A Tale of Two Weeks

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After nearly 9 years of parenting, you would think I would be used to the rollercoaster-style ups and downs. Well, if anything was still needed to bring those highs and lows home to me, the last two weeks have done just that.

Week 1 sucked. Chicken Pox struck T, the last of the three to come down with it. Not only was he grotty and miserable but we were in much dreaded quarantine. Given that quarantine with a preschooler is one of my least favourite things, I think I handled the news pretty well. I didn’t cry and wail. I simply stocked up on wine, gritted my teeth and hoped for a speedy week.

img_1807Trying to balance the needs of a spotty, bored child with working was, unsurprisingly, rather stressful. I spent a lot of time jumping on and off conference calls whenever T’s little voice piped up mid important conversation about income streams. The rest of the time was spent feeling guilty that I was failing both as an employee and a mother. Double whammy guilt. My favourite. I had to take some time off in the end to prevent meltdown and, once I’d admitted defeat, I felt a lot better. After all, spotty 3-year olds really don’t make the best work-mates.

I also had to call in lots of favours to get the other two kids where they needed to be in the busy week before Half Term. It was a juggling act, trying to make sure everything still happened as it should for them without being able to leave the house much. Thanks to all the lovely local friends who did their bit. I owe you.

On top of illness, it was just one of those weeks. Nothing seemed to go right. The usually entirely reliable car developed a rattle which ended up costing us nearly £300. And even when T was back on his feet and we could escape the confines of the house again, the world seemed against us.

img_1803I had a big worry going on all week too over H’s tutor. He really struggles with numbers and he has been to tutors on and off for several years but, for one reason or another, we have never found the right one for Maths. I had just about reached the point of wondering if it was worth continuing with the current tutor, which started me off worrying about it all again and whether we are doing the right thing to help support him. I am always so torn between wanting to do all we can to help H to keep up in class and wanting to take the pressure off – remembering that he is still only a little boy and that the last thing he wants is to be spending his weekend crunching numbers after a tiring week at school.

It is so tough to know what to do for the best. The curriculum is so damn hard these days, I worry a lot about H keeping on top of it. I want him to succeed but I also want him to be happy and have a stress-free childhood. Sometimes, those things seem entirely incompatible.

Having lots of time at home with Pox Boy and a head full of little worries is a bad combination. I stewed, big time. I finished the week exhausted, having had far too many alcohol units (every night is wine night on quarantine week) and with a head full of stresses, blown up out of all proportion.

The week ended in suitably disastrous style at the final school pick up on Friday afternoon. T was out of quarantine but still utterly foul. He had a killer meltdown over wanting someone else’s water bottle in the playground. Whilst I was doing my best to pretend the screaming monster was nothing to do with me, M came out of class and promptly fell backwards into the mud. Before I’d managed to brush her down, H came out in floods of tears over a lost book. T managed to keep up his screaming throughout our hunt around the classroom for said book and the entire walk home. Smiling kids and Mums exchanged “Happy Half Term” farewells, while I dragged my screaming/sobbing/mud covered brood home and opened yet more wine. Such fun!

Thankfully, I had a night away at my best mate’s 40th on the Saturday, which involved a good deal of booze (yes, more) and so much living room dancing that my feet hurt the next day. The best possible Pox Week antidote I could have wished for.

img_1800So begins Week 2. The Pox was a distant memory (apart from the crusty spots, mostly hanging out in T’s mass of blonde fluffy hair) and my husband had the week booked off work for Half Term. I came to a decision to cancel the tutor and give us all a break from it for a month or two, which took the pressure off me and H and was a good start to the week. And I asked for an unplanned day off work, to make the most of our week together.

Two consecutive weeks could not be more different if they tried. Week 2 has been a total delight. It has been filled to the brim with family time and fun.

We’ve been for pub lunches where nobody lost their shit or embarrassed us. We had our best family cinema trip yet, to see The Lego Batman Movie. Even T managed to sit still (sometimes on his own seat and sometimes on my lap) for almost the entire film, only asking five minutes from the end if we could go home.

img_1801We made a rare trip to London, to the Natural History Museum. We didn’t take the pushchair and T coped amazingly well with all the walking. The older two got so much out of the experience that I’m already planning our next London trip, to the Science Museum next time. H said it was an “utterly awesome” day and both the older two have been talking about it ever since. You can’t ask for a lot more than that out of a day trip. The journey home on a massively overcrowded and delayed train was no kind of fun but the kids were so well behaved in challenging circumstances that we were complimented on how good they were, which made me feel pretty proud of them all, especially little T, who was exhausted by the time we got home.

I’ve done my usual thing of overdoing it, stuffing our week so full that we are all more shattered after Half Term than we were before it. But it has been bloody brilliant and I don’t regret it at all. More than anything else, it has reminded me that, when you remove the outside stress – work, school, tutors, clubs – from the equation, we are a very happy little family unit these days. It is the external stuff that causes the stress for the most part, not problems from within. That definitely hasn’t always been the case, which makes me feel even more grateful to know that, as a unit, we are pretty sorted these days and very good mates. Yes, we can drive each other mad and we all need time out, but together we mostly rock. And that makes me really happy.

Next week it is back to work and back to school. We can’t live in this happy little bubble of day trips and eating out forever. We’d be broke within a month for one thing. Plus, we all need to get stuff done, be that earning a crust or learning our times tables.

The return to the school run and manic push and pull between work, home, school and other activities doesn’t fill me with joy but I go back to it with a sense that we have all recharged and reminded ourselves that we have each other, and that what we have is pretty special. The trick it to keep that in mind as we get bogged down in all the external stuff again. Our little unit rocks. We just need more weeks like Week 2 to help us remember that.

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Pack Up Your Pumpkins


img_1658Today felt a bit sad. Nothing terrible has happened. I just feel a bit like a deflated balloon. It may be Halloween today but we’ve been Halloweening all week and today the fun was over. Back to school and back to a reality that looks a bit stressful and unappealing at times.

Half term was really good, so much so that my usually school-crazy M was in floods of tears at drop off this morning. She said she was going to miss me and didn’t want to go back. It was a shock as she has always adored school and skipped in. Handing her over sobbing was just horrible. I guess it means I totally nailed the half term fun but it upset me seeing her like that and I feel like I’ve been in a bit of an emotional fog all day as a result. She was totally fine of course and the school called me not half an hour into the day to tell me so, but it knocked me off-balance.

My husband is currently away and I have been solo parenting for a week, with another four days to go, which may have been another reason for this morning’s upset. Having him away at half term isn’t ideal but we’ve packed the time with fun and really had a fantastic – if far too short – break from the school routine. I have to admit though that I’ve really noticed how much he does to keep the house clean.

img_1679My man is a bit of a clean freak and he drives me a bit nuts with his daily dusting of the TV stand and wiping the floor but, man, have I missed that this week! The dust and dirty mitt marks multiply so much faster than I realised without my personal cleaner quietly getting on with it and keeping things in check before I even notice them. I’ve missed his company too, obviously, not just the cleaning. Not being able to have a laugh and a moan about my day with him in the evening can be hard. Especially since there have been a few stressful things going on in the background of late.

There has been a lot happening with work, which has had me rushed off my feet trying to cram bits and pieces in around the kids. My usually sacred evenings after all three are tucked up in bed have been filled with laptops and paperwork. It has thrown my zen right off kilter without having that down time, I can tell you.

Now, as a rule, I thrive on busy. It suits my character. Sitting on my arse being unproductive isn’t really my thing. But the balance really has been tipped a tad too far the last couple of weeks. There is nothing really awful going on. It is all fine, there is just so much of it at once. I’ve felt a bit weighted down by it all.

But that negative feeling has been held at bay by the hectic nature and pure fun of half term, with our Halloween sleepovers, spooky trails, lunches out and day trips. It has been so crazy busy and so full of laughs and joy that I’ve been quite happy to bury all the worries under heaps of pumpkins and spiders.

img_1667Today, with my little M in tears at the school gate, what I really wanted to do was join her and have a weep. I said all the usual parenting stuff that you are supposed to say, about what a great day she would have, how the time would fly and how she would be home before she knew it. But, as we sat on that bench and had a cuddle while she cried, what I really wanted to say was that I totally agreed with her, that the reality of back to school, back to dealing with all tricky stuff that we have been covering with Halloween fun, actually really sucks. I wanted to cry along with her and agree that life was unfair and sometimes all you want to do is go back home, curl up and have a good long sob. I felt terrible because I couldn’t make that happen for her and I had to push her up the stairs and into school. She needed a duvet day and I couldn’t let her have one.

All is totally fine now in my M’s generally happy little world, which is usually so full of joy and sparkles. She was raving about her day when I picked her up, beaming at me as she ran down the steps. She was smothered in paint from making fireworks pictures, which she told me all about, and which has nicely hyped her up for the next event to look forward to: Bonfire Night.

There is a lot to do. Always. Yes, it might be a bit more stressful and busy than normal right now but I’m going to try to follow M’s example and just get on with it whilst looking ahead to the next fun thing. M and I are going to bury our worries under fireworks. And after that, I guess we’ll just start stuffing them under tinsel.

Luckily, M’s worries are very few. Which is just as it should be for a five-year old. Mine are tad bigger and a hell of a lot busier. But everything is more bearable with a few sparkles sprinkled on top and with plenty in the diary to look forward to. And with three smiley little faces around you.

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The Measure of Success

imageToday we did something I’ve been wanting to be able do for years: we went to the cinema as a family. All five of us. It was T’s first time and I had no idea how well he would cope with the dark and the whole sitting still for a couple of hours thing. He rarely sits to watch more than a couple of Chuggington episodes at home. However, I do know how much he loves popcorn, so I was quietly optimistic.

T turns three at the end of the month, something I’ve been looking ahead to pretty much since the day he was born. It is a landmark age that I stuck a pin in and said to myself – and to my long-suffering husband, who I had to talk into having a third kid at all – that by this time, things would be very much easier. We would be able to do things like go bowling and on trips to the cinema. Dinner out would be a breeze and we could even leave the house without a buggy and a changing bag (still working on that last one). Oh, just think of the freedom and joy of it all!

“Just wait till he turns three! Think how easy our lives will be!” is something I often sang, somewhat manically, in a frantic attempt to convince the fella, and myself, that all would be fine and dandy just around the corner. This mantra was to be heard regularly during our darker times. I spouted it almost daily when we hit our lowest ebb, with three kids aged five and under and next to no sleep. I feel slightly wobbly thinking about that time actually. So, let’s move on.

Well, the corner has arrived and here we are, about to go around it. And is everything so much easier and carefree? Sort of, yes. I think I can safely say it is the easiest it has been since number three joined the gang. But still harder than two, without a doubt. There is definitely something in the old adage, usually said by annoying smart-arses, that we were supposed to only have two kids because we only have two hands to hold onto them with. With three, one is always a loose canon. I like to think this is character building for them, to build their independence. It can also be plain terrifying as a parent in a busy car park. But I digress.

I decided that we really ought to put this whole turning the corner thing to the test. So, I declared that we should go to the cinema, as a family, just to prove to ourselves that we now can. This suggestion was met with a raised eyebrow and a deep breath from my husband, but swiftly followed by wary agreement, so I think he did pretty well at hiding the fear.

imageWe picked one of those Sunday morning cheap tickets things which got all five of us in for under a tenner. Best not to spend much when we had no idea whether T would sit through it or not. We watched Zootropolis. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend it, for both kids and adults. It is great story and very funny. The references to Breaking Bad made me snort with laughter. And I found myself lusting after an animated fox. Is that wrong? Well, it isn’t the first time. I had the hots for Disney’s Robin Hood as a kid. But moving on….

We got there and collected tickets, popcorn and booster seats for the little two. You know what I said about having one loose canon kid when you have three of them? Well, at the cinema, when you have to carry a changing bag, booster seats and three bags of popcorn between two of you, all kids become loose canons. They were marauding about at high speed in their excitement, running under people’s legs and disappearing behind the popcorn counter. As if we weren’t making enough to of a spectacle of ourselves at this point, a little yelling from me in a vain attempt to bring them to heel pretty much guaranteed that I grabbed the attention of the entire foyer.

Then we had the escalator to negotiate. This is where their small town upbringing shows. An escalator is big news for country kids. The older two seemed to need to psych themselves up before attempting it, in the style of competitors in Gladiators running up the travelator. They both gripped the handrail for dear life but managed it without assistant. But the bub was entirely thrown by it. I managed to wedge one of the booster seats under my chin so that I could hold his hand while he lept on like a frightened gazelle. He then stuffed his little frowning face into my leg for the duration, only emerging again when prompted to leap off the other end.

We made it into Screen 14, found our seats and H promptly threw half a bag of popcorn all over himself and the floor. Standard. The contents of the remaining two bags were divvied up and we all settled down to watch. T loved the ads and trailers but had a bit of a wobble when the surround sound boom went off and the lights went dark. He rallied quickly though and stuffed his little face with popcorn throughout the film. He laughed at the funny bits and jumped at the (mildly) scary bits without losing his shit. He did develop ants in his pants for the last half hour and ended up squirming about on my lap but, as a first effort for a not-quite-three-year-old, it was pretty impressive.

We bundled out, the older two high on sugar and buzzing, chattering away about the film. T was pretty happy too but mostly talked about not wanting to use the wobbly stairs (escalator) again on the way out. We took the regular stairs down, which he approved of.

imageBack in the car, everyone was sharing their best bits of the film but T was unusually quiet. “Did you have fun at the cinema T?” we asked. He furrowed his little brow, thought about it and said a firm “No”. When quizzed, he insisted he didn’t like the film. He didn’t like the big television. He didn’t like the animals on screen. He did, however, concede to liking the popcorn.

So, just as I was thinking what a success the morning had been, T quite firmly disagreed with me. Despite looking perfectly happy throughout, he insists he didn’t enjoy it at all. Perhaps my measure of success is slightly out of whack with his. Or perhaps he just knows we want him to say he enjoyed it, so is being a bloody-minded little git. I suspect the latter.

Regardless of how well T thinks it went, we did it. And four out of five of us at least had a good time. That said, I don’t think I’ll be attempting it without another adult yet. That might be a bridge too far just now. And bowling may be more of a four-year-old thing, after all.

Bring on the little changes though, I say. Our world is changing, one tiny step at a time, as we leave the baby days behind. And I for one am more than ready for that.

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Time Out: a Blessing or a Curse?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had an unusual amount of time out away from the kids. Things just worked out that way and, after months with no breaks, I’ve had back-to-back weekends where kid-free time has been on offer in abundance.

Time out is always appreciated and the last two weekends have been really brilliant but, as if often the case, I felt a bit grumpy afterwards. I get disappointed when I don’t feel rested and full of the joys of life with a young family after a break. I always expect to have a warm glow, to feel much more at ease with my manic life for having had some time away from it all. But it never quite works out that way.

Last weekend contained far too much alcohol, as child-free times tend to do. It is a well-known fact that, once off the leash, us parents go a bit crazy, trying to cram all the fun we used to spread evenly over a month into one hectic day. The hangover the morning after could have been worse but, when I think about it, I really shouldn’t be surprised when I don’t feel refreshed and rejuvenated after these rare treat days.

But the exhaustion and hangover aren’t really the problem. The problem is tasting freedom for a few glorious hours and then having it snatched away again. And oh it tastes soooo sweet while it lasts.

imageDon’t get me wrong: I adore my kids and indeed my life. When I return to the fold I am reminded of just how much I love them. It washes over me like a wave. Getting back on Sunday night after a whole day away, to find my three beautiful babies sleeping peacefully was a moment of deep appreciation for the blessings in my life. I always feel that intense rush of love for them when I come home, even after just a few hours of separation.

But, life being what it is, that glow is pretty short-lived. The usual early start and a couple of tantrums later and the glow is already a hell of a lot dimmer. By lunchtime, it is a distant memory. Kids have no respect for glow. For them, it is just another day, another flip-out over nothing, another screaming row with their siblings.

So, after a blessed escape – so full of fun and empty of small snotty noses and nagging voices – I can’t help feeling a bit down for a few days. On Monday and Tuesday I was grumpy without really knowing why. When the realisation hit, as it did this morning, I felt a bit better about it all, because I remembered that this is just what happens. It is the standard low, after the high, and it will pass as soon as the weekend is slightly more distant in my mind.

I feel guilty about wishing my kids’ young years away sometimes, about wanting more escape time from my lovely little family. I feel especially guilty in the light of such tragedy in the news of late, of young lives cut short, of families destroyed. I know how incredibly lucky I am. But I can’t help feeling rather trapped in it all sometimes.

In a strange way, I think having the odd day or night away is counterproductive. After all, before the last couple of weekends, I had months on end with no time off and I was fine. Yes, I was looking forward to the break but you get into a kind of rhythm with it all when no escape is in sight. You just carry on and get into the relentless roll of life with young kids. When you don’t get a taste of what you are missing, you don’t think about it so much.

So, back into the pattern of family life I roll. This week we’ve already seen a heady mix of extreme tantrums, explosive nappies, early starts and terrible nights. The kids seem to have bickered more than usual and the four-year-old has really been tapping her inner diva. But that’s all just standard in a house stuffed full of kids.

imageAnd there have been wonderful moments in there too. There have been new words spoken, giggly bouncy castle chases and some incredible cuddles. And it is only Wednesday.

And so it rolls on, with the three of them pushing me to my limits – both high and low – on a daily basis. Their needs and their energy roll like a steamroller overs any grumps or glows I may be feeling. The relentless rhythm doesn’t give a shit about moments of reflection, neither the good nor the bad.

So, much as I love the time out, maybe it’s easier to stick with the roll. It pulls you along. Interrupting it necessitates a rather painful jump-start. But Sunday was so much fun that it was worth the pain of the days after. And there is really no sense in giving up on time out just because it makes you sad when it is over.

I think I just have to remember to anticipate the low. I have to learn to roll with it a bit better, rather than being steamrollered.

Full of Wonder

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I bloody love half term. It is an exhausting whirlwind of manic activity which it takes me a week or so to recover from but it is totally ace. Not only is it a short, sweet, welcome break from the school run but it is also time to cram in as many of the things that school puts paid to during term time.

This half term is extra special as my husband has the whole week off and the kids have simply loved having both parents at their disposal. It has made my life a lot easier too, being able to divide and conquer. We’ve had lots of family time but we’ve both had a bit of quality time with the kids in ones and twos during the week too, without having to juggle all three at once. I love being able to focus on them individually and I know it means a lot to them too. I’ve even had a bit of me time – a very rare treat indeed.

imageThe kids are always more exhausted after half term than they were at the start of the week but that is a small price to pay for packing in so much fun, I reckon. We’ve done bowling, the cinema, spooky trails and catching up with friends. We’ve baked cakes and carved pumpkins. Hell, we’ve even had a craft session. I’m not a big fan of craft sessions (AKA make a massive mess and get bored after three minutes sessions) so I’m particularly proud of this one.

I can also smugly say that we’ve done some reading, maths and all the school homework. It is amazing what you can achieve when you have backup at home for an entire week.

As far as the kids are concerned, this week has mostly been about counting the days until Halloween. Halloween was always a bit of a non-event when we were kids but these days you can’t move for it. It has been pumped up and Americanised and, whilst I used to find all that a bit annoying, I now have kids who are just the right age to love it so I’m a convert these days. Although H and M aren’t actually fans of anything even slightly scary, so our Halloween is entirely cutesy and not remotely spooky.

The kids are super hyped up about tomorrow, apart from T who has no clue what is going on but is loving all the spiders and pumpkins. He is even getting into dressing up for the first time, refusing to remove his little bat outfit for hours on end.

We have a Halloween plan, thankfully. If we didn’t, the day itself would be very disappointing. Last year my mate and I held a ‘Halloween party’ at her house for our four tots. It was incredibly basic and involved nothing more than costumes, a bunch of spooky cakes and visiting the next door neighbours to go trick or treating. But the simplicity didn’t seem to bother them. They absolutely adored it, declaring it to be ‘the best party ever’. Thank goodness they are easily pleased at this age.

So, our second annual Halloween party is ready to go. This time we have even planned party games and there will be a grand total of 10 kids in attendance, so it has been entirely pimped up. H and M are fit to burst with excitement. The spooky festivities will be followed by a sleepover. We love a sleepover but this will be our first since T moved out of his cot, which could be interesting, especially after a small mountain of sugary treats. Still, my mate and I intend to crack open the bubbles early in the afternoon so, come bedtime, we are likely to be several sheets to the wind and take sleep-resistant shenanigans in our stride. I have found that there are few parenting problems that a bottle or three of prosecco and a good mate to giggle with cannot fix.

The next day will be a slightly bleary-eyed daytrip with the grandparents, followed by returning home and all collapsing in exhaustion. Luckily, we have an inset day on Monday to recover from it all, although I’m planning on filling that with soft play.

imageI think I am probably guilty of overdoing it during the holidays. OK, I know I am. It is a fault of mine that I feel compelled to fill time. My husband likes down time, sitting about and chilling out (which he intends to do all weekend while the kids and I are away). That all sounds lovely and I’m happy to do a bit of it on the rare occasions that I have the chance but I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really get down time. Even before kids, I was always wanting to fill my diary up, cramming it with things to look forward to. When I have quiet time, I get very bored very quickly.

I think in some ways I am the ideal person to have a big family. I am always busy and I love to plan. With three children to organise, I have plans coming out of my ears. My husband struggles with the mayhem. I positively thrive on it.

I realise I might be storing up problems for the kids. They are so used to things happening all the time that they are not always great at entertaining themselves on a quiet day. That said, I do throw the odd home day in here and there, like today, and they seem to cope. And I think the positives of all the fun they are having outweigh the negatives.

So, next time I sit down to write a blog post I am likely to be shattered and a bit sad about sending my little pickles back to school. But I like to think we have used our week well. I’m feeling entirely full of love for my little Halloween spooks right now. Seeing their joy at such simply things is one of the greatest pleasures of parenting. It makes you see the world anew, stripping off the years of cynicism we all lay down during our adult lives.

When a £2.50 pumpkin and a tea-light can light up their little faces so completely, the world doesn’t seem such a bad place. It is good to remember what it was like to see the world though the bright eyes of a child. To remember that even the simple things can be full of wonder.

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The Power of Grandparents

imageEvery summer my lovely parents pack up their caravan and come and stay five minutes down the road from us for two whole weeks. We are in the middle of that fortnight now and it is just brilliant. This is about the fifth or sixth year they have come to stay at the start of the school holidays and the kids and I love it. Not only does it kick-start our summer with fun days out but it is a rare chance to spend lots and lots of quality time with them.

Mum and Dad only live just over an hour away but it isn’t popping in distance and visits to and fro are always a day trip or overnight at most, fitted around work and school, so we try to cram as much as possible in during that short time. And somehow it is just never enough time together. These annual two weeks are just fantastic grandparent bonding time for the kids as they get to see them every single day. And I even get some time with them without my kids spoiling our fun, which is very precious.

It great for me to have backup over these weeks. My husband and I chose to move here, not close to either set of grandparents, so we made our own bed and knew what we were getting into, but I can’t help looking at my friends who live round the corner from their extended family and feeling a bit jealous. I’ve never had anyone I can drop one of the kids round to while I pop to the shop or who can come over and help out when I’m feeling ill.

I’m not going all woe-is-me over it. Like I said, it was our decision and I wouldn’t change it as I love living here, although there were times when I had very little babies when I’d have given my right arm for that sort of local backup. But for these two weeks of the year, I really enjoy being one of those lucky parents with grandparents round the corner. Popping out with one kid and leaving the others behind, the odd day of free childcare, a trip to the cinema with the older two, leaving the pesky toddler at home. Heavenly.

But the main attraction of these two weeks is just all those lovely day trips. And there are simply no day trips with the kids that I enjoy more than those with my parents.  I always have to steel myself for trips with three on my own. It can be a pretty exhausting experience and such days out are rarely very enjoyable for me as I spend my entire time being run ragged, juggling three sets of demands and trying not to lose anyone. With three grown ups vs three kids, plus someone to giggle with when it is all going wrong, things improve dramatically.

imageWe went to the aquarium on Friday, a particularly challenging place with a toddler who likes to run off, and not one I’d tackle single handed at this stage. We once lost H there, running around in the dark, for a very alarming five minutes. And that was when we only had one to look after.

It was raining heavily all day so the aquarium was pretty packed but it was toddler heaven. T ran from one tank to the next, wide eyed with wonder, manically doing his fish mouth. Poor old Grandad traipsed around after him, while Marjie and I looked after the other two, admiring the rays and stroking star fish. It was, relatively speaking, pretty relaxing and enjoyable.

By the time we got out of the aquarium, the rain had seriously ramped it up and it was pelting down. We attempted to start the ten minute walk back to the car but we were all soaked to the skin after just crossing the road. M walked through a massive puddle, H started crying about his soaked canvas shoes and socks, T refused to keep the rain cover on his pushchair and screamed continuously. It wasn’t going well and the wind was whipping the rain directly into our faces the whole time. There was no way we’d make it back to the car one piece in that storm so we darted into a fish and chip shop, all kids crying and dripping wet.

If I’d been handling this solo, I would probably have wanted to cry myself at this point. Yes, we were out of the rain, but everyone was literally soaked to the skin and miserable, plus we now had the trauma of trying to get through a mealtime in a restaurant with three small kids, the youngest of which hates being stuck in his highchair and throws everything he can get his grubby mitts on onto the ground.

But I wasn’t alone. Hooray! I had my brilliant Mum and Dad there to help calm down the criers, entertain the throwers and scrape the ice cream off the floor when it droped off the cone (cutting the dirty bit off and sticking it back together – there was too much of it anyway). And they made all the difference. They turned a potentially very stressful, soggy afternoon into something fun and funny.

Well, I say they turned it into something fun but I guess they didn’t really. It was what it was. They didn’t stop the storm or make my kids behave any better. They helped look after the kids, yes, but what they did that made the biggest difference was to smile with me in the face of adversity. They jollied things along, even when things were far from jolly. They looked after me, like they have always done.

I think that is why day trips with my parents win hands down. Days out with friends or my husband are great too, but I still feel that I have to carry the ball, that I have to have a steely focus and concentrate on getting us all through it in one piece. I’m always in charge. I feel that if I drop out, even for a moment, we are all doomed.

With Mum and Dad, I know they are looking after me as much as they are helping me to look after the kids.* Because that is what parents do. And I love them for it. And indeed for everything.

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* There are a few others, in addition to my parents, who I feel like this about, who I know would pick up the ball (plus me and all my kids), put it under their arm and carry us all along, as well as their own kid(s) in some cases. They know who they are and it seemed wrong not to mention them here. And for them too, I am eternally grateful.

Relaxing Weekend Away?

imageWe went away for a lovely family holiday last weekend, spending quality time together and relaxing. At least that was the plan. You see, my foolish, ever-hopeful brain chose to forget how fraught holidays with young kids can be. It sold me the dream of a family-friendly hotel where my husband and I could kick back, read the paper and drink beer while the kids happily frolicked on the lawn. The reality, as you can probably guess, couldn’t quite live up to that. In fact, it was about a million miles away from that at times.

It didn’t start well. The journey to the Cotswolds that should have taken us two and a half hours ended up going on for six hours of endless traffic jams and an exploding tyre.

After about four hours of travel pain, we hear the ominous whump whump whump of a tyre flapping about and exchange a look of something close to despair. My husband artfully limps us across three hectic lanes to the hard shoulder and squeezes out of the car, past oncoming juggernauts, to investigate.

I join him outside the car and we peer at the shredded tyre together and then look blankly at each other for what feels like a good month as we try to steel ourselves to deal with this. We have a spare, but it was in the boot under all our holiday bags, pushchair, etc. Plus, changing a tyre inches from a motorway doesn’t exactly seem like a wise choice.

OK, so we call our breakdown cover and get someone to rescue us, right? Easy, if we had the phone number with us – which we don’t – and if we could remember who we have insurance and breakdown cover with – which we can’t. My husband finally reckons he can remember who we need to contact, so I start making the call and get put on hold. And on hold is where I stay for the duration of the following trauma, phone balanced on my shoulder, hideous music being piped into my ear,

I climb back into the car to explain what is going on to the older two kids (T is sucking Batman’s cape and looks far from interested). No sooner have I said “flat tyre” than H totally loses it. In his stressed out little head, this means we are stuck for good. He is screaming and crying as we both try in vain to calm him down.

Just then we notice that we are about 200 yards inside the free recovery zone for the roadworks we’ve just driven though. Yes! We are saved, we just have to wait.

imageAnd we don’t have to wait long either as an oil-covered guardian angel called Rich arrives within five minutes. H is still sobbing uncontrollably in the back as Rich explains through the window what he is going to do, namely get us all out, get the car onto the truck, stick us all in said truck and take us to the next service station, where we can call for breakdown recovery (which I am still on hold for).

We are all under instructions to get out on the passenger side and cross the safety barrier, trudge along to the truck and wait there for Rich while he loads up the car.

The baby isn’t as freaked out as H but he knows something is afoot and decides that his best course of action is to turn into a small clingy monkey and attach himself to me as if his life depended on it. Just giving him to Daddy while I climb over the barrier causes him to go beetroot red from yelling his head off, only to revert to complete silence again when handed back.

We are all finally out and over the barrier, where we are faced with a stinging nettle strewn walk of some 20 feet to the truck. It is hot, we’ve got bare legs. I’ve got a monkey clinging to me and a phone latched to my head. My husband is talking to Rich and I have a frightened looking four year old and a crying seven year old beside me. And we’re all standing in a nettle patch. When he gets back, my husband picks up M but, with arms full of kids already, we can’t carry H too. So, I walk ahead, treading down the nettles as best I can to clear a path for him, getting stung to buggery as I go. H is also getting stung, poor soul, and is crying even more now.

It is difficult to explain the sinking feeling you get when you know you have no choice but to walk through nettles in flip flops. It’s not something I wish to relive.

imageRich struggles to get the car onto the truck for a while but eventually manages it and comes back to help us all in. The kids are scared and confused but the baby suddenly comes into his own, loudly shouting ‘guck’ in delight at getting to ride in a boiling hot, stinky old breakdown truck.

Five minutes later and we are at the service station, filling in paperwork with Rich. Then, hallelujah, the phone is finally answered! I give the operator our car details and breath a sigh of relief. Until I’m told that our cover expired in 2011. Yes, I know, we are idiots.

Rich polishes his halo with a oily rag and says he’ll take us to a nearby garage, who fit us with a new tyre, while we feed the kids tasteless cakes in the shitty petrol station cafe (where M throws an entire bottle of water all over me and T, who is still clinging to me).

Six hours after setting off, we arrive at the hotel. We are all knackered and stressed and the first thing we do is have a beer, which helps quite a bit.

But, even travel trauma aside, the stay wasn’t quite what I’d hoped, in my unrealistic brain. It was far from ‘family friendly’. No sitting sipping beer while the kids played in the garden for us. The garden opened onto a busy road with no gate to stop rampaging toddlers. The toy box in the lounge was full of broken crap you wouldn’t give to a charity shop. Our room was OK but the curtains fell down immediately that we got there, with some poor barman charged with sticking them back up with sticky tape. There was just too much wrong.

imageWe definitely had some special moments and two brilliant day trips. The kids had a fantastic time, once they had recovered from the tyre incident, and we both had a giggle in the evenings, especially on the night of the ropey local music act.

But relaxing, it was not. With three kids sharing a room, the sleep was pretty dire and we got back home utterly exhausted and shadows of our pre-holiday selves, desperate for our own bed.

So, what is the lesson from this slightly disappointing weekend? It is one I never seem to learn: not to expect too much from holidays with young kids. That road only leads to disappointment. To remember that it is always still same shit, different location, no matter how lovely the location is.

Holidays with kids can be brilliant and I wouldn’t be without them for the world. They are something to be cherished, to count the sleeps to. They are the stuff that my own best childhood memories are made of. But I do wish I wasn’t always surprised and disappointed when they aren’t as perfect as I’d like, when we get next to no sleep, when the real holiday doesn’t live up to the holiday in my head. We’ve got a week away at the end of August, so I’ll see if I have learnt to follow my own advice by then.

Oh, and the other lesson? Join the AA (we now have).

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