When I’m Chopping Onions…

Who writes the helpful tips and friendly advice for keeping young children entertained for Babycenter.com? Clearly not a parent. Or else a totally hypocritical parent. Or an alien from a planet where what we like to imagine actually IS. I just received this in my email inbox; it’s a link for various articles on the babycenter.com site including one entitled “Nine alternatives to television sure to entertain the kids“. Well the only time I let my kids watch telly (and it’s not even telly, we don’t have telly out here in France because French telly is utter crap and I haven’t yet sorted my life out to get BBC stuff beamed in to my house, so we just have CDs of Madagascar, Toy Story, Dangermouse and Top Cat amongst other classics), is when I’m cooking their dinner. So I didn’t really need to click on the link, but I did and in fact the article is based on that exact period of time; ie. preparing dinner time, and as I read the article I discovered that putting cartoons on for kids while I’m busy in the kitchen is now NOT RIGHT. It can, and I quote, “restrict a child’s ability to think and imagine”. Yikes. Even forty minutes a day? Now, I’m sure too much screen watching is not a good thing for anyone, especially not kids, but we all know that when it comes to cooking dinner at the end of the day and simultaneously refereeing a small children’s wrestling match, the most sensible thing to do is to wham a bit of Hong Kong Phooey on while the fish is frying. Or the cheese is grating. Or whatever. But once I had read the first line of the “Nine Alternatives to TV” article, guilt crept into my bones and I had to read on.

It turns out all nine ideas are great ones. Get your child involved in helping make the dinner, make a mini-kitchen, pretend you’re at your child’s favourite restaurant and set a table up for all his/her stuffed animals, get your child pouring water and rice through a funnel, ask him/her to sort the cutlery, make some play dough, set up a crafts table and get your child to make a place mat with glue and pasta shapes… YEAH, RIGHT, AND THEN WEEP AS THE WATER AND THE RICE AND GLUE AND THE PASTA BITS AND THE STUFFED ANIMALS AND THE CUTLERY ALL END UP ON THE FLOOR AND YOU SLIP ON THE PASTA AND LAND ON A SMALL POINTY TRACTOR WHICH THEN REMAINS GLUED TO YOUR BOTTOM AND YOU SWEAR YOU WILL BURN BABYCENTER.COM DOWN TO THE GROUND IF IT’S THE LAST THING YOU DO.

images Has the person writing the article ever had to look after a small child, or two, or three, or four, on a daily basis? Has this person ever made 365 dinners in a year? Not counting lunches and breakfasts of course? Does this person realise that ALL nine of the ideas involve triple the amount of energy and patience and then another 20 minutes of tidying up at the end, and that’s not counting cleaning up the plates and pots and pans after the meal. I’m all for creative activities and playing games but not at the end of the day thanks. Not while I’m cooking yet another meal and then doing the bath-brush-books countdown to bedtime. As I chop carrots and fight with the freezer drawer I thank the Gods of Light Entertainment for creating cartoons and bringing them to me, here in the nether regions of southern France, so that while I make dinner, Tommy and Léonie are momentarily transfixed, immobile and very VERY quiet. So there.

Long Live Pingu. All Hail Shreck. Wallace and Gromit for President. That’s what I say.

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Frightened of the Frog

Every evening, when it gets dark, Léonie (2) points to the window, shivers and says “Mummy, me frightened of the frog.” Tommy (5) and I always chip in to check we understand what she means, “do you mean frightened of the dark?”. She nods and replies, “Yes. Me frightened of the frog.” So we just assume she is mis-pronouncing the word dark.

But maybe we are wrong.

Maybe there is a gigantic, drooling frog out there in the garden, one who creeps up from the valley every night and waits for me to feed the cats outside or get the laundry in, ready to leap on me and suffocate me in his frog slime, or simply blight me with his dreaded frog curse: “You will never EVER return to the stage again, NEVER! You will forever be wiping bottoms and carrying potties in your handbag and will never EVER get to sit down to eat a meal without getting up every 90 seconds to get a spoon/the ketchup/more kitchen paper. Your eyes will forever look tired and your eardrums will suffer permanent damage from toddler screams. Your friends in the theatre and film world will drift away, referring to you as ‘The Lost One’, you will end up filming yourself in character and putting the videos on YouTube in a sad attempt to continue acting, but NEVER EVER AGAIN will you reboot your career. HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Blimey. Now I’m frightened of the frog.

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Blogfast

For those of you that receive my blog posts automatically, this one may come as a surprise, as you probably assumed that having spent so many months with only under-5’s and sheep for company, I had lost the faculty for writing. But no. I have been on a blog fast.

A blog fast is the direct opposite of a Blogfest. A Blogfest involves hundreds, nay thousands of bloggers, all writing furiously, whereas a blog fast involves just me, not writing anything at all.

It was not intentional. I just had too many things going in my life that I simply could not write about. Things that were either too personal, or too boring, or too grim, or too involved with famous people (no names mentioned but he is the best children’s illustrator ever), or too involved with close family members, or too incriminating of other family members… my family members are now all sitting up straight, spilling hot tea in their laps, going “Who?!” “Me?!”… yes you, I might be talking about you, watch out, and send me a Cadbury’s Flake and some nice pants just to cover your backs.

Speaking of pants…

Léonie has decided she has had enough of nappies and wants to wear pants. The ‘had enough of nappies’ bit is fine, as long as she stays butt naked, as then she remembers to go and sit on the potty for her pee. However, with pants on, the sensation must be very nappy-like, especially when she wears six pairs of pants at the same time, which is her current desire, so she just ends up peeing through six pairs of pants. Today it was warm and sunny so I persuaded her to play outside with nothing on her bottom and she delighted in sitting on the potty in the sunshine. I only tell you this as I just discovered the UK is swamped in snow and ice and I want to make you jealous. Let’s face it, the climate difference is probably the only thing you might feel envious about where my life is concerned, so I’m going to make the most of it.

More on the theme of undergarments… (me? trying desperately to find a through line for this blog post? never). We watched Mary Poppins yesterday and this morning Tommy was singing “Let’s go fly a kite” at the top of his voice. Here is his version of the song:

Let’s go fly a kite
Up up, in the sky!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it boring,
Up through the underwear
Up where the air is air,
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

Cowgirl and her faithful potty.

Cowgirl and her faithful potty.

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Six pairs of pants. Layering is in.

All that just to say, I’ve finished my blog fast and am now crossing my fingers to make it to a Blogfest.

2013, here I come (very slowly)

A NEW YEAR.

I have given myself ten days to savour this new year and so far I can say it tastes a bit like a yoghurt that has just slightly turned. Or wine that you’re not sure is corked or just a bit weird. Or a nearly-but-not-quite stale biscuit. I’m not sure why these things spring to mind. I think it’s the feeling of looking forward to a fresh, new start, and then realising I need some new spark plugs if things are going to go anywhere.

I began this year with a damaged coccyx, which rather puts a damper on anything involving sitting down, moving from sitting down to standing up (and vice-versa), and picking anything up. Which, I discovered, is most things when you are the mother of a 5 year old and a 2 year old. I am proud to say it was the result of a motorbike accident. Yes, me, the daring, racy motorbike rider, all leather and denim and long blonde hair in the wind. I am less proud to say the motorbike is about 50 cm high, pink and yellow and made of plastic. It is a fine source of amusement for those between 2 and 7 as they race down the concrete drive at 90 mph and onto the lawn. Tommy was managing to pick up enough speed to go right round the tree at the bottom of the lawn. It looked like such fun I thought I’d have a go. And it was fun, really fun, all the way down the drive, the kids and I screaming with laughter… until I hit the bump which leads onto the lawn. The motorbike went up, so did my bottom, and then came crashing back down onto the plastic saddle which has a little upward curving protuberence at the tail-end. In flight, my own tail-end shifted backwards a couple of centimetres, only to meet whackingly with the knobbly bit. In terms of pain I would rate childbirth as the most painful thing I have experienced, followed by toothache and ear infections, followed by this. I have never ever hurt this part of my body so it was a surprising pain as it made me realise that bit of my body really REALLY exists.

This happened on Christmas Eve. For two weeks I couldn’t sit down properly. I had to twist sidewards or lean right forward. We had a long drive back from Barcelona during which I hung on to the passenger seat handle above the door and swayed my way home. We went straight to a friend’s surprise birthday party. She is an osteopath and told me to get it checked out straight away as it’s easy to break or fracture your coccyx without realising. There’s not much you can do about it except let time heal the bones, but if you know it’s broken or fractured you should take it really easy. This was the perfect excuse to get out of the house and read one of my Christmas books so the next day I drove to E&R and spent a few hours standing in a waiting room (still too painful to sit) and then had a x-ray done. Result: no broken bones (hoorah), but the coccyx had been “twisted” (yikes). The doctor explained it’s like twisting your ankle and that once the inflammation goes down it all goes back to normal, but could really benefit from an osteopathy session. Great, I thought, I’ll just see my osteopath friend as soon as possible. Alas, she doesn’t ‘do’ the coccyx. The look on her face worried me. “What does ‘doing the coccyx’ involve?” I asked. She winced. “Interior intervention.” Ah. “You mean, finger up the bum?” She nodded. I winced.

I have found an osteopath who ‘does the coccyx’. Thankfully, for the moment, L’Homme is away for 10 days so I can’t book an appointment as I don’t really want to take Léonie with me while having someone wiggle their finger up my bum. In fact, maybe I’ll keep on finding excuses until things heal all on their own. In fact, my coccyx already feels much better.

No, I’m NOT perching on the edge of my chair to write this. Honest. ish.

Another reason for not starting this year on jet-skis is illness descending upon both kids and me (it’s a family tradition to be really poorly for the first ten days of the year) and my friend Bernie slowly vanishing into the afterworld; wherever that may be. I’m not going to write much more about him right now as I’m not ready to, but I am thinking of him constantly at the moment, as he slips from here to there. Another brilliant, beloved soul who doesn’t deserve to go so soon.

It is 9:30 pm and Léonie (age 2) is leaping around the kitchen singing “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMYYYYYYYY, woter, woter WOTERRRRRR”, whilst tossing a sippy cup in the air and biting through the skin of a banana, sideways. Tommy is asleep on the sofa having had a worm intervention earlier on in the evening (me, Doc. Harrison-Bullett, P.H.D. in Worms – I won’t go into the details). I should carry them both up to bed but my coccyx won’t take it.

Welcome to my world, 2013.

The motorbike on which I had my Christmas Eve accident.

The motorbike on which I had my Christmas Eve accident.

Someone (else) is wearing the (very small) trousers.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

A blood-curdling scream rips through our home. The kind that turns your heart inside out and liquidizes your stomach and has you dropping everything and running towards the source of the scream because a small child is in mortal pain, accidentally burnt or broken and close to death.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

WHAT HAS HAPPENED THIS TIME??!!

Socks.

Léonie does not want to put on her socks.

She wants to go outside, she has managed to put her Crocs on, but she does not want to put on her socks.

“It’s cold outside.” I tell her. “You can wear your crocs if you really want, but you need socks on to keep your feet warm!”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!

“Okay, okay! Then no socks, but that means no crocs either! We’re going to the farm, you will walk in wet grass and some sort of poo and it will go through the holes in your crocs and then your feet will be cold, wet and pooey! Take the crocs off and put your fleecy boots on instead.”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!  (throwing of fleecy boots across kitchen, re-throwing of socks, kicking of cartons-to-be-recycled.)

“Okay. Fine. Wear your crocs without socks. We have to leave right now or we’ll miss the post office. Come on, move it, let’s go!”

I bundle Léonie into Tommy’s red puffa jacket (because that’s what she has chosen as a coat), carry her out of the kitchen and down the stairs and try heading for the post office.

“Bike, Mummy! Bike! BIKE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! BIKE!!

And so I strap her into the babyseat on my bike, put her helmet on and we bike up the hill, with the parcel I’m sending in my mouth, my teeth clenching onto it for dear life. We make it to the post office just before it shuts at midday, I hurl the parcel at our postmistress and off we bike down the hill towards the farm, Léonie singing quite happily behind me.

We visit the pigs, who look pissed off because today we didn’t bring anything for them to eat, then we visit the sheep and the hens and even the people because they are very nice farmers indeed. Often they’ll invite us in and Léonie will raid their baguette box (the Brits have breadboxes, the French have baguette boxes), a trick taught to her by her elder brother (we must owe them a couple of hundred euros in bread) and I’ll buy some eggs, but not today because Léonie has walked through wet grass and some sort of poo and her feet are cold and wet and pooey. And now she wants to be carried and I have no desire whatsoever to carry her with her pooey crocs on as they will wipe across my jeans and jumper rendering me pooey too. So I put her back on the bike and we’re just about to head off when the farmer’s charming son pops out of his essential oils boutique and I ask him whether he saw L’Homme’s show in Lyon and he says yes and starts to tell me about the evening he spent at the theatre but Léonie is ready to go home because her feet are cold and wet and pooey so she bangs on my bike saddle shouting “Mummy! Mummy! MummyMummyMummyMummyMummyMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMY MUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMY!!!!!!!    EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! and that works a treat, I start pedaling straight back up the hill.

Just another morning in my life as a stay-at-home mummy in the middle of the French countryside.

Career options for a 5 year old.

Last week, while we were at my parents home in the UK, Tommy accidentally saw the beginning of a news report about a soldier whose leg had been blown apart. I managed to switch the telly off before he saw any more of it but he had seen enough to ask questions.

“Mummy, I don’t want to be a soldier because I don’t want my leg to be all in blood.”

“Well, I’m very relieved. I don’t think I would want you to be a soldier either.”

“I will be a doctor and make the soldiers better. And all the other people. And all the other legs in blood.”

“That’s a good idea Tommy.” (I secretly rubbed my hands in glee – my son, a doctor!)

“But Mummy, if I am a doctor, I will have to look at lots of legs all in blood. And more blood. I don’t like it.”

“Well, you don’t have to be a doctor” (my hopes violently dashed to smithereens).

He looked thoughtful. “Mummy, I will be a facteur. I mean a postman.”

Ah.

“No Mummy, I forgot, I want to be a gold statue maker. I will make gold statues and buy money with them.”

“Do you mean people will pay you money for your gold statues?”

“Yes Mummy.”

“And what will you do with the money?”

“I will buy things for me. Like shelves. And lights. Some food.”

My son’s mind may have been infiltrated by my home improvement plans.

“And statues.”

“So… when you grow up, you’ll make gold statues to get money to buy, amongst other things, statues?”

“Yes Mummy.”

 I’m not sure whether Tommy will be a famous sculptor with a huge art collection or a weird philosophy teacher who specialises in circular logic, but I am glad he doesn’t want to do a job that involves his leg being all in blood.

Alas poor toothbrush, I knew her well.

Yesterday was a day when everything seemed destined for failure/breakage/spillage/tantrum/desperation/loss of voice. The (squashed) cherry on the cake was when I was brushing my teeth and my toothbrush snapped.

Did she fall or was she pushed?

I cannot tell you how difficult it is to brush your teeth with just a knobbly bit of brush end and no “stalk”. It is impossible to do a half decent job and you feel utterly ridiculous. Tommy watched me and said “Mummy, why are you brushing your teeth with just your fingers?” because that’s what it looked like I was doing. I showed him the brush bit and he rolled his eyes. “That’s not a good idea, Mummy”. I had a flash-forward of him being 17 and watching me clean the kitchen floor with two small sponges, squatted down like a frog (my favourite technique) and him saying exactly the same thing. Maybe by then I will have become sophisticated and elegant and will no longer have breakable toothbrushes and use sponges to mop floors. Somehow I doubt it.

Padded bras for kids.

Ahem. I fear I have become a little dull. Writing about insects and home renovation. In the list of Topics To Avoid Like The Plague When Writing A Blog, these are numbers 3 and 4 (numbers 1 and 2 are personal hygiene problems and favourite cleaning products).

Well today I’m writing about a subject that involves sex, which is always a good crowd puller, although today I wish my subject wasn’t about sex. But it is. Yet it shouldn’t be.

Whilst searching for slippers in the childrens’ section of Monoprix I found myself in front of a whole range of padded bras. Nothing strange there. Well, it is a bit strange when you realise that nowadays padded bras outnumber the non-padded ones by about five to one, but anyway, that’s not the point. The very disturbing thing about these rows of padded bras were they were in the children’s section. Not by accident. On purpose. They are for little girls. We’re talking TEN YEAR OLDS and upwards.

Mothers of ten year olds may be thinking I’m very naive and that yeah, these padded bras for children are everywhere and have been everywhere for ages. Or maybe they’re just rife in France. I have no idea. All I know is that I find the concept of making little girls’ breasts look a lot bigger is creepy and perverted. TEN YEAR OLDS. Even 12 year olds, 13, 14 year olds… what does it mean when underwear manufacturers are selling “bigger boobs bras” to such young girls?

Oh but I am naive. I’m totally out of touch. It’s nothing, just sexualising kids in yet another way, the way everything is sexualised nowadays. I should lighten up. I mean I don’t have to buy those bras for my little girl, do I? But that’s not the point. The point is that someone, somewhere, thought they could make some money by selling bras for children who don’t need bras and then adding a ton of padding so that those children look like they do need bras. Why balloon our little girls’ breasts? To make them look like women, to make them sexually attractive. Bloody hell, it’s already hard enough when you’re 18 to fight off men’s stares, wolf-whistles, and hands, imagine a ten year old having to deal with all that.

We don’t sell cod-pieces to little boys. We don’t sell special padded-pants to make them look like they have large willies ready for adult action. We don’t glue fake stubble on their faces.

I read an article in the Guardian the other day (which I can’t find now of course) about people who like having sex with much younger partners. This was written following the whole Jimmy Savile scandal which still makes me feel sick to the stomach. The writer was saying that it’s about power, not sex. The older partner is interested in the power he/she gets to wield over someone so much younger, less-experienced, less sure of themselves. This in turn indicates the older partner is actually hugely lacking in self-confidence and is searching to feel powerful by having much younger sexual partners. Yup, that makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how this ‘preference’ has permeated our society. The “ideal body” resembles a 16 year old body, not a 36 year old one.

Most young girls now grow up thinking their worth is largely built on their sex appeal. Ten and eleven year olds trying to be women as fast as possible will love those padded bras. I can just see their mothers trying to dissuade them. I can see the little girls happily carrying their new padded bra back home and trying it on, coming downstairs with their new boobs, Mum and Dad choking on their tea, looking at each other in panic, wondering how on earth to deal with the situation. Try telling an eleven year old that her boobs will grow in time, that she doesn’t need a padded bra at her age, that having boobs doesn’t matter – the rest of the world is telling her it does.

(NB: I have chosen the title on purpose because I bet some parents/kids are actually using those words as a search term. Maybe, just maybe they’ll read my post and MIGHT spend 20 seconds thinking about it. Or maybe not. Any comments on this topic are more than welcome. Léonie is only just coming up to 2, so I’ve got a few years to think about this one…)

The Greatest Gift in the World…

… is a holiday. At least, it is at the moment, for me. I am utterly exhausted, wiped out, end-of-tethered, squishmazzled. It is even official. Medically certified. I saw a doctor on Friday who confirmed that I am not going crazy for feeling so knackered, that it is normal for a mother of two little non-sleepers/big-breast-feeders (as in, big on feeding, not big breasts, although once upon a time they were indeed quite big… sniff) to feel this way and that I am probably anaemic, de-mineralised, lacking in vitamins and oligo-elements and losing brain cells fast. The latter is almost certainly true as I recently noticed I can no longer do basic addition whereas I used to be a whizz at maths. 77 + 77? I came up with 144. The Post Office lady looked at me with pity. I pretended it was a language thing and that I was merely on holiday here in France, not a full-time inhabitant and garlic obsessive since 1995. But anyway, my entire body and brain is worn out and I need a break. Not the sort of break when you go away with your children and end up doing pretty much what you do at home but with the added danger of drowning, sunstroke and not having the right sort if breakfast cereal, no, I mean a real break from round-the-clock childcare, child protection and child entertainment. One where you get up when you want, go to bed when you want and fill your days with just doing what you want, generally involving a lot of lying horizontally, swimming, reading books, eating good food and messing about with friends you’ve known long enough to not care what you look like.
And this, Dear Reader, is exactly the sort of holiday I’m about to have.

About a month ago L’Homme announced that he had changed my summer plans. “Look on the fridge” he said, which was not down to his dodgy English but because our calendar is on the fridge. Pencilled across the 21st of August was “Claire – Italie”. Return date : the 28th. He had borrowed some money and booked plane tickets for Puglia where we holidayed last year. my heart leapt with excitement and then plummeted straight back down as panic struck me at the idea of being away from Léonie for a whole week. I mumbled “erm, without Léonie?”. I was worried I might not seem very grateful nor appreciative of his generous, thoughtful gesture. “No Léonie. Just you.” he replied, “tu as besoin des vraies vacances.” Oh. A real holiday. Just me. With friends. In one of my favourite places in the world.

I am sitting in Orly airport, just outside Paris. I have spent the last few weeks looking forward to this. I have also spent the last few weeks agonising over the thought of leaving Léonie, and even Tommy, for 8 whole days. A few days ago I felt so guilty about going that I went a bit mad and angrily declared that I would NOT leave my baby girl and would be booking her onto the flight with me. I sulked with everyone that day and breastfed Léonie whenever she signed ‘milk’ at me, which meant every 30 minutes. I slept in her room and consequently was woken up twice and then far too early. In the morning I was a wreck. I did the maths: 2 x 9 months of pregnancy + 18 months of breastfeeding Tommy + 20 months of breastfeeding Léonie + nearly 4 years of broken sleep In the last 5 years = mother’s body and mind totally and utterly frazzled. I’m surprised I can even write this. In fact, I’m going to stop, buy myself a coffee and go back to my book. My holiday has already started and I’m going to make the most of each second. The kids are perfectly fine with L’Homme, I’m not indispensable to their survival, this week is going to be good for all of us. So off I fly, with just one bag, a phone full of photos of the kids and the reassuring knowledge that a week away doesn’t mean the end of breastfeeding… unless Léonie doesn’t ask when I get back. This time tomorrow I will be covered in sea salt from my morning swim in the Adriatic sea, full of lunch and Italian coffee, asleep in the hammock.

THANK YOU L’HOMME.

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The Pirate Returns

At last. He escaped. Captain Tommy Sparrow, or Pirate Peg-Leg as he is now known, managed to flee the clutches of Le Hospital and swim back to his own ship. He got away the day before yesterday and is still hopping around the house ship, bravely battling on, never giving up, despite foul poison being poured down his throat twice a day by the dreaded Captain Mummy.

We have warned Pirate Peg-Leg that we are planning on selling our house ship but nothing phases him now. He is looking forward to making new pirate friends on strange seas. Plus there’s a castle in the town we’d like to move to. With treasure hidden in one of the walls. I know this because when we visited it a few weeks ago, when Pirate Peg-Leg still had two fully working legs, I found him scraping at a 400 year old wall with a stick. I had to hide a fifty pence piece of eight in the grounds of the castle so that he could find some treasure before we left the castle, to avoid him bringing a turret down.

He is still limping and hopping and regularly falling over, yet doggedly continues his pirate cutlass training. His sister is simultaneously thrilled to have him home and also a wee bit jealous of all the attention he is getting. She has taken to opera screeching in order to remind us that she is still here. She is even letting me put pretty dresses on her rather than refusing to wear anything but her “My Pop is Da Bomb” t-shirt (a hand-me-down from 23 cousins) as she knows we will coo and aaahh every time she walks into the room. I took the opportunity to take a photo but she continued her opera squealing.

(NB: the dress is from Heavens-to-Betsy in case you were wondering.)