The fantasy shop

Having been a parent for six and a bit years now, (quick pause whilst I down a bit of wine to soften the shock of seeing such a sentence,)  I have learnt that one of the phrases that will be bandied about wherever parents gather is ‘child-friendly.’ Or ‘kid friendly.’  Or, something that  squirmingly, I once said,  ‘kiddy friendly.’  Shudder.  It is used to describe pretty much anything from National Trust cafes, to wooden toys, (also sometimes confusingly labelled with: ‘This is NOT  a toy.’  That’s right, it is a small item of pretend food, and this is a stuffed mouse wearing a dress, but you must on no grounds actually play with them.) Sometimes the phrase ‘child friendly’ is very true:  Pizza Express, for instance, is very friendly towards children generally. Even when they use their crayons as guns and dribble ice cream everywhere. Not that I have any first hand experience of this, obviously. Just observational evidence. ..

Sometimes ‘child friendly’  is a lie, uttered to lure sleep-deprived, gullible parents in. This applies to a number of tourist attractions where you are practically shot at if you touch anything, adventure playgounds that have had most of the ‘adventure’ removed for health and safety reasons, and beautiful, but miniscule, childrenswear boutiques that you can’t push a buggy round and where all of the labels say ‘hand wash only.’

Sarah and I agreed early on that in an ideal financial world* we would open our own shop. It would be big enough for a baby feeding area, a play area with big boxes of toys that didn’t mind being chewed, and a cafe that served proper food for children. Toast with marmite, cheese, grapes, milk, crackers, bananas.

There would be non-instant coffee and nice tea and fresh bread and cakes for the grown ups. Oh, and we’d squeeze in a few items of clothing too, on the side. Obviously this is all a bit of a fantasy, and we are still basically a mobile operation, and whilst I do carry emergency snackage in my handbag, it’s not really at cafe capacity yet. I’d have to get a much bigger bag for a start, and I find that people are less willing to purchase food that is covered in fluff and has old raisins stuck to it. Picky, some people.

When we talked about finding and designing child-friendly clothing, we did really mean it. We found the softest cotton t-shirts we could that still looked nice once they’d been washed a few times, and we found a t-shirt printer who could print designs that didn’t peel off, or fade. We found some fabric for summer dresses that was soft, but light and could dry on the line in half an hour. We made sure that the fabric that we used for our capes was swishy enough to fly properly behind the superhero t-shirts. We found some knitted leggings with boy-friendly designs on the bottoms** because boys don’t usually get to enjoy the warmth and flexibility of tights. We also found some taggies.

Taggies are for babies and children who like to sort of fiddle with labels. I know that sounds odd, but really that is what it boils down to. I had not really been aware of this phenomenon until I met Sarah’s son, who is practically the dictionary definition of the word boy: interests include saving the world, knights, batman, lego, dinosaurs and defeating any enemies, often including his sister. (It is no easy win, wrestling Erin. She is what one might call a ‘tough cookie’.)  When he is not on universe protection duty, he likes to snuggle up with a label or two.  He will carry around t-shirts that have the desired soft label inside, or in cases of emergency, root around in his own, (or his mum’s) clothing in search of a label to fiddle with.  Weird, but cute.  Taggies are comfort blankets with a selection of different colour/texture labels sewn on, to save on the whole frantic-clothing-search aspect of it. You can buy them at great expense (£17 for a taggy  in John Lewis) but we found some much better ones, handmade by a very talented mum. They are all in different but brilliant fabrics with different colour and texture ribbons sewn on. They have fleece backs to make them super soft. Sometimes, mummies really do know best. And not in the creepy way suggested by that (excellent) song in the film Tangled.

* i.e, post lottery win, or something.

** if these were my own product, which sadly they are not, I would definitely call them ‘design on the behind’ leggings.

The Wonderful and also Terrible news.

Sometimes you get news that is on the one hand, brilliant, and on the other hand, less brilliant. This was very true of Sarah’s news that she was emigrating (well, ish) to the Isle of Wight. On the plus side, a lovely place to settle and bring up children by the sea, a great job for her husband (er, something to do with fibres, she says, knowledgeably. For a renewable energy firm.)  On the down side, a long way away from ME! Having decided that throwing a tantrum of epic proportions and/or kidnapping her children wasn’t a dignified  or useful way forward, I had to accept that they would be moving and that I would have to just Deal With It. Handily, this coincided with our news that clothing company Mango would not let us trademark, or trade as, mangoJam anymore. (I can’t really say much more on the subject, only to say how lovely the clothes are in Zara.!)  Effectively we would have to begin again, with a new name, logo and semi-international base. And yes, I think that the Isle of Wight counts as being international. Getting there involves a ferry, anyway. Oh, and we had about 4 weeks to do it. We do love a tight deadline. It makes life so much more fun… Having gone through a LOT of potential fruit-based names (thanks to anyone who contributed to the debate, we had some very interesting ideas. Would you really buy clothing from a label called JangoMam, though?  That is the question,) we decided to go with the simple option: our names. Sarah&Alice. We picked a new signature colour:  a sort of aubergine shade of purple (you can run from fruit and veg, but you can’t hide.) Sarah bullied her brother into designing us a new logo – unveiling soon!

To be perfectly honest, the business side of things was the easy bit.  The saying goodbye bit was less easy.  It is very hard to go from being able to nip round the corner and share ideas, have a cup of tea, drop off a suitcase of clothing or two, to being a long car and ferry journey away. The tea would have gone cold for a start. And as I have said before, I am no fan of cold tea. Also, over the course of the last year, our youngest daughters had become very close. Matilda and Erin are just five days apart in age and basically exactly the same personality-wise (to give you an insight into this personality, think psycho-glamour. Barbie dolls and fist fights. Baby Annabels at dawn!) The thought of breaking the news to them was almost worse than the thought of Sarah moving away. Luckily, breaking news to a three-year old goes pretty much like this:

Me:  Tilly, Erin is going to move to a new house.

Tilly:  With a pony?

Me: No. I don’t think that ponies are involved. It’ll be by the sea. Quite a long way away.

Tilly:  Can I have a new sparkly pony?

Me: Hmmmn. Maybe. Erin won’t be going to preschool with you any more.

Tilly: I love preschool. We have a calender and we sing wibble wobble wibble wobble jelly on a plate.

And so the news was broken. Erin took it much the same way, luckily. Sometimes, I wish I was three. It seems easier; a more simple life, but with much more fancy dress involved…