Stuck in the Middle; A Story of Childcare

Childcare

You would think, by the title, that this might be a treatise on the big ball of emotion that is our middle child, aged 5. It’s not. It’s me venting about a particular situation in which our family and many others around the country have found themselves. We are the so-called squeezed middle – stuck in a house bought in the boom that we have grown out of, struggling to justify both working outside the home with the high cost of childcare, yet unable to qualify for a larger mortgage to move or extend without two incomes.

Childcare

Running to stand still.

First can I say: yes I am completely mindful that there are people in way worse scenarios than ours. Ireland’s levels of homeless families is entirely unacceptable; our healthcare system continues to barely creak by; carers are undervalued economically and emotionally and women still do not have full bodily autonomy. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in a big list of our society’s failings…

All that said, we are allowed our particular bugbears. Though yes, we chose to have three children and very happily achieved that goal, it is a massive financial burden on us. In fact we waited until we were close to having two in school to minimise childcare costs. Just as we try to creep forward every so slightly in terms of where we stand as a family, it feels like the rug is being tugged gently out from under us.

Lets cast our minds back. When our first child began creche in 2010, we paid full-time fees from the time he started until the September before he was due to start school. At that point we got a weekly subsidy of €62.50 on our fees from the state for 38 weeks (to mirror the school year). This is called the ECCE scheme and would cover 15 hours a week, 3 hours a day of his pre-school year. Children who weren’t already in the formal childcare system because of a stay at home parent, helpful grandparent or a paid childminder were entitled to attend preschool monday to friday for 3 hours a day for 38 weeks for free. Everyone was entitled to the same. It wasn’t much, but it was equal.

Incidentally, that first baby had been due in December, but born on January 8th and he started school at just under 4 and 8 months.

Falling through the childcare gap. Part 1.

Next up, my summer baby. Fast forward a few years. Our 2nd child was born on July 7th. In October 2015, when he was 3, the ECCE scheme was extended to up to 2 years of preschool care. This subsidy was immediately backdated to September 2015, for anyone who had turned 3 by the previous June 30th, a seemingly arbitrary date. Our son didn’t qualify to be backdated, being born a week later. We were annoyed, given he had the same primary school entry date as those children, that we were paying more for the same early years education. This, was not equal.

The scheme continued for the past couple of years, with 3 entry points into the ‘free’ first preschool year. Going forward the children with the biggest advantage were born in the summer. If you were 3 before August 31st, you could start ‘free’ preschool on September 1st and have 2 years of it before starting primary school. Born before Dec 31st, you could start on January 1st and take advantage of the next 5 months and the following year. If you were born before March 31st you could start on April 1st and have just 3 months ‘free’ that year, then the following year also.

Falling through the childcare gap. Part 2.

Now. Child 3. I was due on December 21st 2016. I was genuinely a bit stressed after Xmas, that if she didn’t arrive before the year was out, we would be paying full cost childcare from when she began until April 2020, rather than January 2020 and she would start school September 2021. Basically, we would qualify for the minimum allowable under the scheme.  Lo and behold, she hung on into the new year, and I decided I shouldn’t worry about what I couldn’t change.

In this weeks budget: Budget 2018, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone expanded the ECCE scheme to two free years for children aged at least 2 years and 8 months, starting only in September. The September/January/April entry points are gone. Ivy now qualifies for 2 full years, but only from Sept 2020, meaning we can only use 2 ECCE preschool years if we send her to school at 5 years 8 months, rather than 4 years 8 months.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is effectively saying a Dec 31st baby – fine to send to school at 4 & 8 months, but 2 days younger, you must wait another year if you want the full subsidy.

I get all the arguments for sending kids to school later, but by virtue of my cosy womb we are missing out here by a hair’s breadth. In order for us to wait that extra year, we would also have to pay for a full-time creche place for another extra year. I don’t see the DCYA falling over themselves to help us find about €9000 in order to do that.

Is that clear? No? Well, at least I feel a little better for writing it down. Tiny silver linings…

Avocado & Banana Pancakes

avocado banana pancakes

The world goes crazy for pancakes doesn’t it? Or at least, the Instagram world does. They fill up your feed on the weekend.  “#Sundayfunday #stacksfordays” We’re no exception – fluffy american style pancakes are our go to weekend breakfast. So much so that when I made crepes instead a few weeks ago (also delicious) the kids acted like all their Christmases had come at once. Or, Pancake Tuesdays I suppose.

Ivy is getting in on the act now too. She’s nearly 9 months old. Let’s be honest; she’s not that into meals. So I’m trying to make single things she can eat that I can pop extra healthy bits into. If all else fails, she’ll always eat steamed sugar snap peas or broccoli.

Pancakes with green bits
Pancakes with green bits

She has been enjoying mashed banana and avocado sucked off toast soldiers or wedges of bagel, so I decided to incorporate the avocado into a bastardisation of the Banana Pancakes I’ve been making for years.

I know we keep being told that basically the only reason millennials can’t afford to buy houses is their instance avocado consumption so I may be dooming Ivy’s future already. I mean government policy, greedy banks and developers have nothing to do it it. No, nothing at all…

instagram-avo-banana

Avocado & Banana Spelt Pancakes

  • 90 grams of spelt flour – I used wholemeal
  • 1/2  teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 cup of almond milk (125ml)
  • 1/2  cup of natural yoghurt (125ml)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 a banana, mashed
  • 1/2 an avocado, mashed

Sieve the dry ingredients.

Combine the wet ingredients.

Whisk them together!

Cook these on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes a side. I used a little coconut oil on the pan before each batch.  These took longer to cook than regular pancakes – I think the avocado made them quite squidgy so they needed a lower heat and longer time to firm up.

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Berries & yogurt = always a good option

I find pancakes wonderfully adaptable, using whatever flour, milk or yogurt I have.  This “recipe” made 11 – which I think is a USP for any recipe, using approximately 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake.

Ivy ate two for lunch and I had 1, just to taste them. This left me in the awkward position of having eight to share between three hungry boys after school (playdate). One did suspiciously ask what the green bits were – but none of them stopped eating when I came clean – winner!

Incidentally if you are looking for more baby led weaning recipe information, I bought the Baby Led Feeding cookbook a few months ago. I can’t recommend it enough – there’s some really helpful ideas in there. Like I said, she’s not into full meals yet, but I’ve been dipping into the lunch recipes. Hats off to the Mexican Bean Stew recipe which is super quick to make and packed full of healthy beans and corn. I’ve made that several times, along with the Cheesy Cauliflower Baby Bites which the whole family love.

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The Tale Of The Go Slow Summer

Tens of times this summer when I thought of something, I half wrote it in my head and swore I would write it here when the kids were asleep. My baby did her baby thing and took everything from me. It was all I could do to wipe the concealer from under my eyes and not fall asleep on the sofa after they were all down. I have scanned insta-stories as I brushed my teeth, read blogpost after blogpost about day trips and staycations and foreign jaunts and yet I could not bring myself to put finger to keyboard to do the same.

This is the write off summer. Our bucket list is untroubled. The boat trips to islands (Dalkey, Ireland’s Eye) not taken. The scenic sights (the Sugarloaf, the Mayo greenway) unconquered. We have been to familiar parks (Phoenix Park mostly, and the small local one). I have split myself in three; one wants the playground, one carries a football everywhere and wants me to ‘take shots’ on him, and one wants me to stop everything and whip a boob out to feed her. Therein lies the rub; she wins, and takes precedence over all things. There’s nothing like a baby to slow things down.

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We did make it to the beach in Wexford, which is the most important achievement in anyone’s summer.

I don’t think my sons will look back and think they were robbed of anything. I think they’ll remember that between supermarket trips and boring walks to the post office that they were not being ferried too many places. This year there’s been probably a little too much screen time and a lot too many treats. There’s been too much shouting, I know that: I apologised to my neighbour two doors up a couple of weeks ago, though she swears she loves to hear the kids outside playing. The neighbour on the other side told Teddy he has a lovely singing voice. That means she knows exactly what my fishwife (fishmother?) voice sounds like too as I beg them to cease and desist with the trampoline based violence.

cartoon network
Wholesome

From my perspective, I probably would have got more ticked off a To-Do list if I had just been home with a baby. I began to paint the back garden in the evenings. It got interrupted on bad nights when I was too tired to contemplate painting breeze blocks. Those same freshly painted sections now have dirty marks on them borne of hours of Dominic kicking a ball against them. I tell myself he wouldn’t have been able to perfect his chips, rebonas or volleys if we had been off #makingmemories on various day trips. The drawers I swore I’d clear out during baby naps are getting there at a snails pace. Though the work is slow, my boys are sparking joy while we go. (And I’m not getting rid of as much as I hoped)

walk walk fashion baby
walk walk fashion baby

I’m not naturally inclined towards spending every waking hour with small people who use me like a walking talking search engine. All I want is 10 minutes silence and someone else to fold the laundry. But I was there this year and I appreciate this time because I know it probably won’t happen again. They don’t know it, but they’ve been lucky to have a parent around the last three summers, twice due to redundancy and once due to maternity.

It’s bittersweet, this impending return to school and getting back into routine. One boy can’t wait to get back to his mates. The other one is approaching his new start with admirable confidence. I’m looking forward to long walks with my best girl, who snoozes while I rack up the kilometres and down the coffee. It’s a far cry from asking what we’re doing next and if we can have jellies when we get there? Her day to quiz me and beg for ‘device’ will come. I just hope I can carve out even half the time the boys have gotten to be there with her.

Baby Led Weaning: The Third Time Around And A Muffin Recipe

Baby led weaning

Here I go again on my own…goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known….

We’re on our third go round now with baby led weaning. In the seven years since I first began, it’s gone from a weird choice, unheard of by public health nurses and greeted wide eyed by fellow parents of babies to a very acceptable option for starting your baby on solids. Far more prolific bloggers than I have emerged in the field and had cookbooks published. Which is handy for me – even with a 6 month old I can regularly be heard saying “oh I’m just out of the baby mode for so long y’know…” as I wrack my brains to think what I’m supposed to do with her next.

stokke tripp trapp
All three ready to go.

Anyway, she turned 6 months old while we were on our summer holidays in France. Before we went I tried her with a couple of foods that would be common allergens (namely egg, strawberry and tomato). We didn’t want to find ourselves looking for directions to the doctor and trying to remember our gauche from our droite in a panic. We have no real family history of allergy but a good friend has a baby who reacted badly to egg recently so there’s no harm in approaching these things with a degree of caution.

We spent a couple of weeks just getting her used to picking up foods, and trying a variety of flavours. There was no particular consideration given to cooking suitable meals, as – say it with me:

food-under-one-is-for-fun-blur

She chewed away on torn up croissants, nommed wedges of juicy sweet peaches frozen in a silicon feeder, waved around preloaded spoons of natural yogurt and sucked the life from some pasta with tomato sauce.

baby led weaning

For the third time, I knew this approach was for me. I guess I’m doing myself a disservice by saying it’s the lazy mum’s approach. For a start, nobody could call me lazy now it’s school holiday time and I’ve three kids with me around the clock. Also she’s trying a good variety of food, and she’s still breastfeeding lots. Right up until the point she started solids I was able to look at her chubby thighs and wrist rolls and think “I made all of that”. A lovely friend declared to me “your one body is running 2 full bodies, I think it’s pretty miraculous. Have a sit down” (So I did.)

Anyway, we’re back now and without the pressure of the school runs, we’re getting quite into the swing of things. She’s about 6.5months and I’m still keeping it basic but she enjoys sitting up with us at the table and does her patented arm flap at the sight of food.

The simplest things I’ve given her are slices of avocado, steamed carrots, steamed broccoli, sweet potato wedges, scrambled egg and mashed banana or avocado on toast.

I did break out my trusty baking tins though, to try out savoury muffins. I used to make delicious spinach and feta ones when the boys were little but neither will eat feta now so I made these instead. You can sub out the veggies, and replace the sweet potato with more cheddar – I just didn’t want them too salty yet so kept the cheese content low.  I also always use frozen spinach for baking, just defrost it in the microwave first and squeeze out the excess water.

Spinach muffin

Spinach & Cheese Muffins

  • 2 medium eggs
  • 150ml milk
  • 75g butter, melted
  • 50g grated cheddar cheese
  • 50g grated sweet potato
  • 75g spinach
  • 1/4 red pepper, diced
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 75g wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 TSP Marigold boullion (I use the low salt one)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Whisk the eggs in and stir in the milk and melted butter. Mix in the grated cheese, sweet potato,  spinach, tomatoes and diced pepper.
  3. Finally, sieve in the flour and bullion. and mix just enough until all the ingredients have combined.
  4. Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. A skewer will come out clean when they’re done.

These freeze really well and are great for bigger kid lunchboxes too.

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You can catch a lot of what I cook on Instagram, especially on my Stories. (There’s Follow buttons on the bottom of the page on mobile and on the right on desktop)
And now that baby is actually going to bed a regular time, there should be lots more to come right here on the blog. Stay tuned while I regain my BLW mojo!

Baking with Kids: Healthy Brownies and Muffins

Carrot and Courgette Muffins zucchini baking

Distract distract distract shout sums up my parenting method with my middle child right now. He gets very jealous of his big brother and his seemingly endless stream of playdates.  I try my best to make our time together fun in some way to make up for the fact he has to hang out with his mum and a baby. We visit cafes and the park and the nearby museum and surprisingly, bringing just two children places feels *almost* easy now. But when we’re at home, we enjoy baking together.

This is the same boy that saw a tiny brown mouse sitting on the path in the park recently, and squatted down for a good chat with it. I am not kidding, it made his week, once I had reassured him that mousey’s mum and dad were nearby and that he wasn’t scared on his own. You see, the bar for entertaining him can be set quite low, although, the window in which the day goes from ‘best day ever’ to ‘worstest day ever’ is also very narrow. He likes to keep me on my toes.

Let’s not kids ourselves now; when it comes to baking the mess and the bowl licking are his highlights, and eating the end product is mine. Everything in between runs the gamut from delightful bonding time to me grinding my teeth in stress at flour on the floor and maple syrup on the counter.

Of course you’re always going to find shiny videos of pristine parents and even cleaner kitchens with everyone wearing aprons if you look for videos of baking with kids on line. This is not that. We love Insta Stories and find it a fun way to share our baking escapades. Teddy particularly likes the camera and watching himself back – unsurprisingly. I like it for the rough and readiness  (see the dark chocolate on my face, some teary interruptions from Ivy and Ted wanting to lick things all the time) and for the feedback from viewers. I’ve shared the videos of us making these recipes below.

We made Black Bean Brownies with Raspberries, which I have made numerous times before and Carrot and Courgette Muffins, which were a new recipe to us. Baby Ivy is going to be starting solids in the next month so I’m keeping an eye out for things to try. These muffins will be great, I’ll just sub out the honey and use maple syrup instead. Continue reading