Sunday 30 December 2012

Olympic intentions?

With the dark nights closing in and maternity leave becoming a distant memory, I thought I'd take the opportunity to reminisce about the halcyon days of the summer by catching up on a few belated posts.

One of the, rather unexpected, highlights of the summer for me was the Olympics. Culturedad is a huge fan, and with a winning combo of strategic and lucky bidding, we managed to get a handful of events. I'm no sportswoman. In fact, whilst at school, I managed to bribe my singing teacher to continually fix my singing lesson in the middle of triple games. When forced to participate in sports, it is fair to say my experiences were rather off-putting. Doing the high-jump at sports day having never done it before was a low point (metaphorical as well as actual) and the scary event of long distance running round a park in Moss Side was enough to scar me for life. I was regularly found panting behind the asthma people at the back of the pack, fearing for my life as I hurdled over discarded syringes in my gym knickers.

Therefore, no one was more surprised than me that this summer I got rather into the Olympics. There were two highlights in particular. Firstly, I managed to leave my bottle-rejecting baby snoozing away for a much needed evening out at the rehearsal for the opening ceremony. This was fantastic and I felt so lucky to have seen it in the flesh. The opening scene with the potted history of the industrial revolution was utterly spectacular. Secondly, we managed to take Culturebaby, strapped to my front and kitted out in her adorable Team GB vest, to an early evening basketball semi-final. We didn't know how she'd find this experience, but were really pleasantly surprised. She seemed to find the crowds, music, and movement really stimulating and despite the time, she stayed wide awake watching the action.

My personal tale of sporting woe does have a happy ending. I found my niche at university. Little and loud, I started coxing a college VIII and loved it. I'm determined that Culturebaby will have the opportunity for a better experience of sport than I did and hopefully find something she enjoys rather earlier than her athletically challenged mother! Fortunately she has two factors in her favour - her father's genes and an autumn birthday, and Culturedad's enthusiasm has certainly been infectious and encouraged me to start early with her. We've been going to swimming lessons since Culturebaby was a few months old and I couldn't recommend them more highly. Our swimming school consists of a small group of mums in a pool that is part of a hotel. The pool is warmer and smaller than the local leisure centre, and we are the only ones in there. Two terms on, Culturebaby is getting really confident. She can go under water happily, holds on to the side of the pool, splashes her legs and arms, can retrieve floating toys and can swim on a float holding just my hands. It is great to see how much she enjoys it, and it has been wonderful for my own confidence handling her in the water.

I've recently been sent a rather heartwarming book to review called The Art of Roughhousing by DeBenedet and Cohen. The premise of the book is essentially that every child needs rowdy, physical, interactive play (termed roughhousing). The authors make the claim that good old fashioned horseplay makes children more intelligent, emotionally intelligent and likeable, and more physcially fit and joyful. Apparently physical play releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which stimulates neuron growth within the cortex and hippocampus (vital to higher learning, memory, language and logic). Physical play with others also teaches strategy, creativity and brain flexibility (learning how to react to unfamiliar situations), how to control strong emotions and take turns, how to hold back when dealing with a weaker opponent and how to act in an altruistic way (letting others win), and trust others physically. It is also a great way to bond with your child. Whilst I can see that some readers may wonder why they need an instruction manual on physical games to play with their child (surely the joy of this activity is all about spontaneous play?), for others it could give much needed confidence and encouragement to cuddle and play with a child in an increasingly 'safety first' society. For others, it could provide a mine of ideas on actual games to play. I like it. As a mother, it encourages me to think about an area that might be traditionally in the realm of fatherhood. It's also an aesthetically pleasing book - the sort you want to pick up.

We've just returned from a walk around the grounds of Cliveden. It's a wonderful National Trust site with Thames-side river walks, hills, water gardens, woods and formal gardens. Culturebaby has been walking for a month or so now and all she wants to do is walk! It's been pretty grotty, soggy, weather over Christmas but today was better and we wrapped up and ventured out with our toddler rucksack carrier for a stroll. If you too have a fledgling walker, I'd really recommend this sort of activity. She's so happy in the outdoors, happy to fall over, happy to take her time, happy to stop and examine textures on anything that takes her interest, happy to be carried when she's tired. And consequently we too get exercise, spend time in the fresh air, have time to talk and also look closely at things we may otherwise have marched swiftly past. It reminds me that exercise doesn't have to involve a hockey stick or running shoes, it can just as happily involve puddles, wellies and beautiful landscapes - and usually a very content toddler.

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