The Work-Life Balancing Act – How To Keep Your Head Above Water

Gone are the days of families supported by one salary. The cost of living means this is not a feasible option for most.

Plus, the primary caregivers (women mostly) in many cases, want to work, in some capacity, as I do. We want to contribute financially, learn, develop and achieve in our own right.

My husband works full time and myself 4 days a week. Many of you will know from experience, getting to the end of each week equates to the same level of organisation necessary for a basic military operation. Our week requires getting four different people to four different places, on time, five days a week, each accompanied by a bag of appropriate accessories. Missing a drop-off window will have a knock-on effect on all the subsequent and any mixing up of accessories could lead to significant upset or embarrassment for any party. The stakes are high….

Whatever your week looks like, it’s a tough gig but it’s not impossible to succeed (99% of the time anyway) without going insane. Here are a few things I’ve figured out over the last few years:

Be organised. Obvious, but this is a daily struggle for me!

  • Get bags, shoes, coats, and lunches ready the night before.
  • Know what your morning implementation plan is, who’s doing what?
  • Food plan and shop online. I can’t stress enough what a difference this makes.
  • If you can afford it, get a cleaner. I can’t afford it yet but when I can, I will. It’s one of my biggest weekly stresses.
  • Don’t do everything yourself – if you have people to help then use them; a partner, parents, in-laws. Be specific on when and how they can help.
  • Don’t take on too many extra things – It will only add to the strain of your busy week. I have been guilty of this. You don’t need it.

Take that ‘me time’ at work. Make sure you take a lunch break; read a book, get some fresh air or talk to your friends. Be an expert in something else for a bit, be ‘you you’ for a while, rather than ‘parent you’.

My Family

But then leave it behind; ensure there is clear separation between work and family time, this is difficult with today’s technology, but don’t miss one of those lovely ordinary moments because you were checking your email.

Have a couple of things for yourself – It’s OK you know. Make one of them exercise, it will boost your energy levels and relieve stress, don’t underestimate its value. This year I am also learning some Spanish (via the duolingo app). It just takes 20 minutes here and there and I love it.

If you have a partner on this journey, then be kind to each other; whenever it’s possible my husband and I have a weekend lay in, him on a Saturday and myself on a Sunday. It’s a life-saver some weeks.

This is a tough juggling act for sure and if you do feel under constant strain then it’s probably time to tweak something. Otherwise, you’ll have the odd week when you feel like you haven’t done anything well, but don’t give yourself too much of a hard time, you’re probably doing a much better job than you imagine.

 

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We Have Been Your Equal…

There’s a lot to be said on Sexual Equality, a subject I am no expert in but as International Women’s Day (8th March) came and went I was drawn to thinking about this and what the future might hold.

By 4-years-old our children have decided that there are colours, clothes and jobs for girls and different colours, clothes and jobs for boys. I have tried to explain to my daughter that this is not the case and there are just colours, clothes and jobs and she and her friends can wear and do whatever they want to when they grow up.

Gender stereotyping can be a battle; one I feel I have already lost. But does my daughter’s love for Disney Princesses mean that she is not going to want to, or be able to do a job in science, technology or engineering when she’s older? I’m not sure it does.

But I do worry about her future because gender stereotyping has had/is having serious consequences. I don’t want her to grow up thinking there are certain options that are not relevant to her just because she’s a girl?

If we want to see change, want to make a difference, the most significant thing we can do right now is talk openly to our children (yes our boys as well as our girls), anyone believing that sexual equality is a female only challenge, is demonstrating the problem right there. Shifting a long-held perception on any subject takes time and this change will not be brought to the fore by us but by our children. And like any other revolution, it must start somewhere. It must start with us, now.

There is a way to go, battles still to fight. Young women are still being sexualised, objectified and ridiculed for not looking a certain way. At the same time, older women are criticised for growing old ‘ungracefully’ There’s the pay gap, lack of flexible working, gender parity in business, domestic violence and sexual violence. Things that all need to be addressed in all walks of society, by the media, and by our governments.

And whilst it’s easy to feel disheartened I want to for this moment, focus on what we have, instead of what we don’t have and what we have achieved, instead of what we still have left to do. The disrespectful noises coming from the USA to me are like a rallying cry, I can hear drums in the distance; The girls are coming

Superhero

But I am no man-hater, far from it. I feel lucky to have been surrounded by wonderful men all my life, men who have offered love, respect, and support. Something I know not every woman can say. These men; our fathers, partners, brothers, friends, and sons, have made a difference though and will continue to do so. Because they all represent a small piece of the puzzle of equality, it’s a big puzzle, it’s going to take a lot of perseverance to finish, and at this point, there are some pieces missing (we should probably look under the sofa). But it’s starting to take shape, it’s starting to vaguely resemble the picture on the box.

Because from my corner of the world, I tell you, I have seen great things from Womankind, as have the men that have stood next to us, as our allies, they bear witness, they have seen that:

We have been strong.
We have been fearless.
And we have been brave.

We have fallen like them.
We have been in pain like them.
And we have cried like them.

Yet we are not equal?

Our bodies and minds have been broken by carrying and bringing children into the world.
But we have survived.

We have picked them up when they’ve been down.
We have cradled them.
And we have told them that everything will be ok.

We have paid our way.
We have voted and marched.
And we have had a voice.

Yet we are not equal?

We have felt undervalued.
We have felt unappreciated.
But we have carried on.

We have made sacrifices.
We have put our careers on hold and taken jobs we are over qualified for.
And we have stayed in unfulfilling roles because it’s the right thing to do for our families.

Yes, we have needed their help and yes we have needed their strength.
But they have also needed ours.

No, we have not been perfect and we don’t deserve anything we haven’t worked for.
But we do deserve the chance and the opportunity to show we can.
Because our rights are not a competition.

To Mankind; We are different to you in many ways but it doesn’t make us unequal.

We may not have half the top jobs, yet, and we may not earn half the big money but we have in so many other ways been your equal. We should not be judged on job titles, money, status and physical strength alone. These are not the only things that define us and should not be a basis on which to conclude that women are somehow inferior to men.

Because, let’s not forget that men and women will stand here together, side by side, until the end of time. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We all have our own personal contribution to make.

With this I am hopeful that as our empowered and educated children go out into the world, the future they create will be one where they can feel confident in their ability to do any role and where people are defined by their skills and not their gender. Where women are paid equally and recognised for their contribution, as 50% of the world’s population quite rightly should be.
  
   

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Apologies, Aspirations, And the Small Matter of Making the World a Better Place…

I’m late. I’m always late.

The 2017 goal setting party started bloody ages ago and I’m just rocking up now. Looking dishevelled, with no gift and no real excuse.

Whereas everyone else arrived on time (or early), wearing a well thought out outfit, furnishing this new year with a lovely bunch of flowers and a slightly smug look on their face. Dammit!!

I’ve never been into goal setting, not as a proper exercise anyway. But this year I wanted to put a bit more thought into it. And here’s why:

Last time out, I wrote this…

Oi 2017 – Our Children Are Watching. And No, It’s Not OK. I was and still am, upset & disillusioned by the current state of things in the world. A world my children will stride out into with less & less of my protection as each year passes.

I can’t change the world on my own but I can have an impact on my own little corner of it. So that’s where I’m going to start. I want to feel like I’m doing some worthwhile things that will benefit others, not just me or my immediate family. I want to lead by example, I want to try and spread some positively. Which for me can be difficult. I’m such a ‘glass half empty person’, sometimes, so this is taking me right out of comfort zone.

I’ve put some goals together for 2017.

Some personal ones and some family ones but then also a few focusing on other things that I can do myself (with little resource or spare time) as part of my one-woman mission to make the world a better place. Because you can’t moan about something if you’re not prepared to take any action to change the situation.

Being out of my comfort zone is exactly what I need right now, so here goes.

Here’s a snapshot of what I hope to achieve:

2017 GoalsNone of these are revolutionary, I know that. For some of them, the only real challenge will be finding the time.

Personal Goals
Reading & going to a gig – I know, big deal, right? But the sad fact is I haven’t properly read a whole book or seen any live music since my daughter was born almost 5 years ago. These are two things I love and that I need to make time for.

Family Goals
I’m excited about these. My daughter can’t get her head around going to another country, so if we make it to France for a camping trip this summer then that will be a great experience for her. And growing some veggies in the garden is such a fun thing to do with kids, plus we are determined this time after last year’s failure!

Other Goals
Many of you will have done some of these, or perhaps do them regularly? Like giving blood for example. I can’t fathom why I haven’t done that before?

I love running, it’s my thing, so I’m going to do one of my events for a charity this year. And my daughter is keen to clean up the old toys and give them away. Two easy no-brainer ideas right there.

These are small things.

I know that, but just imagine if every adult in the UK (or even half that) picked a couple of things to do this year that benefited others? What a huge difference that could make, don’t you think?

“I’m hoping I can inspire a few people, then perhaps they could inspire a friend, who inspires a friend, then hey presto! We’ve started a revolution……”

Kindness Cost You Nothing. So give it away frivolously...

What is everyone else doing this year?

I’d love to hear about other things you’re doing with your families or an interesting personal challenge. And especially ideas for helping others. Please leave me a comment.

I’ve written these down and shared them simply because I want to be held accountable. I want to be able to look back at this year and say ‘yeah I did those things’, I tried to make a difference. I tried to teach my kids some worthwhile values.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not perfect.

And I don’t believe that thinking this way makes me better than you but what it does make me is human. I think we should all take a little time to think about what that means these days. The person standing next to you in the street, that you don’t know, is similar to you in almost every way. And all the small nuances that make them different are all the bits that make them interesting, that help them to tell their own story. You will most likely have much more in common with them than you imagine. So let’s be kind to each other.

Before you go, please take a moment to watch this, it’s quite brilliant. It’s a TV commercial but the sentiment regarding humanity is so relevant right now.

TV 2 | All That We Share
TV 2 | All That We Share

Right, I’m off, need to get busy if I’m going to get all of this done! First stop is a goal just for me – Brighton Half Marathon, Sunday 26th Feb.

RUN MUMMY RUN….

 

  
  

 
 

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Oi 2017 – Our Children Are Watching. And No, It’s Not OK.

I’m upset with The World.

I’ve been upset with the world since the middle of 2016. Yes, this does stem from the whole Brexit/Trump drama but this is NOT about politics. I understand that change is unfolding as a result of established democratic processes. And I also understand that people in positions of enormous power have difficult decisions to make and that there will always be a group of people somewhere, that disagree with them. This is not about any of the complex issues related to either of those two events, it’s much more basic, it’s a reflection on the pre-event build-up and the post-event fallout, this is about humanity.

For me, the last 6 months have been a seemingly never-ending showcase of everything that’s bad about the human race.

“The open promotion of intolerance, racism and sexism has made me feel sick”.

In democratic societies, everyone (of a certain age) is entitled to vote, they are entitled to an opinion and debate is healthy, but, this culture of brutally attacking people over social media whilst hiding behind a computer screen is abhorrent.

The media have so much to answer for, flooding all channels with dangerous & divisive headlines that will sell a paper or get a click. These messages then land directly into the hands of young people, in their Facebook feeds.

When did this all suddenly become ok? It’s 2017, not 1940.

What is Humanity anyway?

Towards the end of 2016 I really struggled to get past how utterly depressing all of this was, it made me fear for my childrens’ future. The fact that basic human kindness seems to have been forgotten?

Humanity

I am just one person, what can I possibly do?

I am one small person, but I am also a parent and this is an important factor because it means I’m now going to go all Lioness on you, because, THIS SITUATION IS NOT OK.

I cannot stop words coming out of the mouth of people like Donald Trump or it being broadcast across the world but I can arm my children with the best defence possible, which is knowledge & education. I will simply not allow them to believe that it’s ok to act like this towards other human beings.

As a lioness, a parent, an uncle, an aunt, a guardian or an educator…

We can help our young people to understand and value:
Kindness.
Compassion.
Tolerance.
Generosity.
The importance of telling the truth.
How to get your point across intelligently.
The art of disagreeing gracefully.

And we can make sure that they know:
It’s OK to be competitive.
It’s OK to have an opinion.
It’s OK to disagree with people.
It’s even OK, on occasion, to fight back. But remind them, it often takes more courage to walk away.
And, that they simply will not get on with everyone they meet, which is OK too.

But we can also help them to understand that:
It’s NOT OK to disrespect someone because of the colour of their skin.
It’s NOT OK to abuse someone because of their race or gender.
It’s NOT OK to make assumptions about someone because of a God you think they might believe in.
It’s NOT OK to dislike someone purely because their appearance doesn’t fit with your own idea of ‘image’.
And, that anonymously abusing people online is an act of pure cowardice.

The majority will probably be nodding along with me? This is common sense, right? And you’re probably annoyed I bothered saying it? This is just ‘bringing your child up as a decent human being’, isn’t it? But I did want to vocalise this as I feel so passionate about it. Most of us can only realistically impact our own little corner of the world, but let’s do it and do it well.

Kindness costs nothing.

I can hear the voices –

“Yeah Michelle, let’s all just be really nice to each other. That’ll fix everything!”

Well no, it won’t and I’m not perfect, but, I feel like it’s OK to openly encourage kindness. And I also feel like it’s OK to suggest that we could all probably do more in this area to enhance our own lives and the lives of others. Kindness costs us nothing after all!

I, of course, know there is so much good in the world, despite what I’ve said and it’s also full of truly wonderful people. So let’s end on a high here.

This is David Tennant, (who I adore), from last week’s Last Leg on Channel 4, telling us, in a reassuring voice, that:

“Everything will be OK”.
“But it’s up to us to make it ok and just generally try not to be dicks.

David Tennant

So perfectly and eloquently put.

Here’s to 2017. The year of humanity and kindness.
 
 

 
 

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NEWSFLASH: Modern Family Life Is Hard Work!

The need for a good work-life balance is a shared struggle for so many of us.

Annoying inside-my-head smug voice:
Wait, you signed up for this right?
Me: Well yes…
Nobody forced you to have two children, did they?
Me: Well no…
You knew you’d have to go back to work right?
Me: Yes…
Well quit your moaning then Doll Face
(Yes my annoying inside-my-head smug voice calls me Doll Face, so it’s not all bad).

“Parenting (like Ronseal) – does what it says on the tin”.

OK, OK, I’m not really allowed to moan but can I just for a bit, a teeny tiny bit, please?

Since September this year we have been adjusting to a new routine with one child now at school and one at nursery.  This is nothing short of a massive pain in the ar*e. Kindly allowing me the opportunity of arriving late at not one but two separate locations in the morning *sigh*.  A standard week is like a full-on military operation. Involving meal planning, online shopping, bag packing, shooshing, rushing, sighing and swearing (under my breath). And transportation by various combinations of car, train, pushchair and foot. Mixed with some pulling, pushing and on occasion, dragging.

By the time I get to work I’m completely exhausted, from just existing.

In all seriousness though, the biggest stress, I find, in the life of two working parents, is spreading yourselves so thinly. The feeling that in doing so much & performing so many different roles, you end up not doing any of them very well. The feelings of frustration and guilt (more guilt, just what we need) are there daily. Sometimes you want to ask (politely) if you can get off, to just catch your breath for a bit.

Yes, I want the bloody moon on a stick, who doesn’t?

I want to feel like a better parent. I want to be able to carefully answer all my daughter’s questions each morning without rushing her or stopping her half way through by shoving a toothbrush in her face.

I want to have more energy for her reading and writing.

I want to let my son play for longer in the morning. So happy with his trains before I engulf him in shoes, hats & coats and plonk him in a car seat.

I want to give more to my job. I take pride in my work, I’m not a person that can just clock in and clock out (thanks, Mum & Dad for making me annoyingly conscientious). I care and I want to be the one to make good suggestions, come up new ideas but some days I’m so drained I can just about remember my system password.

I want to do more on my blog. Much more. I want to write more, promote more, interact more, take all the opportunities that it might bring but there is just no time.

I want a clean & tidy house. It’s filthy, honestly, I cringe at the thought of this. I can just about manage a little tidy each day but cleaning is a nightmare.  No, I can’t afford a cleaner and I just, you know, don’t like the idea of it….

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you get to win, God I love those weeks, feeling like Super Women. I arrive on time, I forget nothing, I eat healthily, I answer questions, I write (I still don’t clean, but hey ho…). And there are very limited amounts of rushing, sighing, swearing and dragging. And for us, the weekends bring welcome down time. But in amongst the sometimes overwhelming stress of what it takes to ‘exist’ as part of a working family of four, I find there are all these moments, where you feel like you’re actually doing a good job. Happy, sad, challenging, all different kinds of moments, where in your head (or maybe out loud?) you give yourself a little high five, a tiny fist pump or do a little jig, whatever works for you.

Some moments are big and some are very small…

Recently my son had a nose bleed in the middle of the night. After cleaning everything up, despite being a major Daddy’s boy he wanted me and only me.

So I cradled my son in my arms, heavy now at 18 months. We rocked back and forth in the subtle orange glow of the night-light in his bedroom, a room that I know so well now. I’m pretty sure I could rebuild it with alarming accuracy anywhere. We listened to the soft lullaby of Ewen The Sheep, the only other sound was the padding of my bare feet on the carpet.

He was very unsettled, I kissed him on the head and stared at his half illuminated face. My arms hurt and I felt brain dead until suddenly I realised that this was one of those moments and I smiled to myself, a smile just for me.

Because as I rocked this small boy that couldn’t sleep, in that moment, right there, I was doing a good job.

I was everything I needed to be.

And it felt good.

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1st Day of School: Diary of the Absurdly Emotional

God, what is wrong with me? Well that’s a bit of an open-ended question, isn’t it? Where do I start, or more to the point, where do I stop?

My daughter just started school and I’ve been feeling very emotional about it, which is normal (I believe) but I’m less emotional, more emotional wreck or emotional time bomb; could go off at any second. Jesus, I’m ridiculous, It’s school, it’s around the corner from our house, it’s not like she’s moving to Australia or running away with the bloody Circus is it? So why does the thought of it make me want to grab her and never let her go?

As I think about that I’m visualising how that scenario might go:-
“Mummy get off”.
“But I just want a cuddle”.
“Urrgghh no thank you Mummy” (Yes my child is polite even under duress. Thousands of pounds of nursery fees well spent).
“But I want to go to school Mummy”.
“But I want to keep you close, under my motherly wing, where I can protect you”.
“From what Mummy?”.
“Oh, you know; learning, discovery, new friendships, new experiences. But it’s ok, only for maybe….25 years……”.

She’ll make that face at me, the one that indicates that she no longer understands what I’m saying and can’t work out if I’m joking or not. Then we’ll both laugh (at Mummy).

She is going to be fine, in fact, she’s going to be more than fine. This is not about her, it’s all about me.

It’s just, it’s the end of an era, isn’t it? Those pre-school years are so precious as there are so fewer boundaries (not counting work).

There are so many thoughts (mostly irrational, I know) whirling around my head:

She is so small, she’s just 4 years old for God sake! How can she go to school (who came up with that idea anyway?) It’s for ‘big’ children, isn’t it? Those that can successfully wipe their own bottoms & put on their own socks. And not those that throw themselves to the floor when refused access to the biscuit tin.

And all the new faces. It’s a whole new bunch of people to disagree with on whether you can be the Mummy, the Daddy, the Fairy or the Dinosaur.

Oh and then there is the poo obsession. Please please let everyone else’s 4-year-old be the same as mine. Every role play session ends with the Fairy/Witch/Baby/Dinosaur doing a massive fat poo, doesn’t it? Please say yes?

The ratio of adults to children is purely terrifying. What happens with P.E? I mean I struggle to get two children dressed in the morning and that’s at a 1:2 ratio, I’d estimate on most days 50% of my children leave the house looking respectable (woeful statistics people). How is this even possible at school, by the time everyone is ready surely the lesson is over? The combination of back to front shorts and shoes-on-wrong-feet must constitute a new ‘Reception Year Fashion Craze’.

And how the hell does one teacher and a teaching assistant manage to control thirty 4-year-olds for six hours a day. I can barely manage one and a 16-month-old for two hours each morning. It must be utter carnage?

Poor teachers….

Though having said that, most 4-year-olds are pretty hilarious, their take on the world is often refreshing & enlightening with a good dash of crazy. It’ll be a hoot for the teachers, surely? And then at the end of the day, there’s always wine.
Note to self: Buy teacher wine for Christmas, not crappy chocolates or a mug (my teacher husband receives a lot of mugs….).

OK, here we go.

Day 1: This is how it went….

Arrghhh F*ck it’s raining. I (clearly erroneously) hadn’t considered rain. This means a pushchair rain cover for the baby, an umbrella and a whole load of hassle I don’t need.

I just want to get there, just don’t want to be late.

We arrive, we park (easily! – have I got the wrong day?).

We get to the reception playground and wait with all the other tiny people in big uniform. *Breathe*. We made it on time. Tick.

OK what do we do now, can somebody tell me? *we wait*…..nothing. Am I supposed to just send her in on her own? Really? OK, we can do this. But can we? She looks terrified. I’m going to go for it, I send her in with the instructions of finding her peg and hanging her bag on it, then returning to the classroom.

I watch through the window, she gets to the cloakroom. She’s just standing there, why is she not hanging her stuff? She’s forgotten maybe? She can’t find her peg perhaps? She looks worried like she might cry. Sh*t. This tugs at my heart strings. Somebody help her! Please. SOMEBODY HELP MY BABY!!! Nothing….. *need to calm down*.

Right, I’m going in. I help her with her bag, her name tag was hidden behind another pristine looking school branded book bag. We go back to the classroom. I still have no f’ing clue what we’re supposed to be doing. This is a ruddy nightmare!

She is about to cry, if she does, so will I. I look around and spot colouring and a friend, bingo, the perfect combination. She settles, I leave, with no tears, from either of us. #win

Now, back to the other child (that I momentarily forgot existed), previously abandoned in the pushchair in the playground. Oh dear, how often a parenting win is followed directly by a fail.

It’s fine, he’s fine. Let’s go and get tea and biscuits, lots of biscuits. His little face lights up at the ‘B’ word (that I now realise I have said way way to soon……).

She survives, well she loves it. I survive and the boy forgives me for the abandonment (I imagine….).

Now to my next emotional challenge, which I can only assume is just around the corner.

 

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Blown Away…

We are a family of penguin lovers, in fact, we just had one to stay with us for the summer holidays! We crafted him out of a sock and various pieces of felt, don’t panic.

It was a pre starting-school project for my 4-year-old, so seeing Blown Away, a show based on Rob Biddulph’s 2015 book about the adventures of Penguin Blue and friends, was a no-brainer. And with the additional promise of acrobatics the pre-show excitement levels are high (and that’s just me).

As we wait for the show to start we hear a noise behind us, like quacking, then sure enough 3 penguins waddle past us onto the stage. They immediately proceed to show off their acrobatic skills to the oohs and wows of the little people (and some big people) watching. I overhear one small boy protest that he too can do that move.

Our 3 friends for this adventure are penguin’s Blue, Flo and Jeff. Blue wants to fly, to see beyond their home and so they fly together (albeit unintentionally), on a kite away from the ice and snow. On the way, they pick up Wilbur the (accordion-playing) seal and a polar bear called Clive, who, rather fortunately, agrees not to eat them but to come along for the ride instead. We continue on with Clive who ends up in the jungle, where he meets a very cheeky monkey, called, well….Monkey. This is a momentous experience for Clive because he is used to being alone and now suddenly he sees the value and enjoyment of having friends.

Blown Away

As we waddle, dive, jump and swing through the story the acrobatics’ get more impressive, a tightrope walk no less and the accordion (did I mention the accordion?) gets chirpier.

The show is an utter delight, all about adventure and imagination, two of most vital ingredients in the ‘happy childhood’ recipe. It showcases strength, agility, humour, puppetry and wonderfully crafted songs.

“Never throw away a chance for an adventure. Imagination keeps your dreams afloat”. Just one of the lovely choruses we are treated to.

The story draws to a close as despite the excitement of new friends and warmer surroundings, Clive is too hot in the jungle and the penguins miss home. A makeshift boat is hastily thrown together for their homeward journey to the tune of “I want to go home, I miss my Mum, I miss my bed, I miss my ted. I miss the snow; at the end of the day you miss what you know”.

Never has a truer word been spoken by a penguin, an (accordion-playing) seal and a polar bear!