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…

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!

Netflix For Life: 11 Recommendations For Your Family

Netflix stream team

Is Netflix your bae? Ask any recently post-partum parent and you’ll get a knowing nod. Even more so if they have other older kids to take care of too. There’s a groove worn in one side of my sofa from the hours spent feeding my baby, and the text is wearing off a certain red button on my tv remote. I settle down with coffee, the baby and a muslin cloth and press it. The younger boy comes in from a morning in montessori and presses it. The older boy finishes his homework and presses it. The other half loads up the app while he makes the school lunches and I do the same folding laundry if someone small is asleep.

And when the last childs’ question has been answered for the night*, and the cat has settled on the back of the sofa without the fear of being hit by a Nerf bullet, we go in again.

(I mean, this isn’t each of us, everyday. We do do other things than watch tv like.)

So, safe to say we’re experts. Without further ado here are the Netflix shows lighting up our lives right now and in the near future.

Master of None.

I wrote about this last year and it’s back for Season 2 right now. We have watched the first 3 episodes and it is sublime. I cannot say enough good things about Aziz Ansari and his supporting cast, especially his real life mum and dad, who play his mum and dad in the show. And it makes me really really want to up sticks and live in Modena.

Continue reading

It’s Not Perfect

keepon-keeping-on

It’s not perfect.

Not entirely dissatisfied with life.
Not entirely dissatisfied with life.

But there’s days that run smoothly with only a to-be-expected level of whining and hitting and tears. If you’re four and you’re asked to drop what you’re playing with and get in the car to pick up your brother then it’s okay to give out a little. And if the pirate ship that you painstakingly made out of eighteen pieces of Duplo breaks when you bring it in the car, well it’s fine to shed a few tears about that. I let those cries wash over me and placate any way I can in order to get things done. Continue reading

Snapshot

Colorful house

My very favourite Irish-in-America blogger, Awfully Chipper, made this Snapshot post of hers a linky recently. So in much the same manner (as that’s how linkys work, duh) here’s a glimpse of where I’m at right now.

Listening to: 

The Moana and Trolls soundtracks with the kids. Which are both really great; and yes I’m softening in my old age.

Lots of morning radio, I flick around from serious news chats to zany twosomes and none of it really floats my boat but it’s the time of day I like some form of adult company.

Maeve In America
Love her.

Podcasts are my preference while I make dinner. Some of my favourites are Maeve In America, This American Life, One Bad Mother, Answer Me This and An Irishman Abroad. There you are now, as a reward for reading this far you’ve gotten some recommendations.

Watching: 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, River, Call the Midwife (all on Netflix) Celebrity Masterchef Ireland (TV3), Gogglebox (C4/TV3), Catastrophe (C4)..okay I feel like I’m watching a lot of tv now. Breastfeeding though right? That’s what you do.  Speaking of, this is my favourite song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I identify greatly.

Movie wise, we watched Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping on sunday night. If ever there was a film to help you ignore a bad case of the Glenroes (which is end of weekend fear, for those of you not Irish) this is it. Watch it.

Playing: 

Referee, and, at being an adult.

Reading:

Narrow Road To The Deep North book
I am NOT reading the one on the right, my husband is.

Loads – my favourite time of day is reading in bed with the baby just settled or feeding. Currently The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It’s beautiful and terribly sad.

The last two books I read were The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, and Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright.  The latter was originally called Tony & Susan but renamed to match the film adaptation. The book traumatised me so even though my boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal starts in the film I don’t know if I could handle watching it.  The former is unexpectedly enjoyable. I mean, I expected to like it, but not as much as I did. I do love a good book by an intelligent comedian (like, say Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Sara Pascoe, Maeve Higgins, Mindy Kaling… sense a theme there?)

Looking forward to: 

Colorful house
Stop fucking raining and being freezing.

Starting to run again. Mentally I’m almost there, but there’s a few things standing in my way. They are cold dark evenings, my husband getting in too late from work and there not being a window for me to leave the house alone, and the fact that little Miss requires boobs on demand an awful lot in the early evening. But I have a new sports bra and a new armband for my music so eh, half way there eh?

Drinking: 

coffee
What my breastmilk probably looks like.

Too much coffee. A tonne of water.

Wearing: 

Tops that lift up, vests that pull down. Skinny jeans. Runners. I wish I had a better flat shoe wardrobe actually. 2017 goals maybe?

Eating: 

Everything. At the start of February I swore March would be Moderation March. Like so many of these thing vague promises at self-improvement it has not come to pass so far.

Working on:

Getting some sort of routine in place. Not for the baby so much as me and the boys. It’s a long old week when no one knows what’s going on.

Permanently frustrated by:

Demands for food and screen time. I can feel my patience and my willpower eroding every day. My children are champion naggers, which may well translate to tenacious ambitious adults. That’s what I’m clinging to.

Enjoying: 

My baby. More than I anticipated.

Owning a tumble dryer.

Fia cafe buckwheat granola
Chocolate Buckwheat Granola. Oh yeah.

Going to as many of Dublin’s smashing cafés on weekday mornings as I can with said baby. Ones I would wistfully read about but not ever get to because of the mad pair.

Not enjoying: 

The relentlessness of school runs. This is definitely the bit I am most happy to pay someone else to do when we’re at work. The four year old holds the balance of power here – the drop offs and pick ups go well or terrible mostly depending on his whims. And woe betide me and the h-anger I face if I don’t bring a snack for the seven year old at the end of the school day.

That’s it. Knock on over to Awfully Chipper for her Snapshot and more.