Autumn in the Park

We took advantage of the clear skies today to enjoy a trip to the park. We used to come to this park a lot but for some reason I don’t think we’ve been since Babykins was born. Visiting today reminded me of how different things were when Son Number One was last here. He was still on his leukaemia treatment then. I felt that I had to keep my eye on him all the time because he was so apt to trip and stumble. Neither of us was particularly confident about his climbing, running or jumping. What a joy it is now to see him tackle the zip-wire with ease, to scale the heights of the climbing frames and to generally run around without a care in the world.

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Another check on the parenting tick list (or how to teach a child to ride a bike).

Being a parent is all about passing on skills for life. Most of the time we teach our children unconsciously by the things we say and do but there some things that you have to make an effort to teach.

Riding a bike is one of them.

There was a time when I thought we would never tick this off the parenting ‘to do’ list. Firstly, Son Number One was a late developer in terms of strength and co-ordination, mostly due to his leukaemia. By the time he was better able to pedal it was just too difficult for me to help him (or The Middle Miss, who was ready to learn at the same time) because Babykins was on the scene. And anyway, who really wants to run up and down the street holding onto a child trying to balance on a bike? It’s hard work.

We solved the learning to ride a bike conundrum in this small series of steps:

1. Take the pedals off the bike.

Any bike can become a balance bike if you remove the pedals. I don’t know where I heard this pearl of wisdom but I wish it had been before Christmas….Once the pedals are off the child is only learning one skill – balance. This takes the pressure off and makes things a lot easier. They can get to a reasonable speed and eventually simple balancing will lead to balancing and steering.

2. Go on Holiday to a quiet caravan/camping site with a small, grassy hill. 

My children were at the ‘no pedals’ stage when we went away for a few days in the caravan. When we arrived at the site late on Saturday night the first thing they wanted to do was roll down the small hill next to our pitch (see picture below). The next thing they decided to do was to ride down it on their bikes. I was a bit nervous about this to start with in case they lost control. I quickly figured they were probably going to land on grass and it looked like a lot of fun. My only input was to suggest that for their first trip down the hill perhaps they shouldn’t start at the top. They spent the best part of the next day practising this skill in between other games. When we had to do errands around the site they pushed themselves along, gaining in speed and balance all the time. IMG_7240

3. Put the pedals back on the bike.

By Monday evening they were looking so confident that I thought it was time for the pedals to go back on the bikes. The Husband helped them with the initial few runs down the hill but in no time at all, two very happy children were pedalling independently up and down the gravelly campsite road. Job done.

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4. Use your helmet at all times….

The children cracked cycling so I decided to take them for a little trip out after school. In my hurry to get away from our front door I didn’t enforce the use of the helmet. Oops. Poor old Son Number One had his first cycling injury – a good crack on the head and a bit of a black eye. Part of me remembered that ‘in my day’ none of us had helmets and we just had to get over bumps and bruises, but mostly I felt bad. It’s the old adage – “If you know better, you do better” and I really should have known better. Never mind, there was no lasting damage and a lesson was learnt.

So there you have it. How to teach a child to ride a bike.

Like most learned skills, when the time is right to learn, it’s not too much of a challenge and everyone has fun doing it. If it’s not enjoyable, no one is likely to get much out of the experience.

Finally, seeing my big boy riding his bike was a very emotional moment for me. As I mentioned, there was a time when I wondered if he would ever reach this milestone. I wanted to take the video of him cycling to the ward where he was treated and shout out to every doctor, nurse, play assistant, social worker, lab worker, pharmacist, cleaner, researcher and anyone else who helped him get past his leukaemia “Look at what you have done. Look at how important your work is. Look at how healthy my boy is now. THANK YOU.”

If you want to watch a little video of the boy riding his bike, click here

Who wants to be like the brainiest creature in the sea?

Today I am going to write about cooking, and, more importantly eating. Moreover, I am focussing on the eating done by my three (varyingly fussy) children. As you will probably find out if you stick with me in this blog, I like to cook and so does my husband. He is currently rustling up a nice steak for our supper (see below) – in fact I think he may have just lost his eyebrows in the flambe-ing process.

Made by Dad – there is a steak under there, honest

I am having a phase of trying out more adventurous family meals and I can’t tell you how pleased I am that most of them are being eaten. You might be thinking “Why is she only doing this now?” and “Children need to be exposed to interesting food from the time they start eating solids” and I would agree with you. As a family, we have always eaten a fairly varied diet so my children have seen and smelled a lot of different foods even if they haven’t eaten them. We also grow various fruits and vegetables. However, the last three and a bit years have been a bit of a challenge. In July 2008 my first born, who was almost three, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukeamia – the most common form of childhood cancer.

The treatment affected his appetite and palate almost immediately. He has been on oral chemotherapy constantly and steroids on a monthly basis. As well as that he also takes prophylactic antibiotics. As you can imagine, his digestive system has been more than a little bit messed with. In September we reached the milestone that was the end of chemotherapy. He still takes antibiotics but at last he is free of the drugs that have turned him into a fussy eater for the last three years. Of course, he is still relatively fussy. His sister is much more likely to step up and give something new a go. She is, after all, the girl who ate a whole jar of pickled runner beans last Christmas.

So, back to my latest experiments in the kitchen. Last night I decided to have a go at a store cupboard fish cake recipe from Kat at Housewife Confidential. I really liked the idea of this recipe because it is nutritious (plenty of brain building Omega-3 oils), cheap and easy. Oh, and as you will see if you hop over to visit Kat, it is a great baby led weaning meal. I tried to get organised and get everything ready before I had to dash out on the school run. However, I only got as far as mashing the fish and cooking the potatoes, which, by the way, I steamed as I tend to over-cook spuds otherwise. By the time I got back with my little darlings, Babykins was starting to shout for dinner (he does literally shout, being only 11 months old). Fortunately it was a quick job to mash the potatoes and mix them up with the fish. I began feeding Babykins this mixture, as it was still warm. He is really keen on holding the spoon himself and luckily it was just the right texture to stick as his current technique of self-feeding involves turning the spoon upside down. Bingo, one child fed.

Now for the real challenge…..Son number one had to be won over. I decided to make small flat fish cakes and roll them in breadcrumbs before baking them.

I suppose I was trying to make them as fish finger like as possible. Don’t ask me why I didn’t make them oblong shapes. If I could have found my star cutter I would have made starfish cakes. I had a lovely image in my mind of a plate with sweetcorn for sand, a few beans for seaweed and some nice little nutritious starfish. However, it was not to be. My main weapon of attack for getting my delicacies to be accepted was a bottle of tomato ketchup. Who says the North-East has no class?

My second method of encouragement relates to the title of this post. Son Number One is currently keen on all things ‘animal’, the deadlier the better. My meal time conversation are frequently taking the form of “I’m pretty sure Steve Backshall would eat this if he was on an expedition looking for XXXXX”  (insert appropriate animal here). This time I thought maybe the idea of growing a brain as big as a dolphin might be appealing. After all, dolphins eat mackerel don’t they?

I must admit that I was a bit nervous about how they would go down as they do smell a bit, well, fishy. The genius of this recipe is the inclusion of the sweet potato. I defy anyone to not like it. It gives it a whole yummy, sweet flavour that children can’t really complain about (though I’m sure some will – children are like that). Sure enough, Son Number One and the Middle Miss ate the lot, accompanied by a firm family favourite ‘make your own salad’. Brilliant.

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Nearly all gone! I think I can see your brain growing already.

The grown up version was much the same but with the addition of a yoghurty dressing, jazzed up with chopped, home-made nasturtium capers. I even added some of the chopped capers to the potato/fish mix but I couldn’t really tell the difference. Maybe I should have added more. Some fresh dill would have been a good addition too. Husband seemed to enjoy his and I certainly enjoyed mine. Now if I could only get motivated to peel and sort a few more of our (slug damaged) allotment potatoes I could get a good stash of these yummy little fish cakes in the freezer. Maybe next week…..

::Note:: I should have added that Son Number One is, to all intents and purposes ‘cured’. It’s fabulous to see him gradually shake off the effects of the chemo and steroids. His energy levels have gone up, he is growing and loosing weight. However, as anyone who has dealt with cancer will know, the risk of relapse always lingers at the back of your mind. I still can’t really allow myself to believe that he is better, completely and forever, just in case I’m proved wrong…..