How to prevent tensions between school & home

Posted November 3, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

What can you do to help students getting ready for exams? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Some of the families in our babysitting circle back at a 2009 get-together.

Some of the families in our babysitting circle back at a 2009 get-together. Plenty of these children are now dealing with exams at school – and even university!

As the Year 11s start getting deeper into their revision schedules – for some that will be pre-Xmas mocks, and others January testing – tension between home and school can start to appear. It will definitely help if you, your child and the school have worked any difficulties out in advance. It will also be useful if you’ve been to the scheduled parent evenings over your child’s school career so you have a realistic idea about how they are getting on. The point is to make progress!

Everyone’s situation is so very different – and exam results, to a certain extent, matter a great deal. But it probably helps if parents remember that most 15-16 year olds doing GCSEs in 2017 need us less on their backs over trivial misdemeanours at the moment (like tidying rooms, helping with housework, etc). The kids have got enough to do and worry about, rather than adding a full on family fight to their stress levels.

What Every Parent Needs to Know by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas (Penguin, £14.99)

What Every Parent Needs to Know by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas contains all that you used to need to know. Now you just need to be kind and boost your child’s mental and physical wellbeing. (Penguin, £14.99)

Assuming everything else is OK (attendance, learning, revision schedules, homework) then teaching your child how to relax properly, and eat well – both by your example – should surely be the top priorities right now, eg,

  • Going to bed at sensible times (and thus getting up at a sensible time)
  • Being encouraged to do some sport or spend time outside even if it’s just kicking leaves or chatting
  • Getting together some healthy snacks (nuts, sunflower seeds, crackers, cheese, fruit most things on sale at Itsu)

It will also help if you can listen to and/or support what the school says needs to be done.

Here’s hoping you have a real positive partnership with your child and their school. Because it’s going to make the next few months of GCSE countdown much easier.


3 tips on running an autumn craft event for kids

Posted October 17, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

Now that I have teenagers it’s easy to forget how much attention and imagination you need to entertain and educate younger children – here are a few tips gleaned from the Apple Day where I helped run an activity at our nearby nature park. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Apple Day activities at Gillespie Park have to be all about apples. I ran an apple bobbing stall and a nature pendant stall which got kids to decorate air dryed clay with leaves, sticks and seeds.

Apple Day activities at Gillespie Park have to be all about apples. I ran an apple bobbing stall and a nature pendant stall which got kids to decorate air dryed clay with leaves, sticks and seeds.

I love seeing kids getting dirty, but parents increasingly don’t. It’s a shame to hear an adult telling a child not to go in puddles or touch a plant in case they get dirty. My daughters definitely looked scruffy but they were allowed to explore properly. I generally dressed my kids in leggings or trousers as dresses are so restricting. That’s because you are much more likely to do spontaneous cartwheels, play football, climb trees, pick blackberries, face nettles or even kneel down to study something on tarmac/gravel if you are not wearing a dress. But at a public event kids are often quite smartly dressed up. Here’s how to help the children have fun without causing too many parents to get upset about their child’s outfit.

The Morrismen dancers turned up and invited everyone to join in. I have to admit that I abandoned my stall for a dance waving handkerchiefs. If you don't have fun at these big events you don't want to do them when you're asked next time.

The Morrismen dancers turned up and invited everyone to join in. I have to admit that I abandoned my stall for a dance waving handkerchiefs. If you don’t have fun at these big events you don’t want to do them when you’re asked next time.

This is the third year I’ve run children’s events at Gillespie Park Apple Day – an event which attracts a lot of young children (year 3 to babes in arms) and a few older ones. For some reason I always seem to find it hard to rope in a glamorous assistant so it makes sense to be prepared. And that means you might need:

  • A gazebo if it rains. This was essential as I was running a air-drying clay activity and rain would spoil the pendants. During the storm I also moved the apple bobbing under the tent. All of the apple day attendees were rewarded by a fine rainbow when the rain began to stop.
  • A bucket for hand washing (drying clay feels horrible), soap in a hand-pump and a couple of towels. I organised for someone to lend me three towels, and brought the final dry one out for the last hour. By the end of the day they were going to need some serious washing!
  • First aid knowledge... I refresh mine bi-annually. It’s always worth teaching basic first aid to children and teenagers can start learning it properly through the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance training courses.
Making a nature pendant or nature medal.

Making a nature pendant or nature medal – an activity which suits all ages and skills and fitted in with the all-things-apple theme.

It’s easy to show one child how to make a clay pendant. Ideally I try and show a group of three plus. It’s really nice when later in the day you see kids who’ve enjoyed the activity coming back and explaining to their friends or even cousins what to do. They do teaching with such pride!  To make it easy for anyone who will have to explain what to do to someone else, break down the task into stages so you can demonstrate with ones you’ve made earlier. That way visual learners and active learners can get down to the task while you re-explain to the ones that like words more. I had a round ball of clay; a flattened pendant with a hole in it and a finished item (which I failed to photograph, sorry).

Adapting the pendant idea from a circle or oval to leaf shape - and then pressing the shape of the leaf into it was suggested by an experienced Woodcraft Folk member.

Adapting the pendant idea from a circle or oval to leaf shape – and then pressing the shape of the silver birch leaf into it was suggested by an experienced Woodcraft Folk member.

When you are working with 30 plus children – there were about 200 trying the Apple Day activity between 12-4pm, you soon notice the kids who think in a non-classroom manner. It was really noticeable that children who go to Brownies/Scouts like to follow lists so they can tick off tasks and earn their badges. The ones who go to Woodcraft Folk, even very young children, are skilled at using nature to inspire their art and can also tie knots. As lots of children are quite shy to have a go their parents will step in. This seems a shame, so I try to let the kids make their own art by suggesting their mum/dad does their own pendant. It seems to work and it’s nice for the kids to see that you don’t have to stop being artistic when you leave school.

Over to you
Hope these tips help encourage you to run your own local park or street party event with kids’ activities. Let me know what games work well for Autumn/Winter/Outdoor activities.



Finding ways to bond with teenagers @ Ikea

Posted October 10, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , ,

Sharing a few ideas for bonding with a teenage daughter, and hoping you’ll share them too, especially as this trip involved Ikea. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Meatballs at Ikea.

Meatballs at Ikea.

A few weeks back I realised I had one daughter in Paris (that’s where she lives), another was out shopping in London. My husband was at football and I was with the dog in the woods. On paper we are a family with little in common. But it is fun – and pays dividends – to try and do something special with individual children. And as they get older, this definitely gets more important. I was given this tip by a friend who has two older daughters and an older son; plus step children. I’m pretty certain my friend meant take your growing kids out for an adult-sort of treat, like coffee, or breakfast or a special meal. Now I have experience with an 18year old and a 15 year old I think that sometimes the treat should be something very particular. And it may not be something you’d normally do.

Changing rooms
The house has changed since my oldest daughter moved out for her gap year working in Paris. It’s a lot quieter… but it’s also a chance for my 15 year old to flourish without having to define herself by her older sister all the time. First move has been to change Nell’s room around (with her agreement). Her wooden bunks were freecycled (quite sad) but it was good to know they will be reused in a third home. To make that room feel more grown up it needed a double duvet, duvet cover and something else – rug, cushion, whatever.

In theory I could have found something from the piles of material I have at home. But given that I suspect Nell will have this duvet for a long time (she’s been sleeping under a single duvet cover that I used at boarding school in the 1970s!), it seems like a better gift to find a new design that she likes and belonged to her from the start… For that we had to go to Ikea via tube and bus.

Ikea is my idea of hell. Admittedly quite a nice sort of hell with FSC-certified timber, pleasant staff, a good temperature and clean toilets.

However it is a temple of consumerism and the sheer choice, plus bargain value prices, make it very easy for me to end up buying much more than I want (never mind need).  Luckily Nell is a better shopper than her mum – honed by a lack of pocket money, a lifetime of environmental messaging and a jealous respect for babysitting earnings. As a result she is very reluctant to buy anything, even if I am paying.


Turning Swedish in Ikea.

In the end we got slightly lost and spent at least half an hour going round the showrooms of make believe bedrooms and kitchens. I think Nell was entranced by the choice, and the newness of everything. We recovered by standing in the queue for the restaurant. I’d been told the Swedish meatballs are good value and taste just like Swedish meatballs so Nell’s plan was to try that. I’m not used to queues – they definitely take me back to horrible school days. But as Nell pointed out she is at school, and she always has to queue for lunch.  We didn’t break into song but it was quite fun chatting about what things might taste like, and of course a novelty that everything was Swedish-themed.

And thus I learnt quite a few things from my daughter including a dose of patience, and respect for what she has to put up with in order to get a daily hot lunch.

Then we tried Ikea shopping again via the market place. I do love the clever wording Ikea uses… “market” sounds so much more fun than following a wiggly shopping corridor to the exit. We managed to load our yellow shopping bag carefully and so only reached the till with just a duvet, duvet cover, a furry rug and a Swedish brand of crisps.

Over to you
And I think we had fun… It was certainly lovely to see Nell’s pleasure with the new bedroom decor.

Is it worth going to Bletchley Park?

Posted October 6, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , ,

A friend took her primary school aged kids round Bletchley Park, a place I’ve been meaning to visit since reading The Secret Life of Bletchley Park in my book group and then watching The Imitation Game with my teenagers. But will it make a good day out?  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage. Notice the number of useful spy kit items, including dark glasses and moustaches.

Either everyone wants to be a spy, or Bletchley Park has a way of appealing to every generation. When I asked a lovely lady in the café which is housed just by the Mansion, in Number 4 hut, why Bletchley Park was so busy despite it being a wet Saturday her look of astonishment almost made me laugh. “This isn’t busy. You should see what it is like in the summer!” was her follow-up.

“But why is it so busy?” says me, still at a bit of a loss as to why people seem so interested in an old requisitioned house, a load of sheds and a very big computer, Colossus. “It’s the film isn’t?” was her response. “Ever since the Imitation Game there’s been a lot of people here – and loads of Americans!”

So is it Benedict Cumberbatch who’s made Bletchley Park a must visit? Or is it the extraordinary story of Alan Turing’s cracking of the Engima code? Are all these people here today mathematicians, linguists and engineers? Or did they have relatives who worked here? Or is it the fact that this place has the best audio visual tour I’ve ever seen – great quality, short snapy info and super simple to use?

Without getting hold of an exit survey I’m not going to be able to answer those questions… but a trip to Bletchley Park is brilliant with a teenager. And you could easily bring along younger children, who are so often up for anything, as well as an older relative who might remember WW2.

There’s so much about WW2 that I hadn’t realised. For starters Bletchley Park is where many women got the chance to do exciting – and secretive – work. They had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and as we now know this meant for years no one knew what had been going on in this corner of Buckinghamshire, conveniently located opposite Bletchley train station.

In July 2011 the Queen made a speech at Bletchley Park praising the workforce. In 1939 there were 200 people, but by 1944 there were 10,000 working at Bletchley – of which two-thirds were women. Clearly women got the chance to escape – often controlling – families, use their brains, feel needed, be part of the war effort and enjoy romance.

Hut 8 is where Alan Turing and his team cracked the Enigma code. Nell and I especially enjoyed seeing the desk where he would have worked, complete with an old-fashioned typewriter with a note in it saying he’d gone to lunch. The film makes it seem like so few individuals cracked Enigma, but going round Bletchley it’s clear that the combination of superbrains was what made cracking an almost impossible cypher was how it was done – and without Polish input it would have been much slower.

I was also rather taken by the use of pigeon post during WW2. In one hut there was a parachute for a pigeon. At the time there were 400 pigeon handlers in the army working 20,000 pigeons. Pigeon racing is far less popular now but a display at Bletchley Park suggested that there are around 30,000 racing pigeons in modern racing lofts.

  • Cost: Expensive (£16+) but if you plan to come by train download a 2 for1 entrance and show this with your train ticket to get half price entry. Tickets are valid for a year so if you live in nearby Herts or Bucks or plan to visit a few times then it’s much better value.
  • Getting there: We took an off peak train from London Euston. There are three or four trains an hour and the station is a well signposted 4 minute walk from the entrance to Bletchley Park.
  • In the gift shop: clever prezzies for clever people (eg, mugs emblazoned with the message ‘Weapons of Maths Destruction’).
  • Follow up reading: The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclar McKay

Over to you?
Where else have you found that works well for entertaining all ages?

How can I still go on an adventure?

Posted June 5, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Are you up to see new things, meet new people, shake up your thinking? If so maybe your kids are too? Here’s a day trip or mini break idea for going to Salisbury and Stonehenge in Wiltshire. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, who also writes interviews for the revamped Islington Faces Blog website (do go have a look!). 

2016-05-30 12.27.29.jpg

Stonehenge is always a special spot – but even in May it can be windy enough for a hoody.

A few months ago I resolved to have an adventure every Sunday. As I live in London and rarely seem to leave it you will already have guessed that my definition of what makes an adventure is quite easy to achieve. I do not have to spend six months planning the route and another chunk of time negotiating how to put my life, family, job etc on hold while I walk backwards across the Amazon, carrying a fridge wearing a onesie.

I want my adventures to be something that I don’t do very often, at least a bit memorable and involve some physical effort. I want it to be my adventure not me paying for a cinema ticket.

This week was half term so Nell and I decided to take a mother/daughter mini break. My husband stayed at home to supervise our eldest, Lola, doing her A level revision. Actually Lola doesn’t need much supervision but it seems only fair to offer her copious amounts of food when she gets bored of her own cooked beans, toast or pasta. The dog stayed home to keep Dad & daughter company.

Life detail sorted meant Nell and I could book an AirBnB in Salisbury, cycle around the lanes (see this post here) and then go and look round Stonehenge.

Looking at the most iconic of British sites – Stonehenge with its 3000 plus years of history  – is not a cheap outing. As a family we’ve been there before too, staying at the YHA in Salisbury and then getting a bus out to the stones for the English Heritage members only 8am viewing. Lola could remember doing this, but it was a total blur to Nell who I guess was about four years old at the time.

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Neolithic home. There’s room for a fireplace in the centre – I guess the smoke filtered out through the thatch roof.

Stonehenge is magnificent. And the new Visitor Centre set someway back from the Stones and the busy A303 makes the visit far better. We took a bus from Salisbury rail station. This cost £15 for adults, £10 for children return (EH members get free entry) rather than the £35 package that gave you travel and entry to Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral. (The cathedral is actually free, although you are supposed to pay a £10+ donation to go in). The double decker bus journey was hilariously bad – on the way out it was very late leaving and the loudspeaker commentary inaudible. I can’t imagine Brits (unless they are like me without a car) tolerating the “traveller” mode you need to approach this journey with. But… the staff were friendly and it worked well on our return journey with the OId Sarum stop off. It’s also perfect for the Italian school parties and other budget conscious travellers.

With 1.3 million plus visitors a year Stonehenge is of course crowded. But apart from the queues to swap pre-purchased internet tickets and for the loos the whole system worked brilliantly. There’s a model Neolithic village by the centre with some very creative swirly thatched roofs. Also an excellent museum which mixes history, time team style reconstructions (the face of a man whose skeleton dating back 5,500 years was found in the area which has already found at least 4 modern men who could be his look alike) and a rather sardonic commentary about past visitors’ taste for Stonehenge memorabilia. One man  in the early 1900s bought the stones on an unplanned trip to Salisbury. Others were content with “lurid” pink and green china mugs and memento plates.  Nell loved the reconstruction and was able to ask loads of questions to the excellent wandering English Heritage guide. Why is his eye colour blue? How do you know he grew up in the area? Etc Etc.

We lazily took the courtesy English Heritage hopper bus up to the stones, rather than walking (which would have been fun too). At the stones a local farmer and her dad were selling the first season’s strawberries. Armed with a box of fruit we spent an hour looking, sitting and clicking the free audio guide to find out more about the various stones. And then we walked along the footpath – about 20 minutes- across the downland with larks trilling above us back to the visitor centre.


Surprising views from these old steps – an airfield and a ruined cathedral. When Eleanor of Aquitaine was imprisoned here she’d have had rather different views.

Next stop was Old Sarum. This is an amazing place to visit – an old ruined castle with a surprise on either side – a grass airfield where helicopters were practicing landing and taking off .v. the outline of the immense old cathedral which was replaced by the speedy building of Salisbury Cathedral.

reenacting oldsarum.jpg

Re-enactment at Old Sarum. Read an interview with a man who regularly re-enacts here.

Old Sarum is not at all busy, a shame really, but we managed to walk in on a day a re-enactment was taking place which meant we caught a glimpse of medieval knights fighting on foot. As it was the end of the day, about 5pm, some of the re-enactors were buying treats for their kids/selves in the little shop. It was fun seeing Medieval ladies pull out their debit card to pay for mini milks and magnum.

Technically this wasn’t an adventure – but it felt like one to us. Why? We saw and photographed some very special places. We talked to various new people (including an Italian family with a young baby; two Hong Kong visitors; English Heritage staff; bus drivers). We navigated to new places. We sought out new things to eat (bought from the stalls in Salisbury Market Square). And we came face to face with a 5,500 year old man: who looked just like us. Going to Stonehenge was a brilliant experience for a history-loving teenager, and a lot of fun to do together.

Useful info (Salisbury and Stonehenge OS map 130/Explorer)

  • English Heritage – annual membership from £43.50 (but it’s going to be more!)
  • Stonehenge (open 9am-8pm)
  • Book a Stonehenge Tour bus from Salisbury railway station to and from Stonehenge (stopping at Old Sarum).You can do this on line or from Salisbury Tourist Information Centre.
  • The 333 has a special summer solstice service (£10 return), for June 21-22.
  • Use the Cat Tavern, 11t South Western Road, Salisbury, SP2 7RR (just by the railway station)  to store your bags so you don’t have to lug them around (£4 a bag) which is open from approx 8am to 11pm. Tel01722 327955


How can they call themselves Generation No Hope?

Posted May 11, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Why do I keep puzzling over the way young people behave, and what can the 40-50somethings who raised them do to support teens?… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see 

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (and it just happens to be where I went though 10 years before). i read it with my bookgroup and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (which just happens to be where I went 10 years later). I read it with my book group and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

My daughters are teenagers so I meet a few of their friends – and my friends’ children. I’ve also taught applies studies classes with students at two universities. Currently I’m mostly coaching students at an arts university in London: a very creative place. My favourite exhibit in the current main atrium exhibition is a huge text work saying “Show us, don’t tell us”.

But my students have a serious problem turning up at class.

And yes, it could be because I’m a rubbish teacher. But let’s pretend I’m not.

The kids at school seem ok but the current batch of first years I’m working with seem frightened to learn or make mistakes. The third years were never great turner-uppers either, but considerably better than this batch of first years. However despite not always being consistent academic strivers they will turn up at a tutorial and say “I want to get an A, or a first for this class”. It’s a perfectly acceptable dream but it’s one you can only achieve if you can put the hours, effort, reading and brain power into it. Telling your tutor you want an A isn’t the most effective way to get a top grade!

I remember my uni years as distraction-central. By the end of three years I was confident in everything except getting a first in my degree subject (and not surprisingly I didn’t). At uni I remember being cold and broke and often happy. I don’t remember my spirit being broken. But that’s what seems to be an increasingly huge problem for the students I meet now.

IF YOU FOLLOW MY OTHER BLOG HTTP://ISLINGTONFACESBLOG.COM (interviews with people who live or work in Islington) PLEASE HAVE A LOOK AT IT AS I’VE JUST MIGRATED THIS TO A NEW WEBSITE (so you won’t be following using wordpress any more). IDEALLY FOLLOW VIA FACEBOOK OR TWITTER.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

The mobile (like a pram in the hallway?)
The Year 1s – who are 18-19 years old as few have taken a gap year – are dependant on their phones. It is a huge strain for them to be parted from the pleasing ping of a new message. Quite a few operate two phones. Their focus is extremely limited, even if their ability to multi-task is pretty good (allegedly).

Perhaps what’s more striking about this new generation of students is the number who have mental health issues. These are very broad and can range from difficulty sleeping, via panic attacks and stress from being asked a question in class through to very serious problems. Not eating well is pretty much obligatory unless you are a student who super eats well, and instgrams it too.

Alcohol plays its dangerous part, though perhaps less for London students (it’s the price of a pint down south!).

Naomi Klein's book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It's depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes - massaged reality - over the messy facts of reality.

Naomi Klein’s book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It’s depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality.

It’s got to be instagram perfect
Everyone knows how to pose for a perfect selfie and has a whats app and insta account meaning news and reality are filtered. This may be fine, it may protect from a hard life at home or some kind of trauma but could it be part of the problem?

At Migrants Organise they tried running a poetry workshop for young people – creating a group of half refugees and half British residents. After one session in which the refugees talked about their journeys to the UK and their experience of homelessness the other half (the secure youngsters from the UK) simply didn’t come again. It’s hearsay but I’m told they found the experience of hearing about horrors of another kind of life totally traumatised them. They couldn’t bear to hear it. So they voted with their feet and stopped turning up.

No one had blamed them.  But not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Are they a generation who value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality?

A spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by

Camel cigs were so cool… but here’s a spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by

Brand loyalty
Or is the bizarre acceptance of brands as a positive thing part of the problem? No one is perfect – especially women who look at the advertising mirror of young gorgeous photoshopped women in new clothes and judge themselves harshly against this.

There seems to be an absence of a critical gene – except for the face in the mirror or when tagged maliciously on Facebook.

1980s throwback
I came of age in the ’80s. We took pride in being cynical, enjoyed irony – liked our own creativity. And managed life without phones… Life was simpler and even if I graduated into a recession the buzz of living and independent adulthood was irresistible, even if I decided to downgrade my ambition when I figured out I couldn’t be head of the UN. 30 years on I still hope things will get better and my career will continue to be something I enjoy and stay good at.

But my anxious university students fret over the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of hope – often without making the effort to try and get these things. Worse I don’t know how to energise or console them. Something has gone wrong when a 19 year old can look around the empty classroom and say “we’re generation no hope”. This is not the way a non-ironic late teen or 20something should be thinking.

My generation raised these kids. We did something very wrong – it’s personal, and political. And I haven’t even mentioned the need for them – and us – to tackle climate change…

What is it we can do now to help? Do you have any ideas? Please share.

What’s all the fuss about bucket lists?

Posted April 9, 2016 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Before you draw up a bucket list, think hard. You might be gifting it to friends, or causing a family drama about how many kids you should have had… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Nicola with her two daughters. (2015)

Nicola with her two daughters. (2015)

Everyone has a bucket list nowadays.

What used to be a wish list of dreams – things you might love to do one day – has taken on not just the status of a corporate to do list but also a certain mystical reverence. It has become something that must be done, and if not by you then your nearest and dearest.

When 15 year old Vaishali Bance Suhayr died recently, after years of poor health, her family took over her bucket list. According to the Evening Standard her aunt went swimming with dolphins, her mum wrote her name in concrete and her eldest sister is planning to skydive and crowdsurf. Actually it’s a really lovely way to remember someone… another auntie is to scuba dive, another plans to walk the Great Wall of China and her dad is going to milk a cow. All things Vaishali had put on her list.

If you plan to keep your family busy after you’ve died then a bucket list is essential.

Except I don’t have a bucket list.

So on a date night with my husband (at Plum & Spilt Milk’s secret first floor bar in the super posh Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross) we tried drawing up a list of some things we’d like to do, or hadn’t yet done over a glass of Punk IPA (him) and Essex-grown wine (me). His list is mostly places he’d like to visit. But then to my shock – and I’m hoping he’s joking – he added, “Have a son”. We have two daughters and I’m 52, so I won’t be producing the son he’s never mentioned he’s wanted before.

It was unsettling.

And I don’t think his teenage, feminist daughters will be best pleased by this news either.


Dad and daughter digging for ancient relics in a mole hill (2011).

Thus it was serendipity that the first story on the radio we woke up to the next morning was how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just discovered that his Dad was in fact not his biological father. Rather cruelly he’d been obliged to have a DNA test after journalists started snooping around his elderly mum’s personal life. Justin Welby is 60, and allegedly had not a clue that his genetic origins were in anyway questionable. Rather sweetly a top tweet has said something on the lines of how appropriate for a Man of God, now he knows what Jesus must have felt… (!)

In contrast I felt rather smug hearing poor Welby’s discovery… perhaps such revelations will help my DH remove such an outrageous desire for a son off his bucket list. Because children aren’t always the right chip off the old block. Even a much longed for son or daughter.

This post is to warn anyone tempted to dream up a list of things they want to do – either while they still can, or just because YOLO – that you have to be careful what you wish for, because if it comes true the consequences may well turn your life upside down.

But it’s also interesting: having children is such a steep learning curve, but the mix of genders arriving in your home does seem to affect that experience. I’ve loved having two daughters, and I reckon I’d have been happy with boys too. I remember years ago when bleary-eyed from a non-sleeping baby, overhearing our next door neighbour who had three sons, saying how much harder it was to raise boys. She then added that having a girl didn’t really count because they were so much easier to entertain. Obviously she was joking (and I was super-sleep deprived, never mind accidentally listening in), but how different are gender-blended families? Is my husband right – did we make a fatal mistake by settling with just two kids? Not that there’s much I can do about it (and nor do I wish to).  In fact I’m rather more inclined to count our blessings.

Over to you
What do you think? Does just having just boys or girls in your family make you less of a mum or dad? I know the answer is of course not, but I’m asking for your secret thoughts on this -not your politically correct ones…

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