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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Banished Blues

img_1776Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve always been a bit shit at January. I view it with a kind of dread, like a blot on the horizon, forever lingering in the shadows of the joy and fun of Christmas. I’ll freely admit that I’ve been a bit ridiculous about it over the years. I’ve been known to start feeling the January Blues creeping into my life before we’ve even finished Boxing Day.

It isn’t just a parenting thing, finding life harder with small kids in tow during the long winter months. I’ve hated it with a passion all my adult life. In my pre-kid days, I had a fantastic job in events which was manically busy in January and February. I bloody loved it! I never had time to slip into the January Blues. I was rushed off my feet and, by the time things started to calm down at the end of February, Spring was just round the corner and the crocuses were popping up all over.

Kids came along. The job was utterly incompatible with a family and it had to go. Back came the winter misery but this time it was worse. When my challenging first baby arrived, we had several winters of extreme snow, too deep to wheel a pushchair through and, with ungritted country roads, driving was often out too. Being housebound for days on end with a foul-tempered small boy did nothing for my anti-January mood.

So, my January misery became even more of a ‘thing’. It was set in concrete, like a slab of annual doom. It got easier after those first few years but the blues just sort of stuck. I’d moan about it ages in advance, tarnishing the fun of December with the background dread of it all.

img_1774We had a fantastic family Christmas this year – our best yet in fact. It’s amazing what a difference it makes not having a baby in the mix. It was brilliant fun and we were all on such a festive high that you would think I’d be prime for a fall from a great height into winter blues. And, true to form, I could feel it sneaking in. I actually felt that slight falling feeling in the pit of my stomach on Christmas morning. The kids had only just opened their presents from Father Christmas and the doom came knocking on the door. That’s when I made a decision to say Fuck You January Blues! How dare it attempt to get in before we’ve even opened the festive bubbles?!

I have always loved the run up to Christmas more than the day itself, with the expectation and excitement. It is all just so full of joy and wonder. And yes, that bit is over after the big man in red has been and gone. But getting the January Blues whilst doing your teeth on Christmas morning really does take the piss.

About a year ago I was having a bit of a moan to my Dad about how much I hate January and I remember his response clearly. My Dad is a wonderful father but he isn’t much of a one for liberally imparting words of wisdom or advice. So when he does, you sort of have to listen. He said ” You really are ridiculous about January, you know. It is just another month like any other”. That’s pretty much all he said. But I listened and knew he was right. And I made a bit of a promise to myself to try harder next year.

So it was more than a bit disappointing to feel the pit forming in my stomach at 10am on Christmas Day. I looked at my scruffy, sleep deprived reflection (H was up for hours with all the excitement) and I said to myself “No, this isn’t going to happen this year”. Just like that. Years of being at the mercy of a month I have imbibed with doom, shut down in the blink of an eye.

And OK, I know it is only 10th January but it is actually bloody working. I dismissed the pit of doom on Christmas morning and the bastard thing hasn’t come back.

We had a hysterically funny New Year’s Eve with our lovely neighbours (much dancing and belting out Whitney as I vaguely recall) before entering the Blues danger-zone: taking down the decorations, back to school, back to work, etc, etc. I’m delighted to report, I’ve nailed it so far. Taking the tree down was fine because oh, look at all the lovely space we have again! T was very sad about it going and snuck off with a reindeer Christmas decoration, which I let him have to soften the blow. But I was totally fine.

Back to school was a little harder as I miss my little monkeys and never relish the return of the school run but even that was OK. I’m not enjoying the early starts again but we have fun things planned in the diary for the coming weeks and Spring isn’t that far off, so what is there is to miserable about really?

I’ve had a couple of slips in my new found January Zen, the most notable being on Saturday when both H and I ended up in tears after a particularly bloody awful homework session. But after a long chat with a good friend, I have a bit of a plan of how to tackle some of the school issues we are coming up against, so I feel more in control again.

img_1775Like anything in life, if you can find a way to remove the emotion to a certain extent – something I’ll freely admit I’m not always that great at – it all just becomes a series of things to try in order to come up with a solution. The emotion makes a few school hiccups into an insurmountable mountain. It makes a return to routine and shorter days a reason for wailing and gnashing of teeth at the unfairness of the turn of the seasons. None of this is helpful.

I’m never gonna be one of those smug people who can take decisions based upon emotion-free clear thinking. That just isn’t who I am or who I’d want to be. I’m ruled by my feelings and I admit they can get out of control at times but I wouldn’t change it. I will always wend my way through life, making decisions based on feelings, with a bit of logic and detachment thrown in where I can. My heart is king – my head accepts it takes second place. I hope that makes me a good Mum/friend/wife/sister/daughter. And I fill my life with similar people.

But it pays to have a few key people around you to ground you with sensible, emotion-free advice. Like my husband. And my Dad. They see the problems H has at school for what they are: tiny hiccups in the grand scale of a childhood, of a life. They see that January is just the start of the year, not a harbinger of doom.

All that grand ‘this is how I am’ crap aside, I’m at last beginning to see that there is no point in adding emotional shit when it is pointless, like the January Blues. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere. It’s all just a bit too much drama for it’s own sake, something I excel at. As Dad rightly said, it is just another month. Shut up and deal with it, one little thing at a time.

Plan future fun, laugh, see friends, cosy up under blankets. Crucially, don’t do anything stupid like Dry January or kick off a major diet. Don’t put the pressure on. It really isn’t the time. If you treat January right, maybe the cantankerous old git of a month will soften and be a bit of a laugh after all.

See Dad, I’m learning.

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Nativity Tales

Last week was a double whammy of nativity action here. We had a dancing shepherd on Tuesday and a bewildered king on Wednesday. Both were very sweet and made me want to cry. Just as it should be.

These were my seventh and eighth nativities staring my little ones and each one has been memorable. Not always for the right reasons. In fact, our nativity journey got off to a very shaky start indeed.

 

1. The Reluctant Shepherd

img_1764Our H was 3 and he wasn’t the confident, bubbly 3-year old his younger siblings were to become. He was a creature of habit, totally thrown by change and new situations. He wasn’t yet remotely into dressing up and had no interest in performing.

Basically, it would have been hard to dream up a more alien and upsetting thing to do to him than dress him up as a shepherd, drop him off at a hall he didn’t know with nursery staff on a non-nursery day and expect him to walk past his Mum, up onto a brightly lit stage to sing carols.

He sobbed while I tried to extract myself from him at the drop off and didn’t even make it onto the stage before being handed over in floods. The entire nativity was spent with him curled up on my lap, burying his face in my jumper.

I relayed this story to H this week as I thought it might amuse him, 5 years down the line. He thought about it, looked a little sad and said in his wonderfullly old-fashioned way, “Well, I’m a bit disappointed in myself to be honest”. I explained that he was only 3, that his reaction was completely understandable.

But at the time, I have to admit, I was disappointed too. A few nativities in, I wouldn’t have minded at all. But this was my first time and it was sad and pretty traumatic. Not what I had hoped for at all.

 

2. The Weepy Sheep

img_1765H’s second nativity, in his first year at school, was a bit more successful. He made it onto the stage for a start, which was progress. He looked completely bewildered as one of a handful of sheep but he vaguely sang when he was supposed to and stood up and sat down at the right times. More to the point, he was utterly adorable and I got my nativity warm glow. A year later than hoped, but it was worth the wait. What is it about seeing your little one on stage doing a Christmas show that makes you weep like a baby?

It all went beautifully, until the very end when our dear little sheep realised that he was going to have to go back to the classroom, rather than come home with his Mum and grandparents. He left the hall with
his bottom lip well and truly quivering and me wanting to run after him, scoop him up and carry him off for a cuddle.

 

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3. Safety in Numbers

Third time round for H and I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive. But I needn’t have worried. He had got the measure of this shit now and, whilst not exactly relishing it, he endured brilliantly. His entire class were cast as angels and I think he was glad to be lost in the chorus. He wore his tinsel trimmed t-shirt with style and looked utterly gorgeous.

The only thing that stopped me sobbing like a baby was having T, an actual baby, strapped to my front. I was a bit preoccupied trying to keep my little bundle quiet as he waved his arms and legs about and cooed at the lights.

 

 

4. Voice of an Angel

img_1763This is when shit got real, friends. M, my confident little performer, took to the stage in full angel garb for her first nativity, aged 3, and absolutely shone. All she had to do was stand on the stage and sing but she did it with such gusto that the lady running the nursery asked her if she would like to do an impromptu solo into the mic.

Well, you don’t have to ask M twice. She sang Away in a Manger, all on her own, in the most angelic voice you can imagine. Cried? I nearly flooded the bloody hall. I had other parents coming up to me to congratulate me on my adorable, talented daughter.

I feel this may be our nativity zenith. It’s gonna be hard to top.

 

img_17585. All Hail the King

Forth and final nativity for H and he bloody NAILED it! As one of the big kids in Year 2 he had a speaking part, a king, and not only was he great but he also kept the other two kings in line, telling them when to sit down and nudging them when they forgot their lines. I have never been more proud of my handsome little lad.

You see, it’s all very well to steal the show as a precocious angel when you are a natural on stage. But my H is most definitely not a natural. He doesn’t love the limelight. It’s just not his bag. Three nativities of sweat and tears led us up to this point. And man, it was beautiful.

Before you ask, yep, I cried. A lot.

 

img_17626. Heavenly Knickers

M’s second time around, an angel again, was very sweet but my overriding memory of this one will always be her sitting legs akimbo on stage, costume hooked up round her waist, flashing her angelic pink pants to the entire audience for the majority of the show.

 

img_17597. The Over-Enthusiastic Shepherd

As a lowly Year 1, M’s entire class took the junior parts this year. You should have heard her incredulously telling me that, not only was she not an angel this time but she had to be either an innkeeper or a shepherd and that she was only on stage for one measly song! Outraged.

Despite her disappointment, M made a fantastic shepherd. Her role involved some hammy snoring and lots of dancing, which she was delighted by. I also finally got to put a tea towel on the head of one of my kids for a nativity too, which felt like a rite of passage.

 

8. The King of Confusion

So now we come to T. I have to admit that when I saw he had been cast as a king for his first nativity – a fairly pivotal role – my heart sank. I was convinced that my non-conformist would not play ball in the least and would leave me cringing in embarrassment at the back of the hall while he did his own thing.

To avoid this, I spent weeks explaining what a nativity was: that he would wear an outfit, go up on stage and sing songs. Not only did T never seem to take this in, no matter how often I said it, but he went out of his way to change the subject, as if he was in denial about the whole process. I wasn’t confident.

img_1761One of the kings was off sick so the 2 wise men headed down the aisle to applause. If one of the nursery staff hadn’t been holding his hand to guide him, T would have veered left and come to sit on my lap. But he reluctantly plodded on up the steps, sat down and even sang some of the songs, although he drew the line at doing the actions.

Then came his big moment: time to give his gift to Baby Jesus. Well, being a 3-year old kid from a non-religious family, he didn’t have a frickin clue who Baby Jesus was. He carried his little gold box across the stage, wandering aimlessly past the crib in confusion. When he finally understood what was being asked of him, he dropped the box on the baby’s head and legged it back to his seat.

Afterwards, T refused point blank to talk about it again. Although my funny little boy did seem quite pleased with all the praise.

 

Its been quite a ride so far. Who knew how much nativities can make you cry? But also so many smiles and memories made. We have another 4 nativities to go by my estimation. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Happy Christmas. X

The Most Magical of Numbers

img_1741I bloody adore having a 3-year old. Yep, I really do. And the stupid thing is that, third time round, I’ve only just realised how great 3 can be.

Through the toughest of times with three kids all pretty close in age, I dreamed of the day when my youngest would turn 3. It was my target, my light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. I felt that, if I could just make it that far, it would all slot into place. What I didn’t know was just how well it would work. It seems that 3 really is the magic number I had dreamed of. I’m delighted to have been proved right for once.

You see, having a 3-year old when you also have a small baby latched on to you or kicking off is far from fun. In fact it royally sucks. 3-year old kids and babies are, unfortunately, two of the most incompatible things there are. With a first child, you can immerse yourself in their needs. Your world can revolve around their schedule and, whilst that can drag you down at times, the moment you have more than one you realise what an utter godsend that single focus was. Introduce another baby – and then another if you are stupid like me – and you are playing a whole different game, one where meeting the needs of one often means doing so at the expense of another. More than one kid to focus on basically means that things will never be the same again.

img_1752Your baby has to grow up fast when they are no longer the youngest. They have to share you and you are horribly torn between them and the newcomer. It can be a stressful and upsetting time for everyone involved. Getting you and however many kids are you trolling about with through the day is a major achievement in itself. There is certainly no time to smell the roses. Besides which, you are usually too bloody knackered to even notice there are any roses. Which basically means you miss a lot of the loveliness a 3-year old has to offer. It is an utterly adorable age it transpires, but I was never capable of seeing it before, so buried was I in baby.

Having a 3-year old without a baby in your arms is a wholely different experience. It is lighter, both physically (no massive bags of nappies and baby stuff) and mentally (no utter exhaustion and living on an emotional knife edge). My little boy is my sole focus for much of the time now and it is just wonderful. He is such a strong character, a funny, clever and unique little man who I actively enjoy hanging out with. He has his moments of course, as all 3-year olds do, but he is well beyond the entirely unreasonable phase of the terrible twos and can be coaxed out of most strops. Rare is the blind rage meltdown.

Friends with bigger age gaps or just one child have often said how much they like this age but I could never see it. It was such hard work with the first two and my memories of it are a blur of stress and sleep deprivation. But now I finally get it. And they were right. 3 can be really wonderful.

img_1751Having this particular 3-year old is especially good. No terrible threes here. T is an utterly gorgeous bundle of blonde fluff and cuddly round edges. He is sassy and pushes the boundaries but he does it with a cheeky smile. And, as I am no longer torn in twenty directions at the same time, I am far more patient with him. It is such a privilege to be able to spend this time with him without another kid coming up behind, draining my energy and my patience.  I can see him clearly for what he is, not just what he needs from me. And we can suit ourselves, without an annoying, bawling hanger-on dictating to us.

It also feels much more physically close this time round. Cuddles can be on demand, not awkwardly over a feeding baby’s head or on hold until I can put the baby down without it screaming blue murder. T is a naturally demonstrative lad and he is lucky enough to have cuddles on tap. One of the many advantages of being the baby of the family.

img_1737Another advantage is how very loved he is by his older siblings. They are protective, kind and utterly indulgent of him most of the time. They bicker but both the older ones are mostly very accommodating of his funny ways. He has been raised in the mob and nurtured by gentle siblings. Being third, with a second child buffer zone, he has never been exposed to that full-on jealously when a previously only child meets their first sibling. M was in the middle and has always had to share everything so she was nothing but kindness to her baby brother from day one. He honestly doesn’t know how lucky he is to have never known any different. And it makes him a happy, self-assured young man, surrounded by love and far more patient and confident parents than H and M had in their threenage years.

Enjoying this last year of a preschooler makes me deeply happy. And optimistic for the future of our little family unit too. I’ve not yet reached a milestone when I have wished myself back a phase. I don’t
want to do the baby bit again. I don’t want to do toddlers or teething, the heart-in-your-mouth clumsiness of first steps or the tantrums of the twos. Things are easier now, at long last, more balanced and less stressful as we are stepping away for the deeply physically draining stage into something new. Something exciting. Challenging, sure, in different ways. But moving forwards and changing in a great way.

Don’t quote me on this as I may well find I want these days back after T starts school next year and I’m left with a T-shaped hole in my days. But I don’t think I will. At least not for long. I am all about looking forward right now, not back. The future looks good and so does the present.

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And talking of looking forward, I have a feeling this may be our best Christmas yet as a fivesome. T gets it this year and is very excited. He isn’t quite there as he still wants to open more than one advent calendar window per day and is convinced Christmas is tomorrow pretty much every evening. But he gets the concept now. And he loves it. He gazes in wonder at crappy Christmas trees in the supermarket and loudly shouts “Mummy! A Christmas doughnut!” whenever he spots a wreath. The pretty basic lights in town fill him with utter joy.

This will also be the first Christmas since we finally got some sleep. I have very happy memories of previous years but all through a cloud of exhaustion. It’s gonna be just joyous having a few festive drinks knowing that we won’t be up at the crack of dawn or several times during the night. Bring that the hell on.

I’m feeling pretty full of love for my festive little brood right now. I’m really enjoying all three of them and their crazy Christmas hype as it builds. And I think so much of that is down to not having a baby any more. The fog has lifted and behind it are three little beaming faces, all still believers, their eyes wide in wonder. If that’s not what it should all be about then I don’t know what is.

Yes, 3 kids aged 3 and up is as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Who needs babies when you have all 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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Travel Trauma

imageWe just got back from our first foreign holiday with the kids, having opted for cheaper, easier (and wetter) holidays in the UK for many years. After a total washout holiday last year, we took the plunge and went to Corfu. And we had a really brilliant time. From hours on the beach in the sunshine to dolphin spotting on a fantastic boat trip, it was pretty ace, all in.

But you don’t want to hear a dull holiday report of everything going beautifully, do you? Let me instead tell you about our travel trauma on the way home. It was one of those days when, even as I was going though the worst of it, I knew that one day I would look back on it and laugh. So hopefully it will amuse you too. Just don’t read it while eating. You have been warned.

Before we even set off, our M was looking peaky. She had been very subdued and tired the night before and was looking rather washed out and pale, as if she was coming down with something. She refused any breakfast and tried to sleep whenever we sat her down anywhere. She was also car sick for the first time ever earlier in the week so the prospect of getting through a whole day of travel without incident wasn’t looking great.

imageLike a good, organised parent, I made damn sure I was fully prepared for possible spew ups in the coach transfer back to the airport. I packed a plastic bag – having first checked for holes – a whole pack of wipes, a spare t-shirt for M, a bottle of water and lots of tissues. I then congratulated myself for being so clever and forward thinking.

We got on the coach, which was already pretty full. I wanted M to be near the front and my little limpet boy T wanted to be near me, natch. So I sat M next to the window in the first free seats, with me beside her and her T just across the aisle, next to a woman who looked less than pleased about having to endure a coach trip with a snotty toddler. Little did she know what she had coming. But more on that later. My husband and H had to sit half way down the coach in the next available seats.

Well, as expected, we were about half way through our coach journey and my poor little girl was looking awful. I was on standby with my pre-tested carrier bag. Chirpy T was being very good across the aisle, yelling about all the other buses he could spot, making the woman beside him wince at the volume.

imageM started to throw up and, despite me having an open bag on her lap, a good deal of it missed the target because she clamped her hand over her mouth and vomit squirted out between her fingers at crazy angles. It was all over her, on my hands and on her beloved Bear. Sick bag fail. After a very brief moment of panic, I rallied well and dug into my bag, nicely spreading the vom around inside it from the back of my hand. I retrieved the wipes and used about half a bag to clean us up pretty well.

The vom bag was a right off with spew dripping down the sides and, from the look on M’s face, more was clearly on the way. I frantically searched in vain for another bag in my rucksack but only found about 50 nappy sacks, which were clearly not up to the job. So I did a stage whisper down the coach to my husband, who dug out and lobbed down a beaten up old plastic bag with multiple holes in the bottom. It would have to do.

imageOriginal spew covered bag inserted into hole-filled bag, along with handfuls of used wipes, and we were ready for round two, which didn’t take long to arrive. Throughout the whole process, dear little M was remarkably calm and a total trooper. No crying or yelling. She just quietly threw her guts up, whilst I tried to deal with the fallout in as inconspicuous a way as possible. The smell may have given us away a tad but I thought, given the circumstances, things were just about under control.

It was at this point that T started moaning from across the aisle. And I don’t mean a bit of background, bored griping. I mean serious whining. I was still balancing the bag of doom on M’s lap when this moaning ramped up and suddenly, out of absolutely bloody nowhere, he projectile vomitted up his toast and jam. This from a kid who has never been travel sick in his life and, unlike M, had showed no signs of illness previously.

It was one of those moments when you are literally frozen in panic. I had spew on both sides and I had no idea what to do next. I wanted a hole in the bottom of the coach to swallow me up. My husband clocked that something was afoot but had no idea what until I turned to him and simply mouthed “Help!”

He was there in a flash and, thankfully, got the clean up started as I was still reeling and frozen in horror. It was one of his most epic moments, for which I will be eternally grateful. T was stripped, the remainder of the pack of wipes was used up and vom was picked out of hair. About 40 of our 50 nappy sacks were employed to bag up various items of clothing and regurgitated matter. And let’s not forget that T was sat next to some poor random woman who did her very best to stare out the window and ignore the whole drama, whilst surreptitiously dodging bits of flying spew.

We finally pulled into the airport and I could have wept with relief. I apologised profusely to the woman and bundled our nappy clad toddler and vom girl off the bus, followed by H who was loudly saying “So, has everyone been sick?!”

Multiple bags of vom dumped, full body changes and lots of washing of hands and hair in the grimy toilets and we were sorted. We had no wipes left but hey, we were at an airport, so there was bound to be a chemist here, right?

After standing in no less that six different queues, we were through security and went in search of a chemist. Hmmm. No chemist. But surely one of these random tat shops would sell some basic essentials like baby wipes, wouldn’t they? No, they wouldn’t. If we’d been after olive oil or Greek tourist crap though, we’d have been sorted.

So, we were stuck in the limbo world between passport control the aeroplanes, with a two-hour wait and a three-hour flight ahead of us, with three kids, one of whom still wears nappies and was definitely due a crap.

imageI stocked up on napkins from the snack bar and a large bottle of water as my makeshift wipes kit and prayed.

Our flight was eventually called and we were in our final queue to board, with T happily watching the planes out the window. He ran over to tell me all about them and the whiff hit me. He had done a massive shit. Excellent timing, son.

On to the plane we went and my first question to the smiling air steward was “Are there sick bags in the seat pockets and can I use the toilet right now? This one has done a big poo”.

I won’t go into details but I hope you never have the experience of having to change the nappy of a gangly toddler in a tiny aeroplane toilet with nothing but napkins, hand-towels and water at your disposal.

The rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful. As uneventful as flying with three kids can be anyway. Until we got to Gatwick and realised one of our bags had gone AWOL en route. Marvellous.

Given how straightforward our journey to Corfu was, and how horrendous the trip home was, I think we’ve seen the full gamut of what travel with kids can be during our first foray into foreign holidays. We saw the highs with the total joy on the faces of kids flying for the first time, and we definitely saw the lows.

If I can take any positives from the lows, I guess I at least have a good story to embarrass the little two with when they are older. Oh, and I now know that it is a good idea to take travel sickness tablets for kids with you on holiday, even if you don’t think you’ll need them.

And wipes. Definitely take more wipes.

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(In in case you were wondering, Bear has been washed on a delicate cycle, smells sweet again and is recovering well from his ordeal).

When to Admit Defeat

imageKids really are gross. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I really, really hate potty training. It is, in my eyes, quite possibly the worst, most disgusting parenting experience to date. Which is saying something.

Let’s be honest, kids are pretty foul from day one. They wipe their snot all over your clothes, do explosive poos, even throw up in your hair. But there is something so gross and soul destroying about dealing with poo-filled pants on a daily basis. I think it trumps all the other things hands down. It is the pure, shitty relentlessness of it.

We embarked on our third and final potty training journey about two months ago. It started well and T nailed getting wee on target immediately. OK, so he was still pooing in his pants but it was early days. I even proudly announced that he was the best so far and was sure that my clever boy would work out number twos soon enough.

Days and then weeks passed with daily turds in kecks. We had a couple of memorable craps to deal with: one down the trouser leg and one he tried to clean up himself, mostly by rubbing his arse on the wall.

Still I persevered. After all, my eldest did poos in his pants for about three months before he finally worked it out. T would get it soon, surely. And I didn’t have a little baby to manage as well this time round, so how hard could it be? I just had to endure it for a bit longer and he would hit a turning point and work it out. So, I bought more cheap pants and braced myself for yet more shit.

imageOne thing I didn’t want to do was go backwards. I have always believed that mixing up nappies and pants during potty training just leads to confusion, so the best option seemed like sticking with it.  Besides, I really wanted him out of nappies in time for our holiday at the end of August and time was ticking.

But the strain of dealing with the accidents has really been getting me down. It is one thing coping with it at home but out and about is something else altogether. I no longer carry nappies everywhere, as I have done for over eight years now. Instead I have the Shit Kit, a bag full of numerous pairs of pants and trousers, poo bags and wipes. If anything, it is more cumbersome than the changing bag used to be.

Plus there is the feeling of dread when away from home. A trip to soft play is positively terrifying. What if he has a crap in the ball pit? Wherever you go, you invariably end up trolling about with a bag of poo-smeared trousers stuffed into your bag. And dealing with the fall out in a park or a grubby public loo is just foul. Half a bag of wipes to clean legs, bum and hands later and you still feel like you are both grubby.

I can’t help but get annoyed with T after the third accident of the day and he is now refusing to even try to do it on target, opting for hiding behind the sofa instead and not telling me he has done a poo, leading to dried on disasters to deal with.

I keep beating myself up for not knowing the solution to this. I mean, third time round, I should be able to work this out, right? And I feel really annoyed with T for not even trying to figure it out. I have gone from being really proud of him to really pissed off. He must be confused and he is clearly worried by failing. So I am being horribly unfair but it is just impossible to smile through it sometimes. I do my best to hide my frustration but sometimes it shows.

imageWe are both getting more and more stressed about crap. So I decided to forget my own rule about not going backwards. After all, I made the rule up and, as I have clearly demonstrated three times now, I am in no way an expert on potty training. So the rule is no more.

Yesterday morning T crapped himself and I made the decision that it would be the last pair of binned underpants for a while. The pull ups are back. And do you know what? We both had a lovely day. There was no pressure on T and he behaved like a dream, which for my naughty little lad is a very rare thing indeed. I didn’t even pester him to wee on the loo and he absolutely loved it. He happily reverted to babydom without a backward glance.

So, have we just wasted the last two months of misery by going backwards? Am I just giving up when the going gets tough? Possibly. But I hope not. I hope he remembers what he has learnt and can pick it all up again when we are both in a better place for dealing with it.

imageI do feel a bit annoyed with myself for not allowing T as long as I gave H when he was struggling to poo on target, for running out of patience with it. But my boys are very different creatures and what is right for one isn’t necessarily right for the other. Besides, I only had H and his baby sister to worry about back then. I was on maternity leave and yes, dealing with it when there was a three month old baby in the house was no kind of fun but, on reflection, it was probably easier than it is this time round, with three kids, work, school and various other commitments to juggle.

Even if we are back to square one when we restart in a couple of months, at least we will both have had a break. And boy, do we need a break. Two months is a long time in the life of a not-quite-three year old. Who knows how my funny boy will have developed and changed by then? So I am hopeful. There is no point in being any other way.

For now though, we are both going to chill out and relax about it all. T can merrily crap himself without guilt and I can stop feeling like I am banging my head against a wall of turds. If he is still in nappies by our holiday, so be it. Shit happens. He can happily crap while the sun shines as I drink cocktails without having to run back and forth to the loo with him every five minutes. And we won’t have to worry about a poo in pants on the aeroplane either. Every cloud, and all that.

I dare say I’ll let you know how we get on next time, if you can stand reading any more about shit, that is.

As I said, kids are gross.

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