Guest post: Holiday thoughts from home

Holiday thoughtsAfter a lovely family holiday where I actually managed to read a book (an actual book!) my dad sent through some of his thoughts. Here’s a Granddad-eye-view on our extended family holiday.

I am very lucky – or at least I think I am – as my family seem to want to spend some holiday time with my wife and me, and not just in Cornwall. Whether Scrip’s and D’s Dad feels the same I don’t know, but I think he does, or at least he is a very good actor!

We have all just returned from a holiday in France having made our respective ways there at different times by land, sea and air. No doubt growing older decreases tolerance and distance lends enchantment to our view of the past, but it did seem that nowadays a significant number of children on our ferry were left to their own rather annoying and noisy devices, whilst parents – especially fathers – sat glued to their iPads or iPhones. Fortunately, we could escape to the luxury of a daytime cabin, something my family were keen to point out that had never figured when we all travelled together.

Looking after children is a tiring and stressful job and I admire the way that Scrip’s and D’s parents have coped – albeit, as I am sure they would admit, with help and support from their aunts. There is no more important job than bringing up the next generation and I am full of sympathy for parents today who have so many pressures on them. Life was much simpler for my generation, although I shudder to look back at some of the things we did – driving in an open-top sports car with the baby tucked up in a carry cot behind our seats or travelling through France with three unbelted children playing school in the luggage space of an estate car.

Of course we had had concerns in those far off days but personal computers were still a thing of the future, so there was no online ‘information’ immediately available to worry you or to make you compare your children to the apparently perfect family; phones were fixed, and not hearing from family members, often for weeks on end, wasn’t a reason for concern.

This holiday meant we were able to see how Scrip was coming to terms with a new baby and this was fascinating. Clearly having been the centre of attention for 3 years, adjustment was bound to be necessary. Her physical expressions of sisterly love sometimes bordered on the over-enthusiastic and D’s feeding times coincided with extra attention-seeking but she was able to vocalise and play out her feelings both about D, as well as her recent entry to a nursery, with help from a French supermarket acquired ‘Sofia the First’ doll – once I’d learnt to say the name right! Sofia was obviously able and did to say things that might have been taboo for Scrip.

As always the speed of change in the children came as a surprise, both in the case of baby D, who looks increasingly as if he will play in the second row, and Scrip. Her co-ordination and ball skills, helped no doubt by attending Playball regularly, and her increasing command of the subtleties of language lulled me into subconsciously regarding her as older than she is and made the few occasions where tiredness and frustration led to tears seem deliberately contrived when, on reflection, it was clear that they were not and it was my understanding that was at fault.

Still who can blame me when in the middle of ‘playing’ table tennis pre-lunch Scrip paused, look thoughtful and said ‘Hang on, there is something in the sky that shouldn’t be there’. Indeed there was, a full pale moon – try explaining to a 3 year old why despite being always the moon can only be seen sometimes. No wonder I am tired.

A very pleasing feature of the holiday was the way in which Scrip took to French food both at home and in restaurants. Frites of course, pain chocolate and croissants, and crepes, both sweet and savoury, were polished off with gusto, albeit at different times! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, when she comes to Cornwall we have to buy in extra olives. D meanwhile stayed on his diet of mother’s milk provided with scarce a disapproving glance from the French.

The best part of the holiday was the privilege of seeing things – not just the moon – through the un-jaundiced eyes of a child and thus being able to rediscover the wonders that surround us daily, especially deep in the French countryside.

Why Inside Out is a great choice for little (and big) kids

Inside OutI love (and miss) going to the cinema and now Scrip is old enough to enjoy it it’s a real treat to take her along. Obviously she won’t be munching popcorn in front of the latest psychological thriller anytime soon, but hopefully we can meet in the middle and both enjoy clever and entertaining children’s films. And that’s exactly what we did last weekend as we were treated to a screening of the newest Disney film, Inside Out.

She was rapt throughout and I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a pretty long time. They’ve struck the balance between adult jokes and children’s humour really well.

The film’s based on what’s going on inside us and what controls our thoughts and feelings – in this case little characters which are personifications of emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness, with all their quirky traits. I wasn’t sure if the concept was too hard for a three year old to grasp but straightaway Scrip was tapping her head and asking in a loud whisper if they were inside her too, so I guess not!

We were invited by Subway, to celebrate their tie-up with Inside Out and the day started with a late lunch of an Inside Out Kids’ Pak™. There’s a kid’s sub, juice, Bear Fruit Yoyos and game inside a shoulder bag with an Inside Out character on (six to collect in total). Scrip chose Disgust, which may explain her recent threenager behaviour.

She’s never been to Subway before but she readily wolfed down the lunch (which meant I wasn’t in too much trouble for not buying popcorn afterwards). The bag is hanging neatly on her door and is probably now filled with hair clips, badges and dolls’ house characters.

A new-found aversion to balloons popping meant we didn’t join in with the other activities, which also included face or hand painting with favourite characters (I encouraged a reappraisal of Joy for that one). But we enjoyed the atmosphere and I enjoyed spending some quality time with Scrip whilst my husband looked after baby D. All in all it was a great afternoon out. And being in Leicester Square, American ice cream may have just featured afterwards to fuel the tube journey home. Thank you Subway!

Inside Out is out now.

Subway’s Facebook Page.

Subway Kids Pak

Guest post: Plotting an escape from London

Plotting escape from LondonThe one about leaving London. A guest post from my husband sent to me from a packed tube train.

Reading my copy of Time Out this morning whilst standing in the hot and sweaty aisle of the eastbound Central Line, I got onto one of my favourite topics of the last 2 years: plotting our escape from London.

It’s not like I hate it. I love it and the capital has been great for a number of things: I met my wife here, I had two children here, I built and maintain my career here. So what’s not to like (aside from cyclists, pollution, no space, high prices everywhere, hipsters, artisan coffee snobs zzzzz)?

It’s the nagging feeling I have that being in London is not the best place to bring up my children. This is in part informed by both my wife and I being brought up in the country – albeit opposite ends of the country – and partly because the city, for small children, is crowded, aggressive, oppressive, cramped and full of dangers. That’s not negating all the positives like multi-culturalism, racial diversity, opportunity and countless soft play facilities. But the bad outweighs the good in my eyes.

Re-locating to the country – a long held dream for both of us – brings all the rose-tinted feelings of green fields, throwing open the French doors, birds singing, nice country schools and a decent local round the corner with my tankard behind the bar (did I really just say that?). But it’s what I increasingly long for.

I want Scrip to run around uninhibited, to feel comfortable rather than intimidated in a group and build the kind of friendship set and comfort zone we had when we were growing up. And if I have to sacrifice the home we love, artisan coffee and my current employer (not necessarily in that order) then I’m ready now to put my full weight behind it. As risky as it currently feels.

The baby forum tribes – which one do you belong to?

Baby forums imageEarlier today, while Scrip was rummaging in her toy box for a small plastic bottle of pretend bubble bath (as you do) and I was bouncing a grizzly baby D with one hand, I used the other one to Google ‘early teething’. He’s been agitated and super hungry since the weekend with nasty nappies and I thought it was probably the 12 week growth spurt, but then I noticed a tiny white speck on his bottom gum which I think is a tooth bud.

It seems rather early at around three months (Scrip was six months almost to the day for her first tooth) so I wanted to find out more. I skipped past the articles and straight onto one of the forums. Baby Centre, Circle of Mums, Mumsnet, Netmums – do you use them as much as me? They’re great for getting a range of opinions and there’s so often someone with the same question you have. The responses are mostly reassuring and make for strangely addictive reading.

As a bit of a forum afficiando, from conception to pregnancy (when I was actually banned from certain sites by my husband) to toddlerdom, I’ve noticed the people who respond to questions tend to fall into certain ‘tribes’. This is not a criticism – I’ve been helped so many times by forums and I’m grateful for all of the responses – more of an observation. So if you post a question be prepared for these tribes to offer up their responses:

The ‘seen it all before’ responder – the experienced mum, often with multiple children, who’s seen it, or done it, or one of her many children has. It possibly happened a decade ago but she still gives invaluable advice.

The ‘me too’ responder – usually caveated with ‘I can’t help but…’ she has the same problem, or a similar one, which she goes on to explain in great detail. It may not solve the problem but is actually pretty reassuring.

The ‘random fact’ responder – chipping in with a fact that may be only mildly related such as ‘my cousin’s boyfriend was born with a tooth’ or ‘my neighbour’s daughter got a peanut stuck in her ear’. Thanks for that.

The ‘copy and paste’ responder – someone who’s found a good, useful chunk of text online and is happy to share. Like Google but with a human filter.

The ‘I should see a doctor’ responder – in all likelihood, seeing a doctor is sensible advice. But really sometimes we just want answers from fellow parents before we take that step, especially if it is 2.37am.

The ‘professional’ responder – possibly someone from the site itself offering up advice and links to other pages (which may or may not be helpful considering the question is still being asked). Or a medical professional who happens to be browsing and gives a handy gem or two.

The forum queen responder – like those awe-inspiring bloggers who manage to post three times a day, regularly join in multiple linkies and fill their Instagram with arty shots, all whilst balancing a small child on one hip, these people are the lifeblood of forums. They give a great response, a link to a previous relevant thread and maybe even a picture or two. All rounded off with a smiley emoticon.

As for me, I’m more of a browser than a poster but I will respond if I’m sure of something. And hopefully people can gain from what I say as much as I have from others. Unless it’s a random, peanut-related fact.

Mothercare Autumn/Winter 2015 – a colourful sneak preview

Mothercare 2015I naively imagined that maternity leave would give me a chance to breezily pop along to some of the great events I’m invited to during the working week but can’t usually go to. Of course I forgot that I’ve swapped one kind of work for another and this one is every bit as time-consuming. And how sometimes just crossing the threshold into the outside world is a challenge.

My first big central London outing was to get a sneak preview of the Mothercare Autumn/Winter 2015 range. With D carefully suited and booted in one of his (clean) Mothercare babygros, we set off for the bus. Of course there was a feed along the way – never the calmest on a cramped number 94 – but then the walk along Oxford Street was less hectic than I thought and we found the venue and wheeled inside.

With a colourful forest backdrop it was a really lovely, fresh collection and there was a good blend of the babies and children’s clothes, furniture and maternity fashion that’s on offer. I was less fresh, having been up most of the night before feeding. Sadly I couldn’t enjoy one of the cocktails but I was grateful for a coffee which I swifty carried backstage to calm a howling baby D with yet another feed. At the time he was in the middle of what I think must have been a pretty big growth spurt.

Anyway, when he did settle he enjoyed having a look around at some of the colourful sights of Autumn/Winter and tasteful clothes in one of my favourite baby stores, and so did I – here are my highlights:

  • The pastel coloured nursery furniture. Gorgeous, perfect for mixing and matching and would look great in a big or small room (good for us and our box room nursery).
  • The bright, home-spun looking linens to go with them.
  • The new baby retro superhero collection – nice to get away from the usual pirates and princesses and the Danger Mouse, Banana Man and Batman bring back so many memories!
  • The winter brights – hats, coats and scarves for every colour of the rainbow and very quality-looking. I particularly liked the mini puffas.
  • The new Little Bird range. I’d say it was the most retro yet and really charming.
  • The animals! Polar bears and penguins which make up the Icy Lux range, plus elephant Tusk range which donates 4% of sales to the Tusk charity. All very tasteful.
  • The understated grey unisex baby range. Would have been perfect for stocking up before baby D was born.

With everything in store from this month, it’s definitely worth taking a browse.

Have a little patience – learning to love the randomness of the baby months

Randomness of babiesI remember most of Scrip’s baby milestones but, although they were very real and exciting at the time, I can’t now pinpoint exactly when they were. I mentioned to a friend recently that I wish I’d written a diary or even a few handy notes at the time – she suggested it should be mandatory if you were at least contemplating having more than one. Maybe an NCT exercise?!

The problem is, having a new baby means I’m ready and impatient to reach those milestones again – particularly the ones which will help order our lives a bit more. When can I get him into an (unforced) routine? When should he really be napping in the cot? When do his bedtimes start regulating? Don’t get me wrong, I love his gorgeous smiles, little chuckles and chubby babiness and I feel like I’m able to enjoy this time so much more second time around. It’s just that I know what’s coming and am keen to embrace it – but I don’t know when it’s coming.

Babies and particularly baby timing is random during these first few hazy months. Even now, 9 week old D’s sleeping in his pushchair and I’m not sure if he’ll wake up in 40 minutes or two hours. 

So although I’m keen to get on to the next stage I’m trying to encourage myself to wait until at least we reach three months to start thinking patterns and routines. And in the meantime, especially with the backdrop of a warm summer, enjoy as many of the small details along the way as I can.

The New Parent Olympics – could you compete?

New Parent OlympicsI know strictly speaking we’re not new new parents, but having had a gap of three years, at tricky times and in the early hours it certainly feels like we’re doing all of this for the first time. Some things come flooding back (the only way to treat nappy rash is to reach for the Metanium, always make sure the frills at the side of the nappy are facing out or face the consequences, no room should be without a muslin) and some feel like we’ve never experienced them before.

Much of it is logistical, fuelled by sleep deprivation, and a lot is about making the most of small windows of time. So I’ve been mulling a few new parent challenges that could be worthy of including in next year’s Olympics:

The five minute supermarket dash. Contenders need to collect at least ten items, spanning both sides of the giant supermarket with a grizzly baby and/or whiny toddler before either fully melts down. Bonus points for not knocking anyone flying en route and not giving into pester power for cheap toys or cheap sweets.

The service station nappy change. Contenders need to change a nappy on a dubious surface (often wobbly, rarely spotless) whilst avoiding baby touching any part of the changing table. Bonus points for negotiating the (often broken) straps and managing to have a toilet break yourself.

The me-time challenge. Contenders need to make the most of a rare child-free hour, courtesy of partner/in-laws/fool-hardy friends, by fitting in as many household tasks as possible – aim for at least 15. Bonus points for anyone who actually manages to rest during this ‘rest time’.

The cup of tea challenge. Contenders need to finish at least one cup of tea (which could be classed as lukewarm or above) fully, within a 24 hour period. Sounds deceptively simple but not many have succeeded.

The getting ready alone challenge – baby vs shower. Contenders need to wash, brush teeth and dress without the baby crying. Bonus points for using a variety of apparatus such as baby bouncer, crib with mobile, moses basket and fluffy towel on the floor and for singing nursery rhymes/nonsense songs continuously.

And the New Parent Olympics gold medal? A lovely smile from your baby…and a hot cup of tea.

I’ve been practising all of these in the last few weeks and would rate my chances. Could you compete?