Helplessness

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I don’t deal well with feeling helpless and I’m having a bit of a helpless week.  There are two things going on right now, at two ends of the scale, that have been taking up all my head space and leaving me feeling emotionally wrung out.

One of them, there are not yet any words for. We are all beyond helpless with that one and it is too big for me to even look at yet.

So let’s look at the other one.  I am well aware that my stress about this second concern is massively amplified by the fact that I cannot help with the first. That is how my helplessness works. I have to try to fix things. I can’t fix the big thing – nobody can – but I might have an outside chance of doing something to improve the other thing.

And, to be honest, the other thing would be enough on it’s own to really concern me. My dear little H is struggling at school and I am really worried about him. This isn’t a new thing, it has just come to a head again this week. When he started school, H felt just too young and it took him such a long time to settle, I began to wonder if he’d ever happily run in with his friends. He cried every morning for the first term.

As a April baby, H was one of the younger ones but he was also just very young in his ways, and he still is. When I look at him and his class mates now, other seven year olds seem so much more mature and worldly. Hell, even his four year old sister seems more mature at times. I don’t mean he is immature in the sense that he behaves badly. He is just a total innocent abroad. He really struggles with new situations, which completely stress him out, and he finds the world a very challenging place at times. In fact, he often seems to be in his own world entirely, drifting off somewhere pleasant, floaty and entirely unproductive. None of this is very compatible with the school system.

H’s school has been very supportive and he has had all sorts of extra help. We are also sending him to a maths tutor once a week, which has definately seen him improve, but he still isn’t closing the gap as much as I’d hoped. He reads pretty well but his spelling and handwriting are crazy and his maths is very basic. I know this is common in kids his age and I am also aware that he is far from the only one in his class who needs assistance but I just keep waiting for the eureka moment we had with his reading.  But for now at least, numbers still baffle him. I’m no maths whizz myself, so I sympathise.

H is a leftie, something my right-handed husband and I weren’t expecting, and I’m sure a lot of things are harder for left-handed kids. H didn’t even consistently hold his pencil the right way for most of his first year of school. He just really struggled with it and, whilst he now at least has that nailed, his writing is pretty unintelligible, even to him.

H is my first born, my first school pupil.  It is uncharted territory for both of us. I am not craving a straight A genius. Really, I’m not. I just so want him to do well enough to achieve what he wants to achieve, to feel like he is on a par with his peers and to gain confidence as he learns, rather than being distracted by worrying about whether he is smart enough or quick enough.

I so want to help him, it actually hurts. I know he is a bright lad, he just doesn’t seem to be entirely compatible with the one-size-fits-all system that is our education system. Thankfully he is happy at school and we’ve have been told we are doing everything right but I can’t make him pick it up, I can’t force the understanding into his head. There is only so much I can do and I don’t think anyone has the power to snap him out of his lovely classroom daydream into the focused, switched-on pupil I would love him to be. I don’t understand what is going on inside his adorable, little head so I am baffled as to how to mould him into a more ‘suitable’ pupil for the school system.

And part of me doesn’t want to.  Because, on the flip side of my concern about him not hitting the academic targets, I worry a lot about putting too much onto my H’s little shoulders. Because he has a maths tutor, he already has far more homework to do every week than the rest of his classmates. On top of that, we are working hard on his comprehension, so we do little workbooks at home too, to get him used to working out how to focus on instructions and understand what is required of him. Most evenings, he does a maths worksheet, a few pages of a workbook and his reading. He is only just seven. I don’t want to hot-house the poor lad when part of me is screaming that he should just be allowed to play and enjoy himself. His dreamworld looks pretty bloody lovely to me and I can’t bear that we have to try to extract him from it so often.

I sometimes want to throw all the homework on the fire, tell him I’ve done fine without knowing my times tables, that there is more to life than grasping numbers. Tell him that his Dad’s writing is terrible but that it didn’t stop him doing what he wanted to do. But I know that this age at school is all about mastering all that apparently vital stuff. I also know how bad it can make you feel when you are not a natural at one of these key skills and you watch other kids doing them with ease. How it can make you feel that you are worth less than them.  I can’t bear that H may be feeling like that, either now or in the future, because I know what a massively negative impact that can have upon a kid’s self esteem.

The whole business is nothing but worry to me, especially as I see his little sister – three years his junior and a very bright little spark – coming up behind him at great speed. The day she starts shouting out the answers to his sums quicker than he does will be a very difficult time for both of us, and it isn’t that far off. I’m bracing myself, but H has no idea, of course.

imageIn discussions with his maths tutor yesterday, she asked me if H was on ‘the register’, by which she means the Special Education Needs register. No, he isn’t. Maybe he needs to be, I honestly have no idea. I know being on that register isn’t anything to be ashamed of and that knowing what we are dealing with might help. But hearing for the first time that this may be the direction we are moving in, that we may be looking for a label or a condition, was – if not exactly a shock – very upsetting. It is new territory, yet again, and I am slowly digesting it, before trying to work out our next steps. Before trying, desperately, to be ‘helpful’ again. To fight the helplessness. To try my best to make my much loved little boy’s path through life a little less painful, a little less stressful and something to be enjoyed, not endured.

So, I’m waiting for a call from the SEN lady at school, hoping she will give me a plan of action for my wonderful little boy, who has so much more to offer than knowing the answer to 8 x 4.

And I also wait for a call about that other thing that we can’t yet talk about. Because there are no words. Because there is no help to be had.

No, I definitely don’t deal well with helplessness.

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The Look that Spells Trouble

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A lot is said about third children and youngests in general. They are apparently expected to be wilful and rebellious. Rule-breakers. I’m not a great believer in stereotyping based on the order you are born in but my third is proving to be something of a handful, so perhaps there is something in it.

I’ve mentioned before that our Baby T is pretty naughty (see Kidding Myself) but the closer we get to the Terrible Twos, the more obvious it becomes that that naughtiness ain’t going anywhere.  It is, in fact, building at quite a rate.

T still isn’t my trickiest toddler because H, the eldest, was a horror with blind rages and terrible moods. Baby T is nothing like his brother in that respect. He is a happy chap for the most part. He is just plain cheeky and doesn’t respect rules in the least.  He is far and away the naughtiest of the three and he is breaking new territory in our family.  I had two kids who stopped when you told them not to run away.  They had their moments and were certainly not angels but, for the most part, they understood that certain rules should be respected.

What they did not do was look at me when I told them to stop running away, grin and then speed up, running at full toddle towards a busy road or steep drop. They did not stare at me in a challenging way before picking up whatever item I’ve asked them not to throw and lobbing it across the room with all their might. And they certainly didn’t laugh when I use my most serious cross voice. H actually used to cry when that voice was used. M looked a bit scared. T finds it funny. What am I supposed to do with that?

The running off worries me a lot, I have to admit. Both of the older two would keep a close eye on where I was, for fear of getting lost, even at T’s young age. Apart from two memorable disappearing acts by H when he ran ahead too far in excitement as a toddler, he stuck pretty close to me and M was exactly the same. T just runs for the sake of running away, if the mood takes him. I haven’t yet risked seeing how far he would go and I have to say he does at least look back to see what impact his Usain Bolt act has had on his poor mother, so I have hope that he might stop before hitting the horizon. But I really wouldn’t count on it.

imageThis naughtiness can be hard to quantify. The older two could be little terrors too in their way. But there is just something in that look he gives me. Anyone who has ever looked T in the eye whilst he engages in an act of rebellion would know when I mean. It is a look for total defiance, without even a flicker of guilt. He might as well be sticking two fingers up at me. He totally adores me, of that I am never in doubt, and he hasn’t got a malicious bone in his body. But I think he also wonders, if he pushes just a little harder, whether he might perhaps make a challenge for leadership one day soon.

T looks me right in the eye with that look and says “Screw you, Mummy, this is what I’m gonna do. I’m going to do it just because you have told me not to. And what the hell are you gonna do about it, eh?” Currently, the answer is – not a lot. He is too young to bargain and negotiate with. He totally ignores verbal commands and cross voices. I’m left having to resort to forcibly removing the thing he is throwing repeatedly to get a rise out of me, or physically restraining him in his pushchair to prevent the latest great escape. It’s not a lot of fun for either of us.

But T is clearly no dummy. The feisty spark in his eyes shows me that. I’m relying on it to be honest, because bright kids soon work out how to get their way. Ending up without his lobbed toy or screaming in a pushchair is definitely not what he wants. Hopefully, he will join the dots soon and begin the basics of the endless bargaining and bribery that plays such a massive role in parenting. Well, at least it does in my house. Where we’d be without bribery, I dread to think.

My rule-breaking third. My terrible T. My adorable, charming little bundle of cheek and challenge. He seems determined to increase the number of grey hairs on my head and to force me to learn new parenting techniques just to keep up with him.  It’s going to be quite a journey.

But all is forgiven immediately with one of his disarming smiles and trademark monster cuddles.

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Hello Sleep, My Old Friend

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I have been freakishly productive of late, including having a bit of a manic Spring clean. This is most unusual. I’m not sure whether it is actually anything to do with Spring being in the air. I think it is more about the fact that, for the first time in about seven years, I am actually getting some precious sleep.

I am no longer like the living dead for most of my waking hours – as I have been for such a long time – and I have to admit it is quite a revelation.  It is still early days in this sleep-filled period of bliss: we’re just a couple of months in really.  And we still have bad spells, as you would expect with three small kids in the house. Disturbed nights are pretty regular and I am up in the night every couple of days, if only briefly: I had a monster-based nightmare to deal with last night with my middle one, which is pretty standard for a four year old. Oh, and throw an illness into the mix and it all goes to pot. But, on the whole, more sleep is being had.  And it is bloody brilliant.

It is also rather interesting to become reacquainted with the non-sleep-deprived me. Only it isn’t quite the same as the well-slept me from before kids. Seven years is a long old time and all the experience of parenting three kids has changed me a good deal over those years. It isn’t just that it has been exhausting, it is also that having kids has fundamentally changed me in many ways. The best of these seems to be that I value time so much more now. I actually get things done when I have a brief moment in which I might achieve something. Now that really is a million miles away from the pre-kid me who had more free time on her hands than she knew what to do with.

In the last few weeks since sleep landed, when there is something that really needs to be done – like clearing out a festering cupboard – and I have a small toddler-free window in which to do it, I just bloody do it. I don’t procrastinate for a year because I’m too tired to summon up the energy. I’ve done more life admin than you could shake a stick at and cleared out almost all the cupboards in the house over the last few weeks, just because I am not so knackered that I can’t do anything but sit down when I get the chance.

I’m staggered by what me-with-sleep can achieve. I’ve managed to do some things that I’ve been talking about doing for literally years. I feel like a new woman, or at least a much more productive one.

However, much as I am shocked to hear myself saying this, there are downsides to finally catching up on sleep. I had forgotten just how bloody hard it is to get up after a full night’s sleep. I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus most mornings at the moment. Perhaps I am just catching up on seven years of sleeplessness and I will soon be over this stage but it is somewhat challenging on work mornings when we have to be up and out by 8am. I somehow find getting out of bed easier in the morning when I’ve been woken numerous times at night.  It feels like second nature to be tired and vertical so I’m struggling to get my head around being well slept.

The other major change is a return to freaky dreams. I used to have incredible, crazy, warped and sometimes downright scary dreams before having kids. They were often so real I used to wake up thinking I really had been a flying dog chasing pigeons across the London skyline (a real and particularly memorable example).

If I’ve thought about the lack of dreams at all over the last few years, I think maybe I assumed they were just something young people had and I’d grown out of them. Not so, it seems. All I needed was more than three hours straight sleep and they’re back with gusto. Some nice, some nasty. Better stay off the cheese after dark.

But feeling like I’ve been flatterned at 7am or having a freaky-deekie dream are small prices to pay for finally catching up on some glorious sleep. It is incredible how much more painless a child-filled day can be when you are not exhausted. Yes, I am still shattered by 7pm, but who wouldn’t be after being run ragged by three small people all day? The rest of the day, I am not a zombie any more.  And it is incredible.

I still can’t quite believe my luck and keep thinking this is just a fortuitous blip. But maybe, just maybe, this stretch of sleep is here to stay. It is a truly beautiful thing. Baby T, I honestly can’t thank you enough.

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Musings on Marathons

imageMuch as I like a good old moan when warranted, this is a week for generally feeling pleased and remembering what a happy smiley place the world can be. And there nothing like someone else’s effort and a bit of sunshine to make you feel that way.

Spring has arrived and it is glorious. It has been such amazing weather here and just the way I like it, with a breeze and temperatures in the high teens and low 20s. Perfect for topping up the vitamin D, without having to smear the factor 30 all over my pale and sun-phobic skin. I’ve still managed to come up in a slight heat rash but that happens to me even on the most pathetic of sunny days. What can I tell ya?  I’m a total sun wimp.

So, that’s the mild sunshine fix sorted.  Next, to the effort of others.

On Sunday I spent the day minus kids and working at the Brighton Marathon on another beautifully bright and breezy day.  I work for a fantastic cancer charity and it is the perfect part-time job in so many ways. Not only can I fit it in around my family but having two days of work in my week keeps me sane – if not noticibly better off after all the childcare fees have been paid. And, working for a charity, I also finish the day feeling like I’ve worked hard to make the world a better place in a small way.

I was looking forward to Marathon day, not least because, after two weeks of school holidays, it meant escaping the moany kids and leaving them with the grumpy husband without the least bit of guilt, because work made me do it, Guv.

But more than that, I was looking forward to the buzz because I know of old that marathon days can be incredible. I’ve never worked one before and I’ve certainly never run one (definitely never on the cards, believe me) but, in a previous, kid-free life, I was a big fan of going along to cheer on the runners at the London Marathon.

If you have never been to watch a marathon, I highly recommend it. It is one of the most heartwarming experiences you will ever have. Seeing all those ordinary people doing something incredible, pounding the streets to raise as much money as they can for their chosen charity, is incredibly moving and restores your faith in human beings – who can be pretty disappointing most of the time, let’s face it. Calling out the names on the runner’s vests as they go by gives them a much-needed boost and can also be great fun. I’m not sure why but standing by a road with five mates, all with beers in hand, shouting out “Go on Nigel!” as loud as you can to some bloke you have never met before, can be hysterically funny.

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My marathon experience this time was mostly spent in the marquee at the end, looking after the tired runners as they finished their epic race. And I was there in my branded t-shirt and best beaming smile, being very official.

But supporting marathons was a very different game for me and my mates all those years ago.  We’d head to the last couple of miles of the London Marathon, cheer on the runners for about an hour and then follow that by about eight hours in the pub. My best mate and I once drank eight pints each after one London Marathon. And we were very proud of ourselves. Different times. I was less proud of falling arse-over-tit in the tunnels under Monument station but I was so drunk that I bounced rather nicely, if I remember correctly. Which I almost certainly don’t, given how much beer I had consumed.

I was rather sad when our annual London Marathon tradition fell by the wayside as we all grew up and became more responsible. But being down in Brighton last weekend has made me realise how great it would be to reinstate it when the kids are a bit older. I definitely wouldn’t take the family until Baby T is at least five or so.  They’d be bored and full of moans, plus I am not prepared to run the risk of one of my preschoolers being the one to trip up some poor runner on his last legs by pelting out in front of him.

Brighton Marathon has a very family feel to it though, much more than I seem to remember London having, although to be fair we ran a mile when we saw kids in those days (pretty much the only running we did) and we probably deliberately positioned ourselves in a particularly unchild-friendly zone.

But seeing people doing such an incredible thing to raise money is a good thing for kids to experience, I reckon.  Learning more about people who need our help and the incredible things others do for them is no bad thing. And seeing all the different charity branding supporting various causes might go some way towards explaining to my kids what the hell it is that Mummy actually does. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve tried to explain the concept of working for a charity to H and M.  They get it all mixed up with the charity bags we leave in the road and I think they assume I go around collecting old clothes for a living.

To be honest, they regularly forget I work at all.  Well, it can’t be nearly as important as what Daddy does, right?  Otherwise I’d get trains and sit in an office all day instead of at the table in the living room.

So, maybe one day we’ll make Marathon day into a family outing. Involving a good deal less than eight pints perhaps but still the odd beer in the sunshine and a lot of yelling out random names.  Sounds like a great family day out to me. Although the reality would probably be rather different: moaning about having tired feet, needing the loo when we are miles away from the nearest disgusting portaloo, using the branded inflatable bang-bang sticks as light-sabres.  Well, it is a nice idea on paper.  We’ll see if I can really face it in a few years time.

One added bonus of working at the marathon on Sunday is the beautiful, beautiful time off in lieu.  I’ve spent the majority of one of the hottest days of the year so far sitting in my garden, painting my toe nails and reading a newspaper*, without a kid in sight.  Oh, the decadence!

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* I also cleaned out all the bathroom cupboards and did three loads of washing.  I am clearly incapable of chilling out without guilt unless I also achieve domestic stuff first.  Idiot.

Over-Egging Our Easter

imageSo, the Easter holidays are coming to a close and it has been magnificent. Yes, really. We’ve had a bloody brilliant time with a seventh birthday to celebrate, lots of time with friends and family and multiple egg related activities. But, despite having a great time, I am, yet again, guilty of cramming far too much into our two weeks. There is always just so much to do when school is finally out.

A few years ago I would have looked askance at anyone who suggested I might have been sad to see school restart after a break. I simply never understood Mums who said the holidays rushed by and that the six week summer break was over in the blink of an eye. I was in the thick of the monotony of preschool at the time and I couldn’t imagine the rhythm of the school year, or actually enjoying having my eldest at home with me for several weeks straight. I really wasn’t enjoying it at all at that stage.

When you have preschoolers and their year isn’t yet neatly divided into bite sized half-terms, you can feel like you are on a never-ending loop. There is no light at the end, there is just a depressing amount of tunnel. There is nothing different about Easter week, other than than fact that there are no toddler clubs to occupy your little bundle of energy and everywhere else is annoyingly busy with older kids.

imageThe school routine was a huge relief after nearly five years of the same old shit every day. It was grim, desperately trying to find ways to fill a long day with two small kids in tow. School started and it suddenly all felt OK at last. The day is now split into manageable chunks, it isn’t an endless sprawl in front of me any more. We do the school run, some morning activity or other, back home for Baby T’s nap and down time for M, then there is the school pick up and the after school time. It is totally do-able with this structure. It isn’t a yawning gap of a day in front of me any more. In fact, days race past more often than not.

But, much as I like the school routine, we are all totally ready for the school holidays when they come round. I love spending time with my  little H. I cram as much into school holidays as I can, to the point that we only had one day in the past two weeks that we had nothing planned.

I love having a busy diary but I know I’ve overdone it this time. The kids are utterly delighted by the constant activity but I have completely exhausted myself. I’m actually looking forward to the relative relaxation of a few school days when Monday comes round.

But what brilliant activity it has been. Two sleepovers, two birthday cakes, multiple day trips, wonderful family time, giggles with friends, picnics and bucketloads of chocolate. Our Easter holidays have pretty much rocked.

Now, I need a really long nap please.

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A Happily Godless Easter 

imageToday is Easter Monday. We aren’t religious and I haven’t a clue what this day signifies in the Easter story but, for us and for many modern families, it is the day of recovering from general overindulgence – or at least declaring that we will stop overeating and drinking tomorrow at the very latest. I’m tucking into a beer right now, to illustrate my point.

Other than weddings and funerals, I make just three trips to church a year: for the school Christmas, Harvest and Easter services. To be honest, with two preschoolers in tow, I rarely stay long enough to smell the flower displays on these occasions, choosing to dump the lad and leg it, to avoid very public toddler meltdowns.

Thankfully, H’s school teaches the basics about why we celebrate each of the religious festivals, saving me the job of doing so. H is aware that Easter is about Jesus dying and rising again. Whilst I agree that we should all know why we are taking four days off and stuffing our faces with chocolate, explaining these things to a sensitive six year old can be challenging, especially when you are not remotely religious yourself. He was, understandably, pretty distressed about the idea of the crucifixion. Who wouldn’t be? In an ideal world, no six year old would have to try to understand the cruelty of humans, so vividly illustrated. Plus, discussing rising from the dead, when you have gone to great lengths to explain why the cat who died last year isn’t coming back, can be a bit of a tricky one. Sort of undoes all my hard work too, so thanks for that, God.

It was quite a relief when the Easter holidays started and the religious questions that school had put in H’s head could be put on hold for a while to let our own pretty Godless version of Easter begin. Aside from way too many chocolate eggs and various egg hunts, Easter for us means much needed family time, but also a chance to do all the dull jobs we put off on a normal weekend because we run out of time.

The big task this weekend has been emptying the sideboard. Yes, I know, far from thrilling but it had to be done as we are about to embark on a pretty major reorganisation and decoration of the living room. And that means getting rid of our lovely big sideboard, which was stuffed to the gunnels with all sorts of crap. It simply won’t fit in when we buy a bigger table, to accommodate Baby T: sadly we can’t restrain him in his highchair forever.

I’ve spent much of the weekend dumping long forgotten books, cutting down on DVDs and reorganising our remaining storage space as if my life depended on it. I waved a fond farewell to my old furniture friend this evening, for a measly £40. Sadly, it was the kid or the sideboard. It was a close one but I think dumping your youngest because you really want to keep a large piece of wooden furniture would be frowned upon. If watching our buyers struggling to get this massive hunk of wood into their large estate car hadn’t been so funny, I might have wept to see it go.

To get over the pain of impending furniture loss, we launched into making H’s school project on Saturday. His class are looking at all things Oz next term and he had to make an Australian animal during the holidays. We deliberated over this long and hard and, just when he seemed to have decided on a crocodile made of egg boxes, he switched (with slight parental pushing) to an echidna. Long nose, spikes – all sounded pretty easy to me. Plus no paint required, which is always a plus. But throw in the four year old also wanting to make one (she opted for a hedgehog, having no clue what an echidna was), plus the baby refusing to nap and clinging to my legs throughout, and it was an hour I’d rather not re-live. But we got there and everyone was pretty happy with the end result (although I was less pleased with T’s contribution of snot smears all over my trouser legs from all that clinging).

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Despite dull reorganising and slightly painful craft sessions, we have had some fantastic family time this weekend too. No Easter would be complete without seeing my much adored family, so Sunday was spent doing egg hunts and having a rather chilly barbecue. I think it was a really lovely afternoon but my memory is a little blurry round the edges as it involved Dad’s killer Pimms, mixed with no more than a splash of lemonade per two litre bottle. It was delicious but a tad potent, so we moved on to Prosecco to wash it down after the third bucket full. We were entertained by the cousins creating a (mercifully short) Fairies vs Superheroes show, which we were all then required to review in writing, which was strangely formal but very endearing.

Despite being a movable feast, a good Easter weekend always feels like the start of Spring and warmer times to me. Spring has been a long time coming this year with way too much cloud and cold but as I type this the sun is finally shining and the kids are ‘helping’ their Dad do the gardening in t-shirts, rather than eight layers of wool. Hopefully a taste of sunny times to come.

Although, as always after a packed weekend and a late night sleepover, all three kids are already gearing up for a hideous evening and much exhausted angst before an early bedtime. You can’t have the chocolate fuelled ups without the mardy, miserable, all-Eastered-out downs.

imageDespite our Godless take on this particular holiday, it was all as it should be in my view, with a decent mix of practical accomplishments and fun (without a church in sight). Sideboard sold, echidna made and garden tidied, plus faces stuffed and eggs hunted.

But, more importantly than all that, good family times had.

Day Trippers

imageWith the Easter holidays in progress and the weather a little sunnier, if not exactly warm yet, day trip season is well and truly upon us. Much as I love a day trip, they can be a terrifying and exhausting experience when solo parenting with multiple children.

This week, me and a very good friend of mine, who is also crazy enough to have gone in for three kids, decided to go to see some animals with our respective broods in tow. Two boisterous school-age boys, two preschoolers and two toddlers. OK, so two adults to six kids isn’t a great ratio but we figured it got the kids out into the fresh air and didn’t involve either of our houses being trashed, as our six-kid play dates usually do. Plus, facing it together is far less daunting than doing it alone.

One inevitable feature of any good day trip is the total wipeout. All three of mine managed to injure themselves, so I had a hat-trick. M is so clumsy she could fall over thin air and T is only 20 months so falling down is the standard for the two of them. But this time even H managed to join the fun: he slammed his knee into a four foot high wooden rabbit. One plaster and much rubbing and kissing-better later and all were soldiering on again, apart from H who adopted a dramatic limp (when he remembered) and maintained a fairly impressive sulk for about 20 minutes.

It’s a rare day trip that doesn’t include a prolonged sulk or two, so H’s mood didn’t bother me too much. Hell, I’ve had ‘fun’ days out involving all three screaming in sync so it takes more than a mild sulk to rattle me these days. H is a persistent sulker so I’ve learned to carry on regardless. He managed to squeeze three sulks into a two and a half hour outing, so he was on good form.

The two toddlers were pretty much continually happy throughout the trip. T is mad-keen on walking everywhere at the moment and, rather than face another staple of a good outing – the screaming tantrum – I decided to push an empty buggy round with us, covered in bags, toys and water bottles, but at no point used to accommodate a child. Leave the buggy in the car and a) you have nowhere to hang all your stuff and b) you have problems if the toddler decides to have a meltdown and needs to be pinned down for you to stand any chance of making it back to the car. Over the years, I’ve perfected the one handed push whilst holding a sticky mitt in the other hand, to prevent too many face-plants. Young T tottered from one enclosure to another, loudly ‘Gah’-ing at various animals, and was happy as Larry. He and his fellow toddler friend were generally delighted and delightful, without a tantrum in sight. Well done boys.

The older four, as usual, got on like a house on fire.  In fact, by the end of the morning they had adopted a pack mentality.  They spent half an hour running amok around the picnic tables, jumping on each other and being incredibly loud.  We cleared the area pretty quickly, I can tell you. When other kids entered their play space, they seemed to cluster together and form a wild and noisy ball of kid that no stranger would dare to try to infiltrate. My usually rather shy girl was at the forefront of the pack and could be seen landing hefty play punches on all of the boys. I sometimes worry about M at our six-kid meet-ups as she is the only girl in a bundle of boys but, after seeing her kick-ass moves today, I don’t think she minds too much. And, lets face it, she is used to it, being sandwiched between her two brothers.

The culmination of every decent day trip is a (usually disasterous) meal. With eight of us to accommodate, sitting inside the cafe was a definite no-go. So we found an outdoor table and attempted to calmly get everyone fed, whilst battling high winds.

We went for the easiest menu option: the kids lunch box. These are a standard at any day trip eatery and are pot luck as they can be OK but, more often than not, they tend to be a load of crap that the kids don’t really like all bunged into a grinning hippo cardboard box.  But by this time T was seriously kicking off, as if I’d not fed him for a week, and the prospect of ordering something hot and having to wait half an hour for it wasn’t appealing.  So, six crappy grinning boxes it was.

And the hippos didn’t fail to disappoint: the cheese sandwiches had rubberised processed cheese slices in them. But the kids didn’t seem to mind and stuffed their little faces, while my mate and I struggled to hold down wind-blown paper plates and bags of crisps, whilst eating the worst burgers you can imagine.  The wind was pretty intense and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still stray Pom Bears floating over the South Downs.

The amount of food left under the table at any meal with young kids is pretty shocking but we really went for it this time. The wind was bitter and strong enough to blow a lunch box stuffed with rubbish and held down by a large banana clean off the table, so it wasn’t all our fault.

Lunch was followed by chocolate Easter cakes rammed into mouths, smeared on faces and, in T’s case, secreted inside coats to quietly melt until discovery a hour later when we got home.

As we’d expected, it was a day packed full of trials and challenges, with kids running wild and giving us nightmares as they disappeared behind things or tried to throw themselves off heights.  We couldn’t take our eyes off them even for a moment, for fear of losing one or having fingers that had been stuck into enclosures bitten or pecked off.

All that said, we had a pretty fantastic day.  Yes, both Mums were knackered afterwards and hit the wine a tad earlier than usual but we did it.  And we did it together, having a giggle and sharing our woes as we went.

Thank heavens for having friends whose lives are as crazy as mine, with a whole brood of full-on kids, who don’t shudder at the thought of the mayhem of a six kid outing.  A rare thing and a blessing indeed.

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