - at a group where there is a great outdoor play area so Andrew can unleash all his energy

My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.

Wrapped up warm for a ride out in the buggy to get to a group

So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.

Look at me, I'm so good at standing. Mummy loves watching me grow up and do things like this for the first time.

When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon πŸ™‚ )

Andrew loves 'helping' me hang the washing up to dry