To CBeebie or not to CBeebie? That is the question.

Dear Reader, there comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to start asking herself the big questions. Questions like how many CBeebies related lists can I really put on my blog before it gets ridiculous?

Of course, this is a major issue in all of our lives…

No? Oh, just me then.

Soooo… I have decided to branch out into the world of Buzzfeed, where the created of sarcastic, pithy lists is accepted, nay, encouraged! For my first foray into this arena, I have outlined 8 CBeebies programmes that I would REALLY like to see late night specials made of.

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Riiiiiiight? How good would that be? It could be, like, a special series on BBC3 or something. Epic times. We should start a social media campaign, because BOY do I want to see Rasta Mouse solve a murder!

Enjoy this hilarious Buzzfeed, brought to you by your truly.

Sorry to those of you who follow me on Facebook and have already seen this, those of you don’t, sort your lives out!

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Always Check the Eyelashes: Your CBeebies Guide to Gender.


Ah, Cbeebies. A land filled with possibilities. Where lions and zebras can coexist as equals and trainee knights befriend cave-dwelling trolls. Where every community – even small Scottish fishing villages – is a multicultural, wheelchair-accessible beacon of diversity. Surely, this is the utopia of which we all dream?

I do love CBeebies. In fact more than this I attribute a good proportion of my parenting sanity to its existence #nojokeofalie. I love that they show women being scientists, fitness instructors, bus drivers, pirate captains, minibeast adventurers, post officers (is that a thing?), nurses, nursery teachers, cooks, stay at home mums… Ahem. Well, you get the picture.

Yes, in the realm of humans the confinements of gender have (almost, sort of) been stripped away, huzzah to that! However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I mean, we need some stereotypes, right? Otherwise how will girls find out that they’re supposed to be pretty and bookish? Or boys that they are headstrong and brave but ultimately a bit annoying??

More importantly, how will our youngsters learn to tell the difference? Imagine, a whole generation growing up not being able to tell whether a fictional character is supposed to be a girl or a boy? It would be chaos, people. CHAOS!

But fear not, Dear Reader! For I have deciphered the CBeebies gender-coding system (it doesn’t take a genius) that will have you sorting your Peters from your Lilies in 4 easy-to-follow steps. Disseminate this PSA widely, because God forbid we couldn’t tell which Cloud Baby is supposed to be a boy! Continue reading

The Five Stages of Toddler Discipline!

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You’ve probably heard of  the ‘five stages of grief’. It is an actual really useful and sensitive theory coined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. But for me they were made immortal by the inimitable Homer Simpson.*

As I observe Bubs’ transition into the ‘terrible twos’ (yes, he’s one and half, but the name is false advertising, trust me) it strikes me that my coping-mechanisms for all his wobblies fit eerily well with these ‘stages’. Sometimes I’m pretty Zen about it all, whilst in other moments a baby-shaped strop can bring on the mists of deep self-loathing (#dramaqueen).

When I say ‘stages’, I don’t mean that there’s a clear progression. No ‘from denial to acceptance in five easy steps’ here I’m afraid, and I know that you discerning readers wouldn’t buy that kind of crap any way. It’s more of a cycle, not a vicious one, more a sort of normal-and-slighty-annoying cycle. Let’s see if it rings true for you…

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Toddlers watching TV: It’s, like, totally fine, isn’t it??

Aaah, CBeebies. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! You have created a continual stream of benign, advert-free and (generally) educational children’s television. You lovely bloody geniuses!  I mean, where else can we find shows that explore emotional intelligence at a 3-year-old level, or encourage kids to use their imaginations to enjoy classical music, or even covertly teach counting through the cunning use of an eccentric beige character who has a love of stones?

That’s right, people, I love CBeebies. I’m not afraid to admit. And I let Bubs watch TV. Quite a lot.

*hyperventilates with the overwhelming fear of self-righteous parental judgement*

Joking aside, for some reason TV has recently been added to my “oh my God, am I ruining my child?” list of irrational fears. As I type this I can genuinely feel my anxiety heightening. We all have these moments. Panic sets in as a giant, bright red neon sign switches on in your mind. “DANGER: BAD MOTHER ALERT!” it warns, flashing violently.

But it’s weird I should feel that – even in a self-aware sort of a way – because almost everyone I know lets their kids watch TV. It’s a totally accepted, alright thing, isn’t it? Okay, some people choose not to let their kids watch any screens, which seems reasonable, but it doesn’t mean that they are kinder, more creative, better parents, does it?

IT DOESN’T, DOES IT???

No, it doesn’t. Breathe.

There is always something or other in the news linking behaviour to health issues. Not that it takes a genius to work out that if a child plays X-Box all weekend and doesn’t go outside at all then they are more likely to become obese (I’ll take that PhD now, please). But still there always seems to be some study saying kids who do/don’t do this are more likely to become underachievers/unhealthy adults/murderous rapscallions.

Like research on other parenting issues that can get a bit judgey (e.g. formula-feeding and the use of dummies) this stuff often gets simplified by the media. I mean “researchers have found possible negative outcomes to TV watching but these may also be due to socioeconomic factors” isn’t exactly clickbait is it?? No, we want a headline that goes something like “Children Who Watch TV Are Basically F*cked, Scientists Say.” That’s the one that will go viral.

The problem with this kind of sensationalist rubbish is that it draws a false divide. On the one hand there are children who are read to and sung to, who love books and spend a lot of times outdoors, who have oodles of face-to-face interaction with their parents; on the other there are kids who watch TV. Of course this also implies two kinds of parents; those who can be bothered and those who can’t. Bleurgh.

But what if your kids can be both kinds of kid? Or parents can be both kinds of parents? What if those of us who spend most of our time being very much bothered with entertaining and caring for our children sometimes just want to sit down for 20 minutes? What if that was okay?

My Bubs loves books. LOVES them. We were on a plane when he was about 10 months old and he was kicking off majorly, and what was the thing that finally calmed him down? Being read a book. (we did feel a flutter of parental triumph at that particular moment). Bubs likes drawing and playing outside and watching bubbles and singing and dancing and all that good stuff. But you know what? He also enjoys a spot of TV. He can actually sing the Pingu theme tune and points at the TV in delighted surprise every time the Ninky-Nonk/Pinky-Ponk bursts through the hedge in the Night Garden. It’s really very cute.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

However, I recently discovered that TV isn’t ‘recommended’ for kids under two-years-old and have been a slightly torturous inward debate ever since. Before they are TWO? Oops. That ship has well and truly sailed. I reckon Bubs was first introduced to CBeebies at around the 3 month mark (oh the shame!).

So I had to have a look at why these recommendations were put in place: “A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” We are told by the American Academy of Peadiatrics. Well, duh! Like, that is totes obvs!

It’s so black and white, I mean why does that statement mean no screen time whatsoever? NO TV OR ALL IS LOST! It’s as if a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales is somehow a gateway-drug to a hardcore TV addiction in which children become unable to imagine and create. I’m not saying this can’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does in homes where the TV is a third (first?) parent and no one talks about their day or reads or sings song. Sad face.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. No one is advocating sitting your 4-year-old to binge watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. That would be properly awful.

Sometimes I let Bubs watch TV in really sensible way. I use iPlayer to select the programme and I limit him to one episode, just long enough for me to get something done (often a nappy change: TV is a Godsend for parents of pooey, wriggly toddlers).

But other times I just put it on because I can’t think what else to do. It’s only 10am and I’ve already read that book 5 times and sung my full repertoire of nursery rhymes. The day stretches out before me like a particularly shouty question mark and I just need 10 minutes to stare into space or check my email or something.

Then there are those times when, franky, I just want to watch some telly. I like telly. Other than the smorgasbord of delights offered on CBeebies the only TV show my son is aware of is Pointless, which I occasionally put on for us to watch ‘together’. What? It’s super educational man! I mean, who knew there was an element called Einsteinium? Huh?

I’m not pretending this is the ideal in parenting habits. But I’m not the ideal parent. I’m a human. Shock horror.

Based on the anecdotal evidence I have, I am pretty darn sure this regular TV watching will cause Bubs no long term harm. As a child I watched a fair bit of CBBC, and Neighbours, and then switched over to BBC2 for The Simpsons (those were the days!). Still, I have managed to grow up into a relatively emotionally intelligent person who holds a Masters Degree in Cultural History with Distinction. #justsaying. I also have a friend who, as the 3rd child, was pretty much plonked in front of the TV with a colouring book for much of her childhood. She is now, as well as just being lovely, a qualified doctor who’s taking a year out to do an art foundation course. Well-rounded much?

Don’t get me wrong, I think parents who don’t let their kids watch TV are awesome; I just wish my admiration wasn’t accompanied by a stomach-curdling dose of inferiority complex. It’s not their fault I feel this way, of course it’s not. It’s the fault of a society that has come to believe we must consult ‘experts’ at every turn. Every parenting decision must be scrutinised under the microscope of Research, conclusions reached and expounded. A one-size-fits all code of parenting.

What if we, I don’t know, made decisions based on common sense that were guided by our love for our children, as well as a healthy dose of realistic expectations of ourselves? I mean, isn’t that what most of us are doing?

Yeah, I thought so.

So, in conclusion. TV, it’s like, totally fine. Isn’t it?

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In The Night Garden: 10 things we’re all thinking (aren’t we?)

The most bizarre family photo ever?

The most bizarre family photo ever?

I don’t about you, but in our household each day is rounded off by sitting down to watch the much loved, and frankly bizarre, children’s TV phenomenon that is In the Night Garden. Most of the time I find it oddly charming. In fact, I am generally ever-indebted to CBeebies for providing a stream of ad-free, colourful programmes that are educational and socially aware enough to ease the guilt I feel when plonking Bubs down in front of the TV. However, after 6+ months of watching an episode almost every evening there a few things I need to get off my chest. So here goes:

1) Tombliboo music is THE WORST.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but In The Night Garden is musically quite clever. All of the characters have their own song, which becomes a motif that follows them through the entire programme. Plus the Tittifers random songs throughout each episode come together into a jolly, harmonic lullaby when it’s time to go to sleep. All well and good. So why is the only music played by actual characters in the show so utterly atrocious? The Tombliboos crash about on their little piano making a catcall of a racket and this, apparently, is ‘Tombliboo music‘. Well, I’m here to tell you Derek Jacobi (he’s the narrator, I’m not just being whimsically random) that it is nothing of the sort! My husband has, on occasion, turned the channel over to avoid said ‘music’. I’m all for discordant musical experimentation but not at bedtime, okay? Just not at bedtime.

2) What the eff are the Haahoos?

Yes, yes, ‘What the eff is anything in the Night Garden?’ I hear you cry. Good point, well made. But come on, the Haahoos? The strange inflatable creatures that loom, balloon like in the background as the others dance? Are they ever featured in a storyline? (okay ‘storyline’ is probably putting it a bit strongly) Yet there they always are, closing their sleepy eyes at the end of each episode. They are weird. And not in a good way.

Seriously.

Seriously.

3) The Ninky Nonk and Pinky Ponk change size. I find this troubling.

So, at the end of each episode there’s that little dance they all do, right? It’s one of the only times the characters all get together at once and so we can see their relative sizes. Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy are the biggest (apart from the weirdo Haahoos, obvs) , followed by the Tombliboos, followed by Makka Pakka, the Pontipines and Wottingers. These sizes stay the same throughout the show, naturally. But not so for the much loved novelty vehicles of the Night Garden. Oooooh, no siree bob. They’re all nice and small at the end of the show. Igglepiggle runs past them (he’s never in bed is he? what’s he like?) and they are, I’d say, about half his size. Even smaller in the dancey bit before. And yet not only can Igglepiggle fit into the Ninky Nonk and Pinky Ponk, he can do so comfortably, in a variety of carriages, some of which are apparently arena-like in size. And everyone else can fit on too. So what’s the deal? Do the residents of the Night Garden shrink as soon as they approach? Or does the Pinky Ponk suddenly grow like it’s been hit by the laser from ‘Honey I Blew Up the Baby’? (If you weren’t born in the 80s that film may have passed you by, which is really a good thing).

Parents up and down the country are being tortured by these unexplained perspective changes. Why? Why? Why? We scream. Well, we scream it internally because our children are watching, blissfully ignorant of the raging inconsistencies that are being paraded before them. I have seen irate Facebook statuses on this subject. Facebook statuses people. That’s how serious this situation is.

4) The Tombliboos seem to live in a primitive version of the Tardis.

Whilst we’re on the subject of perspective, I’d just like to add that, while on the outside the Tombliboos’ house is relatively modest, inside it is positively cavernous. Is it just me or is anyone else starting to think that CBeebies are just messing with our heads?

5) Is Makka Pakka a little bit sad?

I love Makka Pakka. I actually love him. The Tombliboos can go jump for all I care and IgglePiggle just needs to stop falling over. Upsy Daisy I have more time for but still, none of them are a patch on old Makka. He’s the cutest. No, seriously, I love him.

But am I the only who finds that there’s something just a little bit melancholy to his character? Maybe it’s because all of the others have a playmate. Or it could be that he takes a stone to bed with him. He’s cuddling a stone people. Most likely, though is the fact that, whilst Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and the Tombliboos are obviously a bunch of hapless preschoolers, Makka Pakka reminds me more of an unassuming, slightly OCD, middle aged man. Just imagine, living in a bizarre garden with questionable public transport surrounded by giant toddlers who constantly need their faces washing. Bleurgh. I think I’d be a little bit sad too.

Poor Makka Pakka. #thirdwheel

Poor Makka Pakka. #thirdwheel

Just as an aside, does anyone else secretly covet Makka Pakka’s bed covers? They are stylish man! John Lewis needs to get on that shizzle!

6) Pinky Ponk juice.

I don’t really have anything to say about this. To be honest I don’t want to think about it too much. It just freaks me out that it’s a thing. Bleurgh.

7) The Poor Old Wottingers.

‘The Pontipines are friends of mine’ sings Derek at the beginning of many an episode. That red-clad family do their little dances and hide behind buttons like nobody’s business. They’re often to be found taking a ride on the Ninky-Nonk or enjoying a refreshing beverage (afore mentioned) at altitude on the Pinky Ponk. Meanwhile, languishing just next door are the much over-looked Wottingers. The same in every way apart from their blue clothing, I can’t help thinking the Wottingers are very much the second-class citizens of the Night Garden. Whilst the Pontipines lark about enjoying the life of Riley I often wonder what the Wottinger children are doing. Are they peering out of the windows of their little semi-detached house thinking ‘What have they go that we haven’t? Why do they get to hide in flower pots all the time? Why don’t we have our own song?’  Oh sure, they appear in the odd episode or two but only as sort of mass-sidekick for the Pontipines. When will the Wottingers be allowed to express themselves in their own right? Huh? Huh?? I don’t know, Dear Reader, I just don’t know.

8) The ball is not a character

Notice, Dear Reader, that I write ‘the ball’ and not ‘The Ball’. Because it’s not a person! It’s an inanimate object. Not that I am against inanimate objects being animated into characters per se, Oh no, I love me a bit of Beauty and the Beast! But the ball does fall under this category. It. Just. Bounces. So let’s not talk about it as if it were a being, okay? Does my bloody head in.

9) What is the big deal with IgglePiggle? Upsy Daisy is the star of the show. 

A controversial opening gambit, I am aware. My husband and I have genuinely debated this question. Seriously, it has produced post-modernist interpretations and everything, whilst my son obliviously chomps down his bedtime banana. But I stick to my guns. Yes, Igglepiggle is in the boat at the beginning and the end (is the whole thing a dream? dun dun der!) but Upsy Daisy is 100% the most featured character. In fact I’d go as far to say the Igglepiggle is her sidekick, bless him. He pretty much follows her around, intermittently falling over in shock for comic effect. Upsy Daisy sings, she dances, she has a crazy mobile bed (don’t get me started) and Igglepiggle? Well, he has a blanket.

There, I’ve said it. It feels good to have that out in the open. Commence epic and impassioned debate in the comments section.

And last but by no means least:

10) Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle: Get a Room!

I know I am corrupting the innocent and childlike relationship that is at the very heart of In The Night Garden. I know I am imposing my jaded, cynical adult mind onto what is, after all, just a nice TV show. But I don’t care! I am not the only one who finds Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle’s kisses just a bit too lingering for comfort. Am I? Thought not. Those two are, in my mind, the Ross and Rachel of the Night Garden. Everyone can see that they’re in love and half of the time it works just fine, but then they’ll loose each other or just go chasing after a ball or something. Life always gets in the way, doesn’t?

But when they are together, well, they make it count! I’m all for showing affection guys but, you know, the kids are watching.

upsy-and-iggle

What bugs you about In the Night Garden? Tweet @aafew or comment below. 

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All In The Night Garden images © BBC.