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I never understood my mum’s obsession with leftover food. To this day she never throws anything away. We’re talking tiny remnants of meals here, a blob of tuna, a spoonful of potato salad. Nobody ever fancies it the next day. Instead the contents of those small pots and plastic boxes at the back of the fridge would gradually turn putrid before finally ending up in the bin, a few weeks later.

I used to think it was some kind of war-baby thing. You know, she lived through rationing so of course it’s only natural she’d save the lumpy dregs of the gravy, that lonely slice of a boiled egg, those wrinkly three peas. Where was the next meal was coming from, right? It’s only now, when I find myself rescuing my own despondent fragments of meals, carefully placing a spoonful of beans into a tiny tupperware container or plonking one small cooked potato into a pot, that I realise it’s motherhood that does it.

For one thing, once you’ve watched your kids throw most of your hard cooking work onto the floor, “wasting good food” takes on a new meaning. This is personal. Those peas aren’t just any old peas, they’re your blood-sweat-and-tears peas. And they’ll damn well eat them up even if it means adding them cold to their lunch plate the next day. And the next.

Yes. Of course we’re poor too. Dirt poor. We don’t have rationing, but our belts have got damn uncomfortable of late. Just look at the cost of childcare – which has now jumped to a third more since the recession according to a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. You eke out each meal because you can’t do a ‘weekly’ shop. Why? Because the weekly shop seems to have doubled in price (like, when did that happen?). So you stretch it out to a fortnightly event with some limp veg bought at Costcutter in between.

And yes. We are digging this whole budget living vibe right? We’re all eco-warriors now. We recycle our food because ‘waste not want not’ is the buzzy thing to do. Yesterday’s spag bog is tomorrow’s chilli con carne. At the very least that old bit of courgette will be going on the compost-heap, right? Oops, I meant the Bokashi bin, of course. We don’t recycle anymore, for crying out loud, we UPcycle. Yeah.

But truly, it’s really because, with a toddler to look after, there is NO TIME. You can’t be cooking from scratch every meal – are you insane? No. You cook one meal. On Monday. And you take their next meal out of its leftovers and arrange it on the plate into a face shape for lunch on Tuesday. Oooooh. Look at the funny man! And you hope by tea-time on Wednesday the kid doesn’t realise it’s the third time he’s been eating from that same batch. Bon appetit!

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I don’t think I actually needed to sweep the floor pre-baby. I must have done I guess, but I certainly don’t remember. It must have been the odd occasion, you know – to gather up a random crumb, an errant slice of mushroom, a blip of a tomato leaf. On an otherwise spotless shiny wooden floor. No, dirt didn’t really impact on my life too much.

Now, though. It’s like that’s all my life boils down to. I live to sweep. I sweep to live. Literally. If I didn’t I’d probably sink and suffocate under a pile of trodden-on pasta, squashed peas and slimy carrot. I’m not joking. Perhaps I’m a bit obsessed. But it seems to sum up my life as mum of two small people – a constantly bent-over servant to two small tyrants ruling the roost on their respective thrones. OK, Stokke highchairs, but you get my point.

Yes, I’ve heard of a hoover. But have you heard the one about the terrified toddler who screams whenever you switch it on? And anyhow, getting the hoover out of the cupboard every time the kids have tipped over their raisins for the fifth time that day, is sheer lunacy.

Oooooh. I’ve tried other things. The floor mat for instance (or ‘splash mat‘). Nice idea – keeps the floor clear – but cleaning the damn thing itself is more hassle than it’s worth. Nope. The ol’ broom is the way to go whether you like it or not. It’s probably why these basic objects of female subservience still exist, if you think about it.

Just one thing: whatever you do, don’t attempt to sweep pasta, rice or couscous until it’s gone a bit dry and crunchy, it’ll gunk up your broom and goo the floor even more which is ten times more depressing than having to sweep it in the first place. And hey, while you wait, the toddler might get an unexpected bonus meal out of it. Everyone happy!

Whenever I asked my own mother what she wanted for her birthday she always used to say the same thing year after year; “peace and quiet”. Now, living in a small Swedish village, she is at last surrounded by more peace and quiet than you can shake a stick at. But as a child I couldn’t think of anything more soul destroying. Why on earth would my mum desire something so useless and boring? As I got older I still didn’t get it. In fact, it’s not something you naturally understand as you get older (like some things in life). Because you only really kapish once you’re a mother yourself. And by then it’s too late. Because all your chances for peace and quiet have gone, forever. Well, at least 18 years.

The bottom line is children have a way of invading your aural universe 24/7. First of all there’s that constant jabbering (they’re either talking to you, talking to a toy, or, er, talking for the sake of it – usually repeating a phrase endlessly – internalising their thoughts is not something toddlers do). Added to that, their toys plink, plonk, judder, thump and bump, or even talk as well – Dora The Explorer’s squeaky Americana is a particular ‘delight’. And kids don’t stop moving (unless you glue them in front of CBeebies) so there’s a constant ambience of feet tripping, containers being opened and emptied, doors slamming and loo seats crashing. And at regular intervals the screeeeech of a child who’s either fallen down, fallen off, banged into or trapped their limbs. And I only have one (for now).

Your only chance of some relief from this constant ‘on’ volume is when they sleep. Which is why you spend your whole day craving for that moment when your offspring is/are finally asleep and you can collapse on the sofa shellshocked. Wine often helps at this stage. Until your partner sticks on Eastenders so you can have Peggy and her brood jabbering on at you instead. Sigh. Still it makes you appreciate the smaller things in life. It’s a rare but eagerly relished morning when I’m blessed with an extra cup of tea in bed while dad is downstairs fighting with the little one over whether to have Shreddies or Weetabix for breakfast (“Nothing!!! I just wanna watch TEEEEVEEEEE”) . On playdates I see the potential aural onslaught of two or three kids, plus a baby, where such cups of tea would be pure fantasy. And I realise that my mum, who reared four of us, deserves every nanosecond of peace and quiet she enjoys now.

It’s just a blob of coloured squashy putty. One of those kid-things that you vaguely remember. Oh, but once motherhood strikes you realise Play-Doh is so, sooo, soooooo much more than that. It’s a pacifier, it’s a boredom-imploder, it’s a creative outlet for your budding ‘artist’, hey, it’s practically a miracle. Really.

As well as its ability to keep ’em quiet for, well, at least a few minutes at a time, what makes it so wonderful is its versatility. When they’re young they’re happy to just bash it about and squash it and mash up the colours. As they get older they can spend hours making their first 3-D figurine (my two-year-old daughter was jubilant about her snowman – pictured above). And who needs plastic playfood when you can make your own carrots, peas and sausages? Bonus: clearing up is easy – unliked paints, glue & sand and the like – just stuff it back in the pot for next time.

Make your own why don’t you (the basic version is just flour, water and oil*), and your kid in messy play heaven ‘baking’ cakes without help. Just add glitter for extra visual panache. Or take a small mini-tub of it on a long plane or train journey – tetchy toddler soothed. At a festival I went to last year one smart mum had brought not only tubs of play-doh, but a foldable play table and play-doh cutters/shapers/rollers as well. The result? Four ecstatic 3-5 year olds kept busy out of harm’s way for a whole blessed hour while bleary-eyed parents enjoyed a quiet coffee and chat.

Here’s my advice: as soon as your baby stops jamming all and sundry into their mouth get them started on it. And from then on they will (hopefully) never stop. Well, until they start hammering the Nintendo DS anyhow. Dare I say even adults get a certain satisfaction from squashing, rolling and shaping this stuff on occasion.

And here’s the key, unlike some toys we find ourselves spending outrageous amounts of money on only to find they’ve grown out of them after 6 months, this stuff isn’t only cheap, there seems to be no age limit. Which is the holy grail where cash-strapped parents are concerned.

*you need to chuck this right away after play however – a more lasting recipe can be found here

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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