Monday, 29 April 2013

Run to the sun...

We made a flying visit to my family at the weekend - down on Friday, back on Sunday. We were away for just 56 hours!

We stopped for lunch on the journey South at Lifton Farm Shop. It's our favourite place to stop, just off the A30 about two-thirds of the way between Bristol and Falmouth. We prefer it to the motorway services because it's less busy, there's a better choice of food and there is plenty of room for our daughter to run around a bit to loosen-up stiff car legs! The toilets are also nice and clean.

On Saturday, we entertained my daughter and her elder cousin, by going to the Blue Reef Aquarium at Newquay. I hadn't been there in years and, although it was smaller than I remembered, the kids had a great time. So much so, we went round it twice! Their favourite creatures were the caiman (which moved right up to the glass to get a better look at them!), the turtle swimming about at the top of the open tank, the jellyfish and the starfish. They were very interested to find out that starfish use the same orifice for a mouth and a bum (bleurgh, yucky!)! We spent far too much in the gift shop and came away with the obligatory fridge magnet for our collection, a plastic shark on a stick, and a rubber ball with an octopus inside. Both kids fell asleep in the car on the way back to Granny's house!

Sunday was my younger nephew's baptism. The children were good as gold in church, sitting nicely with my mother, paying attention to the service and joining in as best they could with the hymns. My daughter was interested in the bell-ringing so, as we entered the church, I took her to the belfry to watch the ringers pulling on the ropes. She watched intently what happened at the font and wanted to know what was happening at the communion, so my mother took her up to the altar for a blessing. My daughter told me afterwards that the man in the dress touched her hair and the hymn book she was carrying. After the service, the children were desperate to get to the local pub, where we were having a buffet reception, because they knew there would be cake and sandwiches. My daughter wanted to blow out the candles, as if it was a birthday party!

Into the visit, I also crammed three visits to my Grandma (the children call her Nanny) and went to the Aled Jones concert at Truro Cathedral.

On Sunday afternoon, we all felt exhausted as we set off for home. My daughter set a new record by falling asleep in her car seat before we even reached Penryn!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Book review: Sad Book

Michael Rosen's "Sad Book" is written for young children and I found it in the 'first experiences' section of Waterstones. I sat down on a cushion at the child-sized table in the shop and read it cover to cover. I shed a tear, closed the book and then bought it.

The book deals with the sadness that we feel after someone has died. It doesn't try to explain death and it is non-religious. It is about feeling sad. Very sad. It is about how, sometimes, this can make us behave differently.

I bought it as a gift for a friend's daughter. Her uncle (my friend's brother) died recently and I thought this book might help her to talk about what has happened.

Helping children through bereavement is hard, especially when you are grieving yourself, but I'm glad that there are books out there that can provide a starting point and help us to express the way we feel. Sometimes, the simplest way of saying something is the most effective. The "Sad Book" uses very simple language and imagery to express one of the most exhausting emotions - grief.

Quite simply, it is a brilliant book. Its message is simple and it is beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake. I would recommend it to anyone trying to explain bereavement and grief to a child.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The clock never stops, never stops, never waits

I've never really been bothered by my age before but I am this year. The past six months, I have felt old, worn down, wrung out. I'm not where I expected to be by this stage in my life, which is disconcerting.

I do have lovely things planned for my birthday, although not all of them for the big day itself. My presents will be nice treats for me (rather than practical items or things for the home): a framed family portrait, a new handbag, cosmetics, some tasty brandy (VSOP), and a pedicure. We will be going out for lunch and my mother is taking me to see Aled Jones in concert at Truro Cathedral.

I'm not looking forward to being a year older, though...

I know that age is just a number but this number comes with baggage! It pushes me into a different demographic group and there are things I still want/need to do before I get too much older.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Hearts and minds

"Did Monty give you that heart?"

"Sort of, yes."

"It's shiny. Can I kiss it?"


"It's small. Can I cuddle it?"

"Monty was small and yes, you can."

"Monty was born."

"Yes, he was born and he died."

"I'm sorry Monty died."

"Me too. I wanted to bring him home."

"I'm sorry he didn't come home."

"You don't have to be sorry, sweetheart, but it's OK to feel sad. I feel sad about Monty. Daddy feels sad about Monty."

"I'm sorry he didn't come home."

Big cuddle.

Social whirl

The invitations have been landing thick and fast on our doormat. Not for me or my husband but for the new socialite in our lives - our daughter! All her friends have birthdays at this time of year and she is being invited to party after party after party.

The first party was last week - a pirates and princesses themed Music With Mummy party. It was fab! My daughter dressed as a princess; my husband, as a pirate (inspired by Jack Sparrow). This weekend, it is a soft-play party; in a fortnight's time, there's a swimming party; and, in early June, there's another soft-play party being planned. I can hardly keep up! My daughter's diary is busier than mine!

With her birthday fast approaching, I asked my daughter what she would like to do. "I want a big cake and a little cake. And a big cake made of little cakes." She doesn't want a party, though. To help her eat all this cake, she just wants mummy and daddy. In respect of presents, she wants a scooter ("Scooters go 'ride, ride'!) and a spaceship ("Spaceships go 'nee-ar, nee-ar'!). She will be getting a scooter but also a marble run. I'm not sure where to find a spaceship so we might have to miss out on that one. I have also arranged to take her on a visit to my friend's pony and she might even be able to have a ride!

I'm sure it won't be long before she wants or expects to have a party for her birthday but, for now, I'm happy just to take her to other people's. We have bought some nice presents for her friends and she likes to make cards by sticking sparkly glitter and sequins or drawing. I guess this is how it's going to be every April/May and will only get busier when she goes to school and makes more friends!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

...and your kicks for free

Our top ten ways to have fun without spending a penny:
  1. Jump up and down in muddy puddles! (a la Peppa Pig - oink, oink!)
  2. Pull silly faces at each other
  3. Talk in silly voices
  4. Take all the cushions off the sofa and use them to make a boat
  5. Jump/roll on beds
  6. Hide and seek around the house
  7. Do 'tree fu' magic
  8. Play 'hey, you're sitting in my chair!'*
  9. Throw the contents of your chest of drawers all around your bedroom**
  10. Tickle fight!
* An elaborate game, whereby one person sits on the sofa and the other declares "hey, you're sitting in my chair", then ousts them in a humorous fashion (eg. by tickling). Swap places and repeat ad infinitum.

** This is one of my daughter's favourites but I'm less of a fan...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Telling tales

We (usually my husband) always read stories to my daughter before she goes to bed. We've done this since she was a few months old when, after her bath and bedtime feed, my husband would read "Sleepy Baby" or "Bedtime With Woof". Now, he has to do three stories of her choosing - two in 'story-corner' (a clutch of cushions on the floor in her bedroom) and one when she's tucked up in bed.

Last night, for the first time, she made up a story to tell to Daddy and her 'friends' (toys). She then insisted that the landing light be left on so that she could tell another story to her friends before going to sleep.

By his account, the story wasn't brilliant - about six sentences long and centred around one of her dolls going swimming - but it shows that she has imagination and the ability to put her own ideas together.

This morning, when my daughter came into our bed for the morning snuggle, she made up another story. This one was about someone going to the supermarket and eating everything, including the roof and the floor!

Both stories began with 'Once upon a time', which is interesting because none of the stories we read at home starts in this way. They both had clear structure - a defined beginning, middle and end. We were very impressed.

Another proud parent moment!

Friday, 12 April 2013

I'm gonna sing, I'm gonna dance, allelu!

Today, the new term of Music With Mummy started. We've been taking our daughter to these singing classes since she was about 10 months old and she seems to have enjoyed them from the start.

I say 'seems' to have enjoyed them because, for a long time, she wouldn't join in during the class but would re-enact the class when she got back home. (In fact, my husband said there were several weeks when she would try to escape from the class - so embarrassing!)

This week, we may have turned a corner. Not only did my daughter sing along to all the songs she knew, she shouted out animal noises during "I went to visit a farm today" and correctly identified what kind of day it is (a rainy day) but she also joined in with all the actions. The songs about bunnies required lots of hopping and jumping; the songs about birds needed flapping wings. She did it all and we had a great time.

I'm hoping that her confidence will continue to grow over the rest of this term and that she'll be ready to graduate to Three-Four Time before the end of the year.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

A marathon, not a sprint

My husband's step-sister is running the London Marathon later this month. It's not the first time she has run a marathon and she has run the London race before. She is part of a running club but runs to raise money for charity as well as for fitness.

Normally, she raises money for Cancer Research UK in memory of her mother (who was also a distance runner). This year, she has kindly agreed to seek sponsorship to raise funds for Southmead Hospital maternity unit, in memory of Monty. Donations can be made via Virgin Money Giving.

Since Monty was stillborn, we have raised over £700 for the Mum's the Word appeal in support of the hospital's planned developments. It would be fantastic if Becky's marathon run could help us get that figure closer to £1000!

I still feel a huge debt of gratitude to the maternity staff at Southmead for they way in which they have helped and supported us. I hope that one day, I will enjoy their care again (and their new, improved maternity unit facilities) under happier circumstances.

Monday, 8 April 2013

It's no sacrifice

A few nights ago, after our daughter had gone to bed and we were sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine, my husband said he'd been thinking about all the things we've sacrificed in order to have a family but that it was worth it. Some of his younger, footloose and fancy-free colleagues were going out on the town but he had come home for a family dinner and to help with bath, bed and storytime.

I wondered what it was that we had foregone.

We talked about the plans we'd had for long and foreign holidays. We had wanted to take a trip to the USA for our 10th anniversary: visiting Las Vegas (and getting remarried by Elvis in a drive-thru Chapel O' Love!); touring the Grand Canyon; driving across Death Valley to visit a friend in San Diego; and finishing up with a foray into the California vineyards. But then our daughter was born and we couldn't justify the expense and didn't want to do the trip with a small baby. Our go-to holiday as a married couple was a two-week driving and camping tour of France but we haven't been abroad since our daughter was born. Now, we do self-catering cottage holidays in the UK or go to stay with family. Certainly, our world has got smaller but I expect it will broaden again in a few years' time.

We have cut back on our social activities and changed how we spend our leisure time. Very rarely do we go out for dinner or just pop to the pub for a drink or two of an evening. If we do go out, it is when grandparents have come to visit and they offer to babysit for a few hours. We never go the cinema and I can't remember when I last went to the theatre or to a gig! The last time my husband and I went away to a hotel for a night (alone) was for my birthday about a month before our daughter was born. Since then, the only night we've spent together away from her was the night that her brother was born.

We have reorganised our finances to enable one or both of us to work part time. We have reduced our expenditure on food and petrol. We use coupons and vouchers. I carefully plan a weekly menu and buy groceries accordingly to minimise waste and expense. We buy red label for as many products as we can (where it doesn't have an impact on taste or quality). We do allow ourselves some treats, such as a few glasses of wine at the weekend, and I have cut back on the amount I spend on clothes/shoes and hair cuts. I buy our daughter's clothes in the sales and often get things a size or two too big so that she can grow into them.

But I don't really consider any of this to be a sacrifice. I don't miss the things we used to do before and I certainly don't begrudge my daughter for not being able to do them any more. I still go singing once a week and we still spend time with our friends, most of whom now also have children and are therefore similarly constrained.

I remember a friend asking me, before my daughter was born, if I had a list of things I wanted to see and do before I became a parent. I really didn't. I did a lot of travelling in my twenties: I've visited several European countries, India and the Dominican Republic, and spent six months in Australia. I've been to gigs (including: Oasis, the Verve, Ben Folds, R.E.M., the Dandy Warhols) but no festivals. I worked and played hard during my university years before we properly settled down.

We just spend our time and money on different things now - things we can do together as a family. Most weekends, we go to the cafe in the Leisure Centre for a coffee and a flapjack, coupled with a trip to the softplay or swimming pool. I like the simplicity of things that my daughter considers to be good entertainment and I hope she doesn't learn expensive tastes too soon. We make up role-playing games, model with play-dough, paint and draw and stick, make a din with musical instruments, and cook and bake. I love it!

I don't miss my old lifestyle one bit. It's no sacrifice at all.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Day out review: Longleat Safari Park

Today, we visited Longleat Safari Park. It was amazing!

We went with some university friends and their two daughters. They have been staying at the CentreParcs resort nearby and asked if we wanted to spend a day at Longleat with them. We had been planning to take our daughter to the safari park before her birthday, so we jumped at the chance to go with company.

We packed a picnic and set off early this morning, arriving at Longleat at about 10am. After a brief rendezvous with our friends, we decided to start our day with a tour of the safari park. We spent a bit too long at the African Village looking at giraffes, lemurs, wallabies and warthogs so, by the time we were ready to head into the drive-through safari, it had got quite busy.

We opted to see it all (including the Monkey Drive) and took our time going around the enclosures. In total it took us about two hours to go all the way around! My husband is the photographer, so I was the driver. Our daughter was very impressed by the rhinos (and the rhino poo, which she insisted we take a picture of!) and the elephant. We had a monkey on our bonnet and the lions came right up to the car!

After the safari, we met up with our friends again for a picnic. It was lovely and sunny and the wind had dropped, so it was quite warm. (Now we are home, we realise we caught the sun on our cheeks!)

Next, we explored the house. Our daughter dressed up as a princess in the great hall and was given a special tour of the State Room by the Guide. Unfortunately, she set off the security alarm in the breakfast room by stepping behind the rope barrier so we made her apologise to the Security Guard who had to come and reset it!

We went on the boat trip to Gorilla Island. Contrary to popular belief, Gorillas do climb trees - we saw one sitting up in the branches! The sealions in the lake swam alongside the boat, much to our daughter's amusement (and I think they distracted her from seeing the gorillas and hippos).

After a quick trip around the petting zoo (rabbits and guinea pigs). lorikeet aviary, and butterfly enclosure, my daughter held a cockroach (yuk!) and we ended up in the gift shop. My daughter spent her pocket money (supplemented by mummy to the right amount!) on a fluffy elephant (now named Nellie - innovative, I know!) and a fridge magnet to add to our collection.

Then we decided to get lost in the hedge maze. We made it to the middle in just 13 minutes but opted for the quick exit because it was 5pm!

My daughter wanted to go on the little train, so we agreed that would be our last activity before going home. The ride lasted about 15 minutes and took us past the lake, so we got to see the gorillas and hippos for a second time.

By 6pm, we were back in the car and on our way home. Exhausted, my daughter fell asleep 10 minutes into the journey! We arrived back home at bedtime, gave her some supper and a shower and put her to bed.

All in all, we have agreed that Longleat was a fantastic day out. We all had a great time, with no tears and no falling out! We will definitely be going back again, especially as we were able to get one free entry using Tesco reward vouchers.

Things to remember for next time:
  • wash the car - you don't realise how dirty the windows are until you want to photograph big game through them!
  • pack more food - our daughter ate all of her picnic before we finished the safari
  • consider buying the two-day or annual pass because there's so much to see and do

So, thanks, Lord Bath! We loved your house and gardens and your safari park! 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Insecure, what you gonna do?

I still feel unsteady, unsure of myself, uncertain of the future.

Some days, I feel strong and brave; on others, I feel very small.

Outside, I look the same. Inside, I am very different.

It is my birthday this month. I will move up an age group; into the next tick box on surveys. I feel old but age has never bothered me before.

I am very focused on family. I love my husband and daughter so much. I had pictured myself with a clutch of children but now I don't know if I will have any more. I feel as though I can't move on with my life until I have worked this out but it's complicated.

When the human touch is what I need, what I need is you...

Monday, 1 April 2013

It's a family affair

For the duration of my thirties, I have been preoccupied with family planning. By which, I mean planning the having of a family rather than the avoidance of an unwanted pregnancy.

It was just before my 30th birthday that I realised I wanted to start a family. My line manager sent me on a residential management training course. There was no mobile phone reception and laptops were frowned upon, so we had no contact with the outside world for three days. The course was intensive and included some personality profiling and behavioural awareness exercises. I came away from the event feeling harrowed and wrung out, feeling that something wasn't quite right with my life-plan. I didn't know it but things were about to change...

On the train, on the way home, my sister phoned me to tell me that she was pregnant. At the time, she lived relatively near me and I felt privileged to be there as a birth partner when my eldest nephew was born. It was one of the most amazing experiences and I remember tears pricking my eyes when I heard him cry out just as he was born. I said to my sister "Did you hear that? That was your baby!"

About a month after my nephew was born, we started trying to conceive.


Looking back, I realise that I have spent most of the past four years in a cycle: trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to conceive, being pregnant.

Now I am bereaved, I am taking a break.

I never felt that my second pregnancy would be my last but I'm just not strong enough to try again yet.

However, my daughter has started to ask when the baby will come back into my tummy...